Rating: 8.8
Bottom Line:
Thanks to a new 6-speed transmission, the 2010 Acura MDX is a pleasant drive, and the available techno-luxury goodies make the SUV a bargain, especially when compared with its German competition.
  • Extensive available tech
  • Cool 3-angle rearview camera
  • 6-speed automatic transmission takes all the uncertainty out of the drivetrain
  • Too many buttons on the dash
  • Family nose is unattractive
  • We miss the previous wood trim

Acura has taken the knife to its 7-passenger SUV, giving a mid-cycle face-lift to an already successful platform. While a new hood, side skirts and familial front fascia help the MDX to stand out from the mall-bound luxury ute crowd, the real news is under the hood. A new 6-speed automatic gearbox replaces the previous, slightly befuddled 5-speed unit and gives Acura's people-hauler some much needed confidence in gear selection.

Model Lineup
The 5-door 2010 Acura MDX offers buyers three rows of seating in a 7-passenger configuration, although the third row is best left to individuals no bigger than the average middle-schooler. In base trim, the SUV is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 engine and makes use of the company's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, or SH-AWD. You also get a fair share of tech toys, such as heated 10-way adjustable front seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and a solid premium sound system.

Acura offers two other trim packages for the MDX, starting with the Technology Package. Features such as Milano leather seats, a navigation system, an excellent ELS Surround 10-speaker stereo and a multiview rearview camera all come along for the ride, as does a solar-sensing automatic climate-control system. If having more onboard tech than the space shuttle isn't enough electro-wizardry for you, Acura offers an Advance Package as well. On top of the Technology Package, you can expect radar-based adaptive cruise control, blind-spot sensors, vented front seats and auto-leveling headlights. The Advance Package also boasts larger 19-inch, 7-spoke wheels.

Under the Hood
Acura's 3.7-liter V6 engine stays on for 2010, complete with 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque. The VTEC variable valve timing helps the 6-cylinder broaden its power band and makes the most of your pennies in the tank. Acura opted for a traditional fuel-injection system in the MDX, instead of a more advanced direct-injection setup, but that doesn't stop the SUV from returning respectable fuel economy of 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway.

Those numbers are partly thanks to the aforementioned 6-speed automatic transmission. The gearbox is a serious improvement over the 5-speed unit found in the last generation MDX. Where the old transmission seemed to hunt and pick for the appropriate gear, the new 6-speed is decisive and precise. Shifts are quick and smooth, and that extra cog allows the engine to breathe easier at highway speeds — offering up 1 mpg more than the 2009 model in both city and highway driving.

Just as before, the MDX comes with Acura's SH-AWD full-time all-wheel-drive system. The company says the system was honed on the brutal tarmac of the famed Nurburgring in Germany, and carries a slew of tech advancements to help the SUV corner quicker and make the most of the available horsepower. Those include the ability to shuffle power to the wheel with the most grip, and to spin the outside rear wheel 1.7 times faster than the ones on the inside of a curve to reduce understeer.

Inner Space
Acura has decked the MDX's dash and center stack in new burlwood that isn't quite as attractive as the trim in last year's model, and the plethora of buttons throughout the cabin still comes off as a little overwhelming. The seats are snappily dressed units, comfy enough for extended stays in the saddle — at least in the first and second rows. While technically a 7-passenger crossover, as in most 3-row utes the last row is best left for emergency use only.

Fortunately, those way-back seats fold completely flat, giving up a Rhode Island-size cargo area. The rest of the cabin is light and airy, with great visibility from the captain's seat. The new multiview rear camera makes reverse maneuvers a cinch, though it's not as seamless as the "overhead" version in Infiniti's FX series.

On the Road
When equipped with the Advance Package, the 2010 MDX comes with a new Active Damper System. Using magnetically charged damper fluid, the suspension can be adjusted from firm to soft, creating a variable driving feel in the process. The driver can switch between a borderline too-soft Comfort setting and a considerably sharper Sport mode at the push of a button. The latter makes the big crossover feel as if it's laced up a new set of track shoes and dropped 500 pounds — eliminating most of the body roll and wallow we came to expect from the last MDX. Even if you aren't into all of the technological wonders found in the Advance Package, the Active Damper System might make stepping up a trim level or two a worthwhile consideration.

On the road, the MDX is quiet and well-mannered. The new 6-speed transmission does its job with zero fanfare, putting the vehicle in the right gear without any hesitation. We love the change. Acura says its SUV is quicker than the V6 Porsche Cayman, with a zero-to-60 sprint of around seven seconds. Thanks to that extra gear, it also manages better fuel economy.

Right for You?
We can't say the new exterior touches of the MDX are our cup of tea, but the mechanical improvements over last year's model make this luxury ute an absolute bargain. Throw in an incredible amount of available technology, and we're hard-pressed to figure out why anyone would go for the SUV's pricier competition, such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Acura hasn't released pricing information on the 2010 MDX just yet, but expect it to be in the same ball park as the 2009 model, which starts at $40,990.

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.