2015 Acura MDX Driving Impressions

The Acura MDX delivers a comfortable, controlled ride. Steering is sharp and occupants are isolated from road noise and vibration, benefits of a rigid chassis, the latest in suspension engineering, and quick steering. The shock absorbers are called Amplitude Reactive Dampers, because they use variable damping rates depending on the terrain and speed.

But the best part of the MDX is the powertrain; we say that about some BMWs, too. The 3.5-liter V6 is eager and silky, all the way to redline at 6700 rpm, boosted by a smooth and quick 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and Sport mode.

We liked that when you use the paddles, it doesn’t automatically go into Sport mode, which allows you to use the paddles during relaxed driving. We also liked that the transmission isn’t programmed to out-think you; it does what it’s told and no more, although it upshifts at 6500 rpm to out-think your idea of blowing up the engine. In Sport mode, the shifts get more aggressive, and the exhaust note gets a bit growly, as programmed.

Acura’s IDS, Integrated Dynamics System, uses three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The modes try to give you what you want, by balancing steering effort, throttle response, and torque to the wheels, while adding Active Noise Control. In Sport mode you get a rumble delivered to the cabin, using microphones under the hood and in the tailpipe, enhanced by a subwoofer and wired to a speaker in the headliner. For all that effort, it’s quite subtle.

Suspension settings are not a part of IDS because the shock absorbers already respond to conditions; call them smart shocks. On a patched and curvy road, the suspension handled every transition, and the steering tightened to keep the big vehicle pointed true, in corners and ripples.

The brakes are big, with 12.6-inch vented discs in front and 13.0-inch solid discs in rear, with full electronic assistance.

Agile Handling Assist uses the brakes to maintain steady cornering, by applying them to individual wheels, which puts correct turning forces on the car.

Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) throws out all the stops to maintain control in dodgy situations.

Fuel economy for an MDX with all-wheel drive is an EPA-estimated 18/27 mpg City/Highway MDX. Premium gasoline is recommended. For improved fuel efficiency, the MDX was carefully engineered for minimal rolling resistance, friction and aerodynamic drag.

Acura goes whole hog in the electronic safety department. In addition to the relaxing Adaptive Cruise Control and well-intended Lane Departure Warning, there’s Forward Collision Warning, which raises the bar. When Volvo invented the system, it prevented low-speed rear-enders and hitting pedestrians. In the MDX you can drive in 30-mph stop-and-go traffic without using your feet at all. We did it for nearly an hour.

The system needs some work. Because it makes its decisions based on the car in front of you, in effect, the driver ahead of you has his feet on your throttle and brake pedals. So it can be jerky. And there is a lag time programmed into accelerating from a stop, so you might get honked at. And if everyone had this system, traffic would get worse. In 30-mph stop-and-go traffic, it helps for everyone if you don’t let gaps happen. Which of course requires paying attention, and this system is designed to allow you to do less of that.

You can over-ride the system, of course; but when your brain is in auto mode, relaxed like your feet, it takes time to snap into emergency over-ride. Another problem, is you will forget whether it’s on or off, so your brain has to remember to remind your foot that it’s needed to stop the car.

We are not being facetious, here. We’re thinking for people who use their brains to drive. Automakers will say that auto systems will prevent more crashes than they cause. But systems aren’t perfect, especially when they’re designed for the masses. So it’s quite possible for these systems to cause crashes in some situations. For example when the driver can see through the windshield what’s coming, before the system can measure it.

**Based on current year EPA mileage ratings. Use for comparison purposes only. Your actual mileage will vary, depending on how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, battery pack age/condition (hybrid models only) and other factors.

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