This brings up a facet of sport/utility-dom taken more seriously by some makers than others: off-road ability. While most SUVs will never see any harsher road conditions than mud flowing in the gutter past the driveway, the MDX impressed us with its willingness to tackle topography we wouldn't normally want to walk over. Senior Feature Editor Scott Mead noted in the logbook: "It soaked up highway ruts and bumps, yet once we hit the trails, it expertly bounded over terrain only a true 4x4 would dare traverse. Lock the rear diff, and you'll easily play in the sand or rock-strewn trails."
Although the MDX sports faux wood that resembles reformulated plastic, the seven-passenger leather interior is high quality. The better than average ergonomics allows for a wide range of body sizes and shapes in which to get comfortable. The "Touring" package consists of a two-position driver seat and mirror memory, an eight-way power-adjustable passenger seat, roof rack, reverse-mode tilting sideview mirror, special light-alloy wheels, and a 200-watt eight-speaker Bose audio system, coupled with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. We also had the in-dash navigation system, a $2000 stand-alone option, but standard in the Touring package. Editorial Assistant Brian Vance noted, "the cupholder cover feels very flimsy. It seems like it would easily snap off if accidentally handled in the wrong fashion." Several others expressed frustration with the need to access some of the HVAC controls via the navigation touch screen, especially when manually adjusting the fan speed. But everyone liked the supportive seats, as noted on one staffer's quick trip to Sedona: "My back felt like it had been behind the wheel for a brief period of time, not all day."
The MDX's Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle 3.5L SOHC V-6 churns out 240 hp and 245 lb-ft of torque, power that's useful when merging onto crazed freeways. Taking only 8.1 sec to reach 60 mph, the engine delivered most of its power at higher revs, allowing it to cruise serenely at above-legal speeds. That it made wonderful sounds while doing so is frosting on the cake--the MDX is an AWD vehicle; it's not a true 4x4, and it doesn't pretend to be. A pair of wet clutches in the rear axle, controlled by the VTM-4 computer, help the MDX extract the most traction from marginal areas. It's better off-road than we expected.