FARMINGTON, Pa. -- It's pouring in the Appalachians of Pennsylvania, a thunder-booming storm that drenches the winding two-lane highway we're driving and makes tire traction dicey and -- if you're not attentive at the wheel -- potentially dangerous.
Yet we're not concerned due to the sticky four-wheeling agility of Acura's unconventional crossover utility vehicle (CUV), the MDX. Now in new skin wrapping an expanded structure, MDX for 2007 packs a stronger V6 engine tied to a silky electronic five-speed automatic with Sequential SportShift override for manual control, plus the spry wheel control of Acura's SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive) equipment and a computer-managed vehicle stability control (VSC) system to check lateral wheel slippage.
So it glides smoothly around each tight kink of the curvy mountain road as 18-inch all-season tires up front claw the course while the rear treads follow in line without slipping or sliding. Despite the wet pavement, our MDX reveals on this dash through the Appalachians that it's quite nimble, even playful -- traits not typical for a hefty mid-size wagon which tips the scales at well over two tons, much less one lined in leather with seats for seven in the cabin and adaptable space for cargo in a back bay.
Producing an agile kind of CUV that's easy to drive and capable of multiple uses becomes the big idea behind MDX and explains why this wagon has been so popular since the first edition debuted as a 2001 model. Its name drives home the multi-task nature, with the initials meaning Multi-Dimensional Cross-Trainer, in the image of a toned athlete accomplished in various sports.
Acura works it as a refined luxury vehicle with cushy appointments and fancy features, yet the three rows of flexible seats permit different uses as a workhorse hauler and the powerful engine allows it to tow a trailer. Bold new body styling mark the 2007 editions of MDX, which represent a new generation with cutting-edge technology applied to vehicle handling systems.
The crisp shell, bereft of plastic cladding and flank trimwork, features a windswept face with massive pentagonal grille in aluminum and large corner headlamp clusters containing bi-xenon high intensity discharge (HID) lights. Size-wise, the body of MDX measures 2.2 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than the previous version with the roofline dipping by half an inch.
The platform's wheelbase runs to 108.3 inches, which is a full two inches longer, with the wheel track also expanding -- 67.7 inches for the front track (1.4 inches wider) and 67.5 inches at the rear (a one-inch increase). A monocoque structure for MDX is like a car's platform melding chassis and body into a cohesive entity that's extremely rigid.
Then a front-mounted engine directs its muscle to the front wheels with electronic controls on tap to channel some of that power to the rear wheels when front ones slip. Factor in the long wheelbase and broad wheel track to create a stable stance. And isolate the independent suspension system on sub-frames, add variable-power rack and pinion steering and disc brakes for all corners with anti-lock brake system (ABS) and electronic brake force distribution (EBD).
With single overhead camshaft and four valves in every cylinder, the advanced plant displaces 3.7 liters now and employs Honda's remarkable VTEC (variable value timing and lift electronic control) valvetrain to precisely manage engine breathing and combustion in order to maximize horsepower and disperse the torque across a broad band.
Engine refinements for 2007 include a larger bore, longer stroke and higher compression (11:1). It delivers 300 hp at 6000 rpm (a boost of 47 hp from the previous 3.5-liter plant) with 275 lb-ft of torque at 5000 rpm. The smart SH-AWD system aboard MDX can disburse the engine's torque not only to wheels fore and aft but the left or right ones too. It's always engaged and enables the vehicle to maneuver on wet or dry pavement with uncanny agility.
The device goes further than AWD controls employed by other vehicles because it can automatically increase the rotation speed of an outboard rear wheel during quick and hard cornering maneuvers. Boosting the rear wheel's rotation speed ends up decreasing the cornering load on the car's front wheels, which thwarts the tendency of an AWD system to understeer and ultimately enhances total tire grip through a turn.
The expanded structure of MDX creates an expanded passenger compartment comprising 142.2 cubic feet. All cabin decor is new, including a sculpted dashboard housing an optional navigation screen front and center. Two bucket seats covered in leather occupy the front row of the cabin on either side of a floor console.
Two leather buckets also go to the second row, or there's the option of a three-seat bench. Third-row seats split 50/50 are also included. Second-row seats drop forward and third-row seatbacks fold into the floor for a quick and relatively effortless disappearing act to make room for more cargo.
With all second and third seatbacks down, the vehicle ends up with a flat-floored cargo area that adds up to 83.5 cubic feet of storage space. Passive safety systems are aboard including frontal and seat-mounted side-impact air bags for front seats and curtain-style air bags above outboard seats in all rows.
Acura loads the MDX with a long list of standard features for a MSRP of $39,995.
MDX with a Technology package ($43,495) stocks a navigation system with voice-activated commands, a rearview camera, AcuraLink satellite communications and a 410-watt Acura/ELS sound system with 6-disc CD/DVD-Audio changer.
MDX with the Sport package ($45,595) gets gear of the Technology package plus auto-leveling headlamps, active-damping magnetic shock absorbers, perforated leather on seats and metallic trim in the cabin.
MDX with the Entertainment package for $2,200 more on the Technology or Sport package brings a DVD 9-inch video screen, heated seats on the second row, a 110-volt AC power outlet in the front console and power to move the tailgate.