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2014 Acura MDX Pros and Cons: Why (Not) This Car?

2014 Acura MDX front angle
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Introduction

With the 2001 MDX, Acura was the first to offer a three-row car-based crossover. Writing a "Why (Not) This Car?" review a dozen years ago would have been easy. No one else offered a similar combination of handling, luxury, and people-carrying ability. But success breeds competitors. Seeking to maintain its leadership, Acura redesigned its largish crossover for the 2007 model year, and again for 2014. In what ways does the MDX remain ahead of the rest?

To find out, I drove the new MDX back-to-back with the Infiniti QX60, formerly known (or not) as the JX35.

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX front angle

The proportions and character line arching over the front wheel resemble those of the Lincoln MKX. more MDX photos

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX interior

A much-needed improvement over the 2013, but not a big enough step up from a Kia.

Tested: 2014 Acura MDX

4dr SUV 290-horsepower 3.5L V6 6-speed shiftable automatic AWD

Compared: 2014 Infiniti QX60

4dr SUV 265-horsepower 3.5L V6 7-speed shiftable CVT AWD

Why the 2014 Acura MDX?

  Compared to the QX60
Handling
Handling: Much better Better Worse

Compared to the 2013 MDX, the new one is a couple inches longer (193.6 vs. 191.6), narrower (77.2 vs. 78.5), lower (66.7 vs. 68.2), and nearly 300 pounds lighter (4,255 vs. 4,550). The Infiniti is a few inches longer still (196.4), and also a little taller (67.8) and heavier (4,419). These differences indicate Acura's priorities with the new MDX, and consequently its strengths and weaknesses compared to the QX60 (feel free to take a moment to recall which QX this is).

Drive the Infiniti, and as in many three-row crossovers it's hard to avoid the feeling that you're driving a disguised minivan. If driving alone, I feel out of place, as the vehicle is clearly meant to be occupied by a passel of people.

The MDX is different. The view and feel from the driver seat are much more like those in a car, and not even a large car. Go ahead, toss it around a little, you won't feel ridiculous.

Beyond the MDX's relatively tidy dimensions and relatively car-like driving position, Acura also fits brake-based torque vectoring and, with the now optional "super handling all-wheel-drive" (SH-AWD) system, an active rear differential that over-rotates and channels torque to the outside rear wheel in turns. These features cooperate to dramatically reduce plowing in turns, and even enable some throttle-induced oversteer.

The Infiniti also has torque vectoring (in an option package), but it doesn't feel nearly as agile or as balanced. It also rolls more in turns, and isn't nearly as fun to hustle. For driving fun in a crossover, Infiniti offers the QX70 (which you might know as the FX). But the QX70 lacks a third row of seats.

Steering assist in the new MDX can be varied among three levels via a switch conveniently located just behind the shifter. While "sport" increases the wheel's heft (and biases the all-wheel-drive system a bit more to the rear), it does little to amp up the modest amount of feedback. The previously optional electrically adaptive dampers have been replaced by standard mechanically adaptive units. While these are less expensive and adapt somewhat to changing road surface conditions, they lack the ability to lock in a sport mode. With them, the new MDX strikes a good balance between ride and handling, but feels too soft, even floaty in quick transitions, for serious driving thrills. The 2014 MDX performs well when called upon, even feeling better the harder you push it (until the middling tires start to slide), but it doesn't beg to be driven hard. The BMW X5 retains an edge here, but it's also much more expensive. For its price, the new MDX offers an unmatched combination of handling and seat count.


Fuel economy
Fuel economy: Better Better Worse

In addition to trimming the size and weight of the MDX, Acura also reduced the size of the V6 engine from 3.7 to 3.5 liters. Thanks to direct injection the new, smaller engine is nearly as powerful (290 vs. 300 horsepower), and is even a little punchier at low rpm. It can run on three cylinders to save fuel while cruising. The QX60's V6, also 3.5 liters, lacks direct injection and is only good for 265 horsepower. Even though the Infiniti's CVT (continuously variable transmission) can hold the engine at its power peak, this isn't enough to compensate for its power and weight disadvantages. The MDX is noticeably quicker, if still not thrillingly quick. (It can get to 60 mph in about seven seconds.)

Then again, fuel economy appears to have been the priority. In the EPA's tests, the 2013 MDX rated 16 mpg city, 21 mpg highway. Infiniti, aiming to top these marks with the JX35 did so by two mpg (18/23). A redesigned CVT shared with the new Nissan Pathfinder bumps the QX60 to 19/25. The new MDX trails the Infiniti by one mpg in the city, but tops it on the highway with a 27 mpg rating--tying the new diesel BMW X5 and impressive for a gas-powered three-row crossover.

In real-world suburban driving with an economy-minded right foot the trip computer reported averages from 21 to 23. With a feather-light foot and good luck with traffic lights, 25 can happen. Drive the MDX hard enough to enjoy the snarl that kicks in with the big VTEC cam lobes at 5,000 rpm, on the other hand, and mpg falls into the mid-teens. Highway driving confirmed the EPA estimate.


MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX rear quarter view

Rear wheel appears undersized, line arching over it not well integrated into the rest of the design.

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX instrument panel

A severe reduction in the center stack's button population might have gone a little too far.

Cargo capacity
Cargo capacity: Better Better Worse

Though the new MDX is a few inches shorter than the QX60, it can hold about as much behind its third-row seat. But 16 cubic feet isn't enough for a family on vacation. For this purpose you'll want a GM or especially a Ford crossover. The latter, like some minivans, have a deep well behind the third row that the others, including the MDX, lack.

But the MDX can swallow 91 cubic feet if you fold both rows (very easily done), well above the QX60's 77. A Ford Explorer is much larger on the outside, but can't hold as much inside (81 cubes). The new BMW X5? A paltry 66.

While some amount of creative measurement might be involved, we were surprised that a long folding table slid right in with a couple inches to spare.

Up in the front row, storage space inside the center console has more than doubled thanks to repackaged rear air ducts. No doubt someone will still fill it, but it's hard to imagine how.


Why Not the 2014 Acura MDX?

  Compared to the QX60
Rear seat room & comfort
Rear seat room & comfort: Worse Better Worse

That's it for the significant advantages of the new Acura MDX. Most things it does well, but not significantly better than the generally good segment averages. It's quick, but not thrillingly so. The front seats are comfortable and supportive, and cushier than those in the Infiniti, but provide less lateral support than those in the smaller Acura RDX and are no match in comfort or support for those in a BMW X5, a Lexus RX, or the big buck Mercedes reviewed a few weeks ago. Ride quality, like the seats, is good but short of luxurious. With additional sound deadening and laminated front door glass, the 2014 MDX is quieter than the 2013, but this only brings it in line with the others.

By the same token, there aren't many clear reasons to reject the 2014 MDX. The most obvious follows from its relatively compact size: though (as already mentioned) cargo volume is more than competitive, there's less room in the rearmost row than in the QX60. By sliding the second row up a couple of inches (it has a half-foot of travel), adults of middling size will fit back there. But with their butt low and knees high they won't be comfortable.

The QX60 offers far more combined legroom based on the spec sheets, and a couple more inches in the real world. (The Acura's specs seem to under-represent reality for passengers even as they might over-represent it for cargo.) But the Infiniti's seats are flatter and less comfortable. The new Hyundai Santa Fe offers more legroom than the Infiniti, while Ford's large crossovers could be best of all for transporting up to seven adults--if still not as good as the typical minivan.


Materials & workmanship
Materials & workmanship: Worse Better Worse

The new Acura MDX's interior is a definite step up from the old one, with tighter, more precise fits and a less dated appearance. Yet especially in light gray it lacks the luxurious ambiance of the Infiniti, and hardly seems more upscale than the interiors in the considerably less expensive Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento. Going down the road, the rock solid feel of a BMW or Mercedes is absent. Perhaps understandable owing to the price difference, but GM, Ford, and Chrysler have caught the scent. Perhaps luxury simply doesn't compute in the Honda mind.


MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX front view

A lot going on with LEDs, but not the prettiest face. Acura refuses to abandon this grille.

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX second-row seat

Comfortably high off the floor, and plenty of legroom if you slide it all the way back.

Controls and instruments
Controls and instruments: Worse Better Worse

The previous MDX, like many recent Acuras and Hondas, was criticized for a glut of buttons on its center stack. For the 2014, Acura took a hatchet to the button population. They might have gone too far. While the same functions can still be performed via the touch screen, two or three taps tend to be needed where one used to do. Somewhere in between would be ideal. I'd especially like a knob for changing radio stations. Though many auto makers have been eliminating these, the Infiniti still has one.

There's also the matter of having two display screens instead of the much more common one. Conceptually, this makes sense. For touch, it helps to have the display close and low. For viewing without taking your eyes off the road, it's best to have the display distant and high. In the MDX, the lower screen serves as a touchscreen for the climate and audio controls, while the upper screen--controlled using a knob and buttons below the lower display--can display the nav map.

Another benefit is that you don't have to hide the nav map to fiddle with the audio controls. But you can also use the upper screen for audio, and can change the station and such via either interface. A push for simplicity--fewer buttons--has somehow yielded greater complication. Beyond the number of clicks, it can be difficult to remember how and where to call up a specific function..

On top of the tap count and confusing control logic, the MDX's system can be slow to respond. Toggling between the trip computer and the audio display, I got tired of splash screens. When surfing the satellite radio channels, the system sometimes refused to scroll above a certain station for a full minute or more--likely a software glitch.


Other features of the 2014 Acura MDX

  Compared to the QX60
Exterior styling
Exterior styling: Better Better Worse

The new MDX looks much like the old MDX, just a little lower and longer. Compared to others, it appears lean and clean, but (like the interior) lacking in distinction despite unique "jewel eye" LED headlamps (a standard feature that would cost over $1,000 on a German competitor) and a grille that no one seems to like (but that Acura refuses to abandon).


Price or payments
Price or payments: About the same Better Worse

The 2014 Acura MDX starts at $43,185. Step up to the Technology trim level, which adds nav, some useful safety features (blind spot warning, lane departure warning, forward collision alert), a higher quality ELS audio system, and larger wheels (19s instead of 18s), and the tab rises to the tested vehicle's $49,460. A $55,400 Advance model adds upgraded leather, cooled seats, a rear seat entertainment system, adaptive cruise control, and a lane keeping assist system. Don't need all-wheel-drive? You'll save $2,000.

An Infiniti QX60 with navigation lists for about $500 less than the tested MDX, but includes about $1,600 less content. Close enough to call pricing a wash.

Want to spend much less? A Kia Sorento SX Limited with its optional third-row seat lists for $41,850. Adjusting for the Acura's additional content narrows the value gap to about $6,600. What do you give up with the Kia? Most notably, handling. I'll cover the details in a future review.

Able to spend $20,000 more? Then the new BMW X5 might be worth a look. You could buy a second vehicle with this money, but the difference in materials, ambiance, and driving character between the BMW and the Acura is much larger than that between the Acura and the Kia.


Conclusion

As might be expected given the number of competitors, the Acura MDX isn't the clear choice it was when it was the only vehicle of its kind. But the 2014 MDX is a clear improvement in many ways over the 2007-2013 second generation. While third-row seat room remains marginal, and the vehicle's look and feel could be more upscale, handling and fuel economy are at or near the top of the class. If you're seeking for the most agile and efficient vehicle capable of carrying three rows of people, with their room and comfort a lesser consideration, the MDX fits the bill. Especially if you want to be able to forget about familial obligations and enjoy the drive when you're the only one making it.

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX engine

Smaller engine than last year, but nearly as powerful and much more efficient.

MDX Reviews: 2014 Acura MDX cargo area both rows folded

An impressive 91 cubic feet of cargo volume with both rows of seats folded.

See more 2014 Acura MDX photos

Acura provided an insured MDX for a week with a tank of gas. Bill French of Suburban Infiniti of Novi (MI) provided an Infiniti QX60 for a test drive. He can be reached at 248-427-4712.

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2014 Acura MDX pros and cons, according to Michael Karesh: the best reasons for buying (or not buying) the 2014 Acura MDX. Join TrueDelta to post your own impressions.

Response from porterdog

7:54 pm November 21, 2016

No mention of SH-AWD does this vehicle an injustice; it's pretty much the most advanced AWD available...

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Response from mkaresh

9:24 pm November 21, 2016

I don't mention it by name--and probably should (might add)--but I do have this under handling:
"Acura also fits brake-based torque vectoring and, with the now optional all-wheel-drive, an active rear differential that over-rotates and channels torque to the outside rear wheel in turns. These features cooperate to dramatically reduce plowing in turns, and even enable some throttle-induced oversteer. "

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