Drive to Five Review: Nevada Ghost Towning in the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Odometer (Integra):  246,192

Odometer (MDX):  5,756

Trip Distance:  1,056 Miles

I needed a workhorse to travel back to an 1800s mining town this past weekend and Acura gave me just the right vehicle for the job.  After now completing over 1,000 miles in the latest iteration of its 3-row SUV, I can say with a certainty that the latest MDX is a capable, fun-to-drive machine that offers up first class comfort for a trip of that distance.  Do I have to give it back?

This now marks the fourth time I’ve put a third-generation MDX through its paces.  Here are some prior reviews from here on the blog:

Coming up in April, Las Vegas, Nevada will once again play home to a regional Acura NSX club meet-up called WestFest.  Last year, the event brought out over 50 cars and 80 people.  As part of the planning committee, my role is to establish and plan out the logistics of a scenic group drive to be held on Saturday, April 28th.  It’s not easy to come up with drives for a caravan of that size.


  • Where haven’t we been yet?
  • What will traffic & weather patterns be like on the day & time of our trip?
  • What are the road conditions – are they appropriate for a group of sportscars?
  • Are there any tolls or park fees to consider?
  • How can we keep everyone together, or does it make more sense to split the group?
  • Are there places for fuel and snack stops along the way?

As one can imagine, it takes a great deal of effort to coordinate such an activity.  I partnered up with my friends Dane and Brandon, both Las Vegas locals, to take the MDX out on Saturday morning and scout the terrain.  It was the perfect vehicle for our expedition to the desert:  Second-row accommodations are posh, with captains’ chairs and plenty of space all around.  There are of course independent climate controls for passengers in those areas.  Meanwhile, I pampered myself up front with a heated seat heater, heated steering wheel, and convenient cup holder for my iced caramel macchiato.  You’d think we were going to the local shopping mall and not to the middle of nowhere.

Our drive route for the day was about 160 miles and took us 4 hours from start to finish, including our sightseeing and lunch stops.

Nelson, Nevada is one of many ghost towns in the vast expanses of land around the southwest.  It’s nestled in El Dorado Canyon, about 12 miles off Highway 95 to the east.  If you blink, you might miss the turnoff, so it’s a good thing Dane was coaching me from the passenger seat on where to make my exit at Highway 165.  We passed only one other vehicle on the way into Nelson from there.

The two-laner got a little more narrow, a little more rough, and more curvy as we dipped down in elevation toward the Colorado River.  Soon the buildings of the old mining town came into view, along with dozens of old cars left out to the elements with windows down (or broken out) and interiors rotting away.  I parked the MDX in a dirt lot and we got outside to wander around a little, noting how silent it was outside aside from the scuffling sound made from our shoes on the gravel.

We must have been the first tourists in town that day, because an old man came out of what appeared to be the main general store and put away the ‘closed’ sign while inviting us inside.  The wooden building doubles as his home, but he sells all sorts of remnants of the Wild West in there.  My favorite display was an exhibit of some the various films that the town of Nelson has appeared in, including the Kurt Russell classic “Breakdown.”

Luckily for us (and unlike Kurt Russell’s red Jeep Grand Cherokee in that movie), the MDX was didn’t give us any check-engine lights or troubles of any nature.  We snapped a few photos in Nelson before continuing eastward another few miles to where we could nearly drive right to the banks of the mighty Colorado River on a dirt road.  There was a nice paved turnaround spot that I think will make for a perfect photo-op for the group of NSXs at the April event.

Our next destination on the drive loop was Searchlight, Nevada – a teeny spot on the map that (like most small towns in that area) – got its start as a mining community in the late 1800s but mostly dried up by the mid 1950s.  The name came from one of its original prospectors who said, “It would take a searchlight to find gold out here.”

Dane, Brandon, and I rolled onward toward Highway 164 westbound and then over to Interstate 15 northbound.  I hit the gas on the onramp.  For a full size SUV that’s loaded down with technology and comfort niceties, the MDX still scoots down the road with more than ample power.  I observed an overall combined MPG of about 26 despite going heavy on the throttle a few times.  Range on a full tank is in the high 400s.

The Country Club Buffet at Primm Valley Casino, right along the California-Nevada state line, satisfied our hunger before we made our last stop of the day.  Stacked along the east side of I-15 are 7 columns of vividly painted boulders, referred to as “Seven Magic Mountains.”  The massive rocks were cut from a nearby quarry and painted fluorescent colors by Swiss artist Ugo Rondinone.  The art installation was opened in 2016 and will be removed sometime this year, so I was glad to get a chance to see it.

The MDX stickers at $58,000 as-tested, including Tech & Advance packages with a full suite of AcuraWatch driver-assistance aids.  I found the LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) to be helpful but could do without the ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control).  I much prefer to set a cruise speed and have it be maintained – with the Adaptive engaged, the vehicle starts slowing down well in advance of approaching a vehicle ahead, so you have to change lanes very early which isn’t always possible or convenient.  It’s something I could learn to live with, but just an observation.  The only other gripe I had was with the aesthetics of the black wheels.

There’s a lot to love about the MDX.  Those captivating jewel eye headlights with LED turn signals are just as much “function” as they are “form.”  The ELS Studio Premium audio system will knock your socks off.  I set the bass and the subwoofer to maximum levels for optimal punch, and it retained crisp clarity all the way up to max volume level 40.  Sirius XM channel “90s on 9” never sounded so good.  And if it’s solitude you want, a quiet cabin is easy to achieve too.  I sailed along at 75 mph with minimal wind, road, and engine noise.  The MDX’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission keeps the revs low at those speeds.

It was tough to give the keys back after being pampered for 7 days, but I was glad for the opportunity to sample the high life!  Below is a 7-minute video and a collection of other photos from my week with the Modern Steel Metallic MDX.  Thanks, Acura, for the loaner!

Back seat comfort

Fueling up at Circle K in Phoenix

And we’re off!

Rolling into Las Vegas at sunset

5,000 mile milestone!

Arrival in Nelson

The ‘general store’ in Nelson

Loved this 1950 Buick!

Next stop:  Interstate 15

Red carpet treatment!  Brandon & Dane getting the door at Primm Valley

Seven Magic Mountains in the Nevada desert

Brandon’s 1993 Legend L 6-speed coupe

MDX parked in front of Siegfried and Roy’s house in Las Vegas!  See the “SR” on the gate?

Thanks for coming along for the ride!

17 Responses to “Drive to Five Review: Nevada Ghost Towning in the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid”

  1. Looks fun!
    That rear seat on the MDX seems quite inviting and comfy.

    • It really is! Especially with that cavernous center console for storage and all that plentiful leg room. First class for sure. Now the very far back row, probably not so much.

  2. Ira Leventhal Says:

    Loved reading your thoughts about the hybrid!

  3. I was surprised to see just how busy the Seven Magic Mountains art display was, there were people everywhere. Totally agree with those black wheels – it makes the rims looks smaller than they actually are. It seems to be all the rage these days though… Those cakes & muffins at the Country Club Buffet looked amazing!

    • I know, Seven Magic was a busy place! I guess because it’s free entertainment and not too far out of the city. I’m glad I got to check that out because it’s scheduled to be taken down sometime this year. Hope your week is going well, Adam!

  4. You know, I’m not much of an SUV guy, but that MDX seems like a really terrific way to pass the miles. For an SUV, how did it handle?

    After seeing those backdrops, I’m really looking forward to reading the write-up on WestFest!

    • I was impressed how the MDX handled for a vehicle of its size. One thing that spoiled me was the higher perspective on the road. It’s nice to have a larger “presence” out there, visibility wise, safety wise, etc. As for WestFest – stay tuned! I heard word today that our registration numbers are lower than anticipated – largely because there is a competing event (NSXPO, September) in the same general region this year and a lot of people only want to do one “big” meet per year. We’ll see!

  5. That’s one slick looking MDX! I’ll need to add Nelson to my bucket list now…looks like a neat place to explore. 😀

    • I’m guessing we’ll see a full-blown MDX redesign sometime in the not-too-distant future! Hard to believe this generation has been around since the 2014 model year. The next time I get scheduled for an Acura press vehicle, I’ll notify you in advance so we can put a road trip on the calendar for that weekend. We’re overdue!

  6. You’re not old enough, but you’ve probably seen the old commercials for Texaco that said “you can trust your car to the man who wears the star”. Don’t believe me? Well let’s have Ethel tell you then LOL

    We were devoted customers of Texaco back in the day.

    • Haha, that’s awesome! I was only 2 when Ethel died in 1984. She sure had some skills. “Wherever you go, trust is a must.” That motor oil can is vintage for sure. Looks like a soup can. Thanks for the fun link.

  7. Nice posting on the MDX Hybrid. I absolutely loved this thing and it doesn’t really have much competition. Kudos to Acura… now if we can only get the new RLX or TLX Type S. Some fun places you went to, I’m going to have to add Nelson to my list of places… and I must get to Seven Magic Mountains before it’s gone forever.

    • Yes, I felt like the only thing Nelson was missing was some sort of restaurant. Something like the one that Tortilla Flat has. Raul said he’ll let me know the next time there’s another Acura in the fleet! There are only 2 more local journalists getting the MDX before it goes back to Torrance.

  8. Nice MDX review! It’s quite a large vehicle, but I think I’ll find it to be perfect when I have a wife and three kids 😀

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