Last year I decided that it was time to give up the old Sienna. It was a fine van and still in good working condition, but it was too much vehicle for us. We’re a family of 4 with a smallish dog and don’t need an apartment on wheels. We had first bought a Sienna in 2000 when my son was 2 weeks old and my dh, Matt, spied the interior of a Sienna in a magazine. Coming from a 1989 Honda Civic Hatchback and 1996 Toyota RAV4, the Sienna was a slice of space heaven. But after owning a van for 11 years, I wanted something sexier, less mom-ish and with oomph when I stepped on the gas pedal. I had a specific set of criteria and one vehicle kept rising to the top of my list: the 2011 Acura MDX.

Although on a daily basis I need seating for 4 (5 if you include the dog, Bailey :D), I occasionally drive my kids’ friends, so a stowable third row was a necessity. Dh wasn’t really on board with me, but we also have relatives in town from time to time and I really abhor having to take 2 vehicles to restaurants. It brings up really, really bad memories from dh’s law school graduation day. But not only does there have to be a third row, but it has to be a reasonable third row—one an adult can sit in.

Plus, if you’ve read my other auto reviews, you know I like to drive with . . . vigor. But have I gotten a speeding ticket yet? Heck NO! The MDX has 2 tailpipes and when you start it up, it sounds throaty—VROOM. When you step on the gas, it goes and you can take on even the most tank-headed teen. Uh, but we don’t do that in these gas-saving days, do we?

There are 3 packages that can be added to the basic MDX model: the Technology package, the Advance package (includes the Technology package), and the Entertainment package. The Technology package and Advance package can both be combined with the Entertainment package. My salesperson told me that just about everyone gets the Technology package; it’s rare to get be able to get a base MDX. My MDX has only the Technology package. You can see the packages on the MDX web site and all of the vehicles are well-appointed. The base model has the backup video camera screen in the rear-view mirror, a feature I’m not fond of particularly. I’ve used it in the RDX and in my prior trial of the Toyota RAV4 and it’s hard to see small items. Mileage is rated at 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway. The MDX starts at $42,930 and if you get the fully loaded MDX, it’ll run you around $54,455.

Safety Features

  • Standard on every MDX is Vehicle Stability Assist where the system uses sensors to monitor vehicle speed, steering angle, and vehicle position. If over- or under-steering is detected, the system reduces engine torque and uses the ABS to apply the brakes.
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System: Checks real-time tire pressure and alerts the driver if a change takes place. The tire pressure can be checked by pressing a button on the steering wheel and according to my manual pressure reader, it’s accurate.
  • Airbags: It has airbags everywhere, but unfortunately, no knee airbag for the driver.
  • Seat belt pretensioners: The seat belt pretensioners are for the front seats only. In addition, there are load limiters to relieve the tension from the belt on ride-down.
  • Backup camera: There are 3 views from the backup camera: normal, wide, and straight down. The lines represent approximately 8’, 6’, 4’, and 18”. We laid out a measuring tape next to a cone, so that’s what you’re seeing in these pictures.

  • Active head restraints: The head restraints on the front seats are active, which means that in a crash, they will move forward and up to reduce your chance of whiplash.

 

4 frontal, 5 side, 4 rollover

The passenger side female test dummy bumped the frontal crash test result down to a 4 star rating. For many vehicles, the female test dummy is very tricky to test for; it’s too bad so many of us fit that bill. For an explanation of the new 5-Star crash test rating system, see Kecia’s excellent blog about it from October 2010.

 

G for frontal offset and side impact. Roof strength tests have not yet been conducted. If the MDX gets a G when the roof strength is tested, it would rate as a Top Safety Pick.

Rear crash protection/head restraint: G for overall rating, dynamic rating, and seat/head restraint geometry

 

Niceties

  • USB connection in the center console, as well as an MP3/auxiliary input jack
  • Speed-sensitive volume control for the audio system. I notice this mostly when starting from a stop and the music gets continuously louder as I accelerate. It’s nice to cover what little road noise there is.
  • XM and the Bluetooth connection to my iPhone for music; all models come with XM, but you have to upgrade to the Technology package to get the Bluetooth audio
  • The front passenger seat adjusts up and down, as well as forward and back. My dh likes to sit low and back, or rather he has to sit low and back to fit his 6’5” frame into the vehicle, but I like to sit high. Being able to adjust that on the passenger side is sweet.
  • The 2nd row legroom is fantastic. I have no doubt that my ds has inherited the family’s tall genes and he’ll have plenty of room back there as a teenager.
  • Fold down 3rd row: I don’t need a full-time 3rd row so having it out of sight is a great option.
  • Large cargo area: we managed to fit our dog’s unfolded crate plus 3 suitcases and a variety of other odds and ends in the cargo area for a weekend trip (we don’t pack light) and there was plenty of room.
  • Heated seats: MMMmmmmm. What’s that you say, kiddos? You want the heat on because you’re freezing? Oh sorry! I forgot ’cause I’m warm and toasty.

Creature Features

MMMmmmmmm, heated seats: what more could you ask for? Oh yeah! Ventilated seats! Well, I didn’t buy that package, so I don’t have them, but they sure would be nice. I wish Acura included them on all packages, instead of just the Sport package. The kiddos in the back seat *love* their air controls! The controls are much better than on the Sienna and the vents are easier for the kids to position on themselves. Unfortunately, there aren’t any air vents all the way back in the 3rd row, so it requires some up aiming of front vents to get air back there. But, on a long drive through the hot summer desert coming back from Phoenix over Memorial Day, my dd didn’t have any issues with air in the 3rd row.

The 3rd row head restraints are droid-like in appearance and don’t adjust easily for the passengers most likely to sit back there: children. When we bought the MDX, my 8.5 yr old dd easily fit in the 3rd row without a booster, but the head restraint was either positioned behind her back in the lowest position or up above her head in the first locked position. We simply make do with them in the lowest position when she rides back there with friends and they all love being back there since it’s much more compartmentalized than the 3rd row of a van and it feels like a cocoon. As an adult, I find it to be slightly claustrophobic and wouldn’t want to ride back there for more than a trip around town.

I did have a problem with my automatic adjusting seat. We set it at the dealership the day I bought it and after I drove for a few weeks, I decided I wanted to adjust the position a smidge. So I adjusted my seat and went to reset the button. Nothing happened. Uh oh. I read the manual and tried again. Nothing happened. Perhaps not a big problem in other vehicles, but in the Acura, when you insert the key into the ignition, it goes back to the automatic settings so I ended up adjusting my seat each time I drove. And it drove me nuts. And I started hating the car. Because who wants to go back to the dealer to wait an hour to have them adjust the friggin’ seat? So I Googled and found an MDX forum and they’re my go-to source for anything MDX now. It’s like car-seat.org for the MDX. It’s cute how they get so excited.

Driving Experience

I was really unhappy with my Sienna for a long time when it came to driving it. I live in an area of hills: I’m either driving up a hill or up another one.  The Sienna felt sluggish and I hated the way it shifted. I actually did a lot of vehicle comparisons online first before driving and had a spreadsheet comparing gas mileage, turning circles, length and height of the vehicle, gas tank size, and so on. I narrowed my search down to two vehicles: the MDX and the Lexus GX 470. I drove the MDX and was amazed by the pickup and ease with which it went uphill. A few days later I drove the Lexus and was so disappointed with how plodding it felt. It has a larger engine than the MDX—V8 vs. V6—and was slow from a start. Lexus vehicles definitely are luxurious and have those “little touches,” but I couldn’t drive a vehicle that drove me crazy every time I stepped on the gas.

The MDX has a nice combination of luxury and sportiness. The leather and wood trim throughout make it look like a luxury vehicle, while the styling and peppy engine give it that sporty feel. The MDX also has paddle shifters on the steering wheel, which is a new concept to me. Paddle shifters allow the driver to up- or down-shift depending on driving conditions. For instance, if I’m going up a hill and decide the car needs more power, I can press – paddle on the left side of the steering wheel to downshift to a lower gear. There’s also a special drive gear called Sequential Shift Mode where the driver can use the paddles to shift the transmission manually without a clutch. I don’t use the paddles much, but when I do, like in a school zone to keep my speed low, it’s very easy and I don’t have to worry about moving the gear shifter into a wrong gear, like I did on my Sienna once.

The turning circle on the MDX is like driving a small car, only better. I’ve actually driven small cars that don’t turn as tightly as the MDX! I can get it into tight parking spaces and make U-turns on small streets with ease.

Child Passenger Safety Techs Do Their Best Work in the Back Seat 

OK, I admit it. I didn’t actually know when I bought the MDX that it has 3 full sets of lower LATCH anchors in the 2nd row. You’re asking yourself right now, “What kind of CPS Tech doesn’t thoroughly examine the anchor situation in her own car?” Well, me. My kids are past the LATCH stage in their lives, so . . . Not only does it have 3 full sets of lower LATCH anchors (which includes top tethers) in the 2nd row, there are top tether anchors for the 2 third row seating positions as well. It’s the ultimate family SUV! Bravo Acura!

I haven’t had any trouble fitting any carseats in so far. The 2nd row isn’t extraordinarily scooped, the lower LATCH anchors are hidden in the seat bight (crack where the vehicle seat cushions meet) but are right at the edge and easy to find, and the buckle stalks are webbing, so they can be twisted if necessary for installation. The middle LATCH does overlap the driver’s side buckle stalk, so that could be an issue depending on the carseat installed and the person sitting outboard. The 2nd row is stationary, so it can’t be moved forward to accommodate larger rear-facing seats in the 3rd row. I’ve installed a Britax Advocate 70 CS, Cosco Scenera 40RF, Graco ComfortSport, Cybex Aton, Evenflo Maestro, Clek Olli, Harmony Literider, and Combi Dakota in the 2nd row without problems.

Attaching a tether connector strap (aka d-ring) for those Britax, Sunshine Kids, and Combi Coccoro convertibles that can be tethered while rear-facing is relatively easy. It will take a long d-ring strap, though, not one of the older, shorter versions, though I didn’t try to remove the plastic surrounding the seat leg anchor. By sliding the strap under the plastic, you’ll still need the full length of the d-ring and it is the same for either the passenger’s side or the driver’s side.

Entertainment Doesn’t Happen in *My* Car

The Entertainment package can be paired with the Technology package or with the Advance package. It comes with a 9” power drop-down DVD screen, separate audio, wireless headphones and remote, and a 115V power outlet in the center console. The 2nd row outboard seats are also heated in this package. I tried to convince dh that the kids needed heated seats to be comfy. He didn’t buy it.

Downsides

So I’ve had it now 6 months and that’s plenty long enough to find things not to like, right? Even on the test drive the navigation/computer didn’t make logical sense to me. For example, to enter a destination, you enter the street name first, then the address number. There are other computer features that I fumble around with, so I rarely use it. It does have a voice interface, but again, it involves remembering key words that aren’t logical to my brain. When I try using the voice interface to call someone, I usually end up turning on my air conditioner, lol.

While the steering wheel is very comfortable, looking through it to see the gauges leaves me being able to see only the speedometer and the tachometer. That all-important gas gauge is hidden behind the windshield wiper arm. If I were a little taller, it wouldn’t be a problem, but I’m not and so it is. I can see up to when the tank is about half-full, then I have to maneuver to see if I need to run by the gas station or am OK for a while.

Another downside are the overly inflated prices Acura charges for OEM accessories, like roof rails and running boards. We priced having the roof rails installed with the cross bars and it was $997 for just the parts! Because both items are a fairly easy install, we’ll probably end up doing it ourselves and buying the parts discounted somewhere online.

Would I Buy It Again?

Yep! We had a rough start—literally—when I had to take it to the dealer for battery problems twice within the first 2 months I owned it, but we’re liking each other much more now. I’ve been loving the look of the MDX for a couple of years now and when a vehicle has to live up to perfection, it’s tough. The city gas mileage is . . . eh . . . but it’s within 1 mpg of what I was getting in my Sienna, so I’m not complaining. In the meantime, I’m driving a vehicle that’s fun to drive and that my kids really like. I’ve heard the MDX referred to as an entry-level luxury SUV and sure, Lexus has the corner on the market of luxury. I wouldn’t call it an entry-level SUV anymore than I would call it a station wagon. It has the creature features we expect from a vehicle in that price range and it has the engine of a sports car. Would I recommend it? Yep! The ginormous 2nd row means that you won’t have to buy the skinniest seats on the market and hope that they’ll fit (then hope your kids grow up faster so they’ll fit in an even skinnier booster so you have more room!). What more could you ask for (besides a hybrid MDX)?

You can learn more about the MDX at the Acura website and download brochures as well. For pricing information, we recommend CarsDirect.com.

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