Sunday

2008 Acura MDX Sport review

If you’ve read even a handful of the reviews I’ve written, you know that my tastes run towards enthusiast vehicles. I don’t actively seek out to review SUV’s, (and pledge to NEVER have a minivan reviewed here), but once in a while one looks interesting enough for me to take a second glance at. Recently Acura released a new generation MDX. I yawned – until I saw something that made my eyebrows go up. Acura claims that this vehicle was tuned on the famous Nurburgring track. Say what??

The ‘Ring seems to be the favorite place for manufacturers of all types to show off their wares. BMW, Mercedes, and Porsche notably have been doing this for years. Lately though, GM has been showing off their performance models there, and the attempts by the new Skyline to set records are well documented. It is a challenging environment to test out handling and ultimate performance, and the tests suggest that if the car can survive there, it can survive your commute too.

The MDX is an attractively styled SUV. It’s inoffensive, and its look suggests quiet, upscale quality, rather like a Joseph Abboud suit. At the same time, there is a certain rugged look about it too, appropriate for an SUV. Even one that will probably never see true off-road action. Also included is Acura’s new family face, with the pointy nose and matte silver trim. Only your taste can decide if it’s a look for you.

Move to the inside, (entry is rather painless and easy), and again you are greeted with traditional Acura quality. The shapes and materials are agreeable, and all the luxury toys are available. In their infinite wisdom, Acura gives you a just few trim and option choices, and includes everything else in the base price. You can even boss the MDX around with your voice; pick the right package and you can control the navi, climate system, and radio with various voice commands. There is ample room for up to seven passengers. Backseat passengers are treated well too – a separate climate control system is available to them as are heated seats. If you haul kids around and believe they should never be deprived of TV, a DVD entertainment system is available as well. Assembly quality is top-notch, as you would expect from an upscale line. The bolstering on the front seats was rather surprising. It suggests that the MDX is capable and willing for different maneuvers than, say, a Suburban. Actually, come to think of it, these seats feel even more bolstered than some sport sedans.

The one I sampled included the sport package, which includes a stiffer suspension, active shocks, unique rims, and a few interior tweaks. And I have to say, I was quite surprised at how well the MDX moved down the road. Acura got the balance “feel” of this mid-size SUV about perfect. No, it’s not ultra fast, the handling won’t rival an M3, and hunting Porsche Cayenne Turbo's still isn't wise. But it doesn’t pull any surprises on you in its moves. The chassis feels like it has adequate power. I wouldn’t call it abundant, but you won’t be scared by freeway on-ramps or when pulling into traffic in your 4600lb road war machine. For quasi-full control, Acura allows you to select your own gears with a Sportshift transmission. You’ll find the same thing in the handling, thanks to another wonderful performance from the SH-AWD system fitted to the MDX. (The SH-AWD is a key reason why the RDX moves so confidently on pavement - review here). Even with all season tires, handling is impressive given the type of vehicle it is. If you find yourself in over your head, traction and stability control system will attempt to rewrite the laws of physics for you. The brakes are strong and true; they'll haul you down from speed quickly and (again) predictably. Now I personally wouldn’t try tackling the Nurburgring in the MDX, but I wasn’t afraid that the MDX was going to tip over if I needed to execute an emergency maneuver. The MDX was quite easy to drive, confident in its moves, and surprisingly capable. It feels planted, and body roll is much less than you might expect.

It also comes with the usual SUV disadvantages as standard features – the size can be tricky in tight city maneuvers and it drinks enough gas to make you cry. The MDX won’t convert me to an SUV lover, and besides I have no use for one. Some people do though. I will say if I had the need for a vehicle like this, the MDX would shoot to the top of my (very short) list of utility vehicles that I would consider. It’s a quality piece, and no doubt resale will be high like almost all Honda/Acura products. If you have a true need for a vehicle of this size and have $40k-$50k to drop, you owe it to yourself to consider the MDX. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how agreeable this SUV can be.

Photos property of Acura

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