2014 Acura MDX First Review: An Enduring Benchmark
Since its pioneering days in the early 2000s as the first 3-row luxury crossover SUV, the Acura MDX has become something of an institution in the U.S. marketplace. Of course, getting in on the ground floor presents obvious advantages, but sales figures and overall popularity of the MDX have remained relatively unfazed by segment newcomers, and the all-new 2014 model is poised to continue the trend.
What Lies Beneath
Whereas Honda's one-size fits-all global truck platform served as the foundation for the two previous generations, the 2014 Acura MDX is built on an entirely new body structure. Acura engineers increased both the rigidity and impact strength of the new chassis without tacking on extra weight. In fact, a 2014 MDX fitted with all-wheel-drive (AWD) tips the scales at just 4,255 pounds, roughly 275 pounds lighter than last year's model. These structural improvements coupled with revised manufacturing techniques yield significant reductions in NVH (noise, vibration and harshness). To that end, the addition of acoustic front glass and an abundance of sound-deadening materials make for one of the quietest cabins among luxury SUVs.
Although the third-generation MDX still provides sport sedan-like composure in the corners, the thoroughly reworked suspension is better balanced and more compliant than before. We're huge proponents of the single calibration suspension, as the MDX's ride quality strikes a near-perfect balance between the sofa-soft Lexus RX and the rather stiff-legged BMW X5 without the complexity and cost associated with electronically controlled setups. And while damping forces are set in stone, the 2014 MDX comes standard with Acura's Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), which lets you tailor the throttle response, steering effort, and AWD settings (if so equipped) by way of three driver-selectable modes.
Coming to terms with the fact that many drivers don't need all-wheel-drive, the MDX is available for the first time ever in 2WD configuration. Despite a slight decrease in power, the new direct fuel-injected 3.5-liter V6 feels as strong as the outgoing mill, which we attribute to the lower curb weight. Fuel economy figures stand at the top of the class, for now, delivering EPA city/highway ratings of 20/28 with front-wheel-drive and 18/27 with all-wheel-drive. For the most part, the current 6-speed automatic carries over unchanged.
The Same But Different
Save for the new "Jewel Eye" LED headlights, you'll struggle to find physical evidence of an exterior redesign. But the spec sheet shows, dimensionally, that the 2014 MDX measures about 2 inches longer, 1.3 inches narrower and 1.5 inches shorter than its predecessor. Interior volume is down nearly nine cubic feet, though cargo space, legroom, and headroom remain largely unaffected.
In terms of design changes, the interior is much the same story. The overall appearance (besides the center stack, and we'll get to that) doesn't stray far from tradition. Materials quality is on par with segment leaders, but the combination of faux wood, dull textures and basic shapes fail to evoke the rich interior ambiance of rivals like the Infiniti JX, Lexus RX and Audi Q7. Nonetheless, most luxury SUV shoppers will find the MDX's subtle-yet-tasteful interior styling to be suitably attractive.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication
The outgoing MDX's dash was a sea of buttons arranged in a fashion more akin to an airliner. For 2014, most vehicle functions are handled via a pair of LCD displays, bringing the total number of center stack buttons to nine (down from a whopping 41).
As a family hauler and suburban carryall, the 2014 MDX places a special emphasis on everyday versatility. Case in point, access to the third-row is eased thanks to a new one-touch walk-in function, wider entry point and lower step-in height. Even small children can operate the walk-in feature, as the second-row seat tilts and slides forward with the simple push of a button. And, unlike some minivans and competitive offerings, the MDX's second-row seat slides with minimal effort.
On the technology front, the 2014 MDX incorporates Acura's next-generation infotainment platform, which we feel is a big step in the right direction when it comes to processing speed, smartphone application integration and general usability. However, voice recognition is nothing to write home about, and the navigation system lacks one-shot destination entry (allows users to speak an entire address at once). On a brighter note, a new rear-seat entertainment center comprised of a 16.2-inch split-screen display, HDMI port and DVD player is available with the Technology and Entertainment package. Range-topping Advance versions include new active safety technologies like full-range adaptive cruise control, pre-collision alert and Acura's exclusive Lane Keeping Assist System that provides supplemental steering force to help keep the MDX in its lane.
At $43,185, including destination, the 2014 Acura MDX starts about $1,000 less than the 2013 model. While the 2014 lineup also offers a longer list of standard equipment, all-wheel-drive is no longer included as standard fare. A fully-loaded MDX fitted with the Advance and Entertainment package checks in at around $57,000.
Competing 7-passenger SUVs like the Infiniti JX, Lexus RX and BMW X5 each offer a more focused approach, but for those who seek the best of all worlds in a value-driven, family-friendly package, the Acura MDX is still the ideal choice.
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