Enthusiasts may point to the revival of the NSX as a sign of Acura's revitalization, but the brand's actual sustenance relies on far less exotic sheetmetal. Take, for instance, the MDX midsize crossover. Launched in 2001 and redesigned in 2007, it's long been one of Acura's best-selling nameplates. In fact, in its first year on the market, the MDX was the brand's second best-selling model, and became the best-selling Acura model in 2010 -- a distinction it's held ever since.
That's all well and good, but time waits for nothing, and that includes best-selling crossovers. After six years on the market, it's high time for the aging second-generation MDX to make way for the new 2014 Acura MDX -- although, given its predecessor's success, we're not surprised to see the new model doesn't push the envelope too much.
As predicted, the so-called MDX "prototype" shown earlier this year at the Detroit auto show was little more than a gussied-up version of the production vehicle. The Ginsu-sharp character lines and snowplow-esque beak that dominated the previous MDX are largely a thing of the past. Like the new-for-2013 RDX crossover, the MDX's sheetmetal is still angular, but softer and more elegant than before. Acura's signature "jewel-eye" LED headlamps -- also found on the RLX sedan and the forthcoming NSX super car -- trickle down to the MDX, but the thin LED driving lamp assemblies used in the lower front fascia of the earlier concept were ditched on the way to production.
No matter how long you stare at that exterior, you likely won't catch on to the fact that it's about seventeen percent more aerodynamic than before. Nor will you notice the increased use of high-strength steel, aluminum, and magnesium in the MDX's unibody structure. Those ingredients help the 2014 MDX shed 275 pounds, despite the fact the new model is two inches longer than before.
Power comes from a direct-injection, 3.5-liter, DOHC V-6 with variable cylinder management, which throttles back to run on only three cylinders under light loads. Sound familiar? It's essentially the same engine used in the 2014 RLX sedan, but with a little less power on tap. While the RLX offers 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque, in MDX guise, the same engine produces 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. That's down from the outgoing MDX's 3.7-liter V-6, which was rated at 300 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Perhaps the aforementioned weight savings play a factor in performance, as Acura claims the 2014 MDX accelerates quicker than prior models despite the drop in power.
We've long praised the MDX's torque-vectoring SH-AWD driveline for its ability to transform a large, hefty people mover into an agile, entertaining vehicle -- but after Acura stripped the system from the 2013 RDX in order to cut cost, we worried it would do the same for the MDX. After all, how many suburbanite families are that concerned with carving corners? Enough, apparently, as SH-AWD remains available on the 2014 MDX, but a new front-wheel drive model joins the fray for customers on a budget -- or, more likely, concerned about fuel economy. Both drivelines make use of a six-speed automatic, but front-drive 2014 MDXs should be rated at 20/28 mpg (city/highway), while the all-wheel drive model attains 18/27 mpg.
We're not done referencing the RLX, as the 2014 MDX's interior -- notably its dual-cowl dashboard design -- cribs heavily from Acura's premiere sedan. An eight-inch LCD display sits high in the dash to display data and -- if so equipped -- navigation maps but a secondary seven-inch screen sits smack in the middle of the center stack. Like the RLX, this touchscreen serves as an interface for both audio and climate systems, and helps clean up the previously cluttered interface. Don't believe us? Acura says the hard button count on the center stack drops from 41 to nine.
A 10-way power driver's seat is standard, as is an eight-way power front passenger seat, and a new center console that's capable of swallowing an entire laptop case. Rear-seat passengers haven't been forgotten about -- for starters, ingress and egress are improved as step-in height is two inches lower than before, and the rear door openings are now three inches wider. The second row seats boast four recline positions and can slide fore/aft by six inches, allowing legroom to be divvied between second- and third-row passengers. Picking up passengers curbside? The second row seats fold and slide forward at the touch of a button, allowing quick access to the third row.
In typical Acura fashion, there's a lot of tech scattered throughout the new MDX. Depending on the package ordered, 2014 MDXs can be equipped with lane keeping assist, blind-spot detection, adaptive cruise control, and collision-avoidance braking systems. The Integrated Dynamic System control returns not to adjust the MDX's dampers -- the adaptive dampers are eschewed in favor of two-stage "amplitude-reactive" units -- but now adjusts throttle response, steering inputs, and transmission algorithms. A revised version of the multichannel ELS audio system returns as an option, while rear-seat passengers can be entertained by way of an optional DVD entertainment system, complete with either a 9- or 16-inch DVD LCD screen.
We're more concerned with how the 2014 Acura MDX entertains the person seated behind the wheel: the automaker claims the new MDX is eight seconds quicker around the Nurburgring than before. Although that's a metric absolutely no crossover buyers actually care about, we're hoping it's a sign the 2014 MDX remains a cross between a practical family schlepper and a sport sedan on stilts. We'll know in short order, as the 2014 Acura MDX should go on sale this summer.