COAL: 2009 Acura MDX – The Goldilocks Car


A funny thing about our 2006 Chrysler Pacifica: Neither Kristen nor I can recall why we chose to get it. You’ve already read my recollection of events, where I claim it was her idea, but she has just real recollections about it being my idea. Regardless, while the Pacifica certainly wasn’t a bad car, we didn’t love it either.

As you will recall from my previous COAL, by 2008 I was riding high working for JC Whitey as an IT Director. When it came time to get rid of the Pacifica, I wanted the best 3-row crossover money could buy, and in my mind that was the Acura MDX.

I’d been an admirer of the second generation MDX styling since it came out in 2007, and still am today. Where the Pacifica was rounded and lumpy, the angular MDX was muscular, pressed and creased. Picture a pro athlete in a well-fitted designer suit. The only downside was the Acura beak grille, but still it worked better in this application than on their cars.



The MDX is really the vehicle that cemented Acura’s transition from sporty luxury carmaker to luxury SUV maker, a transition the brand is still struggling to reverse to this day. The MDX also had the advantage of a relatively uncompetitive segment, so let’s take a quick look at the three-row luxury crossover segment circa 2009: Lexus, Lincoln, and Infiniti at the time didn’t offer a three-row crossover (Lexus still doesn’t). Mercedes had their exceptionally oddball R-Class. The GM Lambda quadruplets all looked alike and were too commonplace. The Audi Q7 was enormous (about the size of a Tahoe, believe it or not), and the first-generation Cadillac SRX was just plain strange-looking.

The MDX was (and remains to this day) the segment benchmark.

The MDX felt like a perfected version of the Pacifica. It was more space-efficient: While it was smaller outside than the Pacifica in almost every dimension, Interiorwise you couldn’t really tell (except for from the third row). I could touch the base of the windshield while standing in front of the car, something you can’t do in many other cars. It had an honest-to-gosh bench seat in the second row, which could comfortably seat three across, and seat five without the hassle of having to engage the third-row seat. It also increased the maximum passenger capacity to seven, addressing our biggest complaint with the Pacifica.



The 300hp 3.7L V6 was magical. To this day it is still the most powerful engine of all the cars I’ve owned. It effortlessly moved the MDX, and was, of course, Honda smooth. It didn’t have that trademark Honda cammy sound I’d come to appreciate in my previous Hondas, however. It had more of a coarse bass note from the massive airbox, which tends to dull out the mechanical sounds coming from the engine. This is a common affliction on most modern cars, so it is easy to see why some now employ fake engine sounds played through the audio system.


Older son Josh photobombing my new car shoot.


The MDX got slightly better gas mileage than the Pacifica, despite having all-wheel drive vs. our Pacifica’s front-wheel drive, and the more powerful engine. Credit for this can partly be attributed to the 5-speed automatic in the Acura, vs. the 4-speed in our Pacifica, and partly to the reduced weight.


Look at all them lights!

If you will indulge me for a minute of nerding out, one of the things I found interesting was the number of bulbs on the front end. While most cars combine multiple functions into a single bulb (side marker and turn signal, or low and high beam for example), the MDX employed a separate bulb each for DRL, low beam, high beam, turn signal, fog light, parking light, and side marker, for a total of fourteen bulbs on the front of the car. I can’t think of another vehicle offhand that had bulbs dedicated to DRL, although I’m sure the readers will happily provide examples. Amazingly, none of this myriad of bulbs burned out while the MDX was with me.


Trying to hide my ugly beak!


The 18″ wheels provided the perfect balance between style and ride quality, unlike some of my later rides with large wheels and overly firm ride. Indeed, much like our 2003 Accord, it is hard to find anything to fault. Honda just makes good cars.