2014 Acura MDX Review: In the hunt, while wishing it was louda’…

2014 Acura MDX

Acura’s all-new MDX aims for the sweet spot among luxury SUVs. Photos by Acura

As this is written, the mass media is gearing up for the on-screen release of Rush, director Ron Howard’s carefully crafted look at Formula One and two of its most compelling actors, James Hunt and Niki Lauda. And while global powerhouse Honda won’t be propelling the action on the track, it’s worth remembering Honda engineering’s DNA is very much both on the track and of the track. It’s worth remembering, even while a week behind the wheel of Acura’s 2014 MDX makes it all-too-easy to forget.

Of course, the 2014 MDX, now in its 3rd generation, wasn’t designed for any competition beyond the showroom. And with three rows, it could comfortably accommodate the notoriously ‘fast’ Mr. Hunt, two or three of his sexual conquests and two or three of their attorneys. Developed – we’re told – in the image of an ‘Executive Family Jet’, this newest 3-row crossover is as removed from Honda’s mid-sixties Formula One debut as, well, Honda’s own executive/family jet.

Despite the all-new descriptive (and, to its credit, an all-new platform and Direct Injection V6) the new MDX doesn’t depart too dramatically from the 2nd generation, which didn’t depart too dramatically – you’ll remember – from the 1st. All three can best be described as pleasantly sculpted, their only distinguishing commonality being their overwhelming commonality. While admitting you don’t want to be too creative in crafting a two-box SUV (we’ll watch what happens when Jeep’s new Cherokee hits showrooms…), we’d continue to hope for a tad of individuality from Honda’s design studio, without employing the over-the-top individuality of Acura’s most recent ZDX. As noted in previous reviews of both the new ILX and TL Special Edition, the platforms are more inclined toward adventure than Acura’s senior management.

2014 Acura MDX Cargo

With 3rd row folded cargo capacity increases to 45 cubic feet. Remove the kids before folding…

Inside, where you’ll spend most of your time, the results are more successful. Instrumentation is clearly visible, navigation and infotainment reasonably intuitive (with but a week’s worth of study), and convenient storage almost plentiful. We do wish a sunglass case had allowed the padded armrest to fully close, but that was about it for functional nits.

Upfront, the perforated leather seating was easy to access, and supportive once inside. If you’re inclined to personalize your seating position the driver’s seat adjusts 10 ways, while the passenger can adjust his-or-her seating 8 ways. The end result, in the verbiage of the marketing team, is “perfect comfort.” We might not have found it perfect, but perfectly acceptable. With perhaps a tad more lateral support ‘perfect’ would have been that close.

As is becoming the norm, step-in height is remarkably low for something trumpeted as a sport utility; the accessory running boards should be installed only if a relative is running the dealership’s parts department. And once behind the wheel visibility is remarkably good, enhanced – of course! – by the now-obligatory back-up camera and screen. The screen is mounted in Acura’s On Demand Multi-Use Display. And no, we didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t make this up.

Those adults or children relegated to the middle row will enjoy similarly easy access, along with supportive platforms once seated. And if you don’t wish to engage those up front, or you’ve forgotten your iPhone or iPad, by all means take in a movie via the MDX’s 16.2-inch widescreen. And with viewers’ divergent tastes, the screen is split. Rea/lly.

Given that the MDX is a three-row crossover we need to discuss the third row. While more easily accessible than has been typical of the genre (via Acura’s one-touch extended slide walk-in feature), this is still – to use Acura’s executive jet analogy – 33B or 33E, both of which typically back up to the head. Fine for kids, but as a very-average-built adult the best thing I can observe is that the 3rd-row easily folds. When folded, you’ll benefit from some of the utility for which you bought an SUV. Even with the third row seating in place you’ll enjoy some 15 cubic feet of usable space. Fold it and available space almost triples, to 43.4 cubic feet. Finally, if the kids are heading to school and you need to take their flat screen, with the second and third rows folded you’ll enjoy a “majestic” (I’m quoting here…) 90.9 cubic feet. Plan on spending roughly $10K on luggage appropriate to your now-elevated station.

2014 Acura MDX Rear

Acura’s all-new platform is lower and more narrow.

Of course, owning a luxury SUV isn’t all work. And for play, Acura’s engineering team provides you with an almost electric – if not electrifying – powertrain. Under the hood is a new 3.5 liter V6 featuring the aforementioned direct injection, variable valve timing and variable cylinder management technology (whereby the engine switches seamlessly between 3-and-6-cylinder modes, without you having to do anything).

The new 3.5, while smaller than the 3.7 liter V6 it replaces, actually offers an 8% increase in torque below 2,750 rpm for what is described as greater overall responsiveness. We’d guess it’s only greater off the line, but that’s where a great many big-ass SUVs tend to ‘bag ass’; we’ll take the improvement. With almost 300 pounds trimmed from the MDX car-cass the jump from 0-60 is improved, while lap times at the Nurburgring’s Nordschliefe have been reduced by some eight seconds. And if your wife or significant other cares about Nurburgring lap times, write…

Putting the power to the pavement is a standard 6-speed auto with Sequential Sport Shift and (available) Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. The new MDX is fitted with standard front-wheel drive, a nod to all those from the South and Southeast dismissive of all-wheel drive. Given that it still rains – occasionally – in the South and Southeast, we’ll take all-wheel drive for the roughly $2K bump, as it enhances not only all-season traction but all-road handling. And Acura’s standard Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) allows the drivers to select their preferred driving mode (Comfort, Normal or Sport) best suited to their mood and/or conditions.

With an attractively-equipped base price of about $45K (with the now-optional all-wheel drive), the new MDX smacks of a terrific value. Load it to the roof rack with options, however (our test vehicle had an MSRP of $57K) and you’ll find a few alternatives in competitors’ showrooms.

Acura’s product strategy certainly doesn’t reduce the new MDX’s promise (or success) as a family hauler. It does, however, mask its mechanical connectivity to a level closer to that of a hybrid (or Buick) than what one typically regards as a motorcar. For the intended demographic, whose attention is more often focused on rear seat entertainment than front seat engagement, that’s probably fine. But from the old school perspective of a ‘seasoned’ reviewer, I’d enjoy the more visceral aspects normally associated with internal combustion. Perhaps a little less ‘jet’ and a tad more ‘turbo prop’. Or, within the context of Mr. Howard’s Rush, less ‘James’ and more ‘Jimbo’.

Specifications continued on next page.