2014 Acura MDX Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2014 Acura MDX


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2014 Acura MDX

If the new Acura MDX looks a little different, that's only because it is. No, Acura hasn't made any apparent massive change to the flagship luxury-sports crossover that is its most popular vehicle. The third-generation MDX merely builds on the strengths of its forebears, and adds the latest developments in convenience, connectivity, entertainment, safety, and performance technology.

The shape is familiar, but the 2014 MDX is longer, lower, andā€¦ narrower? Yes, fuel efficiency is important both for buyers and manufacturers, and so this MDX has less frontal area and more attention to aerodynamic detail, all the better to reduce fuel consumption with no decrease in performance. Actually, with less weight (due to greater use of lightweight structural materials) and a new 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 290 horsepower and 276 lb-ft of torque -- marginally less than the old 3.7's 300 and 270 -- performance is improved a bit, and fuel economy more so.

A new unibody chassis platform with a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase aids ride, handling, and interior space. Technology is an Acura specialty, and not merely in infotainment. LEDs are used extensively, for headlights as well as interior lighting. Electric power steering gives a light improvement in fuel economy. The multi-mode Integrated Dynamics System lets the driver select suspension and drivetrain settings from soft "comfort" to firmer "sport", and the Agile Handling Assist system uses brakes individually to improve directional change response. For the first time, front-wheel drive models are offered as well as all-wheel drive with the "Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive" system, hereafter referred to as SH-AWD.

A redesigned interior means that reduction in width has a minimal impact for passenger space, and the longer wheelbase and overall length translate directly to improved legroom -- especially in the second row, which now has six inches of fore-and-aft travel. Access to the third-row jump seats is simple, and they fold flat into the floor when not in use.

Trim levels are the same for FWD and SH-AWD versions: "base" (hardly!); Technology Package, adding a navigation system, upgraded audio, electronic safety features, and more; Technology and Rear Entertainment, further upgrading audio and adding a rear-passenger DVD entertainment system; and Advance Package, adding to that a yet further upgraded audio system, wide-screen DVD system, upgraded leather for the first two rows with heated and ventilated front seats, and further safety systems, and more.

As is usual for Acura, the various trim levels are quite complete, with only a variety of dealer-installed exterior and interior options. Also as usual, this past week's 2014 MDX test car was the top-of-the-line SH-AWD with Advance Package. Acura has made a good vehicle better -- it's quicker in acceleration, has improved ride and handling characteristics, and does it all on less unleaded premium. Weight loss is a major contributor there, as is the new V6, which features direct fuel injection for more efficient combustion at all times and cylinder deactivation for further gains during steady-speed highway or surface street driving. The MDX has always been one of the best luxury crossovers for vehicle dynamics, and it still is.

APPEARANCE: It's immediately recognizable as an Acura, familiar but ever so subtly massaged lines and the newest corporate grille. The 2014 MDX's length is accentuated by the sloping "fastback" line of the side windows. Technology proclaims itself with "compound eye" LED headlights, five per side. Subtle sculpting on the hood and sides breaks up any large expanses of sheetmetal, but without excessive, baroque, detail for a clean look. Chrome accents in front on the grille, headlight trim, and bumper fascia, on the sides around the windows and on the door handles, and across the tailgate and around the reflectors on the rear proclaim its luxury status. Interestingly, those reflectors replace the through-the-bumper exhausts of the previous version. This one's exhausts exit underneath, in front of the rear bumper.

COMFORT: Like its exterior, the 2014 MDX's interior strikes a fine balance between simplicity and complexity. Visual boredom is banished, but function is never sacrificed for form. Even in "base" trim all of the expected contemporary luxuries are standard, and there should rarely be a reason to take the "key" fob out of your pocket with pushbutton start/stop and proximity door un/lock. The main instruments are brightly lit and easy to read. An information display between the speedometer and tach shows fuel, range, tire pressure, and other useful information; further information and data features are available through the display at the top of the center stack or another one below it. Yes, you could think of your MDX Advance as a large mobile deviceā€¦ The interface to the navigation, Bluetooth phone, audio, and information systems has been simplified, with hard buttons for main features and a touchscreen interface for details. All contemporary audio choices are available -- AM/FM/SiriusXM radio, CD, external player via jack or USB, and Pandora via the Bluetooth connection.

Access is a little easier than previously as the new MDX is lower in both step-in and hip point measurements. Front seats give luxury class support and comfort and support, and at Advance level are both heated and cooled. The second row is business class, a 60/40 split contoured bench each part of which has six inches of fore-and-aft travel and multi-position back angle adjustment. Spring loading makes for easy third-row access when needed, and some of the wheelbase increase makes itself felt even back there. The space-saver spare is located in the traditional SUV spot, outside and underneath, all the better for cargo capacity.

SAFETY: The 2014 MDX uses the latest development of Acura's Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACEā„¢) unibody design to channel crash energy around the passenger compartment in a controlled manner. A driver's knee airbag is new. An expanded-view driver's outside mirror and multi-view rearview camera are standard in all models. Upper ones have Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning, Collision Mitigation Brake System, Blind Spot Information, Lane Keep Assist, and Adaptive Cruise Control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: Since its debut, the MDX has been one of the best-handling crossovers on the market. It's now even better, thanks to the improved unibody structure and redesigned MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension, and longer wheelbase and lower ride height. Its 7.3 inches of ground clearance when empty drops to as little as 5.6 when fully loaded up (and kudos to Acura for publishing the difference) so anything more "offroad" than a well-maintained dirt or gravel road or cleared snow will be out -- but how many MDX owners ever did even that? The electric power steering has a good touch and is not overly numb. Braking ability is very good. The Integrated Dynamics System has three settings: Comfort, for that soft 1970s ride, Normal, still soft but with somewhat less body motion, and Sport, firm but not overly so and perfectly comfortable with much less body roll and heave than Comfort. I tried the other two and then left it in Sport. Aerodynamic improvements and acoustic glass keep the interior pleasantly quiet.

PERFORMANCE: Less power? Not really. Yes, with 290 horsepower (at 6200 rpm) and 267 lb-ft of torque (at 4500 rpm), the new 3.5-liter V6 is down a bit compared with the old 3.7. The Gen-3 MDX is also lighter, to the tune of nearly 300 poundsā€¦ improving performance, fuel economy, and handling. Direct fuel injection allows a high 11.5:1 compression ratio for efficiency, meaning more power with less fuel. i-VTEC valve management improves torque and horsepower delivery, and cylinder deactivation when appropriate ensures further gains in fuel economy. The six-speed automatic transmission does its job well. It has a manual mode, which never a necessity. The 2014 MDX will get to 60 mph maybe a quarter second quicker than the 2013. More notably, it will do its everyday chores on less unleaded premium. I saw 18-20 mpg around town and on backroads, with highway mileage in the mid-20s. My 19mpg for the week reflected mostly non-highway driving.

CONCLUSIONS: With the all-new 2014 MDX, Acura keeps more than competitive in the luxury crossover class.

SPECIFICATIONS
2014 Acura MDX

Base Price			$ 56,505
Price As Tested			$ 57,400
Engine Type			aluminum alloy 24-valve SOHC V6 with
				 direct fuel injection and i-VTECĀ®
				 valve control
Engine Size			3.5 liters / 212 cu. in.
Horsepower			290 @ 6200 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			267 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed multi-mode automatic with
				 manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		111.0 in. / 193.6 in.
Curb Weight			4332 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		14.9
Fuel Capacity			19.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
				 recommended
Tires				P245/55 R19 103H Michelin
				 Latitude Tour m+s
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground Clearance		7.3 inched empty, 5.6 fully laden
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		18 / 27 / 19
0 to 60 mph				6.4  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination charge		$ 895

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