The king of Japanese SUVs Honda’s efforts to differentiate the premium Acura brand from their more mainstream vehicles are not going unnoticed.
Each year, a huge portion of the Double Clutch team jumps into a rather large press vehicle and heads to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. It makes for awesome coverage, a busy three days, and best of all: an awesome road trip amongst a group of guys that get along brilliantly. Last year, we drove the Jeep Grand Cherokee Overland. While it was a great SUV in every way possible, this year there was a significant change in our group – a fifth person rather than four. We needed something with three rows. I initially asked Honda for an Odyssey Touring, but it was already booked. We were handed the next best thing for a trip – a 2014 Acura MDX Elite.
The biggest improvement I noticed right away with the redesigned MDX is that it feels significantly lighter on its feet than its predecessor. The previous one felt like a truck, didn’t really feel powerful, and returned dismal fuel economy numbers. This new MDX also feels a lot bigger on the inside and the materials used make it feel significantly more upscale. This particular tester was the $65,000 “Elite” model finished in Alabaster Silver Metallic.
All MDX models are powered by the 3.5L V6 which puts out 290-horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Throttle response on the new model is also improved significantly, making it effortless to pilot the behemoth around the urban sprawl in Detroit. I also can’t help but mention that the noise made by the V6 under full throttle is particularly pleasing. As great as it sounds, the MDX is able to behave exactly as one would expect a big SUV to and quiets down quite a bit when cruising on the highway. It isn’t as library-quiet as the Lexus RX, though.
Significant engine improvements and developments combined with a weight shed of close to 280 pounds over the previous model help the MDX overcome its biggest shortfall. On the old model, I observed fuel economy numbers in the 14.5-15L/100km range. Highway hauling from Toronto to Detroit and back, with five full-sized people and a lot of luggage on board, the big Acura somehow managed 9.1L/100km. Booting around in the Detroit area (all city, tons of customs lines at the border), the truck was still doing better than 12L/100km. Premium fuel is recommended, and is what we used for testing.
Honda’s efforts to differentiate the premium Acura brand from their more mainstream vehicles are not going unnoticed. The interior of the new MDX feels significantly more upscale than anything else I have driven from Honda (save for its sibling, the new RLX). The Elite model has genuine olive ash wood trim, and its flat finish is gorgeous. The leather seats are very supportive, if not a bit too firm for my liking. Front seats are heated and ventilated, and the second row seats are heated. This top-trim tester also came with the “Ultrawide” rear entertainment system with its 16.2” display, beautifully complemented by the ELS 546-watt 12-speaker audio system. Our road trip was supplemented by an excellent soundtrack from one of our writers’ iPod, connected via the USB port.
With this big guy, the technology doesn’t stop at the big entertainment screen. The front media interface is operated via two screens stacked one above the other. The lower screen is a touch system, controlling entertainment, radio tuning, and other minor commands. The top screen is the main control unit that runs off a slightly modified version of Honda’s dated infotainment system. I’m not a huge fan of it – it’s sluggish to respond, the screen isn’t as high-resolution as its competitors, and it just feels old. However, for the typical MDX buyer, it seems to work well.
The Elite also comes with a series of acronyms: LKAS, ACC, and CMBS are all driver aids meant to help should the driver suddenly lose attention or is just plain lazy. ACC stands for Adaptive Cruise Control. In this vehicle, the radar-guided system is equipped with a low-speed follow gizmo that allows the system to be used in traffic. LKAS is “Lane Keep Assist”, which actually steers the MDX back into a lane should it detect negligent driving. Personally, being a tech-savvy guy, I enjoy these toys. What I do fear is that consumers buying vehicles equipped with such gadgets might start multitasking (using their phones, eating, doing their makeup) rather than paying attention to the road.
After spending a few days using the MDX as a shuttle to and from the Detroit show and accompanying activities, a few minor flaws became more obvious. The remote starter (a two-way starter as factory equipment is very cool) only worked when it wanted to. It also has no lights or indicators on the vehicle itself to tell you that it’s starting; you must rely on the lights on the remote fob. Speaking of the remote fob, the release for the power tailgate also worked intermittently. It’s not a huge issue for a group of guys, but for a parent with groceries and a baby stroller it might get difficult.
From a value standpoint, the 2014 Acura MDX Elite is an excellent idea for families. The third-row is actually comfortable enough to put a full-size adult (for brief periods, mind you), and accessibility is great. SUVs like the Lexus RX and Audi Q5 are great, but if you need a third row, this MDX is the leader from Japan. There’s a serious amount of technology packed in there, but not at the expense of comfort. Everything is top-notch, and it feels just as well put-together as its competitors from Germany. This new effort from Honda is nothing short of commendable.
2014 Acura MDX Elite Gallery