I’m willing to bet most of you have owned a Honda at some point in your life. With the widespread success of the brand, it seems only natural that its corporate cousin Acura would share the same success. And yet, that’s not exactly the case.
Acura may have been the first luxury Japanese brand on American shores but over the years it’s suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Is it full-on luxury or a near-luxury alternative meant to appeal to a larger base?
I can’t answer that question (although I could share a couple of theories) and Acura doesn’t really seem to know the answer either, but the strongest case the automaker makes for proving its luxury chops is undoubtedly the 2013 MDX.
Let’s talk about tech, baby
The MDX is offered in single trim level with three available packages. At the bottom end of the spectrum the tech trimmings are a little bleak, with only Bluetooth hands-free calling and a three-way rearview camera included.
Step up to the tech package and in addition to a premium leather-appointed interior you get Acura’s navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink telematics system with real-time traffic and weather alerts, an eight-inch VGA screen, upgraded Acura ELS stereo system, and GPS-linked temperature controls.
Automakers need to start catering to the myriad of smartphone user out there and not just those faithful to Cupertino.
Finally, in addition to tech treats like a collision mitigation braking system, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot monitoring, the advance package throws in some cosmetic and performance-related features like an active sport suspension, perforated leather interior, heated and cooled front seats, and 19-inch seven-spoke alloy wheels.
As a rule, I don’t think there is such a thing as too much tech, which is why I’m pleased with what the 2013 MDX offers.
Operating the navigation system is accomplished through Acura’s central controller dial, itself fairly simple to use. Likewise, setting destinations and searching for addresses is also intuitive.
Entering destinations can be carried out through voice controls as well, and while I’m generally skeptical of the voice recognition technology in most vehicles, I was pleased that the software never had much trouble understanding me. It also auto-adjusts to lighting conditions quickly, removing the need to fiddle with it whenever lighting conditions change.
For the most part, it all operates nicely but Acura desperately needs to overhaul its infotainment menu design. It still looks too similar to what you’d see in a Honda. I also wish Acura (and yes I’m going to keep banging on about this) would address its cluttered interface. There are far too many buttons and it leaves the whole setup looking rather messy.
On top of the standard audio inputs (CD, AM/FM, Satellite Radio, and auxiliary audio jack) the 2013 MDX lets you stream music from your phone and apps via Bluetooth, which works really well and integrates nicely with the upgraded ELS sound system, save for a few problems.
Once paired to the vehicle the phone stays paired. However, I noticed it took an inordinate amount of time to sync up each time I entered the car after that. The MDX’s system didn’t exactly play nicely with my Windows Phone either. It’s supposed to grab your text messages and read them aloud, allowing you to respond and dictate your own message hands-free. That wasn’t the case for me and it was only until I switched to my iPhone 4S that this problem ceased. Is it a dealbreaker? It can be if you’re not an iPhone user. Automakers need to start catering to the myriad of smartphone user out there and not just those faithful to Cupertino.
While you won’t find the same levels of driver safety tech as you would in a SUV like Mercedes-Benz’s GL, the MDX has just enough to please all but the most ardent techies.
A Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) is powered by a radar transmitter fixed to the front grille. It works by sending a constant signal that sweeps in front of the car, evaluating the distance and closing speed of objects ahead. If the system is all “Danger, danger Will Robinson” and a collision is possible, the system sends out an audio and visual alert warning alerting the driver.
I typically try not to test last gasp safety features out on the road but I inadvertently found out first hand just how well CMBS worked. The system even tugs at your seatbelt to let you know it’s automatically administering the brakes.
All dressed up Acura
Acura has struggled to be considered a “true” luxury brand and by that I mean matching the frustratingly high bar set by the Germans and Japanese rival Lexus.
Lately, asking Acura to compete in that arena is akin to asking Danny DeVito to slam dunk over Shaq.
Thankfully the MDX doesn’t suffer such such shortcomings. Inside, this is a bona fide luxury SUV and only a few design choices cause it to skip a beat.
Let’s start with the bad. While material quality is (mostly) excellent – leather upholstery abounds and is found on the shifter, steering wheel, and center armrest – the dash liner is covered with a rubberized material that feels out of place and even worse – looks cheap.
Over the lifespan of the latest-gen MDX, I’ve slowly warmed to the design, but even that’s a stretch.
Another styling snafu is infotainment system’s convoluted button layout. I’ve written about this many times over but needless to say I’m not a fan of the layout. If a steep learning curve is what you’re after then Acura’s system won’t disappoint. I won’t go so far as to say it’s a hopeless design but it is intimidating and one that I envision newcomers will take some time adjusting to, I know I still do.
With all that behind us it’s time to focus on the good. The MDX offers an excellent level of comfort for passengers and drivers alike.
There is an intelligent use of space, with plenty to spare thanks to the wide center armrest and smart sliding compartment to the left of the passenger’s feet.
Seats are both large and plush with 10-way adjusters for drivers, eight-way for passengers.
For added utility, a third row of seating is standard, bringing the total passenger count to seven. However, the third row is best kept to smaller adults and children.
Whether you’re looking to make a quick getaway to the coast or have a longer road trip in mind, the 2013 MDX will happily oblige.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while I might be in the minority, I can’t help but feel blind to the MDX’s charm.
Where others might see a handsome, aggressively styled crossover, I see a design that lacks any real cohesion; an angry eagle beaked front grille that fails to excite.
Over the lifespan of the latest-gen MDX, I’ve slowly warmed to the design, but I’d describe that warmth as lukewarm more than anything else.
While you won’t be embarrassed driving the MDX by any stretch, it’s just not the type of car that stirs any degree of emotion or confidence when the wheels are stopped. I guess the biggest compliment I can give to Acura’s designers is their ability to design a crossover SUV that doesn’t stand out among the rest of the hyper-stylized specimens flooding the market.
Still, the exterior isn’t bad enough to pass up altogether, but I really hope Acura moves away from its current jagged theme. And no, slapping jeweled headlamps a la the upcoming third-generation, 2014 MDX does not fix the problem.
Worth a listen
The 2013 Acura MDX is limited to a single powertrain; a 3.7-liter V6 generating 300 horsepower and 270 pound-feet of torque. Power is sent to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.
An onboard ECU works in conjunction with the MDX’s Honda-sourced VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) which essentially monitors a corpus of driving info such as engine oil pressure, engine temperature, vehicle speed, engine speed, and throttle position. Because of the constant monitoring, the system provides a more optimized ride at the low and high ends of RPM operation, which itself translates to better overall performance.
For added gumption, the MDX is equipped with Acura’s Sequential Sport Shifters. While I typically forgo them, I found the paddle shifters extremely useful in the MDX. Uphill they help give the MDX greater assurance while also mitigating the need to ride the brakes downhill.
And despite its heft, the MDX accelerates with aplomb from a stand-still and overtakes cars on the highway with confidence.
The engine’s growl was also surprisingly boisterous, despite luxury SUVs typically bred to be as quite as can be. Nevertheless, the MDX’s voice carries well, especially during spirited driving sessions. Get it angry enough — and you’ll know it. And love it.
A couple of caveats to consider, however, are the MDX’s poor fuel economy and the need to fill the MDX with premium gas.
EPA estimates give the MDX 16 mpg in the city, 21 mpg on the highway, and 18 mpg combined. For reference, the Mercedes-Benz GL450 4matic returns 14/19/16, while the BMW X5 35i gets 16/23/19.
With fuel prices in constant flux, the MDX’s poor returns and premium fuel requirement is something potential buyers will want to consider before pulling the trigger.
Let the wheels do the talking
Proud and pliant is the best way to describe the Acura’s driving character. Turn the wheels, step on the gas, and the car goes where you want. I never felt I wasn’t in control or that the MDX couldn’t handle the various driving environments I subjected it to.
Naturally, the added right height creates some sloppiness (damn you physics!) and there is a greater degree of roll felt during sharp turns but overall the MDX stayed planted and composed.
That excellent handling is attributed to MDX’s excellent Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. I already detailed the SH-AWD here but needless to say it makes an equally impressive difference in the MDX.
The key ingredient is torque vectoring, which for those unfamiliar with it, distributes power unequally to the wheels. In the world of torque vectoring, equality isn’t a good thing, which is why it’s distributed where needed (generally, whenever a wheel starts to slip).
Adding to the MDX’s pleasure-filled driving dynamics is a Vehicle Stability Assist. Here, an array of sensors help continually monitors things like throttle position, wheel speed, vehicle speed, steering angle, and yaw rate. VSA also works in conjunction with the MDX’s ABS, and SH-AWD to help reduce vehicle understeer and oversteer.
In fact, it all works so well you’re virtually oblivious to everything that’s taking place underneath you. Just the way I like it.
The 2013 Acura MDX is a superstar SUV.
Want a luxurious cabin? The MDX delivers with (mostly) top shelf material quality. Are you looking for healthy helping of tech and safety features? The MDX is packing that, too. Need a third row of seats for the troops? Check that box. Itching for a smooth yet thrilling ride? Then the MDX’s got your back.
What’s more, the car offers a great deal for a great deal. Base price for a fully loaded MDX is a reasonable $55,700.
Sure, it’s not the best looking crossover on the market and it still misses a few notes here and there, but add up all its good qualities and the MDX truly separates itself from the pack. More refined options exist from the Germans – the Mercedes-Benz GL and BMW X5 springs to mind (especially if you’re in need of a third row) – but prepared to throw down more money in the process.
- Engaging ride dynamics betray the MDX’s weight and ride height
- Lots of utility, especially with the added third row seat and large trunk space
- Excellent array of tech for both drivers and passengers
- Some questionable material choices inside ensure the MDX isn’t as refined as its German rivals
- Steep learning curve thanks to Acura’s busy control layout
- Exterior design language still doesn’t illicit enough excitement