Test-drive Review: 2014 Acura MDX
Posted on July 30, 2013
The Acura MDX has been a popular choice in the luxury mid-size to large crossover / SUV class as it offers a very well-rounded package. The 2007 – 2013 MDX’s strengths included excellent handling, strong acceleration and decent interior room, all wrapped in manageable external dimensions for an attractive price (as luxury SUVs go). It did however have some shortcomings, namely excessive road noise, middling fuel economy, a cramped third-row seat and miniscule cargo space behind the third row. With the redesigned 2014 MDX, Acura has sought to address these shortcomings while simultaneously bringing the infotainment system and instrument panel up to contemporary levels. We visited Acura of Denville for a test-drive of a just-on-sale 2014 MDX SH-AWD base model and found that while Acura succeeded in some respects, it was less successful in others.
As has been widely reported, the 2014 MDX rides on a new platform that it supposedly no longer shares with the Honda Odyssey (as did the previous model). While we don’t doubt that this platform is new and is not shared with the current Odyssey or other Honda light trucks, we suspect the latter will no longer remain true once the redesigned Odyssey and Pilot debut. Regardless, this is a largely irrelevant fact for buyers. The new platform allows the 2014 MDX to shed ~300 pounds versus the 2013 model, which is quire relevant because the new model trades the previous model’s 300-hp 3.7 V-6 engine for a slightly less powerful 290-hp 3.5 liter V-6. The new engine features direct injection, which while an often touted feature, has resulted in troublesome carbon-buildup in some competitors’ implementations. Time will tell whether Acura’s engines will enjoy a trouble-free lifetime with direct injection. Aside from that, the wheelbase has been stretched some, the interior and infotainment system have been updated and the price has been kept roughly in line with the previous model. Most significantly for customers in the South and on the West Coast, a front-wheel drive model has been made available, saving expense and weight while reducing complexity.
How’s the interior and space?
The 2014 MDX’s interior is very comfortable and eye-pleasing. Entry into the cabin is improved due to a lower ride height, and we found the step-in height to be just about perfect. In terms of overall layout, it’s fairly similar to the 2013 model’s interior, but the vast sea of buttons has been replaced with Acura’s vertically stacked dual screen interface. The upper screen presents information and the navigation map (if so equipped), while the lower screen includes haptic touch screen technology and provides for control of the climate-control and navigation systems and radio. The setup isn’t the most intuitive or prettiest, but it’s readily useable and responsive. We had no problems operating all of the systems in seconds. That being said, the setup, particularly the navigation information entry, is inferior compared to some competitors’ interfaces. In terms of materials, the fit and finish and quality appeared to have improved slightly versus the 2013 and are solidly entry-luxury grade.
While Acura’s changes to the driver interface and quality are promising, the lack of improvement in interior space is a major disappointment. The first and second rows remain comfortable and adequately roomy, but the third-row is still incredibly cramped. That being said, the second row is now adjustable fore and aft into four different positions. This allows for some interesting compromises. If the second row is adjusted into the foremost two positions, it’s possible to have children, say 10-year olds, sit comfortably in each of the second and third rows. However, if you adjust the second row to a position that’s comfortable for adults, the third row is useable by young children at best – and even then legroom is very tight. We had hoped that with the 2014’s new extended wheelbase there would be additional space in the third row. We note that several competitors offer a more useable third row. Finally, in terms of access to the third row, we found the second row’s slide-forward feature to be helpful, but not flawless. Some competitors offer fold and tilt second row seats that open up more space, but admittedly will require the removal of a child car seat, which the MDX does not.
One of Acura’s goals was to improve on the 2013 MDX’s cargo capacity, although they were not entirely successful. The new cargo compartment is narrower (as is the whole vehicle) and shorter than the old one, but it is two inches deeper. This means that while overall volume is down slightly, there is more useable space behind the third row.
We found visibility out of the front and side windows to be quite good on account of a low cowl and relatively thin A-pillars (the windshield pillars). Visibility out back and to the rear quarters is less spectacular, but not too bad for a modern SUV. The rear view camera is of course helpful when backing up, but we note the absence of any sort of around-view camera.
How’s it drive?
We took the MDX on an extended drive, mixing in highways and curvy back roads. Overall, the 2014 MDX performs very well. The downsized V-6 accelerates the new lighter chassis with authority and the 6-speed automatic shifts seamlessly. Acura claims that the new powertrain combined with the reduced weight give it class-leading fuel economy. We were of course unable to assess fuel economy during our test drive, but will keep an eye on real-world results. As before, the handling of the 2014 MDX was very good for a three-row SUV. The SH-AWD system keeps understeer in check and the steering is light and accurate. We immediately felt comfortable flogging our MDX through the back roads, which is not something you can say about most three-row SUVs. That being said, buyers should query if they’re buying their three-row SUV primarily for back road flogging.
While the impressive handling of the MDX remains with the new model, what has greatly improved is the noise isolation and the ride quality. We drove our MDX up to 75 mph, and found it quite serene inside. There is no longer any tire or wind roar, only the pleasing purr of the V-6 when revved. Moreover, in spite of an athletic suspension providing very capable handling, we found the ride on the standard 18-inch wheels to be supple. We drove over some rough roads at speed, and the suspension soaked up the bumps quite well while the chassis remained rock solid and creak-free. The 19-inch wheels on uplevel models may put some bite back in the ride, but we suspect the extended wheelbase will mitigate this.
One area where the MDX surprised us a little was braking. The braking distances were reasonably short during aggressive stops, but the pedal was unusually spongy and didn’t bite until it had travelled a good deal. We grew accustomed to it as the drive progressed, but the soft pedal was slightly disconcerting.
Overall, we think the redesigned 2014 Acura MDX is attractive option in the entry-luxury crossover / SUV class. It has some shortcomings that will not make it the top choice for some, but overall it remains a very well-balanced package. If you’d like to see how the new MDX suits your needs, visit us at Car Match Car Buying Advice.