Pure Ingredients

Tow Test: Acura MDX

There is so much demand for sport utility vehicles that automotive manufacturers have been grabbing any platform they can find - cars, pick-ups, donkey carts, whatever - to build them on. This often works, but attempts to reconfigure an SUV from a minivan have yielded mixed results. Acura's engineers started with what many consider to be the best minivan, the Honda Odyssey, to base their new SUV, the MDX. They did it (and did it well), but in truth, there's little of the Odyssey left in the MDX. The Odyssey's 3.5-liter V-6 engine was pumped up to 240 horsepower; there's a new on-demand all-wheel-drive system; and the suspension gear was completely redesigned. The result? Move over BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus. With its three rows of seats, the MDX earns stars for its car-like comportment, and it doesn't whine when it's time to get to work.

But the real question for us is whether the MDX can handle our kind of work: towing a boat. To find out, we hitched it to a 19' Checkmate riding on a single-axle OMD trailer and plotted a course through bad weather and slippery roads. Conclusion? The MDX manuevered our 2,340-pound payload through the slop with ease.

Acura's engineers took a novel approach with its all-wheel-drive system by offering the MDX with two tow ratings: 3,500 pounds for boxy travel trailers, but 4,500 for boats. Why? Unlike travel trailers, boats glide through the air. Less air resistance means more weight can be hauled, in this case 1,000 pounds more.

Under the hood, the MDX has a medium-size, high-tech V-6. It's a smooth, powerful engine, plus it's remarkably gutsy at low rpm - ideal for yanking a boat out of the water. If you like to leg the gas for maximum go when the light turns green, you'll be surprised by the power that's available. The computer-controlled driveline automatically switches from front propulsion to all-wheel drive every time you punch it hard. This proves great on the launch ramp. You'll never have to worry about your front tires scratching for traction in vain. Now park the trailer and take the MDX for a quick drive. Hey, is there a BMW sport sedan under here? The MDX has enough steering feel to satisfy the most rabid driving enthusiast. It has enthralling acceleration, excellent cornering adhesion, and lots and lots of braking capacity.

A single-piece liftgate opens to reveal access to a roomy cargo hold that sports an additional small underfloor stowage compartment for valuables. Do you have an outboard, fishing gear, or water toys to haul along? A third-row kids' seat splits and folds down flat into the floor.

MODEL ACURA MDX
Engine 3.5-liter SOHV V-6
Net hp/rpm 240/5300
Net torque (ft-lb/rpm) 245/3000
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Suspension Front Rear strut-type, coil springs independent multilink, coil springs
Wheelbase (in.) 106.3
Length (in.) 188.5
Width (in.) 76.3
Height (in.) 68.7
Brakes (front/rear) disc/disc; standard 4-wheel ABS
Tires Michelin Cross Terrain, P235/65TR-17 M+S
Curb weight (lbs.) 4,400
Towing capacity (lbs.) 4,500
Cargo capacity (max. cu. ft.) 82
Fuel capacity (gal.) 19.2
Observed towing fuel economy (avg. mpg) 13.0
Price (as tested) $39,425

LAST WORD. Yes, it's expensive, but the Acura MDX is well worth its price. Here's living proof that greatness can evolve from humble beginnings.