An old friend gets a new look
The MDX has encompassed everything that the modern luxury SUV represents; the unmistakably luxurious and spacious interior, the latest technology and a powerful, efficient and fresh package.
Since its inception, the MDX has stuck close to the same value proposition. It has always offered a very good blend of sportiness, utility and comfort in an attractive looking package. The success of the MDX shows that this package has proven to be a trusted family chariot for everyone from soccer moms to corporate executives. Now entering its third generation, the all-new 2014 Acura MDX encompasses many of these same traits, and aims to address the few areas where previous generations fell just a little short.
Bigger, lower and proudly wearing the updated Acura front shield, the new MDX is distinctively Acura. On the outside, the front end is striking but unlike the previous generations of the MDX, from pretty much any other angle my fully loaded Elite model tester seems rather plain and actually blends in with the plethora of alternative SUVs and crossover vehicles on the road here in the GTA. While some buyers might actually enjoy blending in with the crowd, I’ve always preferred my vehicles to stand out a little bit, so if I were spending the as-tested price of almost $66,000 I’d certainly expect a little more flash.
Behind the wheel though I almost immediately noticed some significant improvements over last year’s model. Firstly, the throttle response has been dramatically improved which has helped to make the MDX feel much more nimble while navigating through traffic. The steering ratios have been tightened up and coupled with Acura’s famed SH-AWD system, the handling of the new MDX rivals that of some sports sedans. The Acura IDS (Integrated Dynamics System) allows the driver to select between three driving modes; Comfort, Normal and Sport. I spent most of my week with the MDX in Sport simply because I like the extra steering weight and response. The downside to the Sport mode is that it firms up the suspension making it just a little harsher than I would have liked, but not enough to distract from the overall comfort level inside the MDX.
However, what did distract from the excellent driving dynamics was the thud heard from both the front and rear suspension while driving over sharp bumps. I am not sure whether it was due to the large 19” wheels and wide tires, or a lack of sound deadening in some key locations. Either way, it caught me by surprise in an SUV at this price point. I also have to mention that I am not a fan of the brake feel in the new MDX, while the brakes bring the SUV to an exceptionally quick stop, I found the pedal feel rather mushy and very assisted which is not very confidence-inspiring.
Despite a few nuisances, the MDX is still one of the best driving SUVs in its class and even a very worthy rival to the German offerings from BMW, Audi and Mercedes. One of the reasons for this is the updated 3.5L V6 with the latest Honda “Earth Dreams” technology which employs a new valve train and direct injection that has been credited with improving the fuel economy of the 3.5L up to 15%. The V6 puts out 290hp, down 10hp from the 3.7L in the previous generation MDX. Despite this, the new MDX makes excellent use of the power and actually feels significantly quicker than last year’s model. Power delivery is butter smooth and readily available throughout the power band.
Fuel economy is one area where the MDX has faced some criticism in the past, so the engineers at Acura have really put a lot of focus on it for this redesign. Outside of the new engine, efforts have been around reducing the overall weight of the SUV by approximately 280 pounds and making the body more aerodynamic. My week with the MDX involved commuting in very heavy traffic. Despite this I still managed keep my average fuel consumption at around 10.9L/100km, and at 8.7L/100km on a steady highway run. Those numbers are right in line, if not better than we’ve been seeing from the MDX’s competition.
As expected, the feature list in my top line $66,000 Elite model is massive and includes all the latest gadgetry such as rain sensing wipers, navigation, blind spot detection, park assist, ventilated front seats, a 546 watt 12-speaker stereo, and a very well executed rear entertainment system featuring a 16.5” HD rear screen. The Elite also comes with adaptive cruise control and Acura’s new and innovative lane keeping assist feature which effectively allows the MDX to steer itself along the highway. The system can keep you in your lane without any steering input required. I was a little hesitant at first, but gave it a try and was surprised at how well it works. Sure it’s a little scary watching the steering wheel move by itself, but the MDX did a surprisingly good job of keeping itself in the correct lane. As with all new technology, there is room for improvement, the vehicle does wander within the lane a little bit and driving over sharp bumps will prompt a “steering input required” notice on the LCD screen. So while I don’t think I am quite ready to put my faith, and safety, in the hands of these electronic nannies, they definitely show that Acura is developing meaningful innovations for their customers – plus it makes a great conversation starter with passengers.
All of this technology is kept in a beautifully trimmed and finished interior. From the soft leather and real olive ash wood trim to the brand new gauge cluster with needles resembling surgical instruments the interior is the lap of luxury. The new center stack features two screens, both controlling different functions. The bottom screen is completely touch-controlled, while the upper screen is controlled by a single large knob. This layout took some getting used to, but once I became accustomed to it, it easily became intuitive. While the upper screen’s main purpose seems to be navigation, at low speeds it can also display a number of different camera angles to assist with parking or manoeuvring in tight alleyways. Another aspect I enjoyed was just how much space has been made available inside the MDX, the center console is simply huge and there are plenty of other storage bins and compartments to keep valuables out of site.
For me, the MDX has encompassed everything that the modern luxury SUV represents; the unmistakably luxurious and spacious interior, the latest technology and a powerful, efficient and fresh package. Driving back home from an evening out, I drove the MDX through miles of dark desolate and unfamiliar back roads; the night was absolutely black but the MDX’s Jewel Eye LED headlamps lit up the road like daylight for miles ahead while various map views provided by the navigation system ensured that we knew exactly where we were. Throughout the drive which may have proved stressful in a lesser vehicle, I never felt at all uncomfortable, not even for a minute. In my mind, that’s what a true luxury SUV is about; it’s less about looks and the numbers, and more about that reassuring safe and secure feeling you get when you know that no matter where you go, you’re in the right vehicle to get you home safely and in the utmost of comfort.
2014 Acura MDX Elite Gallery