2006 MDX New Car Test Drive
Introduced in May 1995, the I30, based on the Nissan Maxima, was developed to fill a gap in Infiniti's line in the high-volume and growing entry level segment of the luxury car market. The front-drive luxury sedan became the fourth car offered by Nissan Motor Corp.'s luxury division, which began selling cars in 1990. The I30 was planned to share features and styling cues from Infiniti's flagship Q45, but with a significantly lower base price of less than $30,000.
Within Infiniti's current product line, the I30 is positioned between the entry level four-cylinder G20, which runs about $25,000, and the $36,000 rear-drive J30.
The odds seemed stacked against the I30. Unsuc-cessful examples of badge engineering--taking the same basic car and selling it under two separate nameplates at different price points--are many. Additionally, the I30 competes in the crowded entry-luxury segment against some extremely strong contenders including the Lexus ES 300, the segment's volume leader, the BMW 3-Series, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Mazda Millenia and now the Cadillac Catera.
Nevertheless, the I30 has succeeded, and spectacularly. In less than two years on the market, the I30 has come to represent half of all Infiniti sales.
A test drive in the Leather Appointed version of the 1997 I30, virtually unchanged since its introduction, helped us understand why buyers are attracted to its performance, luxury and price. Competition is stiff in the semi-rarefied air around $50,000. One can choose from Cadillac, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar, Lexus and Infiniti. Of that august group, the Infiniti Q45 has had the most difficult time attracting and keeping a sizable audience. We've never quite understood that. The Q45 has style, performance, luxury; the whole nine yards.
Perhaps the style has been the problem. It's lacked the conservative, classical luxury car look of Mercedes, BMW and Lexus. And Jaguar's style is a thing unto itself.
For 1997, the Infiniti folks say the Q45 is clean-sheet-of-paper new. That's hard to see at a glance. Although the differences from last year's model are significant, they are subtle. The sheetmetal has been reshaped to give the more traditional look lacking in the past. And although the V8 has dropped in displacement, the power-to-weight ratio is unchanged, because the new car is lighter than its predecessor. If you're one of the many who love the coddling that goes with any visit to an Infiniti dealership, but you're in the market for a sport-utility, take heart. With the arrival of the new Infiniti QX4 you can have both.
And you can probably thank your Infiniti dealer for this addition to the lineup. In recent years the purveyors of Nissan's luxury cars have been wistfully watching the steady growth of the luxury sport-utility market, particularly the sales that were lost to the new entries from Acura and Lexus.
In particular, the incremental uptick in sales that went to Honda's Acura division, when it added a rebadged version of the Isuzu Trooper to its lineup, provoked a howl from the Infiniti dealer body.
The dealer outcry, obviously, did not go unheeded. During the development of the popular Pathfinder, Nissan also worked out a parallel plan for an upscale version to wear an Infiniti badge. And here it is. The Acura MDX offers an outstanding V6 powertrain, seven-passenger seating and an all-wheel-drive system that prevents skids almost before they happen. Neat styling, attention to detail, excellent crash protection and competitive pricing increase the appeal of this luxury SUV.
Introduced in 2001, MDX was named North American Truck of the Year by a panel of 50 independent automotive journalists. Through the five model years since, the MDX has been steadily improved in all areas.
The body has grown more rigid, allowing better vibration control and a smoother ride. Power has increased, and a more compact five-speed automatic transmission shifts even more smoothly than before. The MDX's four-wheel-drive system was remapped to work seamlessly with a Vehicle Stability Assist system to improve handling on slippery surfaces and to enhance stability in all conditions. Side curtain airbags covering all three seating rows were added, as were tire pressure monitors. Front and rear end styling has been redone, with a more aggressive edginess. Acura has updated the optional navigation system and added a rearview camera that engages when the transmission is in reverse. A DVD entertainment system with wireless infrared headphones is available. XM Satellite Radio and Bluetooth capability for compatible cell phones come standard.
For 2006, the interior has been upgraded, and the Touring edition receives ebony-tone, Zebra woodgrain and satin-chrome accents. Otherwise, the MDX returns for 2006 much as it has been: one of the best values in the class.
The 2006 Acura MDX is offered in a single trim level, powered by a 3.5-liter, 253-hp V6 (Acura horsepower ratings are based on a recently revised SAE protocol and are not directly comparable to previous ratings) mated to a five-speed automatic transmission.
The MDX ($37,125) comes standard with a long list of luxury and convenience features, including automatic, dual-zone, front/rear climate control; first and second row leather seating surfaces and leather door inserts; eight-way power driver's seat; heated front seats; keyless remote entry; power windows, door locks and heated mirrors; power tilt-and-slide moonroof; cruise control; seven-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with in-dash CD player; XM Satellite Radio (three months prepaid); programmable remote opener; alloy wheels; fog lamps; and a multi-function digital trip computer.
The Touring package ($2825) upgrades the stereo to a 225-watt, eight-speaker, Acura/Bose music system with in-dash six-disc CD changer and XM Satellite Radio; a two-position driver's seat and mirror memory system linked to the keyless remote; eight-way power front passenger seat; Bluetooth; roof rack; a right-hand, outside mirror that tilts to track progress while backing up; rain-sensing windshield wipers; and special alloy wheels.
Acura's DVD Entertainment System ($1500) for rear-seat passengers adds a seven-inch widescreen display that flips down from the ceiling at the push of a button. The system comes complete with two infrared wireless headphones and a wireless remote control. Kids dig it, and with the DVD player up front in the base of the center stack, parents control what's watched.
The DVD-based Navigation System ($2750, available only with the Touring package) needs only one disc to cover the entire continental U.S. It comes with voice recognition and three months' prepaid subscription to OnStar's basic service (emergency assistance and airbag deployment monitoring); the full OnStar package, with route support and concierge service, is optional ($399/year). The system incorporates a rearview camera that transmits pictures from behind the vehicle onto the navigation screen when the MDX is in reverse gear.
Standard safety features comprise the required dual-stage front airbags, three-point seatbelts and adjustable head restraints for all seating positions and child safety seat anchors (LATCH) in rear seats. In addition, fitted to all MDXs are front seat-mounted side airbags that protect occupants' upper body in side impacts and side curtain airbags covering all three rows of seats that insulate against head injury in rollovers as well as side impacts. A standard tire pressure monitoring system uses sensors in the valve stem of each wheel to alert the driver when tire pressure drops significantly below the recommended level. The MDX also comes with antilock brakes, electronic brake force distribution (which balances front-rear brake application depending on speed and vehicle load) and brake assist (which optimizes brake application in emergency stops). These active safety features can help the driver avoid a wreck.