Acura's impressive MDX loomed large on MT's radar screen from the start of this 12-vehicle battle. As thousands of miles of twisting asphalt two-lanes, instrumented track tests, and off-road challenges unrolled during our two week test session, it held its position as a top contender. When the driving was done, the voting commenced. Although several competitors lasted until the final round of balloting, there can be only one winner-and we're proud to say that's Acura's all-new MDX.
There are two vital elements of the SUV equation: sport and utility. The Acura easily handled our on-road sport requirement with its torquey, smooth-revving, great-sounding 3.5L SOHC V-6, five-speed automatic transmission, structurally stiff unibody, and sophisticated all-independent suspension. MT's off-road sporting needs were met by the MDX's standard Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system and better than expected ground clearance. Even though its main mission in life is not that of hard-core off-roader, the rocks, deep sand, and steep grades of our off-road test area were handled with more than reasonable aplomb.
Then, there's utility, an area where perspectives are constantly evolving. Traditional truck-derived models are having a tough time serving the market's ever-increasing demands for better fuel efficiency, greater agility, and auto-style civility. But while many of the new, athletic, car-based demi-SUVs fall short in the towing, rock-crawling, cargo-hauling, and people-moving departments, the MDX truly shines. Given its relatively tidy exterior dimensions, nothing can touch its 81.5 cu ft of cargo space, 3500-lb tow rating, and easily reconfigurable seating for seven.
The body/chassis is reinforced by two hefty longitudinal rails supported by eight box-section crossmembers. Acura specified small rubber-mounted subframes for front and rear: In the nose, the front frame isolates the powertrain's vibrations and road inputs with its MacPherson strut suspension. In the rear, another subframe isolates the multilink suspension's road inputs and vibration from the drive system's rear-axle drive unit. It all works, as one of the staff's favorite aspects about the Acura is its remarkably compliant ride. Indeed, on- and off-road the MDX serves up a quiet cruise devoid of the tire thumping on highway expansion joints common to SUVs.
Luxurious it is, but don't think Acura's designers forgot the "utility" part of this evaluation. Both of the MDX's 70/30 second- and 50/50 third-row seats split and fold flat into the floor to conveniently handle a variety of people- or cargo-hauling needs. The engineering difficulty of packaging fold-into-the-floor seats into a four-wheel-drive vehicle is significant, but for you this trick means owners don't have to worry about hefting the third seat's weight or where to store it. And all seven seats have headrests and three-point seatbelts.