Acura Refines Its Largest SUV, the MDX
Acura's luxury MDX sport utility vehicle is redesigned for 2014 with quieter interior, more cargo space, a new, more powerful engine, better fuel economy and improved handling.
The starting retail price is down to $43,185, including destination charge, because for the first time, the MDX is available in front-wheel drive. All previous MDX SUVs came standard with all-wheel drive.
The MDX remains a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, which lists the SUV's reliability as above average. And the 2014 MDX earned an overall top, five out of five stars in federal government crash tests.
That's not all.
The federal government's gasoline mileage ratings for the 2014 MDX - 20 miles per gallon in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway for the new, front-wheel drive model - lead all other non-hybrid, non-electric, gasoline-powered 2014 SUVs that have three rows of seats.
The new-for-2014, third-generation MDX even has new sheet metal, though casual observers might not notice the subtle exterior styling updates. They will, however, take note of the dazzling, new, light-emitting-diode headlights.
Even the base 2014 MDX packs a lot standard equipment. It includes leather-trimmed seats with front seats heated, moonroof, three-zone, automatic climate control, rearview camera, paddle shifters, power tailgate and premium audio system with eight speakers.
Plus, the new MDX has a semi-power, push-button system that automatically moves the second-row seats forward and out of the way for easier entry and exit to the third row. This smart, one-finger system eliminates the fussy and sometimes awkward working of manual levers at the side of second-row seats that occurs in other SUVs.
The lowest starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2014 MDX with Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive is $45,185.
All MDX models come with a 290-horsepower, direct injection V-6 whose engine cylinders automatically deactivate, say, when the vehicle is coasting, to save fuel, without a driver being aware. The V-6 is mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.
Competitors are luxury-branded SUVs with three rows of seats that typically cost more than the MDX, such as the 2014 Mercedes-Benz GL350 Bluetec, which has a starting retail price of $63,925. This GL comes standard with all-wheel drive, but the base GL only has two-zone climate control, no moonroof and no real leather on the seats. Note that the GL350 Bluetec has a 240-horsepower, diesel V-6 and seven-speed automatic.
Still, the base MDX received higher federal government fuel economy ratings. Even an all-wheel drive 2014 MDX has higher fuel mileage on the highway - 27 mpg - compared with the GL350's 26 mpg.
Built on a new platform, this third-generation MDX is a bit lower and narrower than its predecessor. Ground clearance is shaved from last year's 8.2 inches to 7.3 inches, making it convenient for even small-stature riders to get inside.
In addition, the changes in dimensions provide better aerodynamics for better fuel economy.
The vehicle gains both gasoline mileage and agility because it's some 275 pounds lighter than the 2013 MDX, thanks to lighter-weight parts and more high-strength steel.
But the MDX wheelbase grew 2.8 inches for improved interior room. Wheelbase is the distance from the middle of one wheel on one side of the vehicle to the middle of the other wheel.
As a result, maximum cargo space grew from 83.5 cubic feet last year to 90.9 cubic feet. Second- and third-row seats fold down easily and provide a flat cargo floor.
The test MDX, a top-level model, immediately rode in a refined manner and felt tightly put together. Though it was more than 16 feet long, the MDX drove nimbly and turned easily into parking spaces, moved adeptly around obstacles and made U-turns with ease.
There was no telling that the engine, down from a displacement of 3.7 liters to 3.5 but with new, direct injection, had 10 fewer horses than last year. In fact, peak torque of 267 foot-pounds coming on at 4,500 rpm is just shy of the 270 foot-pounds from last year's V-6.
Power came through quickly, so the seven-seat MDX was responsive in city and highway driving. When pressed to accelerate hard, the engine sounded confident.
Even with some aggressive driving, the tester averaged 20.4 mpg, which is nearly the government's combined city/highway rating of 21 for this model.
Shifts were smooth, and brakes worked strongly. The responsive nature of the new MDX is reflected in an estimated, improved 0-to-60-miles-an-hour time of 6.5 seconds.
The test MDX stayed planted to the pavement even in long sweeping curves and turns as Acura's all-wheel drive system expertly distributes torque not just front to back but side to side.
The interior is refined and uncluttered, with supportive and comfortable seats.
Front-seat headroom is reduced 1.1 inches, but legroom is up to 41.4 inches in the front seats. In the second and third rows, legroom is cut a bit to 36.6 inches and 35.6 inches, respectively. But since the second row slides forward and back, legroom can be apportioned for optimum comfort among the two rows.
The tester's two display screens on the dashboard were confusing at times. And the test vehicle's center console lid had a troublesome latch that sometimes jammed.
Maximum towing capacity, when properly equipped with tow hitch kit, remains at 5,000 pounds.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported two safety recalls involving the 2014 MDX.
In November, NHTSA said 19,197 vehicles were being recalled because bolts attaching the drive shaft to the automatic transmission assembly might loosen. If the drive shaft were to become disconnected, drivers face the risk of a crash.
In July 2013, the agency reported the recall of 652 trailer hitch harness kits used for the 2014 MDX because wiring may be faulty and hamper braking.
2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD
BASE PRICE: $42,290 for base FWD model; $44,290 for base SH-AWD model; $46,565 FWD with technology package; $48,565 SH-AWD with technology package; $50,565 SH-AWD with technology and entertainment packages; $56,505 for SH-AWD with advance and entertainment packages.
PRICE AS TESTED: $57,400.
TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel drive, seven-passenger, luxury sport utility vehicle.
ENGINE: 3.5-liter, single overhead cam, direct injection V-6 with i-VTEC and Variable Cylinder Management.
MILEAGE: 18 mpg (city), 27 mpg (highway).
TOP SPEED: NA.
LENGTH: 193.6 inches.
WHEELBASE: 111 inches.
CURB WEIGHT: 4,297 pounds.
BUILT AT: Lincoln, Ala.
DESTINATION CHARGE: $895.