Full-size SUV combines best of both worlds
by: ANNI TRACY, Who says family life has to be boring? The Acura MDX looks sharp, drives well and pampers its passengers with luxury features.

The 2010 Acura MDX tries very hard to be all things to all people - and it mostly succeeds, resulting in one of the best mid-size crossover SUVs on the market.

For stay-at-home dads, the MDX features up to seven seats for hauling the kids and their friends around town, a smooth shifting six-speed automatic transmission for easy driving, and a 'comfort' setting for the suspension to smooth out the ride.

For hard-charging corporate-lawyer moms, the MDX includes bolstered front seats, a manual shift mode to maximize the performance of the 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 engine, available all-wheel-drive, and a supple default suspension setting that encourages sporty driving.

Or vise versa.

And for romantic evening or weekend getaways without the kids, the MDX offers more than enough luxury, entertainment and convenience options features to make the trips feel special, including heated and cooled leather seats, polished wood trim, a sun roof and a tech package that includes a rear view camera, a voice activated navigation system, a an entertainment system that connects to everything.

On top of that, the MDX is one of the most stylish full-size SUVs on the road today. It is the last Acura to get the new edgy corporate look - beginning with the sharp grill, continue back to the angled flanks and ending with the big chrome exhaust tips. The look is exotic and sexy, about as far away from the box-on-box styling that characterized all early SUVs.

All that comes at a price, of course. Our fully-loaded test model was priced at more than $54,000 and is only EPA rated at an average 18 miles per gallon. Then again, we've tested sedans that cost that much and don't offer the versatility and carrying capacity of the MDX.

Despite its good intentions, our test model did not fully succeed at every task, however. For example, the turning radius is so wide that it hard to keep working the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in tight turns. The third row of seats is hard to reach and only suited for small children. And the default suspension setting is so well-dampened that the 'comfort' option is only necessary when the MDX is fully loaded. Before then, it is so soft that minor bumps cause distracting undulations.

But those are relatively minor complaints, considering what a good job the engineers have done with what is actually a fairly large, utilitarian vehicle. It is hard to imagine how Acura can improve it much in coming years. Tougher federal economy standard will probably result in more fuel-efficient powertrains, possibly including some version of the 2.3-liter inline four-cylinder engine in the smaller and sportier RDX. But major leaps forwards are difficult to foresee.

In fact, the same can be said about every Acura these days. Unless you don't like the current styling, Acura has a top-rated vehicle in every category, from the smallish TSX sedan to mid-size RL sedan and the MDX. Yes, they are all more expensive than the models offered by Honda, Acura's parent company. But, depending on options, most are less expansive than the European cars and SUVs that are designed to compete against.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 MDX.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Full-size crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door, seven passenger crossover.

• Engines: 3.7-liter V6 (300 hp).

• Transmissions: 6-speed automatic with manual shift mode.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 16/21 (as tested); 29-45

• Price: Beginning at approximately $42,500 ($54,565 as tested).

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