The mid-size luxury crossover market is an interesting place. With high sales and high profits, every manufacturer has an entry here fighting for a piece of the pie. Like a pack of peacocks waving their feathers, each vehicle struts around claiming to be the class leader in luxury, refinement, efficiency or sportiness. But Acura has always taken a slightly different approach. The MDX has always been about combining a healthy dose of each key quality while maintaining great value.
|1. Powering the 2014 MDX is a 3.5L V6 making 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. |
2. A choice of front-wheel drive or Super Handling all-wheel drive is available.
3. Fuel economy is rated at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for AWD models while FWD versions are rated at 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
4. The new MDX is 275 lbs. lighter and 17% more aerodynamic.
And for Acura it’s worked. Nearly 51,000 of these three-row crossovers were sold last year. That’s close to 20,000 more than Acura’s next best selling product, the TL, making the MDX Acura’s bread and butter. But now it is time for a complete redesign, and to say it’s important for Acura to get this right would be an understatement.
LIGHTER AND MORE EFFICIENT
All new from the ground up, the MDX features a lighter platform despite being roughly the same size. By stripping out 275 lbs. compared to the 2013 MDX, Acura has been able to downsize the engine for improved efficiency. Replacing last year’s 3.7-liter V6 is a direct injection version of Honda’s new Earth Dreams 3.5-liter V6 with variable cylinder management. With 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, the new unit is down 10 hp compared to last year, but Acura claims it’s just as quick in a straight line.
We can’t really argue with them. The engine is very responsive on the road and the MDX, when unloaded, never feels lacking in power. Step hard on the throttle and the engine awakens with a nice growl. A bit intrusive for some, perhaps, we quite like it.
A six-speed automatic continues to be the only transmission choice, but thanks to the reduced weight and smaller engine, fuel efficiency improves dramatically with 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway for all-wheel drive (AWD) models. That’s up 2 mpg in the city and 6 mpg on the highway compared to last year’s model.
NOW AVAILABLE WITH FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE
For the first time ever, the MDX will also be offered in a more affordable, even more fuel-efficient front-wheel drive version. Expect 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway for the two-wheel drive edition. Acura is offering this new two-wheel drive model due to customer demand since there are many places in the US that don’t need it, and where customers prefer the reduced weight and efficiency of front-wheel drive.
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Acura has tuned the MDX’s suspension on the Nürburgring and thanks in part to lighter weight and better aerodynamics, claim it is eight seconds quicker than the old model; good news if your trip to soccer practice is on a race track.
Another key contributor to the MDX’s sportiness is the available Super-Handling all-wheel drive system (SH-AWD). This technology uses torque vectoring that applies more power to the outside rear wheel when cornering to help rotate the MDX. On top of that, it will individually brake the inside rear wheel when off throttle to help the MDX better manage corners as well.
SEE ALSO: 2014 Acura RLX Review – Video
The aggressiveness in which the SH-AWD system performs, as well as steering effort and throttle response, can all be adjusted through the Integrated Dynamic System (IDS). It can be cycled through three modes, Sport, Normal and Comfort, to suit the mood of the driver. Unlike some similar systems, there is a noticeable difference between the modes. Put it in sport, and the MDX will attack corners better than any three-row crossover I have driven before. Fair to say, not only does the MDX retain its sporty flair, but it is the most dynamic version yet.
Besides reducing weight and keeping the vehicle engaging, Acura also put a lot of effort in making the new MDX quiet inside with technologies like Active Noise Control, which uses the car’s speakers to muffle the noise your ears hear. Regardless, on the coarse side roads surrounding Portland, OR our MDX didn’t seem all that quiet, though that may have more to do with the environment than the vehicle itself.
EASIER TO ACCESS THIRD ROW
Inside, a lot of focus has been paid to the functionality and passenger comfort of the 2014 MDX. The third row seats are much easier to get into now thanks to a two-inch lower step-in height and three-inch wider entryway. There is a One-Touch Walk-In feature where, with the single press of a button, the middle row outside seats will slide and forward. The third row offers between 28.1-inches and 31.6-inches of legroom (slightly more than the Infiniti JX), and despite also having more headroom than the JX it’s still lacking for average sized adults. Behind the third row there is 15.8 cu-ft of storage space that can expand all the way to 90.0 cu-ft with the second and third row of seats folded down.
Compared to the 2013 model, Acura has reduced the number of buttons in the center stack from 41 to just 9. It looks much cleaner and more modern, but by reducing the number of buttons we feel the MDX has given up a bit of its old simple functionality. Between the front seats there is a massive center console that Acura claims can hold a purse, laptop case, or 2 iPads. Regardless of what is put in there, it is a sizable bin that should prove handy to future customers.
FULLY LOADED LUXURY
Being a proper luxury crossover, the MDX is stuffed full of features like the ELS Studio audio system, AcuraLink, a 9-inch (or massive 16.2-inch) entertainment screen for rear passengers, Multi-Angle Rearview Camera, Lane Keeping Assist System, Adaptive Cruise Control, Blind Spot Information and Collision Mitigation Braking.
On the outside, the 2014 MDX receives new styling that is evolutionary at best, and although many may not be able to tell the new model apart from the old one at first glance, it should be instantly recognizable as an MDX. Acura calls the new look of the MDX ‘Executive Aero Sculpture’ and say it is 17 % more aerodynamic – again, helping to hit those fuel economy targets.
The biggest changes to the familiar front end are the addition of the Jewel Eye LED headlights, similar to those on the new RLX, and a revision to the much lamented Acura beak. In fact, it really isn’t a beak anymore, but more of a large silver band that contains the Acura logo. The side of the new MDX carries a more pronounced rear window pinch and a pair of new wheels in either 18-inch or 19-inch sizes.
Keeping the MDX close to its roots and not dramatically changing that much may seem like a bit of a copout by Acura. But why change something that has been a resounding hit with customers? The MDX has always been something a little different in the luxury crossover segment. It is more minivan than the likes of the BMW X5 or Mercedes-Benz ML, but far more luxurious and sporty than any minivan. Now, however, there is a new kid in town, the Infiniti JX, which seems to have studied hard at the school of MDX.
To keep ahead of this new rival, and all the old ones, the MDX needs to continue being, as Acura puts it, ‘a great blend of strengths’. This means being near the top of the class in luxury, sportiness, utility and comfort while retaining its value proposition. After a brief drive around Oregon, it appears Acura has succeeded by improving the MDX’s few weaknesses, without ruining what has made it so popular in the first place.