NEW YORK, NY
2010 is a big year for Acura's Advance campaign, regardless of whether or not the economy decides to cooperate. Acura has five significant updates to the lineup on tap this year, and we were fortunate enough to check out three of them at a recent press event hosted in New York City. The three vehicles that were the subject of this event included the 2010 MDX, 2010 RDX, and 2010 TSX V6.
Of the three vehicles on offer, I was most interested in checking out the new MDX, primarily because it features Acura's first ever 6AT (6-speed automatic transmission). The 6AT isn't the only thing that's new for 2010 MDX - there is a comprehensive list of additional upgrades, but from a mechanical standpoint the 6AT is the biggest news for Acura in 2010.
Before we focus further on that 6AT, let's talk about the other items of note on the 2010 MDX's upgrade list. First of all, the MDX's dizzyingly complicated trim level assortment has been supplanted by a bewilderingly convoluted trim level assortment. The lineup starts with a well-equipped standard model. The aforementioned 6AT transmission, a 300hp 3.7L V6, leather-surfaced seating for 7, tri-zone climate control, SH-AWD, 18" wheels, and a 253-watt stereo system are some of the more notable standard features. For 2010, also standard in all models are power tailgate, plated interior door handles (instead of painted plastic), rear view camera (with display inset into the rear-view mirror), and paddle shifters.
The options come bundled in three different packages: Technology, Advance, and Entertainment. The Technology package adds a 60GB HDD-based Navi with VGA resolution (all new), a 3 mode multi-view (also new) rear view camera, USB music connectivity (oddly, the standard MDX now has the strange distinction of being the ONLY vehicle in the entire Acura lineup that doesn't have USB music connectivity), AcuraLink® Satellite Communications System, Real-Time Traffic, Real-Time Weather with Doppler-style mapping (just like 2009 TL's), Acura/ELS surround audio system, and upgraded Milano premium leather interior. Gone in 2010 is the "Sport" package; it is now called the "Advance" package. To the Technology package, the Advance package adds the Active Damper system, Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Blind spot information system (new for 2010), ventilated seats (new for 2010 MDX), 19" wheels and tires (new for 2010, these actually offer an improvement in terms of noise and rolling resistance vs. the 18" tires), metallic paddle shifters, auto leveling headlights, and even more Milano premium perforated leather. The Entertainment package can be added to either of these packages and includes an all-new rear entertainment system complete with a new motorized 9" VGA screen and a new controller setup, heated rear seats, and a 115v power outlet.
One other feature that we stumbled across is a new power management system. Acura calls it their "Acura Battery Management System". We wouldn't have known about it as it was not referenced anywhere in the press kit or technical presentation, but during our drive a warning message repeatedly appeared on the multi-information-display of our pre-production prototype MDX. It was explained to us that the message was due to a software glitch with the new Battery Management System. We don't have many details on this new system, but we were told that it was developed around a power management chip sourced from Hella. The system carefully manages the condition of the battery and works to keep the battery at an optimal state. If the system senses a fully charged state, alternator output is cut, reducing the load on the engine while avoiding an overcharge situation with the battery. To preserve longevity and overall battery performance, the system also works to keep the battery above a minimum charge level. For example, if there are lights or accessories accidentally left on while the engine is not running, the system will warn the driver as the battery charge dips towards its lower threshold value. If the warnings are ignored, the system will ultimately shut down the interior lights in order to preserve battery charge.
The first thing that came to mind when I learned of this system was BMW's trick electrical system which uses an electromagnetic clutch to engage the alternator only during periods of braking or coasting, resulting in a claimed 2% increase in fuel economy. We're told that the Acura system isn't quite this sophisticated, but it does have a net beneficial effect on overall fuel economy. I would expect to see this same system appearing in other Acura models in the future.
Due to the nature of this event, our seat time in each vehicle was quite limited, and that time was split with a driving partner (James Tate, of MSN Autos). We ended up in the one MDX that didn't have the Advance package, so unfortunately I was unable to check out the recalibrated-for-2010 active damper system. Acura says that the difference between the two system modes is now more distinct. For now, we'll just have to take their word for it.
The MDX we drove was equipped with the Technology Package. The Tech Package's new HDD-based Navi system with the VGA screen is a welcome change, but if you've driven a 2009 TL Tech, you've seen it already. Otherwise, the interior updates are pretty subtle. Most of the interior is carryover, but the wood trim on the dash and door panels is now a dark brown-colored "Simulated Koa" wood trim. Additionally, the radio panel is now finished in black rather than last year's silver finish. It still looks pretty nice, but combined with the dark gray plastic dash, the overall palette seems a little flat. The door pulls are now "plated" which helps with the upscale look and feel, (particularly when compared to the painted plastic ones of last year), but I think they would look even better in a brushed metal finish, especially if matched to a strip of brushed metal trim to bring some needed contrast to the dash design.
As mentioned earlier, the rear view camera now offers 3 different views. The first one is the "standard" view, the 2nd one is a 180 degree wide angle view (helpful for spotting approaching vehicles while backing out of tight parking spots in crammed parking lots), and the third one is a new "top down" look which should facilitate the task of precisely backing up to a pole, wall, or an awaiting trailer hitch. It would be nice if there was a way to enable the rearview camera without having to put the transmission in reverse first, while a splitscreen view between the standard and "top down" views would also be handy.
Unfortunately, with our time constraints I completely failed to check out the MDX's new rear entertainment system. Apologies to those who were hoping to hear more about this new feature. I think my next shot at it won't be until these start hitting the press fleet in October/November.
The good news is that I was able to get a pretty good feel for the new 6-speed automatic transmission. As if the closer spaced and shorter ratios afforded by the long-requested 6AT weren't enough, Acura's engineers also massaged the MDX's 3.7L V6 to improve its power delivery. The compression ratio has been bumped up from 11.0:1 to 11.2:1. The hi-rpm cam lobes have been reprofiled to deliver 5% more lift and 3% more duration than last year's bumpsticks. Additionally, the 3.7s redline has been notched up 200 clicks, to 6700rpms. The net result is an MDX that feels noticeably quicker than last year's model, particularly in terms of acceleration from a roll. The icing on the cake is a 1mpg improvement in both the city and highway cycles compared to last year's MDX. As you can see from the table below, the new gearing is considerably shorter through the first 5 ratios, and then 6th provide an extra 3% of stride to help with fuel economy.
I didn't look at these ratios in advance of my drive, but seeing the percentages in black and white matches up pretty well with my driving experience. Off the line, the MDX feels a bit punchier than before, but it still feels a little bit thin getting out of the hole. Most impressive is the MDX's performance during overtaking maneuvers. Drop it a gear (or two), stab the throttle and it really lunges forward with real urgency. The best part of the 6AT is that with the improved midrange performance and more optimized gearing, you rarely find yourself in that "hole" in the torque curve that seemed all too common with the 5AT. In other words, it's much easier to keep the MDX "on the cam". A quick calculation estimates the max speed in gears 1-6 at 38, 62, 87, 121, 171, and 232mph, respectively.
The new 6AT has the ability to command quick double downshifts, now permitting you to jump straight from 6th to 4th gear, or 5th to 3rd. We tried this out using the sequential sportshift mode, and it does indeed respond to double downshift requests, but we noticed a slight double pause in between gears. The overall shift quality of this pre-production unit felt very similar to typical Honda automatic transmissions - precise with positive action.
From a chassis standpoint, I felt that the standard MDX's ride quality is pretty good on smooth roads. On more challenging pavement, the suspension has a bit of an underdamped feel to it. Without the benefit of the adaptive suspension, I think the engineers need to firm up the rebound damping at the least. Also, the steering has been lightened up a noticeable amount. I personally prefer much less boost, but the product team felt that their target market prefers the lighter feel.
The MDX has been a success story for Acura from the day the first generation debuted back in the 2001 model year. I felt that the 2nd generation was possibly the best product updates in Acura's history, and the 2010 mid-cycle change makes it an even better vehicle, with meaningful improvements in features, performance, and efficiency. The MDX is set to go on sale in the "Late Fall/Early Winter 2009" timeframe. Stay tuned for our first drive impressions of the 2010 TSX V6 and 2010 RDX.