2011 Acura MDX
Maybe it's just too complicated

WE LIKE: Mechanical upgrades highlighted by its new engine and transmission and SH-AWD system's razor handling.
WE DON'T LIKE: Mechanical complexity, ergonomic confusion, and menacing styling.

The Acura MDX must have been baffled by its experience at this year's SUV of the Year festivities. Here's a vehicle that loudly answers what's perhaps the automotive press' single biggest gripe about SUVs-that they drive like oatmeal on the road-with a brilliant technological reply, and it doesn't even make the cut to Round Two. What's up with that?

As Lassa put it, "You really don't use the MDX's SH-AWD system unless you get into the throttle in a turn. And I really don't care to get into the throttle much while turning in a high-profile vehicle like this. SH-AWD is more useful in lower sedans." That thunderclap you just heard was the simultaneous forehead slap of every product planner in the Honda empire.

However, the opinion wasn't unanimous. Said Lago, "Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive is aptly named. It provides a downright surprising amount of rotation-I even experienced some decent oversteer around the autocross." The testing director (that's me) rather liked it too, but I'm afraid the majority viewed it as simply more weight and complexity than benefit. Just reporting the facts, as they say.

Elements that got the majority's approval included the new 3.7-liter V-6 that sports a higher compression ratio, a stronger crankshaft and sturdier connecting rods, a more rigid block, and improved cooling. Though the engine's power rating is unchanged, the rpm spread between its horsepower and torque peaks has considerably widened, a good thing for driveability. And combined with the brainy new six-speed paddle-shift transmission, it returns a nice 1-mpg improvement in combined mileage.

Unfortunately, the MDX's visual revisions, which bring it in line with the brand's official "face," perhaps shouldn't have. The guillotine grille is downright scary, and its whole presence seems more weapon-like than handsome. And the interior? "C'mon, Acura, this center stack isn't working," noted Lago. That army of buttons blitzkriegs my psyche every time I want to change the stereo." And blitzkrieged psyches don't recommend SUV of the Year winners. -Kim Reynolds

2011 Acura MDX
Base price $43,440
Price as tested $54,965
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.7L/300-hp/270-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4600 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 108.3 in
Length x width x height 191.6 x 78.5 x 68.2 in
0-60 mph 7.1 sec
Quarter mile 15.5 sec @ 90.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 132 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.81 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.5 sec @ 0.64 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16/21 mpg
CO2 emissions 1.08 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING *****
DESIGN **
INTERIOR/Functionality **
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ****
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE ****
BOTTOM LINE
Complicated taste for most, sweet handler to some.