The itinerary for our press drive was somewhat atypical. Normally the driving portion of the event takes place immediately following the conclusion of the morning technical presentations. Obviously the big highlight of our day with the 2007 MDX was to drive the MDX (and competitors) out at BeaveRun Motorsports Complex, but to drive directly to BeaveRun would have likely taken more than 3 hours from our base camp at Nemacolin Woodlands Lodge. To make the best use of our time, Acura arranged to have helicopters ferry us to Beaver County Airport where we would finally get our first glimpse of the 2007 MDX.
As the choppers descended upon the airfield, a quintet of gleaming 2007 Acura MDXs came into view, arrayed neatly on the apron of a hangar. As we closed in on them, my very first impression was that while the styling remained faithful to the concept, the MDX had adopted a somewhat blockier presence than the show car. (Sidenote: For the MDX, Acura's designers took inspiration from the Wallypower 118 megayacht - they were channeling bold, sleek, clean, and performance from this image.) The choppers settled to the ground and I quickly grabbed my gear and jumped out to go get a closer look. The next thing that caught my eye was the grille - Paul Wall, eat your heart out! My eyes then settled upon the nice and satiny titanium-like finish on the Sport model's 18" 5-spoke wheels - these look great. Base models make do with a more mundane semi-split 6-spoke design with a typical aluminum clearcoat finish.
I wasted no time leaping into the first MDX I came across. The driver-oriented interior is trimmed quite nicely. You won't mistake it for your neighbor's Phantom, but it's one of Acura's more upscale environments. A large expanse of simulated Koa wood trim adorns much of the dash and flows into the door panels, and for fake stuff it brings some warmth to the high-tech interior. At the command post, the driver is presented with 4 deeply hooded gauge pods and a set of gauges that will look familiar to any current Honda or Acura driver. One point of distinction are the "floating" needles for the gauges - only the tips are red/orange - the rest of the needle is black so as to become "invisible". The effect is somewhat lost on me. Set in between the primary pods (which house the tach and speedo) is the multi information display (MID), which now sports a higher resolution screen than previous Acura MID displays. It's an improvement, but not quite as appealing as the nice color LCD MID display that was in the last Audi I drove. The steering wheel is slathered with a plethora of buttons, as is rapidly becoming the norm these days. Thankfully, all of these buttons are distributed across the 3 spokes of the steering wheel - no more fumbling around looking for a voice command button hidden between spokes. Acura didn't bother with putting "paddle shifters" on the MDX - and that's not necessarily a bad thing since they're not as useful as one might think. Now a set of large stationary paddles would be nice...
The center stack is dominated by the enormous 8" display of the navi system. While the screen size keeps increasing, the actual screen resolution seemingly hasn't. We really do like Acura's navigation system but the UI and resolution could use some freshening. Below the navi display unit are the HVAC controls and a display panel for the HVAC and stereo functions. Of all the buttons and materials in the MDX, for some reason the buttons for the HVAC system struck me as still having an unfinished or prototype look to them. They just look a touch shinier and harder than everything else inside. The lower half of the center stack contains the audio system (and rear entertainment system on "Entertainment" models) and Acura's "i-Drive" knob thingie (actually, Acura calls it their "Interface Dial", but I keep forgetting that). The audio system controls are logically laid out but the overall look is marred by an absurd abundance of silkscreened logos that speckle the area surrounding the audio unit. A little restraint here would have gone a long way.
The shifter console hosts the control lever for Acura's 5-speed automatic transmission, and it's double gated to allow for Acura's sportshift mode. While paddle shifters can be handy, it's much easier to actually use the shift lever when engaged in heavy wheel twirling activities. To the right of the shifter is a covered cupholder. On the right side of the transmission tunnel, you'll find a sliding door that conceals another handy storage spot for a small purse, cell phone, or perhaps the owner's manual. The front center console has a split lid, providing individual armrests for driver and passenger. This is designed to allow access to the storage compartment without having to change the disposition of your carmate's elbow, but we'll see how that works out.
Moving back to the 2nd row of seats, we find that it's pretty comfy back there, though I can't help but wonder how much more comfy it would be if the 2nd row of seats could be slid fore and aft to provide more leg and toe room. Leg room in back is adequate, but by no means would I call it particularly roomy. Making matters worse is the fact that the toe room is fairly pinched, which tends to make me something approaching miserable on longer trips. Ever since the previous MDX debuted, I've always wondered how much more comfortable the 2nd row would be if the designers didn't have to worry about that tiny 3rd row of seats. Well, I may be on to something because I cornered one of the designers and asked about this. Judging by his reaction, I got the distinct feeling that this was something that Acura was looking into. In the other dimensions, the rear seats are pretty roomy, and the "bucket-like" bolsters look and feel nice to sit in. Now I wasn't in Belize in 2000 when Acura gave the presentation for the first generation MDX, so I don't know if they said so much back then, but I've always contended that the MDX's third row of seats is unsuitable for humans older than around 12 years old, but that's what they're saying about them now too. At least we're in agreement on that one point. The best part about the third row of seats is that the release levers are now an 8 shorter reach from the bumper, so you no longer need Yao Ming's wingspan to operate them. In addition to being within easier grasping distance, the levers themselves have been rotated 180 degrees so they operate in a more natural fashion.
Acura has finally come up with their own version of the switchblade key, and it's now appearing in several '07 models, including the RDX and MDX. On the MDX this is paired with a new "one touch" starter system that keeps cranking the starter until the motor fires - just twist the key in the ignition to the start position for a moment, and the "one touch" takes over.