It wasn’t a sterling year for Acura in Canada in 2016 – sales for all models were down, save for the RDX and brand-new NSX – but a rebound could be in store this year thanks, in part, to the refreshed 2017 MDX crossover which ushers in welcome changes that could eventually filter out across the brand.
The big headline for the MDX is its updated styling, which is most dramatic up front. Gone is the unloved power plenum grille and in its place is the much bolder diamond pentagon variant that was first shown on the Acura Precision Concept at the North American International Auto Show last year.
The new fascia also features a more aggressive take on the brand’s Jewel Eye LED headlights, along with a more sculpted hood, front fenders and LED fog lights.
Acura designers have also livened up the MDX profile with the addition of chrome rocker panels, while treating the rear to a new bumper that comes with a coloured skid garnish and twin chrome exhaust finishers. Lastly, the MDX is now also available with 20-inch wheels, which are standard issue on range-topping Elite models like my tester (the base MDX, which is well equipped in its own right, starts at $53,690).
There’s only so much a designer can do with an SUV shape given the utility factor, but I think the 2017 MDX is an attractive vehicle even without that concession, and is second only to the NSX when it comes to looks in the Acura family.
One of the other big changes is the democratization of the AcuraWatch suite of safety tech (collision mitigation braking system, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, etc.) which is standard kit on all 2017 models.
All models also come with a multi-angle rearview camera, and the upper level grades (such as Elite) are fitted with blind spot detection, front and rear parking sensors, rear cross traffic monitor and auto high beam.
On the inside, my six-seat Elite tester comes with the usual luxury content one would expect in a $65,000-plus SUV (heated and cooled leather seats, navigation, premium audio, loads of USB ports, etc.), but there are a few new additions for 2017.
This grade receives two very well-designed second-row captain’s chairs (the only luxury SUV in its class to do so, according to Acura) and a centre console with two USB ports for third-row passengers. Other details include real wood trim inserts, LED fog lights and a surround view camera system that has six viewing angles.
Under the hood, the MDX is powered by a tried and true 3.5L V6 (290 hp / 267 lb-ft.) mated to an electronic nine-speed automatic transmission. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is standard across the model range.
Acura’s button-operated transmission selector has a sport setting which bumps the revs and improves throttle response, while a dynamic mode button allows the driver to toggle between several settings that range from normal to sport.
Again, like the drive / sport button transmission button, the dynamic mode selector can sharpen the reflexes of the MDX drivetrain, but it won’t make you feel like you’re driving an NSX. Same goes for the steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters, which I used sporadically during my week of driving. Nice to have, I suppose, although few are going to buy an MDX for its manual mode prowess.
What you will appreciate with the MDX, as I do, is the high degree of luxury content which makes its cabin a very comfortable place to watch the world fly past. The two-position memory seats, heated steering wheel and HVAC touchscreen (which I was able to operate with gloves on!), are nice touches and straightforward to use.
I also appreciated a capless fuel filler, sliding second row seats, easy flip and fold third-row seats and a navigation system that, while somewhat low-res, is easy to adjust and has a reasonably intuitive interface.
Considerably less intuitive is Acura’s aforementioned push-button transmission system that also integrates a pull-tab for reverse and a push-tab for park. I get the space saving and aesthetic considerations – gear shifters can be ugly and cumbersome – but nothing will ever be as dead simple to use as a lever you simply push and pull.
It’s not as attractive as a row of buttons and tabs, but no one needs to be taught how to put a car in park, drive or reverse with a console shifter. You will fumble with these buttons – even after spending time with them. Guaranteed.
That said, once the correct button has been pushed, the MDX is quite a nice vehicle to drive. Handling, while not sporty, feels confident even on bad roads in bad weather and acceleration and braking is impressive. The cabin isn’t tomb-like, road and wind noise will intrude, but it’s still pretty quiet.
The MDX has been one of Acura’s most consistent sales performers in North America for nearly two decades, and the changes made to the 2017 edition should keep it near the top of the brand’s sales charts.
SPECIFICATIONS – 2017 Acura MDX Elite
BASE PRICE / AS TESTED: $65,790 / $67,963 (before taxes)
ENGINE: 3.5L V6
HORSEPOWER: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm
TORQUE: 267 lb-ft. @ 4,700 rpm
CURB WEIGHT: 1,950 kg
CONFIGURATION: front engine, all-wheel drive
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY RATINGS (L/100 KM - CITY / HWY. / COMB.): 12.6 / 9 / 11
WARRANTY (MOS. / KM): 60 / 100,000
ALTERNATIVES: Audi Q7, Infiniti QX60, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz GLE
Photography by Lee Bailie