X Marks the M.D.

Behind the Wheel: 2011 Acura MDX

The Acura MDX is one of those cars we hopped behind the wheel of with very few expectations. To us, it’s another mainstream SUV that manages to look decent on the streets, but given our druthers it might not even make our Top 10. After a couple of weeks around the streets of New York though, we found ourselves in bit of a different place though: reluctant to hand back the keys and with a better understanding why it’s garnered so much repeat praise. Sure, we love a Defender as much as the next guy, but when it comes to all-around versatility, reliability and convenience it’s hard to find fault with the 2011 Acura MDX.

A cutting-edge sound system that flat-out impresses (including the hardcore boffins at CNET), a powerful 300 horsepower V6 engine mated to an all-new six-speed transmission and an active damper suspension that we honestly couldn’t think of a better description for than “damn, this is kinda nice”. On the decimated streets of New York where even paved roads require four-wheel drive and potholes run rampant, that’s a big win. You can thank Acura’s focus on sport sedans for that. Yes, in certain angles and lighting the MDX looks geometrically challenged, but it will grow on you.

Inside, there are three key takeaways:

1. The seats are so ludicrously comfortable and supportive that we tried to find a way to steal one for the office, but we felt like Acura would have probably noticed. The rest of the cabin will not disappoint either.

2. The optional Panasonic ELS sound system delivers big. So big you might look past its vast array of buttons almost as confusing as this. Your inner-geek might love it though.

3. There is a third-row seat for passengers 6 and 7. You do not want to put people you like in that row.

There’s a pretty simple formula to make a popular car. Performance, luxury and design. Yet, so many get it wrong. Sometimes in the pursuit of one particular aspect. The flip side is that if you do achieve a perfect blend of all three you fall victim to complete anonymity (ahem, the Lexus RX). The 6 part recipe to make an Acura MDX, we imagine, goes something like this: 3 parts performance, 1 part luxury, 2 parts design, and an extra pinch of restrained rebel trying to break through its grocery-getter marketing team (you’ll hear it at full throttle). Teeming with technology (even Zagat is built into the nav), far better handling than you’d expect in a 4,500 lb SUV and somewhat polarizing looks (we’re of the ‘like’ camp), the Acura MDX is that type of car you need to give more than a test drive to fully appreciate. Maybe that’s why it has so many repeat buyers.

Price: $43,000+

Photos by Eric Yang