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2014 Acura MDX Rocky Mountain Review By Dan Poler

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2014 Acura MDX

2014 Acura MDX Rocky Mountain Review
By Dan Poler
Rocky Mountain Bureau
The Auto Channel

Back when I was a kid, well before the advent of the modern Internet, Google, and the World Wide Web, the way we would learn about cars was through magazines that came in the mail. There would always be a section near the front of the magazine featuring concept cars. I’ve always loved that section – full of drawings or pictures of mockups, sometimes even a picture of an actual prototype or test bed. It made me feel like any day now we’d be ready for flying cars and 100+ MPG high performance models.

Futuristic-looking and laden with advanced technology, Acura’s 2014 MDX looks like a concept car ripped straight from the magazines of my youth. Completely redesigned for the 2014 model year, the midsize luxury crossover features a futuristic look and bells and whistles one could only dream of even just a few years ago. Unfortunately, also as is sometimes common with concept cars as well, it features a few flaws in the execution of all this technology which serve to detract from the vehicle’s overall experience.

On the outside, the futuristic look starts right at the front with the unique headlight arrangement. Called Jewel Eye by Acura, each headlight assembly focuses white LED light through five individual lenses; each lens is aimed to focus its LED beam over a longer and wider surface area, covering the road more clearly while not blinding oncoming traffic. These LED headlights are standard on each and every MDX.

From the side, the MDX’s profile carries over much the same as its predecessor, sloping gradually down to a good-sized power opening tailgate; we find the rear of the vehicle also graced by LED lights, although much more conventional in appearance than those at the front.

Every MDX comes very generously equipped, with 18-inch wheels, the aforementioned LED headlamps and power rear hatch, heated mirrors, a sunroof, rear privacy glass, keyless entry/ignition, heated eight-way power front seats (with driver power lumbar), driver memory settings, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control and an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a multi-angle rearview camera, Bluetooth phone connectivity, an eight-speaker audio system, and a unique setup of twin console displays – a 7-inch touchscreen placed just below 8-inch information screen – more on that setup in a moment.

In addition to these standard features, our tester carried with it the most comprehensive options packages offered by Acura for the MDX. The Technology package adds navigation, voice control, 19-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry for the rear doors as well as the front, GPS-linked and solar-sensing climate control, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, and forward collision warning systems. In addition, the entertainment system is upgraded to a 10-speaker surround-sound system with HD radio.

The Advance and Entertainment package adds a 115-volt power outlet, heat for the rear seats, shades for the rear door windows, roof rails, parking sensors, remote start, auto-dimming exterior mirrors, nicer leather, ventilation for the front seats, a collision mitigating braking system, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, power controls for the front passenger, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with an enormous 16.2-inch widescreen built into the MDX’s ceiling, additional speakers for the surround sound system, and an HDMI input.

The interior of the MDX feels serene and isolated. Seats are comfortable and supportive, and adults will find the second row to be nearly every bit as comfortable as the front, owing to tilt and slide adjustability; the third row, not so much, as is generally the case. Storage areas are numerous and convenient; particularly nice is a very deep well between the front seats.

When we turn to control of the MDX’s myriad technology features and gizmos, again, the thought of a concept car springs to mind. The features available are vast and in some cases unique, making them feel years ahead of its competition. The problem however is that, also like a concept car, they don’t feel like the bugs are quite worked out of them.

The challenge starts with the display setup for control of auxiliary systems like navigation, entertainment, and climate control – as mentioned above, a 7-inch touchscreen is used to manage input from the driver, and it interacts with an 8-inch information screen just above it.

As cars become more and more complex, it certainly seems to make sense on paper – a touchscreen that can adjust to accept different inputs from the driver based upon context, whereas buttons have a singular function.

However as I learn about our cars through everyday use and driving, buttons can be triggered by muscle memory, without the driver taking his or her eyes off the road…the same cannot be said for a touchscreen – it requires the driver’s eyes to function, to get to the right menu and to select the right option.

Add to this the fact that output – the results of the driver’s desired action – appears for some functions directly on the touchscreen, and for other functions on the information screen above. It’s a lot to ask of a driver’s attention to navigate this system, even for simple needs such as adjusting the climate control, changing a radio station, or enabling a seat heater.

And for all the time it takes for the driver to look at the screens to achieve his or her desired result, that’s time that the driver’s eyes are not looking at the road and the environment around the car. In addition, the system employs at some points graphics demonstrating transitions between one mode and another, making it feel somewhat slow and clunky to achieve the desired operation. All this adds up to create a feeling of a system that just isn’t yet ready for prime time.

In addition, the MDX faces the driver with a veritable acronym soup of features – CMBS, LKAS, ACC, LDW, IDS and so forth.

The most interesting and unique of these features is LKAS, which is short for Lane Keeping Assist System utilizes a camera to “see” the lane markings at highway speed, and is intended to reduce driver fatigue by making minute adjustments to keep the vehicle centered in its lane.

It’s an interesting concept – as it will actually move the steering wheel – but it does not replace the need for the driver to be the driver and actually steer the vehicle. It’s an extremely odd sensation to feel the steering wheel turn independent of the driver’s input, and definitely takes some getting used to. In addition, we found the system would sometimes fail to follow lane lines around curves, or might try to follow a leading vehicle changing lanes. No automatic system like this is perfect, and none is a substitute for good driving, leading to my concern of the scary possibility of an unintended course correction.

Also new to the MDX for 2014 is a new engine. The 3.5-liter V6 produces 290 horsepower and does so quite smoothly and quietly through the six-speed shiftable automatic transmission.

The vehicle feels composed and well mannered, and the SH-AWD system directs torque where it’s needed the most for vehicle performance and stability – the driver can even enable a display in the dashboard to show where and how torque is being distributed, a nice touch and interesting to observe under various driving conditions. Placed just behind the gearshift lever, the IDS – Integrated Dynamics System – button allows the driver to adjust throttle response, SH-AWD responsiveness, exhaust note, and steering effort to one of three preprogrammed selections – Comfort, Normal, or Sport. This provides a wide variety of options for the driving experience.

A number of high-tech safety features are included as well. CMBS, the Collision Mitigating Braking System, can automatically apply a significant portion of the vehicle’s brakes if an obstruction is detected, possibly before the driver even has a chance to react.

Ultimately, the 2014 Acura MDX is a futuristic update to an excellent premium SUV, and it’s always great to see that what would have been possible only in pictures just a few years before has come to a real-world production vehicle. I watch with concern, however, as cabin systems and driving aids become more and more complex, and I hope that this does not lead to additional distraction of the driver in an already distracting world.

2014 Acura MDX

Base Price: $43,185.00
Price as Tested: $55,400.00
Engine Type: SOHC 24-valve direct injection VTEC V6 with variable cylinder management
Engine Size: 3.5 Liter
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft): 267 @ 4,500 RPM
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic transmission with sequential SportShift
Wheelbase / Length (in): 111 / 194.3
Curb Weight: 4,332 lb
Pounds per HP: 14.9
Fuel Capacity (gal): 19.5
Fuel Requirement: Premium unleaded
Tires: Michelin Latitude Tour HP; 245/55HR19
Brakes, front/rear: Ventilated disc / Solid disc
Suspension, front/rear: MacPherson strut / Multi-link
Ground clearance (in): 7.3
Drivetrain: All-wheel drive
EPA Fuel Economy - MPG
city / highway / observed: 20 / 28 / 25 
Towing capacity (lb): 3,500
Base Trim Price: $54,505.00
Delivery: $895.00
Price as tested: $55,400.00