Acura MDX Off Road

Offroadium Rating:

57 /100

Acura MDX Off Road

Offroadium Rating: 57 /100

Key Facts

  • 7-seater crossover with Honda tech sold under Acura premium brand name
  • Equipped with one of the best in class SH-AWD system
  • 1st and 2nd Generations of the model have a pretty good off-road potential
  • With a lift you can install up to 33″ tires – much bigger than similar crossovers can accommodate
  • Newer models are not intended to be taken off-road

Who is it for?

Being quite an uncommon platform in the off-road community, the MDX will be a perfect AWD crossover for those looking to stand out from the pack of mainstream Subaru and Toyota crossovers.

Lifted Acura MDX on 33” Off road Wheels & Overland Style Mods

About The Model

Written by: Matt Grabli

Even though the Acura MDX may not be the first vehicle that comes to mind when considering off-road adventures, it has a set of features and characteristics that make it quite capable in off-road conditions. Take the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system (one of the best in its class) with differential lock imitation and short overhangs that offer pretty decent approach and departure angles (1st and 2nd gen). But one of the most significant features that makes the MDX stand out from the row of similar crossovers is the ample space in the wheel wells.

Think about it: it comes with 30″ tires in stock form and could be outfitted with up to 33-inch tires if lifted (2nd gen). Not only does this allow you to gain additional inches of ground clearance, but it also improves the size of the tire contact patch to maximize traction on sand, snow, and other slippery terrain. The newer generations of the MDX became more highway-oriented and have bigger overhangs and lower ground clearance, which limit their capabilities, but they still come with SH-AWD and stock 30″ tires.

Specs That Matter

Acura crossover off-roading in MOAB
Photo by @_sequoia_forrest_

Acura MDX YD1 (2001-2006)

Drivetrain: SH-AWD
Layout: Unibody
Low Range: No
Rear Locking Differential: No
Front Locking Differential: No
Factory Wheel Size: 29″ (255/45R20)
Biggest Tested Aftermarket Tire Size: 32″ (265/65R18)
Approach Angle: 28°
Departure Angle: 21°
Max Ground Clearance: 8″
Max Cargo Capacity: 81.7 cu.ft.
Seating: 7

Off-road Capability Score: 55/100

Green Acura MDX with amber LED lightbar, Yakima roof rack and BFG tires
Photo by @acura_mdx_overlander

Acura MDX YD2 (2007-2013)

Drivetrain: SH-AWD
Layout: Unibody
Low Range: No
Rear Locking Differential: No
Front Locking Differential: No
Factory Wheel Size: 30″ (255/50R19)
Biggest Tested Aftermarket Tire Size: 33″ (265/70R18)
Approach Angle: 28°
Departure Angle: 22°
Max Ground Clearance: 8.2″
Max Cargo Capacity: 83.7 cu.ft.
Seating: 7

Off-road Capability Score: 57/100

Acura MDX Generation 3 offroading in the sand dunes
Photo by Acura

Acura MDX YD3 (2014-2021)

Drivetrain: SH-AWD
Layout: Unibody
Low Range: No
Rear Locking Differential: No
Front Locking Differential: No
Factory Wheel Size: 30″ (245/50R20)
Biggest Tested Aftermarket Tire Size: Not Available
Approach Angle: 14.9°
Departure Angle: 19.4°
Max Ground Clearance: 7.3″
Max Cargo Capacity: 68.7 cu.ft.
Seating: 7

Off-road Capability Score: 50/100

4th Generation Acura MDX Crossover with 30" tires
Photo by Acura

Acura MDX YD4 (2022 & Up)

Drivetrain: SH-AWD
Layout: Unibody
Low Range: No
Rear Locking Differential: No
Front Locking Differential: No
Factory Wheel Size: 30″ (255/50R20)
Biggest Tested Aftermarket Tire Size: Not Available
Approach Angle: 18.2°
Departure Angle: 21.2°
Max Ground Clearance: 7.3″
Max Cargo Capacity: 95.7 cu.ft.
Seating: 7

Off-road Capability Score: 50/100

Offroad Capability Rating by Offroadium

GEN 1 GEN 2 GEN 3 GEN 4 WHICH ONE IS BEST FOR OFF-ROAD

As a current or potential owner, you may be wondering about the strong and weak points of the Acura MDX and how it compares to other crossovers and 4x4s available on the market in terms of off-road capability. To provide a fact-based answer to this question, we have evaluated the MDX features and parameters that matter most for an off-road vehicle (ground clearance, wheel size, performance, all-wheel drive system, traction enhancement technology, and other relevant factors).

The score you will see below reflects the MDX ranking position between the smallest 4x4s like Suzuki Samurai and dedicated off-roaders like Toyota Land Cruiser, Mercedes G-Class, Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco. More about our ranking system.

Acura MDX 1st gen on off road wheels

Acura MDX YD1 (2001-2006)

Wheel size 78%
Ground clearance 62%
Off-road Traction 30%
Performance 54%
Aftermarket Support 50%
TOTAL SCORE: 55%

Based on our evaluation, the first-gen Acura MDX (YD1) stands strong as an off-road crossover (which is no surprise for vehicles of the early 2000s). It comes with a VTM-4 AWD system with a lock mode (equivalent to a locked rear differential) which provides improved traction when things get hairy. The quite large ground clearance of 8 inches, as well as the approach angle of 28°, are good for its class and very impressive if you compare it to the modern MDX. Although it comes with the smallest stock wheels among all the generations, you can fit it with up to 32-inch off-road tires (265/65R18), which is a significant advantage for those looking to use it for off-roading. Even though, you can find model-specific lift kits for it, all other thing such as the bumpers, skid plates and body armor would have to be custom designed.

Overall, the first-generation Acura MDX receives an off-road capability score of 55 out of 100. The combination of AWD, decent clearance, and tire upgrade potential makes it a pretty decent choice in this market segment. Yet, the fact that these vehicles are 20+ years old means that you really have to keep an eye on the mechanical state of the vehicle in order not to get stranded in the middle of nowhere.

MODEL YEARS: 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006;

Pros

  • VTM-4 AWD system with lock mode for improved traction
  • Good ground clearance of 8 inches
  • Impressive approach angle of 28°
  • Can accommodate larger off-road tires (up to 32 inches)

Cons

  • Being 20+ years old, mechanical reliability could be a concern for off-road use
  • No real locking differentials (front or rear)
  • No low range
Acura crossover with oversized off-road tires

Acura MDX YD2 (2007-2013)

Wheel size 81%
Ground clearance 63%
Off-road Traction 30%
Performance 61%
Aftermarket Support 50%
TOTAL SCORE: 57%

The second-gen Acura MDX (YD2) shows improved off-road capabilities compared to its predecessor. Instead of the VTM-4 AWD it received the new SH-AWD system with active rear differential (electronically controlled). Still not a real locker, yet it provides a much better performance in low traction conditions. The ground clearance has increased to 8.2 inches, and the approach angle remains a solid 28°, while the departure angle improves to 22°. These specs allow it to keep up withe best European competitors from the luxury SUV segment of that era.

The YD2 comes with larger 30-inch stock wheels (255/50R19), and impressively, it can accommodate even larger 33-inch off-road tires (265/70R18). This tire upgrade potential significantly enhances its off-road performance and versatility. However, like the first generation, custom work would be required for additional off-road modifications such as body armor or skid plates.

With an increased cargo capacity of 83.7 cubic feet with seats folded, the YD2 offers even more space for gear or camping setups. It maintains the seven-seat configuration.

Overall, the second-generation Acura MDX achieves an off-road capability score of 57 out of 100, a slight improvement over its predecessor. However, as these vehicles are now 10-15 years old, the vehicle’s condition and maintenance may require more attention.

MODEL YEARS: 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2013;

Pros

  • Improved SH-AWD system for better traction
  • Increased ground clearance of 8.2 inches
  • Solid approach angle of 28° and improved departure angle of 22°
  • Can accommodate large 33-inch off-road tires (265/70R18)

Cons

  • Custom work required for additional off-road gear (skid plates, body armor)
  • Vehicles are now 10-15 years old, potentially requiring more maintenance
  • Not designed for hardcore off-roading
White Acura MDX Gen 3 off-road driving in the sand

Acura MDX YD3 (2014-2021)

Wheel size 81%
Ground clearance 56%
Off-road capabilities 30%
Performance 59%
Aftermarket Support 50%
TOTAL SCORE: 50%

The third-gen Acura MDX (YD3) takes a step back in terms of off-road capabilities compared to its predecessors. It retains the SH-AWD system, which still provides good traction in various conditions, but other aspects have been compromised for on-road comfort and performance.

The ground clearance has decreased significantly to 7.3 inches, which is a considerable drop from the previous generation. The approach angle has drastically reduced to 14.9°, and the departure angle to 19.4°, limiting its ability to tackle more challenging terrain. These changes reflect a shift towards a more urban-oriented design (Yet, no one tells that you can’t cut the bumpers).

The YD3 comes with just as big 30-inch stock wheels (245/50R20), maintaining the wheel size of the previous generation. However, we haven’t found any info on the use of oversized A/T tires on it. Plus the absence of lift kits suggests limited aftermarket support for off-road modifications.

The cargo capacity has decreased to 68.7 cubic feet with seats folded, reducing space for gear or camping equipment. It does maintain the seven-seat configuration, preserving its family-friendly versatility.

Overall, the third-generation Acura MDX receives an off-road capability score of 50 out of 100, a noticeable drop from its predecessor. While these vehicles are newer (2014-2021) and potentially in better mechanical condition than earlier generations, their design changes make them less ideal for off-road enthusiasts.

MODEL YEARS: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021;

Pros

  • Retains SH-AWD system for good traction in various conditions
  • Newer vehicles (2014-2021) likely in better mechanical condition
  • Maintains seven-seat configuration for family versatility

Cons

  • Significantly reduced ground clearance (7.3 inches)
  • Drastically reduced approach angle (14.9°) and departure angle (19.4°)
  • Decreased cargo capacity (68.7 cubic feet)
  • Lower off-road capability score (49/100) compared to previous generations
4th Generation Acura MDX Crossover with 30" tires

Acura MDX YD4 (2022 & Up)

Wheel size 81%
Ground clearance 56%
Off-road capabilities 30%
Performance 59%
Aftermarket Support 50%
TOTAL SCORE: 50%

The fourth-gen Acura MDX (YD4) shows a slight improvement in off-road capabilities compared to the third generation, but still falls short of the first two generations. The SH-AWD system is no longer a standard feature, but an option for higher trim models.

The ground clearance remains at 7.3 inches, which is lower than ideal for serious off-roading but adequate for light use off the paved roads. There’s a noticeable improvement in angles, with the approach angle increasing to 18.2° and the departure angle to 21.2°. While better than the YD3, these figures still lag behind the earlier generations.

The YD4 comes equipped with 30-inch stock wheels (255/50R20), maintaining the wheel size of recent generations. However, we have’t found any information on the use of oversized All terrain tires.

One significant improvement is the increased cargo capacity of 95.7 cubic feet with seats folded, providing ample space for gear and equipment. It maintains the seven-seat configuration, preserving its appeal for families.

Overall, the fourth-generation Acura MDX achieves an off-road capability score of 50 out of 100, matching the third generation. While it shows some improvements in approach and departure angles, the unchanged ground clearance keeps its off-road potential limited.

As the newest generation (2022-2024), these vehicles benefit from the latest technology and are likely to be in excellent mechanical condition. However, their design still prioritizes on-road performance and comfort over off-road capability.

MODEL YEARS: 2021, 2022, 2023, 2024;

Pros

  • Improved approach angle (18.2°) and departure angle (21.2°) compared to 3rd gen
  • Retains SH-AWD system for reliable traction

Cons

  • Ground clearance remains low at 7.3 inches
  • Generally not intended for off-road use
  • No model-specific lifts and accessories

Which Generation is the Best – Offroadium Verdict

Based on our evaluation system, the MDX received the Off-road capability rating of 50-57 (depending on the generation) out of 100 possible, which proves that it’s not a dedicated off-roader, but still pretty capable to venture off the beaten path. The absence of a Rear Locker, does not allow it to play in the same category as the Porsche Cayenne and VW Touareg. But larger wheels, and high ground clearance make it one step higher than s Subaru Forester or a Toyota Rav4.

Based on the technical data we evaluated above, the Acura MDX YD2 (2007-2013) generation turned to be the most suitable for off-roading. Here’s why:

  • Highest Total Score: 55.3596, indicating better overall performance.
  • Best Ground Clearance: 8.2 inches, allowing for better obstacle clearance.
  • Largest Aftermarket Tire Size: 33 inches, providing improved off-road capability.
  • Best Approach and Departure Angles: 28° and 22° respectively, enabling better obstacle navigation.
  • Largest Cargo Capacity: 83.7 cu.ft., useful for carrying off-road gear.

While none of the MDX generations are designed primarily for off-roading, the YD2 offers the best combination of features that could be advantageous in mild off-road situations. Its higher ground clearance, better angles, and the ability to fit larger aftermarket tires give it an edge over the other generations for off-road use. As long as you stay on mild-to-moderate trails in a good weather and don’t try to pretend it’s a Jeep, you should be fine.

Best Builds from The Web

1st Gen Acura MDX by @mdxpidition

  • HRG Off-road Lift kit
  • 17×8 rims zero offset
  • Falken Wildpeak AT3W

2nd Gen Acura MDX Build by @yosoygordiyo

  • 2″ lift kit by HRG Off-road
  • 265/60/18 Falken Wildpeak AT3 Tires

Gen 1 Acura MDX by @_sequoia_forrest_

  • Black Rhino 18×8 wheels
  • 265/65/R18 BF Goodrich T/A KO2
  • Front Runner Outfitters Roof Rack
  • Lift Kit

Gen 2 Acura MDX by @fathertactical

  • Comforcer A/T tires
  • Lift Kit
  • Hitch mount spare tire carier

2nd Gen Acura MDX with a lift and off-road tires by @ksc.hvac

  • 2” Lift
  • All Terrain Tires
  • Kansei KNP

3rd Gen Acura MDX Overland build by @acura_mdx_overlander

  • Black Rhino Custom wheels
  • BF GoodRich All Terrain Tires
  • Yakima side Awning and Roof Rack
  • Pelican storage box