Acura MDX 2007-2013: SH-AWD system, fuel economy, engine, pros and cons, problems

July 14, 2019
2010 Acura MDX
2010 Acura MDX

Acura is a luxury brand owned by Honda. Acura MDX is a relative of Honda Pilot. The second-generation MDX is a sporty mid-size 7-passenger SUV with an upscale interior and several high-tech features. The SH-AWD (Super Handling) is standard on all trims. The MDX has a 300-hp V6 engine and a 5-speed (6-speed from 2010) automatic transmission. It's one of the few SUVs that are fun to drive. It's also surprisingly maneuverable; the turning radius is 37.6 feet (11.4 meters) which is not bad for an SUV of this size.

The MDX is widely available on the used car market, and the prices are reasonable. Is it a good choice for a used SUV? How is the gas mileage? Is it expensive to maintain? What do Acura MDX owners say? Let's start from the question that is a deal breaker for many used car buyers:

Timing belt or chain? The 3.7L V6 engine has a timing belt. According to the owner's manual (2007), it must be replaced when indicated by the Maintenance Minder (Sub item 4) on the instrument panel. The sub-item 4 usually pops up soon after 100,000 miles. Replacing a timing belt is not cheap ($820-$1400 with water pump and hardware). The good news is that the condition of the timing belt can be inspected.

2010 Acura MDX
2010 Acura MDX interior

How does the SH-AWD system work? The Acura SH-AWD system is designed for better handling, especially on twisty roads. It's similar to the VTM-4 system in Honda Pilot in that it can control the torque to the left and right rear wheels separately. This is a front-biased system, which means front wheels are always powered. A simple transfer case, attached to the transmission sends the engine power though the drive (prop) shaft to the rear axle. The rear differential has two electromagnetic clutch packs installed on both sides. The clutch packs can vary the amount of torque sent to left and right rear wheels separately.

In addition, the rear axle is designed so that it turns 1.7 percent faster than the front axle. This provides inward yaw moment for better stability while accelerating through cornering. Of course, this also means that there is always a small amount of friction in the clutch packs when driving straight. In terms of maintenance, the SH-AWD is not different from any other system: the fluids in the transfer case and rear differential must be changed regularly, plus basic checkup at every oil change.

Acura MDX problems: A bad HFL (Hands Free Link) module can drain the battery or cause the Bluetooth not to work. See these videos. The solution is to replace the HFL module.
A bad side mirror actuator can cause the seat/mirrors memory settings not to work and produce abnormal noises when adjusting the mirror. The part is not expensive, but the repair is tricky. See these YouTube videos.
A sticking A/C clutch relay can drain the battery or cause the air conditioner not to work intermittently. The relay is easy to replace. See these videos describing the symptoms and repair.
An alternator can fail. Replacing an alternator costs from $380 to $550 with an aftermarket part. A battery is also fairly common to fail and might need to be replaced after 5 years.
The TSB 09-012 describes a problem where the "check engine oil level" message may appear even though the oil level is normal. The bulletin recommends replacing the engine oil pressure switch, then updating the PGM-FI software. The switch is not very expensive.
A loose exhaust shield can cause a rattling noise from under the engine. The noise is more pronounced at certain RPM. The repair is simple; a loose heatshield will have to be re-secured.

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The Acura TSB 16-044 mentions a judder from the torque converter lock-up clutch felt between 20 and 60 mph in the 2012-2015 Acura MDX. According to the bulletin, flushing the transmission fluid might solve the problem.
This article at the website has a summary of the TSBs.
Acura issued several recalls, check at the NHTSA website.

Engine: The 3.7-liter VTEC V6 J37 is a 24-valve SOHC (single-cam) engine, similar to other Honda/Acura V6s. A number of MDX owners mentioned that the engine consumes oil between oil changes. This means, check the oil level regularly and top up if needed. Read more: how to check the oil level.

Fuel Economy: The EPA rates the 2007-2009 Acura MDX at 15/20 mpg. The 2010-2013 MDX is rated at 16/21 mpg, giving it the range of 420 miles (676 km) on a full tank. These numbers are based on premium gasoline, which is recommended for the MDX.

Mechanical: The MDX has MacPherson struts in the front and multi-link layout in the rear suspension. Rear disc brakes are standard. The MDX comes with 18" or 19" tires.

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Pros: Sporty handling, strong engine, 5,000 lbs towing capacity, upscale interior, third-row seating, safety ratings.

Cons: Parts and service are expensive, poor gas mileage, premium gasoline, timing belt replacement is costly, rear blind spots.

Overall: Used car buyers are often looking for reliability and low maintenance costs. The MDX reliability ratings are mixed. Consumer Reports, for example, rates the 2007 Acura MDX below average, while the 2012 model is rated above average.
The downside of luxury vehicles with high-end features is they are expensive to maintain and repair. For example, OEM rear shocks for the 2010 Acura MDX with Active Damper System are sold online for over $400 apiece. Taking this into account, we would look for the model without this feature. Replacing four 19-inch tires will also cost over $1,000. In addition, the MDX is thirsty and requires premium gasoline. On the plus side, the MDX has plenty of power and is fun to drive. The interior is well equipped and nicely finished.

Reviews of Acura MDX owners are mixed. Many compliment the overall appearance, handling and interior comfort. A number of owners mentioned that their MDX lasted for over 200,000 miles. Among the dislikes, MDX owners mention expensive problems, squeaks and rattles, poor paint quality, poor gas mileage, lack of third-row seat space. If you want to buy the MDX, getting a good extended warranty might help dealing with unexpected repairs. If you need a used SUV and low maintenance costs are important, look for something like Toyota RAV4 or Highlander or Honda CR-V.

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What to look for when buying a used Acura MDX: When checking a used Acura MDX, check power mirrors and watch out for abnormal noises when mirrors are operated. Find out if and when the timing belt has been replaced, as it's expensive. See if the Bluetooth operates and is not disconnected. If the engine oil level is low, it might indicate excessive oil consumption. Avoid the car if there is an abnormal noise from the engine. A buzzing noise from the power steering pump is a sign of a problem with the power steering system (leaks, bad p/s pump, etc.). During the test drive, see if the transmission shifts smoothly and is not slipping or constantly "hunting" for the right gear. A good transmission shifts smoothly without delays, judder and hesitation. Read more: How to inspect a used car - illustrated guide. We recommend having the vehicle inspected by a mechanic familiar with Honda/Acura vehicles before purchase. We also found many helpful tips on the forum; it's worth to check out before shopping for the Acura MDX By Staff