Drive to Five Review: 2015 Acura MDX – Off-Roading in Bloody Basin
Odometer (Legend): 532,742
Odometer (ILX): 116,312
Odometer (MDX): 7,636
Trip Distance: 164 Miles
“What are your weekend plans?” asked Carin at Great Clips while she worked the sides of my head with the hair clippers. “I’m going on a little off-road drive with a few friends,” I told her. I could see the wheels spinning figuratively in her head, probably thinking of some extreme rock-crawling adventure with Jeep Wranglers. “What are you going to drive?” “An Acura MDX,” I told her. “Wait, isn’t that a luxury car?” I took a minute to educate her. What’s the point of having a four-by if you aren’t going to use it?
In November 2013, I did a full review of the then-new 2014 Acura MDX. For the 2015 model year, the MDX carries onward unchanged (“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”) and I was again this year given the chance to put Acura’s best-selling SUV through a real-world driving evaluation over the past week. My test MDX was born in Lincoln, Alabama but already had over 7,000 miles on it by the time it arrived at my house. It was painted Obsidian Blue Pearl and loaded to the max with option packages. Bottom line on the as-tested vehicle was $57,765. I’ll share details about those options later on.
For a chance to exercise this luxo-SUV on a variety of road conditions, I asked around and got a few recommendations. The route that we chose would give us a taste of freeway, two-lane, and off-road sections over the course of its 160-mile length.
From Scottsdale, eight of us headed out on Sunday morning with a foursome of varied sport utility vehicles: 2003 Ford Expedition, 2015 Nissan Murano, 2015 Toyota RAV4, and the 2015 MDX. The grades on Interstate 17 climb sharply from the Phoenix Valley toward Flagstaff. The MDX cruised comfortably at 75-80 mph and it’s difficult to tell you’re even going that fast – wind/road noise is near non-existent. Our destination was Forest Road 269, also known as “Bloody Basin Road.” It takes off from I-17 at mile marker 259. From there, the pavement ends and the fun begins as the road heads eastward through some remote backcountry that is rich in history.
Along the way, we would be passing by Indian ruins and other abandoned dwellings. Bloody Basin gets its name from a series of armed conflicts between new settlers in the area and the native Apache people. One particular massacre happened in 1864 when a party led by a man named King Woolsey killed 29 Indians. Legend has it that the stream ran red with their blood. Bloody Basin Road goes through the Agua Fria National Monument, a 50,000-acre area that contains some well-preserved ancient ruins that were occupied between 1250 and 1450 AD.
But you didn’t come here for a history lesson. How about that MDX? Over 50 miles of rough dirt road later, I can attest: This SUV is as refined in rugged territory as it is on a high-class date to the symphony. Bloody Basin dished out its fair share of terrain that made us raise our eyebrows in wonder: Do we have enough ground clearance? Is this going to scratch one of the wheels? How deep is that water? No task seemed too difficult to undertake. The MDX’s MacPherson-strut-equipped suspension kept Chris’ Starbucks beverage from sloshing around too much on the washboard ruts. And that, in his book, was enough to give it a firm stamp of approval.
Prior to the off-road portion, Mike in the Expedition had remarked: “I brought tow straps in case we need to pull any of these ‘cute-utes’ out of the rough stuff.” Well, Mike didn’t end up needing those straps after all. In fact, we rolled onward confidently in the comfort of ventilated seats, XM radio, and tri-zone automatic climate control. Heck, if we’d had enough riders, I could have had people in the back seat watching movies on the ultra-wide 16.2″ DVD system with headphones!
Meanwhile, each of the dozen or so vehicles which passed us going the opposite direction gave us the same look of, “What do they think they’re doing here in that?” It seemed like all the other vehicles on the trail were lifted 4Runners or full-size pickup trucks. The route was full of scenic photo-ops so we took advantage of the chance to pull over and enjoy it (and, to give the dog Jake a chance to stretch his legs and lap up a little bit of water).
At one point we decided to take a steep side trail to the top of a small mountain. The MDX 3.5-liter V6 pulled the vehicle effortlessly to the summit without even requiring a lot of throttle input. It produces 290 horsepower and is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission that can be manually shifted with paddles on the steering wheel for maximum control.
King of the hill! No sweat.
After about 27 miles, we made it to the junction with Forest Road 24, also known as Seven Springs Road, where we hung a right and continued on in the rough stuff. That trail passes by a recreation area with picnic tables and a creek. Eventually it becomes Cave Creek Road and goes past Sears Kay Ruin which I visited last year. By this time, we were all ready to kiss the asphalt because we’d been eating dust clouds for the last few hours.
Beau and I were following Matt & Alan and I noticed that Matt’s right front tire looked low. Sure enough, it quickly deflated and we all pulled over for some emergency roadside action. In a matter of minutes, they’d thrown on the donut and we continued on our way.
The remarkable thing is that despite everything we’d thrown at it, the MDX alignment continued to track straight and true. Not one shimmy, shake, or rattle, manifested itself once we got back to paved civilization. In fact, the MDX out-paced the other 3 vehicles by sprinting through some fun corners on the two-laner heading past Bartlett Lake. The Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system shows its value both on-road and off. Multiple times throughout the day, people remarked about how composed and sure-footed the ride was. It inspires confidence to be in a vehicle that is capable of virtually any type of terrain.
I spent $4 at the self-serve coin-op car wash and by nightfall, the MDX looked as good as new again. It’s a vehicle that gives the creature comforts of a luxury sedan, the people-hauling capability of a minivan (it seats 7), and the go-anywhere versatility of a 4×4. Coming from my daily driver ILX, I enjoyed the higher step-in height and the more empowering sense of “presence” on the road. It’s no wonder the MDX is Acura’s best-seller. Many thanks to the folks at Acura for allowing me a few days behind the wheel.
Here are the rest of the pictures and a short 1-minute video from our little day-trip.
Entering Agua Fria National Monument – before getting too dirty.
Pit stop overlooking the Tonto National Forest
Obsidian Blue started looking like Dirt Brown.
Rav, MDX, Murano, taking a break along Seven Springs Road
Bloody Basin is part of the 3,000 mile route from Mexico to Canada called “Great Western Trail”
So. Much. Dust.
Matt & Alan swapped out the Murano spare tire here alongside the road.
Lunch at Big Earl’s Greasy Eats in Cave Creek. I’ve blogged about it before.
MDX Equipment, As-Tested
MPG 18 city, 27 highway, 21 combined
- Navigation system with Voice Recognition
- ELS Premium Audio System with 12 Speakers
- HD Radio
- Tri-Zone Climate Control
- LED Puddle Lights
- Collision Mitigation Braking System
- Sport Seats with Perforated (and Ventilated!) Leather
- Remote Engine Start
- Lane Keeping Assist System & Adaptive Cruise Control
- 16.2″ DVD Rear Entertainment System with Wireless Headrests
- Heated 2nd Row Seats
- Rear Door Sunshades