By Stuart Schwartzapfel
The big debut at the 2006 New York Auto Show was Acura's next-generation luxury utility vehicle concept -- the MDX -- unveiled on Apr. 12 at Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. The concept is a close-to-reality teaser for the 2007 MDX, due to market this fall. It's a critically important model for Acura, given the current trend toward smaller, car-based utilities. And though it lags the Lexus' RX330 in sales, Acura boasts roughly 60,000 MDX buyers a year, and the model accounts for roughly 30% of yearly sales volume.
While, at first glance, the MDX concept looks like the offspring of a Mercedes-Benz M-Class and Chevy Equinox, a closer look reveals pleasing details such as the flush-mounted windshield, 20-inch wheels and flared fenders. The concept is remarkably close to the artists' rendering put out by the company a few weeks ago, and differs from the current production model MDX in several key ways.
For starters, the glass-enclosed cargo area that lies past the c-pillar seems to have shrunk dramatically, which provides for a much cleaner look. Whether or not cargo space has been sacrificed for this improved design cue has yet to be seen. A sporty looking spoiler also graces the top of the rear cargo area, which most likely increases vehicle down force, making for a more stable ride. The two-slot grille has been filled in with upscale vents that make for an edgy and futuristic look. The front skid plate, which formerly sat below the front fascia, has been moved up to fit in between the extremely narrow fog lamps, just below the grille housing.
Possibly the biggest design departure from the current generation MDX lies in the character line on the side of the car. This crease once began just above the front fender flair, running the length of the car. In the MDX concept, the character line begins below the grille and gradually slopes upward, through the front fender flair, until it reaches the rear fender flair and levels off. This new design adds symmetry, proportion and grace to a car that has always looked more conservative.
The Verdict: MDX has been a hit for Acura, so the next generation has some big shoes to fill. But the concept looks cleaner, sharper and just plain better than the model it replaces. If Acura maintains the effect of the concept, the next MDX should be a hit with luxury crossover shoppers.
Schwartzapfel, a certified car freak, writes BusinessWeek.com's Concept of the Week column. He has studied the automotive marketplace and worked as an advertising/marketing strategist for major manufacturers. He does not write about any car brands for which he currently works.