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Discussion Starter #1
Since I spent quite a while shopping for an MDX but ended up getting a Subaru LL Bean Outback, I figured it would be useful to post a comparison here. These are different vehicles, so some of the comparisons may be Apples and Oranges. Overall, I think it is quite reasonable to compare the two. While I ended up with the Outback, I still think the MDX is still about the best bet for a 7 seat SUV. On that note, here are my thoughts:

Engine: both are gems, and both are very quiet and smooth. When you do hear them, the Subaru H6 definitely sounds better, with a very pleasing mechanical whir. Overall, they are equally good.

Transmission: no question about it, the MDX has a better transmission. Smoother shifting, and the extra gear helps quite a bit. I do like the power mode in the Subaru, however, which controls shift points based on how rapidly you step on the gas.

Performance: both vehicles have a similar power to weight ratio (0.057 HP/lb for the Subaru, 0.054 for the MDX) and are within a few tenths of each other to 60 mph. The Subaru feels a little sprightlier on the road.

Handling: while the MDX handles very well for an SUV, its 4400+ lb curb weight, higher CG, and front biased weight distribution put it well behind the Subaru in the handling department. This is no big surprise. On the other hand, the Subaru is certainly not the best handling car around. If I consider the origins of each vehicle, I'd have to say the MDX is better handling as an SUV than the Outback is as a car.

Braking: Subaru wins here, although this is also a general SUV vs. car issue.

Comfort/Interior: the MDX has more luxury features, but the LL Bean Outback has a more comfortable cockpit in my opinion, and is more oriented towards the driver (I sort of felt like the MDX had a minivan feel). The LL Bean seats are more comfortable, and the leather seems to be softer and of higher quality than the MDX hides. Both lose points for the plastic wood, although the Bean's Momo steering wheel is apparently made of the real thing.

The Bean's automatic climate control system is far easier to use than the MDX unit, the controls are better designed, and it seems to heat/cool the interior more effectively. I like that Acura gives you the option of the nav system, but they should not relegate the climate system controls to a tiny group of buttons up near the center vents. It's like they were banished from useful society or something. On nav-less models, the trip computer LCD takes up too much space and has too little functionality to justify is existence (and the prime dashboard real estate it occupies).

As far as feel of the controls and switches, both vehicles are very good. I have always thought Honda had the best switches and buttons in the industry, but Subaru has caught up in recent years.

Instruments: Subaru wins here -- they gauges are bigger, easier to read, and look "serious". I thought they styling of the MDX's gauges was a tad too artsy.

Passenger Space: If you need to seat 7, the MDX wins hands down. The Subaru is fine for 4, a little tight for 5.

Ride: both vehicles have a nice ride. The MDX isolates road irregularities much better, so you don't feel them work through the chassis as often. On the flip side, the LL Bean is much more "connected" to the road, giving it a more athletic feel. What you like better depends on the kind of driving you do, I guess.

Exterior Looks: MDX wins by a long shot here -- it has a modern and unique design. The Outback is somewhat frumpy looking with generic 90s styling.

Interior Looks: two tone leather and wood steering wheel make the Bean interior much more handsome and richer looking than the MDX, and the dual glass moonroofs brighten up the interior quite a bit. I actually thought the Ebony MDX interior was rather drab and somber, but Saddle was pretty good.

Road Noise: The MDX is quiet, but the wind noise at 75 mph sticks out like a sore thumb. I have to give the edge to the Bean here, even though it may be louder overall. As an aerodynamicist, I know there is not a whole lot of difference between the shape of the Outback and the MDX, so this is one area where being an SUV does not excuse the MDX. I mean, I can take a brick and reduce its drag and wind noise, so why can't Acura do this with a much more aerodynamic shape like the MDX? Acura needs to work on the wind noise.

Audio: I think the MDX touring Bose system has rather poor sound quality. The 8 speaker system in the Bean sounds way better, and the McIntosh system in the VDC wagon is even better than that. Subaru easily wins here, and this is another area Acura needs to work on.

Utility: the MDX has more cargo room, period. The Subaru gets kudos for a truly flat load floor when the back seats are folded. The MDX roof rack is a joke. The Subaru has a better rack, easily accomodates aftermarket Yakima/Thule crossbars and accessories, and the lower roof height is a bonus for anyone who puts stuff on the roof frequently.

AWD systems: Technically, I'd say the two systems are about even -- the VTM4 is similar to the Active AWD system on the LL Bean, in that both are predominantly FWD but shift power to the rear when the fronts slip. Both systems also proactively transfer power to prevent slip. If it came down to a choice, I would pick Subaru just because they have more experience in AWD systems, and their vehicles are known to have well balanced performance in adverse weather.

The only other thing I can think to mention: the Subaru's power windows are too slow.

Value: I think the MDX is a fine value as SUVs go, but some of the shortcomings (stereo, wind noise, roof rack) make me scratch my head, because these are non-issues for vehicles costing thousands less. If I can get a Ford Escape with a decent radio, useful roof rack, and no obtrusive wind noise, why can't I get those things on an MDX? (I am not advocating the Escape here, just using it as an example). Even though I was ready to buy an MDX, these issues made me question whether the vehicle was really worth $38K for the touring model I wanted.

In terms of sticker price, the base MDX and the LL Bean Outback are about $5000 apart. You can get the Bean for near invoice, which makes the real difference about $8000. I didn't let price drive my decision, but I do feel like you get more for the money with the LL Bean, especially when you browse through the accesory list for the MDX and see how much of that stuff comes standard on the Bean (cargo mat, cargo cover, etc). On the other hand, there are options on the MDX that you can't even get on the Bean (nav, seat memory, reverse tilt mirror) and some standard features on the MDX that the Bean can't match (towing capacity, seating for 7).

In the end, you have to weigh everything. In my case the Bean has everything I wanted, it drives and handles nicely, and the stereo, roof rack, and wind noise levels are all to my liking. As I mentioned before, I still think highly of the MDX, and it is clearly one of the best SUVs around; I just think Acura has to work out a few of the issues.

Please weigh in with your questions and comments, and perhaps I can clarify some of my statements and make the comparison more thorough. I am sure I left many things out!

Craig
 

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Craig,

Excellent post/analysis and objective comments. I didn't test drive the Subaru so no problem with your comments. One issue - I think the wind noise on the Escape is just as bad or worse than the MDX. Certainly the road noise is much worse on the Escape. I think most test-drive impressions of the Escape mention wind noise as a negative. Maybe you drove one on a calm day.
 

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Craig,

There are only three main points I can see:

1. If you need room for people and cargo, the MDX surely is the winner.

2. If you like to seat high, the MDX wins.

3. If you like more SUV functions, like more off-road capability - higher clearance, then the MDX is better.

However, if you do not like to seat high, budget contraint and like to ride and seat like a sedan, then the Subaru is the clear winner.

You analysis is very exhaustive and meaningful. The decision is yours, based upon what do you value more.

Good lucks on your selection.
 

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Craig,

Great post comparing the MDX and the Sube. Thanks for taking the time to do it!
 

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Discussion Starter #5
Boldface = posted by tdnone

1. If you need room for people and cargo, the MDX surely is the winner.

Yes, for sure. It has a lot more cargo capacity all the way around


2. If you like to seat high, the MDX wins.

This is another good point, and one I neglected to mention. The Outback gets you up a little higher than most cars, but the MDX has a great view of the road.


3. If you like more SUV functions, like more off-road capability - higher clearance, then the MDX is better.

Yes and no -- the LL Bean only has 0.1" less ground clearance than the MDX. Not sure about approach/departure angles but the MDX is probably a little bit better. For some offroading, the smaller size of the Bean would be a definite plus. I bet it would be better on sand too, just based on the weight.

Based on my limited offroading experience in a previous Outback (5-spd), the car does pretty damn good -- you can actually drive it like a rally car, using the AWD to drift through turns and come out at full throttle. I would not do this with my new Bean, however!

Craig
 

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Get both...

I definitely agree with:

On nav-less models, the trip computer LCD takes up too much space and has too little functionality to justify is existence (and the prime dashboard real estate it occupies).
The compass and other information can easiliy be communicated in a space as big as the area where the climate control is. It's almost as though they we're trying to fill in the space for nav-less owners. I think that they could have put additional value added info in that prime space.

I think that a really great lineup would be to have both. I think that both cars excell compared to their relative competition in their market segment (SUVs and Sports-Wagon).

Very well thought out analysis, and good luck with your purchase.

Oh, and the roof rack does suck. I don't know why more manufacturers don't just do what VW does -- just let Thule or Yakima design the things -- you have to know that those people know what they're doing.
 

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CHunter - nice posts.

I loved my Sube that I traded in for MDX. There is a thread in here comparing 2 cars - I would recommend you put a link to your comparo in that thread.

You can also read amny of our opinions in there.

If only Subaru made a bigger car... :(
 

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Re: Get both...

davegood said:
... I think that a really great lineup would be to have both. I think that both cars excel compared to their relative competition in their market segment (SUVs and Sports-Wagon)...
Dave,
Couldn't agree more since I do own both. Craig's comparison is right on except I find my VDC wagon has more wind noise than the MDX. As I posted on another thread, I have yet to drive both in winter conditions which will be the true acid test. However, this is the fifth Subaru I have owned so I am not worried about it holding up its end of the challenge!
 

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I agree, get both!

One advantage, when you switch from driving the MDX to the Outback, it feels like you're driving a Miata! (except safer :))
 

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Great comparison...

How the dead pedal area on the Bean?

Could you post some pics too? Pls...
 

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Discussion Starter #11
pics

How the dead pedal area on the Bean?

Funny you ask, since I am getting well acquainted with the dead pedal now that my left foot doesn't need to do anything. The dead pedal area is great and makes for a comfortable driving position. I know they're supposed to be there for bracing under hard cornering, but it gives my clutch-happy foot a good place to perch.

Could you post some pics too? Pls...

Yes, good idea. I've been meaning to take some anyway. I'll put them up tomorrow.

Craig
 

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Not in the same league

I also traded my Sube in for an MDX, and I do not think that there is much to compare, other than they are both 1) vehicles and 2) have AWD systems.

1) the AWD systems are entirely different, the MDX "anticipates" slippage based on throttle, it does not wait to sense it. Also, it uses a set of clutchpacks in the rear differential, unlike the Sube.

2) Winter performance. I had both vehicles in the snow and the MDX outperforms the Sube hands down. However, I will give the Sube a bit of slack bec. its tires stink. My experience w/the Michelin's on the MDX was quite good, I personally feel that the MDX brakes and corners better in the snow than a Sube.

Don't get me wrong, Subaru builds fine vehicles, but the Outback is tiny in comparison to the MDX, you're better off comparing the Subaru to an A4 Avant or something of that size. I wouldn't compare the 911 Carerra4 to a Subaru, as I wouldn't really put the MDX and Outback in the same category (I know I am exagerating a bit!)
 

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Discussion Starter #13
Re: Not in the same league

BOLD = Originally posted by cr

1) the AWD systems are entirely different, the MDX "anticipates" slippage based on throttle, it does not wait to sense it. Also, it uses a set of clutchpacks in the rear differential, unlike the Sube.


I guess it depends on what type of Subaru you are talking about -- they have 4 different types of AWD systems on the 2002 models alone. If you get a 5-spd model, it has a 50/50 F/R initial torque split which can vary up to almost 100% at either end of the vehicle, via a viscous coupling in the center diff. The auto models, including the Bean but not the VDC, use a continuously variable transfer clutch, like the MDX, except it is located in the transmission itself, and controls the output to the rear drive shaft. Like the MDX's VTM4 system, this system starts out in a FWD biased mode (90/10 F/R) and shifts torque aft as needed. And like VTM4, the Subaru system (called Active AWD) can "anticipate" slippage and transfer torque proactively. Under acceleration, it sends torque to the rear, but sends it back front under braking. I really think VTM4 and Subaru's Active AWD are comparable, but it's not the case with Subaru's other AWD designs.


2) Winter performance. I had both vehicles in the snow and the MDX outperforms the Sube hands down. However, I will give the Sube a bit of slack bec. its tires stink. My experience w/the Michelin's on the MDX was quite good, I personally feel that the MDX brakes and corners better in the snow than a Sube.


Braking and cornering in the snow are more tire issues, and no vehicle -- AWD or not -- gives you total security here. In addition, it goes back to possible differences in AWD systems. For instance, my previous Subaru did not have a limited slip rear diff, and was not as good in the snow as other models. I expect the Bean to be significantly better in the snow than my older car, but it does ride on Bridgestone Potenzas which are not known to be great snow tires.

With the same tires, it's hard to say which would be better -- the Bean or the MDX. Neither of us can make this type of conclusion without a side by side test. Maybe remery will have some real world data to pass on once the snow falls. Then again, he has an 01 VDC, which has a more advanced AWD system than the Bean or MDX, and yet a different set of tires!

Don't get me wrong, Subaru builds fine vehicles, but the Outback is tiny in comparison to the MDX, you're better off comparing the Subaru to an A4 Avant or something of that size. I wouldn't compare the 911 Carerra4 to a Subaru, as I wouldn't really put the MDX and Outback in the same category (I know I am exagerating a bit!)

I was only comparing the Bean to the MDX because I had seriously considered both vehicles. I didn't set out to buy an SUV or wagon in particular, just a vehicle in those two categories. I wanted AWD, a good level of luxury content, decent gas mileage, and something that was fun to drive. The shopping process got more focused from there, and things like value, availability, nitpicking features, etc. came into play. In the end, I was happier with the Bean, but it could have easily gone the other direction. Think of it this way -- the Bean was the best of the station wagon options, and the MDX was the best of the SUV options. In the end, the Bean wagon was the right choice for me.

Craig
 

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c_hunter..

Nice looking ride.... I like the twin sunroofs. Whether it is an X5,
MDX or Sube, getting a new car is always fun and exciting.
Enjoy it!!!
 

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Re: Not in the same league

cr said:
2) Winter performance. I had both vehicles in the snow and the MDX outperforms the Sube hands down. However, I will give the Sube a bit of slack bec. its tires stink. My experience w/the Michelin's on the MDX was quite good, I personally feel that the MDX brakes and corners better in the snow than a Sube.
CR, please elaborate on this point. My opinion/experience seems to be opposite of yours.

I also started the Winter-handling-comparo thread in this folder - please share your views.
Thanks.

BTW, as my 1st post in the above-mentioned thread should indicate, I agree with your view that Outback and MDX cannot really be "compared"
 

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Elaboration

When I was a proud subaru owner:
Braking--- The ABS system seemed to engage often and very quickly, and to little help, in the snow. As I noted earlier, I believe this is a tire issue, not a vehicle issue.

Cornering: The Subaru was too easy to fishtail in the snow, it was like a dirt--track racer (which can be very fun), you had to counter-steer very often when making 90-degree turns at any rate of speed in the snow.

MDX:
In my experience last winter w/the MDX--
I had it in untouched 7-8 inches of snow covered roads and the braking was excellent. Also, the vehicle handled corners much better, with much more control. Don't get me wrong, when I pushed it hard, I got it to do some "doughnuts" but I had to really crank it (throttle and wheel). Also, w/ the VTM-4 on, in very high drifts 12"+, it was great, I believe a better performer than the Sube.

Don't misread my post, I personally think winter handling is 4/5 tires 1/5 vehicle. Car and Driver did a great article about a year back where they tested the same vehicles, 4wd version and 2wd versions, with winter tires and without. Many times, the 2wd drive vehicles with winter tires actually out performed teh 4wd vehicles w/"M+S" tires. My point is that if my Sube would have had some good Continentals of Blizzaks on it, I think it would have been a better winter performer.
 
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