2012 Acura MDX

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Tech Review: 2007 Acura MDX

This 2007 review is representative of model years 2007 to 2013.
By Doug Newcomb of MSN Autos
Rating: 7.5

Bottom Line:

The '07 Acura MDX shows that cutting-edge technology can sometimes be a double-edge sword.
Pros:
  • Class-leading navigation system
  • Flexible, full-featured rear entertainment system
  • Great performance combined with decent mileage
Cons:
  • Inconsistent voice activation
  • Awkward steering-wheel controls
  • Inconvenient aux-in jack

I like to evaluate vehicles alone and preferably on a quiet back road. There I can crank the audio system as loud as I want, punch buttons and twist knobs without distraction, and drive largely free from worry about others on the road or, more specifically, someone else in the vehicle. But like most people, I often have to balance work with other obligations and sometimes end up sharing a car interior with my family.

This happened when I took delivery of a 2007 Acura MDX with the Sport and Entertainment packages and a sticker of $47,795. My wife planned an impromptu week at the beach without my input—or, she would argue, without my acknowledgement—that prevented me from getting solo seat time in the MDX.

As I reluctantly settled in for the long cruise to the coast, I brooded over how nearly everything in life is a trade-off. This is pertinent to the MDX in particular and Acura in general: The company is known for incorporating cutting-edge technology, which can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

Fantastic Nav, Awkward Interface
The MDX's DVD navigation system is one of the best and most feature-laden available, although you can get lost just figuring out how to navigate the system using its complicated iDrive-like interface. Voice control of the nav system isn't always the way to go either, since it didn't perform well at highway speeds (although this isn't uncommon with most systems).

Another source of frustration was the separate but similar-sized buttons for the Bluetooth HandsFreeLink mobile-phone system, voice-activation of the nav and other systems are spaced less than an inch apart on the steering wheel. This often led to punching the wrong one.

But the system's XM NavTraffic did clue me in on an accident while driving through Portland, Oregon, in time to make a detour and avoid gridlock. Plus the system has an off-road tracking feature that leaves digital "breadcrumbs." This isn't just for MDX owners who may take the upscale sport-ute bushwhacking, but perhaps more appropriately to keep from getting lost (as the owner's manual states) in "large parking lots in shopping malls."

I thought I'd use another one of the nav system's innovative features, Zagat ratings for restaurants, to do some urban foraging of my own and feed the family in Portland. And while I realized that the suburb of Gresham isn't one of the city's culinary hot spots, I could only find one place in the entire town with a rating—and that was a Thai joint I'd previously patronized.

Kid's Play
There's no compromise when it comes to the MDX's rear-seat entertainment system, which boasts several unique attributes. Chief among these is a wireless remote control that pops out just aft of the 9-inch fold-down monitor. It took my 9-year-old daughter only minutes to figure out how to operate the remote (yep, daddy's girl), so that she and her younger brother could watch a movie without my wife having to climb into the back seat.

When their allotted movie time was over, with hours left on our drive, my daughter discovered she could also cue up any other entertainment source in the vehicle to play over the two pair of wireless headphones. She deftly switched over to XM Satellite Radio's kids channels, which kept my brood pacified and our drive peaceful for many more miles.

Because this MDX was equipped with the dual-source, two-disc-slot system, while the kids were enjoying a movie on DVD over headphones in the back seat, my wife and I were able to enjoy the sweet-sounding ELS Surround-Sound audio system while listening to CDs, DVD-Audio discs, FM radio or a MP3 in auxiliary mode. If a source is playing in the front of the vehicle when the rear entertainment system is active, the rear speakers automatically switch off to keep the tunes from bleeding over into the kids' entertainment zone. The only downside to this is it killed the surround-sound effect when listening to DVD-Audio discs.

All of this capability does result in a somewhat overwhelming number of buttons and controls in the busy center stack, however. And one quirk of the MDX is that the aux-in jack is located on the back of the center console, and it uses the yellow-white-red, RCA-type connectors instead of the typical mini-plug. While this is ideal for connecting an external A/V source such as a video game console or camcorder for backseat screenings, it's somewhat inconvenient for hooking up a MP3 player from the front seats. On the plus side, three headphone jacks are provided next to the auxiliary input, each with a separate volume control should you have extra passengers.

Win-Win
One positive concession of the MDX is that the 300-horsepower V6 has plenty of pep and gets decent gas mileage for a vehicle in the luxury SUV category. The EPA rating is 17 city and 22 highway, but we averaged about 16 mpg on a trip that was roughly half freeway and half twisty two-lane, although the vehicle was loaded down with beach gear and luggage.

And even though the MDX isn't exactly lithe, it handled agilely when I pushed it hard on curvy mountain roads, no doubt due to the proprietary Super Handling All-Wheel Drive that distributes extra torque to individual wheels, most notably the outside-rear wheel when cornering. Plus, an Active Damper System uses shocks filled with magnetic fluid that automatically thickens for a stiffer ride or thinned for more cushy cruising, depending on the road surface or whether a "Comfort" switch in the center console is activated.

The Great Compromise
You don't need to read a car review to find out that life is a series of trade-offs. Whether it's dealing with family duties or deciding which vehicle to buy, it's all about give and take. Based on my 700-plus miles behind the wheel of the 2007 Acura MDX, I'd deem it a great compromise if you want an SUV that combines cutting-edge tech and first-rate performance with ample room for the family and gear.

Doug Newcomb has been writing about car electronics since 1988, as editor of Car Audio and Electronics, Car Stereo Review, Mobile Entertainment, Road & Track Road Gear and as a freelance writer. His new book, Car Audio for Dummies, is available from Wiley Publications. He lives in Hood River, Oregon.

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BB05 - 7/29/2014 1:04:18 AM