Refinement Rather Than Revolution

2014 Acura MDX

Before we get into the meat and potatoes of the 2014 Acura MDX, let's pause for just a moment and talk about the current, still-sitting-at-dealerships 2013 model. It's a pretty good machine. Perhaps guilty only of falling to the backburners of our minds in recent years because, well, the old girl's not gotten any younger. But every time we drove this second-generation MDX, our thoughts were the same – good to drive, pleasant to sit in and a pretty decent value.

Acura's customers felt the same way, and so when it came time to design and engineer the third-generation MDX, the vehicle's formula wasn't shaken up at all. Despite the fact that it uses a brand-new platform and offers a host of upgrades, the key points addressed by the company's engineers were the specific requests of customers and shoppers in the segment – changes that amounted to nothing radical. After all, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

Succeeding at being evolutionary is often far better than trying to be revolutionary. That in mind, we traveled to Portland, OR to see if that formula works for this fully redesigned Acura MDX.

2014 Acura MDX side view2014 Acura MDX front view2014 Acura MDX rear view

The new MDX looks like the old one but having "melted by 10 percent."

The production-spec 2014 Acura MDX debuted at the New York Auto Show in March, following our first glimpse at the not-quite-ready "concept" version at the Detroit show in January. And when our team first laid eyes on the fully freshened MDX, our initial discussions surrounded the CUV's styling. The second-generation model arrived during a time when Acura wasn't exactly doing great things with design, though a lot of us liked the angular shapes and prominent schnoz of the then-new model. Even now, that second-gen MDX has quite a presence about it – it looks decidedly large and in charge, for better or for worse.

For 2014, however, things have changed. Senior Editor Seyth Miersma once described the new MDX as looking like the old one but having "melted by 10 percent." Moreover, this third-generation MDX reminds us of a puffed-up version of the company's smaller RDX crossover that was redesigned for the 2013 model year. The lines are smoother and the whole package sort of loses the old model's presence, but this more conservative approach to the large, luxury CUV formula will likely appeal to a greater number of shoppers.

2014 Acura MDX headlight2014 Acura MDX grille2014 Acura MDX wheel2014 Acura MDX taillight

What's interesting, though, is how much smaller the new MDX looks in person, especially compared to the old one. It's 1.5 inches shorter in overall height, and the width has been reduced by 1.3 inches, but this 2014 model gains 2.8 inches of wheelbase and is two inches longer than the previous model overall (note that the front overhang has been decreased, but there's added length between the rear wheels and the back bumper). Looking at the MDX from any angle, you might not immediately realize that this is a proper three-row crossover.

Acura has done a lot of work to make the MDX's cabin more luxurious and passenger-friendly.

Speaking of which, Acura has done a lot of work to make the MDX's cabin more luxurious and passenger-friendly – one of the areas of improvement requested by customers. Specifically, access to the third row of seats was a big concern with this new model, and has been addressed in a very smart, traditionally Honda-like fashion. The second row seat now slides both forward and backward to adjust legroom in the rear passenger compartment depending on where people are sitting, and there's even a one-touch slide function, so there's absolutely no confusion on how to move the bench forward for easy access to the way-back. Acura engineers said they wanted to make it so even a child could figure out how to move the seat, and it's appropriately intuitive and low-effort. Check it out in the Short Cut video below.

Autoblog Short Cuts: 2014 Acura MDX
Despite this desire for better passenger accommodations, the 2014 MDX is actually smaller inside in some areas than its predecessor, with headroom and legroom decreasing ever so slightly for nearly every row of seats (save front-seat legroom, which grows by two-tenths of an inch). In fact, overall cargo capacity has been reduced to 90.9 cubic feet from 103.5, though the area behind the third row of seats can hold 0.8 more cubes than the 2013 model, allowing the tailgate to close with a large cooler inside, a trick not possible with the 2013 model. The cabin doesn't necessarily feel like it has downsized compared to the outgoing MDX, but stepping into an Infiniti JX will reveal an interior that genuinely feels more spacious.

The center stack is now much cleaner and loses its button-heavy layout.

But there's still a whole lot to like here. A big area of improvement in the new MDX is found in the forward cabin, where everything has been completely redesigned. The center stack is now much cleaner and loses its button-heavy layout, and it incorporates the dual-screen interface that's employed in the RLX sedan. The two-screen arrangement still strikes us as a bit redundant – the lower one is a haptic-feedback touch interface, whereas the larger, recessed one up top is controlled by the big knob at the bottom of the stack – but hey, it sure looks techy and there's great functionality within. In fact, many of the features found up front in the new MDX are reminiscent of what we first experienced in the RLX earlier this year. The steering wheel is nearly the same, with redundant controls for the radio and Bluetooth functions, as well as the color TFT information display in between the speedometer and tachometer.

2014 Acura MDX interior2014 Acura MDX front seats2014 Acura MDX rear seats2014 Acura MDX rear cargo area

All around, the MDX offers a comfortable, quiet environment for passengers, though the overall fit-and-finish isn't as solid or vault-like as what you'd find in a BMW X5. Still, we prefer the more premium approach to both the design and quality of materials over, say, the Infiniti JX or Lexus RX. It's an attractive cabin, with easy-to-use controls throughout. One noticeable change in operation between the second- and third-generation MDX, however, is seating position. Whereas the old car had a more upright, traditionally SUV-like feeling, you don't get that same sort of experience in the new MDX. It's a lot more car-like – your butt sits lower to the floor – while still offering an easy step-in height that makes for good ingress and egress for drivers of all shapes and sizes.

Acura will offer the MDX with front-wheel drive in addition to the excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive.

Acura will, for the first time, offer the 2014 MDX with front-wheel drive in addition to the automaker's excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. All models can be had with the less-expensive two-wheel-drive option, and Acura executives say that the company has already had good success with this new front-drive strategy with its smaller RDX crossover. By achieving a lower price point without SH-AWD, this sort of package better appeals to folks in warm-weather states where the added cost and economy premium of all-wheel drive isn't really validated.

Regardless of how many wheels are driven, only one engine is available for 2014 – Honda's new Earth Dreams 3.5-liter V6, also found in the RLX, though detuned to produce 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque here (Acura's flagship sedan puts down 310 hp and 272 lb-ft) and mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Compared to the outgoing model, the new MDX's power numbers actually represent decreases of 10 hp and 3 lb-ft, and while we miss the better noise of the larger 3.7-liter V6 from the old model, the revised powertrain is a much smoother (and more efficient) operator.

2014 Acura MDX engine

A key point about the 2014 MDX is that it's a full 300 pounds lighter than the outgoing model; a top-level Advance model tips the scales at 4,332 pounds. No specific performance numbers were given, but we're told that the new MDX is roughly half a second quicker to 60 miles per hour than its predecessor. In fact, Acura took its 2014 MDX back to the Nürburgring, where the big CUV ripped off a lap time that's a full eight seconds quicker than the time of the 2013 model. Leadfoot moms, rejoice.

The new MDX is roughly half a second quicker to 60 mph than its predecessor.

This major weight savings comes thanks to an all-new platform, developed specifically for the MDX. Well... sort of. Acura says that the MDX will be the "lead vehicle for this platform," so we'd expect it to show up elsewhere in the Honda/Acura family at some point (*ahem* Pilot *ahem*). Still, this means more good things for the MDX – Acura says its new crossover posts the lowest published weight among AWD competitors. Fuel economy benefits here, too, with all-wheel-drive models capable of achieving 18 miles per gallon in the city, 27 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined, and front-wheel-drive versions increase those numbers to 20, 28 and 23, respectively. Most importantly, back in the land of SH-AWD, these new economy numbers represent gains of 2 mpg city, 6 mpg highway and 3 mpg combined versus the 2013 MDX. Good stuff.

The reason we always enjoyed driving the old MDX wasn't because it was some great enthusiast machine, but because everything that it did, it did well. It's a similar story here for 2014, with a few thoughtful improvements to offer a slightly more engaging feel to drivers who seek it, while still being pleasant and comfortable for folks who, frankly, couldn't care less.

2014 Acura MDX gauges2014 Acura MDX infotainment system2014 Acura MDX shifter2014 Acura MDX rear television monitor

There's a ton of assist available, with the steering feeling overboosted at times.

For starters, the new MDX utilizes an Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) that allows drivers to switch between three driving modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The setup here is pretty self-explanatory, with Comfort offering the maximum amount of assist from the electric power steering, while Sport mode offers slightly more weight, as well as improved and more direct throttle response and a more aggressive shift schedule. We tried all three, with normal offering a perfectly fine dynamic for the luxury CUV set – light, yet direct steering, and linear throttle response. Comfort mode, on the other hand, takes away just about all weight from behind the wheel. There's a ton of assist available, with the steering feeling overboosted at times. Less steering effort was requested by a vocal portion of current MDX owners, and this suits that bill without mandating it for everyone. Of course, we naturally preferred Sport mode, and actually found the steering to be quite good, with no feeling of deadness on center.

Acura retuned its SH-AWD for Sport mode, too, with the system able to provide maximum torque vectoring under these more enthusiastic conditions. Coming out of a corner, you can really feel the power being sent to the wheels that need it most. Even during instances when entering a corner hotter than we (or the typical shopper) would, the system reacts quickly to keep things stable and on point through the turn. Occasionally, we found ourselves issuing small steering corrections exiting a corner, as the torque vectoring and throttle inputs can really steer the MDX through a turn. It's the sort of situation that we noticed here on our short drive loop through the hills outside of Portland, but we think it'd be easy to adjust to over time.

2014 Acura MDX rear 3/4 view

That said, we don't expect most MDX buyers to care about handling ability above all, and in the normal sort of luxury CUV driving tests, the MDX passes with flying colors. The new model is 16 percent more aerodynamic than the outgoing MDX, and Acura worked tirelessly to improve cabin quietness at highway speeds. The company went so far as to create what it says is an industry-first one piece stamped door ring, a structural bit that eliminates a lot of potential air gaps while increasing rigidity.

We didn't have a chance to experience any sort of long-distance cruising to really vet out the noise levels over a long period of time – nor did we have the opportunity to sample a front-wheel-drive model. We'll try to catch up on both fronts for a Quick Spin down the road.

The 2014 MDX goes on sale in July, starting at $42,290.

The 2014 MDX goes on sale in July, starting at $42,290 for the base, front-wheel-drive version, excluding $895 for destination. Acura will offer three higher trim levels – Technology; Technology and Entertainment; and Advance, priced from $46,565, $48,565 and $54,505, respectively. That's significantly cheaper than a similarly equipped BMW X5, but falls right in line with the MDX's closest three-row competitor, the Infiniti JX. And while many would argue that the JX offers a more spacious cabin with better amenities, the MDX is far, far better to drive – and not just from an enthusiast standpoint. Get out of a refreshed 2013 Buick Enclave and into this 2014 MDX and you'll never want to get behind that Tri-Shield wheel again.

We're willing to bet that the midsize luxury crossover segment is one of the most competitive out there – just think about all of the options available from Germany, Japan and the United States. By continuing to keep the MDX's formula simple and sticking with what it knows, Acura has created a functional, thoughtful, premium vehicle that handily bests many of the other players in this segment. The 2014 MDX is perfectly fine (and, in fact, quite good) in just about every measurable area. Just like it always has been.