Acura MDX SUV Forums banner

1 - 20 of 41 Posts

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
Hello Folks!

Today I want to give my full detailed Off Road Review of the MDX.
First of all lets get things clear, Neither Acura or Honda claim that the MDX is an Off Road vehicle in any way! They never show the MDX off roading in any Ad, Comercial or In web pictures. This Off Road review is based only on my Experience using the MDX for Off Road.

Now why the MDX is a Good Off Roader?
First we need to get 1 thing out of discussion, OFF ROAD is a term used for anything that doesn't happen in Tarmac. This means that everything that happens on a dirt road is classified as "Off Road", If your definition of Off Roading is something like a Jeep going through Rubicon trails or Rock Crawling well that is fine just keep this discussion focused on the type of vehicle the MDX is and its limitations and try not to compare it to a full fledged Off Road made vehicle as those are not jack of all trades either.
Something like this is never going to happen unless you wanna lose your oil pan or destroy the propeller shaft but nobody is recommending this with the MDX:


The MDX has a lot going in to help it off road (PROS):
1.- SH-AWD is an AMAZING AWD System even if Acura designed this to be an On Road system is incredibly capable to aid in Off Road duties as it can do E-LSD using the rear diff and its brake (drag LSD) is really good allowing it to push forward even on the craziest Diagonal Wheel-Spin. Simply put the Electronic Wizardy of the MDX allows it to be a very capable off roader even if it lacks Locking Diffs or even a real LSD! I have been in this scenario more than a dozen times..

This is not a challenge to the MDX! SH-AWD will send power to the wheel with traction and VSA will brake the front spinning wheel.. Seriously who needs LSDs with tech like this? Hint: Toyota calls this system ATRAC! on the Tacoma and does exactly what the MDX does.
2.- It has the Ride Height, Granted is not crazy Jeep Levels of Ride Height but keeping the Off Road in realistic dosis the ride height is very good.
3.- It has a short wheel base which combined with the ride height gives it a lot of Ramp Angle to work with for a Luxury SUV.
4.- It has the POWAH! The MDX obviously lacks a transfer case this alone strikes a punch on what the MDX can do Off the Road so only 1st gear is what moves it around and its not really a low enough gear to do crazy hill climb but what helps a ton is the 300HP engine that pushes the MDX... This alone can make you climb that hill!!
5.- Big Beefy front shocks! Those front shocks are no joke they are designed to take hits so you can be comfortable doing off road knowing you are not going to need new shocks afterwards, Obviously your are not going to be jumping.. Keep it Realistic.
6.- Wide Tires and 18" Wheels are your best friends, The Stock tires are very good off the road!
7.- Superb Honda Quality, Nothing squeaks! Everything remains solid and the Uni-Body gives it a Chassis Strength not known by many Body on Frames.

Now the MDX does still have On Road only DNA on it (CONS):
1.- It has an over sprung suspension, Which is quite good for On Road it is a huge hurdle off the road.. Having 2 diagonal wheels on the air is not difficult to do and bad condition roads are going to be felt everywhere on the car, But at the end of the day Springs are one of the worse enemies of the MDX in Off Road! Weight Shift!! Jesus Christ is Exaggerated to unholy Proportions.
2.- Tires if you are not going to sacrifice On Road behavior are going to be a huge setback.. I have done plenty of stuff with the stock Latitude HPs but Forget about going into sharp rock country! These tires will not survive under pointy sharp rocks... So you are limited in what kind of off roads you can travel.
3.- Dampening, Yeah you get it shocks are clearly not tuned for Off Road so you will be traveling SLOWWWWWWW most of your off road adventures.
4.- Say goodbye to your MPGs! 4-6mpgs will be your new average.
5.- Swaybars are your sole Enemy.. I swear in combination of the over sprung springs Swaybars are the worse enemy of the MDX you will absolutely hate weight shift because the MDX will rock like a boat on a hurricane... Awful AAAAWWWFUL.

I have collected now roughly 1500miles on pure off road mileage with the MDX, I don't claim to know its limits by I can safely say "I can do that" "I can climb that" with a lot of confidence so I will now guide you to the kind of terrains the MDX can tackle and how. First of all it is a given you will be traveling slow on most of all Off Road terrains so keep that in Mind.

Plain flat hardpacked dirt roads:

This is the easiest! The MDX can keep up with the big boys here and even better! Tires are wide enough to keep traction at +60mph speeds and unless the road becomes Un-Even you can drive all day here.

Hard packed slightly un-even dirt roads:

Suspension tune will become obvious that the MDX is not designed to fly by through here like most Jeeps or any Pick Up can, Read the terrain carefully and you can maintain speeds up to 25mph without stressing the suspension.. I do not recommend going faster than that because the hard suspension will make the MDX unstable.

Hard packed rocky dirt roads:

A great tip I can give you is to drop tire pressure to 30PSI (HOT) this will allow the tires to absorb the rocks! but if rocks are big enough you will have to slow down dramatically to find a better road line where you can avoid the bigger rocks.. Rocks about 1 or 2 inches big are no problem but rocks from +4 inches are a no go at speed.. You will max out at 15mph in these conditions.

Hard packed very un-ever dirt roads:

The biggest worse enemy of the MDX... Suspension Springs and Sway Bars are clearly not designed to handle this and the Weight Shift is very dramatic, Basically it will toss around the MDX like it was a toy. Be prepared to slow the MDX to a crawl (Idle Level) speed, A dude walking will overtake you all day... If you can avoid these types of roads it will be for the best because you will max out at 3-5mph in these conditions! AVOID THIS AT ALL COSTS!

Soft Sand and Beach Dunes:

The MDX handles dunes and Soft Sand and Beach Dunes surprisingly well I have yet to get stuck on these conditions even with full 35PSI, This is mainly because the MDX uses Wide Tires for the segment so they are a huge help not digging in.. If you deflate the tires you can probably get by on these conditions all day! Obviously the MDX is not a Sand Bug and it will get rough if you find un-even dunes (Weight Shift = No) keep your off road realistic and try not to get yourself in dangerous situations (Like driving along a beach or something) and you will be fine.

Hill Climbs:

The MDX can hill climb very well, SH-AWD is a huge help here and you will use that amazing 70% Rear Bias all day long! Now the biggest concern here is that due to lack of a transfer case you will get your transmission (Mainly the Torque Converter) Toasty.. You can hill climb at speed no need to go crawling specially for too long in a deep steep, If you go for too long you will trigger a "Transmission Hot" Alarm this happens because there is no Air Flow at crawl speeds to the ATF Cooler. In 1500 off road miles I have only triggered a Transmission Hot once! What you need to do in this situation is to STOP and allow the ATF to Cool Down (Alarm will go off by itself). This only happens if you go very absurdly slow in a hill steep applying very little gas. The Engine is BOSS Honda quality all the day and will NEVER Over Heat its the Transmission that will hold you back. There are ways to avoid this! My biggest tip is to set your A/C To Max COLD! This will turn both radiator fans at full speed which will cool down the ATF on the ATF Cooler, Once I did this the Transmission Hot never came back in the same Hill that triggered before even going at the same speed, Since I installed the extra ATF Cooler to bypass the Radiator I don´t have the need to turn the A/C On anymore, I can climb the same hill without overheating the transmission. The Hill that triggered this is incredibly steep and broken add that is about 100meter long so its about like this but 6 times longer:

The MDX can do this very easily but not Continuously so If you have to climb stuff like this for longer than 5 minutes I advice you to take breaks of 5 minutes between each climb or install an Extra ATF Cooler or a Fan in front of the stock cooler that you can turn on in this situations. Unless the climb is muddy or very damaged you can climb pretty much anything just not for a long time due to the lack of a Transfer Case. With the extra ATF Cooler I dropped 20°C out of my ATF Temps when doing climbs.
Going Downhill is even easier, The MDX has great brakes and wide tires to keep you in control.. Even if you push it a little hard ABS Kicks in with authority and VSA keeps it in line.



But what about breaking stuff in 1500 off road miles?
So far I have yet to damage anything! You must keep it realistic obviously..There is no rock crawling or navigating new roads with the MDX unless you do some crazy stuff the MDX will hold fine! My shocks are all working, bushings and A-Arms are Intact. Transmission can tow 5000lbs it can Off Road all day just pushing the MDX.. There has been only 1 transmission over heat and it was on one of my first off road adventures so I didn´t have prior experience, After that and now with the ATF Cooler there has been 0 Trans Overheats but now I know better! I hope you learn from my experience and Try new horizons with your MDX.. For me it has been the best SUV I have owned even better than my prior BMW X5.













That is all Folks! Hope you like it.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
252 Posts
Great review, Skirmich! Thanks much. Some of the pics you included look like "roads" I have traveled - all the while pulling a trailer with 4 kayaks loaded. As you say, slow and steady seems to be the way to success.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #3
Thanks "gwilki"!
I am glad you also enjoy the MDX off road and while pulling a trailer that is!! I wish I had the Towing Hitch :(
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
131 Posts
Wow!

Congratulations for taking the Mdx beyond what most will ever do. Very impressive platform and engineering.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #5
Thanks Apex1

Here are some videos I forgot to add..
This is the longest clip I ever edited since my Upload Connection sucks I capped at 30 min but this was basically a resume:

And this is a shorter one going up a Dune Hill:
 
  • Like
Reactions: syncmaster930b

·
Registered
Joined
·
131 Posts
And to think I was worried about how the X would handle the dunes on cape cod.

After reading this I can't wait!
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #7
Yeah dunes are very un-eventful in the MDX, I was surprised at first because that video was shot on a popular off road point in San Felipe, México.. I have seen Cherokees and Explorers stuck in there and yes 4x4s not in 2WD, The MDX just glides to the top without any issues on full 35psi.. I reckon it would do better at 30psi!

Even then I would not risk my X going to the beach side near the water :(
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #9
^ I wonder if anyone will ever dare to do that in their 3rd Gen hahahaha I see a lot of folks doubting the 2nd Gen already.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
Thanks for the insights. I would categorize the MDX as a soft-roader, not an off-roader, just as you have. It has it's place and already has the capability to go into tougher terrain that 99% of owners will be willing to do.

I'm sure this summer I will be in similar terrain that you have shown while accessing a few trailheads/campsites.

I'll bring a few tools and disconnect the sway bars as I feel necessary, that might help in some of the terrain.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
One other thing to dig in a bit to help with off-road prowess assessment.

Does anyone know at what angle the MDX senses a rollover and deploys side curtain airbags?

I know some vehicles (Lexus GX470 for example) have a specific button to turn them off when offroad so it doesn't falsely sense a rollover if you are on off-camber terrain.

I'd like to find out what the angle of concern is here, and then also dig into if there is an easy way (i.e. pull a fuse) to disable them.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #13
Never wondered too hardcore as to tip the MDX over so I dunno... But Iguess with the suspension so oversprung I think the MDX will actually tip over before deploying the air bags hahaha.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
131 Posts
Considering you have pushed the Mdx to the limits, I have a question for you.

At what point do the rear wheels give up?

Let me explain. Another snowstorm in the northeast, and another situation where I buried my Ridgeline in the snow. My road wasn't plowed and it's not wide enough for the plow truck to get by. So coming, home I had to get my truck off the road, so I drove it into about 20+ inches of snow and got stuck. I have no issues with this, as I expected to get stuck. So as I tried to go forward and backward, it was clear the drive train was under tremendous load initially because even with the vsa off the motor struggled to rev. A low range would have really helped here. But that isn't my compliant. Even with the engine revving and the vtm4 locked, the rear wheels weren't spinning. The lurched a little and the front wheels spun wildly. But the rear, nope. The vtm4 was not supplying enough brakeaway torque to spin the wheels.

If they did would I have gotten out.... who knows, but I would have liked to know. So before going further everything is in order and well maintained. From what I can tell my vtm4 works exactly as designed. Really in in my opinion, this makes the RL not 4wd but Fwd with a rear assist.

So what makes the sh-awd different? I know about the planetary gear sets and design differences. But practically speaking, to someone who has clearly pushed their X to the edge, what makes the Sh-awd different off road?
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #15
SH-AWD has a different working mechanism, In every way is superior to VTM4.

VTM4 uses a direct drive wet clutch to send power to the wheels, This means the clutches hold 100% of the load of the wheel. This means that if the load is overkill the clutches will spin but slip so the wheel wont move... For this to happen you are either way overload (which in snow is unlikely) or the Clutch Packs in the rear diff are worn out (which means they need replacement). You can test this in a Diagonal Wheel Slip scenario (2 diagonal wheels in the air, 2 in the road) lock VTM4 which split power 50/50 to the rear wheels and if the rear wheel in the air starts spinning this means the clutch pack of the wheel in the road has worn out as its slipping all day without being able to push the car. VTM4 is a system meant to AID in off road but since it has a direct drive clutch pack system its lifespan is very low, If you have to engage the rear wheels all the time as in Off Roading the clutch pack will wear out even faster.. This is why VTM4 disengages at highway speed.. This is why SH-AWD 3.0 (3rd Gen MDX) is so concerning since its exactly like VTM4 with a Direct Drive approach.

SH-AWD 1.0 & 2.0 has a different approach, Instead of leaving the clutch packs to hold the load they just need to stop a planetary gear set from moving.. Since the planetary gear set has a very low ratio this means the clutch packs does not need to work as much as a direct drive setup, IIRC an excellent webpage with all this info SH-AWD Diff only needs to load the clutch packs 2.7% of what a Direct Drive system needs. This is why SH-AWD is stronger and can continuously work as a full time 4x4 system without being overload or overheated. I have never seen the Rear Axle stop working, even in the hardest diagonal encounters SH-AWD has prevailed and since SH-AWD can Torque Vector I have seen the MDX move without even trying to spin the wheel in the Air since it can send 100% of the power to just 1 rear wheel.


Since I live in SoCali I have never meet snow, at least not deep enough snow to get remotely stuck, Sand works in almost the same fashion and have never meet with any problems.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
@skirmich, so I've done a bit of rough-road trailhead approaches in my MDX now, and I have one big complaint. I can't get it to stay in first gear while descending. I've tried different combos of using the paddles and the shifter and nothing works. The manual states that when in S mode that it only holds gears in 4th, 5th and 6th; so that explains the behavior I'm seeing.

So anyways, my question, have you found a way to force it to stay in first gear while descending? Tired of getting toasty brakes on the descents.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #17
Yeah 6 Speedo software is way different than my 5 Speed (I have a 2007 MDX).. I can hold 1st gear while descending all day long.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
36 Posts
Yeah 6 Speedo software is way different than my 5 Speed (I have a 2007 MDX).. I can hold 1st gear while descending all day long.
Ah, first chink in the MDX armor for me then.

I'll have to do some digging, maybe there is another Honda/Acura that used the same or very similar 6-speed and I can possibly swap in it's TCM to get the functionality. It seems a long shot though, already checked the ridgeline and it was 5-speed until 2017, this was my greatest hope for a match.

Or after I get the shop manual I can study the diagrams and see if I can do something to create a switch that will lock it into first, I think that is less likely in these newer CANBUS cars though.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
3,338 Posts
Discussion Starter #19
Yeah But there is a PRO too.. You have a Lower 1st gear than the 5 Speeds (Your Extra Gear is a Lower 1st Gear while your 5th and 6th is the same Ratio as my 4th and 5th)... So you have better Low Gear speed capabilities for climbing and crawling through rough terrain.
 

·
Registered
Joined
·
35 Posts
I was actually doing some Jeep trails in CO (not rock crawling, but far from a gravel road) recently in my 11 MDX and it actually stayed in 1st. I had it in Sport and was going down a very steep grade slowly. A few years back I was coming down from Pikes Peak and it would only stay in 2nd. Maybe it was just a fluke or maybe it will only hold 1st if you at an extremely steep decent angle.
 
1 - 20 of 41 Posts
Top