Even the base model has everything most buyers could ever need -- but there's more if your want it

by: HONDA AMERICA MOTOR COMPANY - The styling of the 2012 Acura MDX strikes a balance between sporty and formal.The 2012 Acura MDX doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a well-equipped, full-size luxury crossover.

Even the base model comes standard with a leather interior, third row seats, a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V6, Acura’s excellent Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) System, a navigation system and connectivity for all your entertainment toys. The option packages are icing on the cake.

This approach initially makes the MDX seem more expensive than base models from competitors that come with cheaper interiors, front-wheel-drive and less powerful engines. Some buyers might be perfectly happy with such vehicles. But Acura is clearly aiming the MDX at buyers who want all the goodies in the first place.

But the MDX is about far more than a long list of standard features. It is about how well they work together. Even the least expensive model handles impressively for a seven-passenger vehicle. The engine provides smooth acceleration. The transmission moves smartly up and down the gears. The ride is soft over rough surfaces but surprisingly firm during hard cornering. And the SH-AWD system effortlessly shifts power around to keep all four wheels firmly on the road.

On the inside, the MDX is every inch a luxury vehicle. The leather seats are supple, comfortable and supportive. The quality of the materials (including leather and hard and soft plastics) is excellent. All of the pieces are well fitted. The high center console divides the driver and passenger seats into separate compartments, minimizing the chasm between the front doors. Generous sound insulation keeps road noise down.

The exterior styling strikes a balance between aggressive and sedate. The sharply sloped nose, angular headlight and large air scoops give the front end a sporty look. But the sides and back are more formal and conservative. The optional 19-inch alloy wheels on our test model tipped the balance to the sporty side of the equation.

Three option packages are available on the MDX, a Tech Package, an Advance Package and an Entertainment Package. As the names suggest, the Tech Package adds a range of technological features, the Advance Package upgrades the suspension and safety features, and the Entertainment package includes a DVD system for the rear seats.

Our test model was equipped with the Advance Package, which includes all the features of the Tech Package, and the Entertainment Package. Together, they are more than anyone can reasonably be expected to master and evaluate in a single week. Those features were figured out and appreciated included the multi-view parking camera and upgraded stereo in the Tech Package and the blind-spot warning system and adaptive suspension in the Advance Package. We undoubtedly would have appreciated the DVD system if we had to make a long trip with fussy children.

One thing we didn’t appreciate at first is all the buttons on the dash required to operate the standard and optional features. Acura has been repeatedly criticized in the past for having overly-complicated controls and the MDX is no exception. We got more comfortable with all them as the test proceeded, although we were initially reluctant to try to find any of them when the vehicle was moving. Most other luxury manufacturers have the same problem, however, and it’s not clear that any of them have come up with the best solution yet.

Nor has Acura come up with a third row of seats suitable for adults, a limitation of practically all seven and eight passenger crossovers. Since most MDX owners will never need to transport that many adults, this is not actually much of problem. But buyers should understand the last row is best reserved for children.

When not in use, the third row folds flat into the floor, giving the MDX a tremendous amout of cargo space. The room isn’t bad with the seat up, either.

There are both less expesnsive and more expensive seven-passenger crossovers on the market. Few can match the balance of performance and luxury offered by the MDX at any price, however. That makes it worth considering, even if the base model come standard with features that some buyers might think they can live without.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2012 MDX Advance Entertainment.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Full-size crossover.

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

• Style: Four-door liftback SUV.

• Engine: 3.7-liter V6 (300 hp, 270 lbs-ft).

• Transmission: Six-speed automatic with Sport shift paddles.

• EPA estimated city/highway/average mileage: 16/21/18.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $43,030 ($55,340 as tested).

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