Newberg, Oregon — There can hardly be an engineer more particular about getting the terminology right than one from Honda R&D in Marysville, Ohio. And yet here was Jim Keller describing the 2014 Acura MDX as a “car,” not a “utility.” He caught himself right away, but try as he might, “car” kept slipping into his description of Acura’s seven-passenger utility vehicle.
He’s right. Now that we’ve driven the Acura MDX past the little lakes in the mountains outside Portland, past the vineyards and walnut orchards along the Willamette River, and past the big box stores of Newburg, we’ve seen the light. Anyone who would argue that this third-generation MDX is an SUV might as well belong to the Flat Earth Society. The 2014 Acura MDX is the perfect expression of the modern car – capable, spacious, and friendly to drive.
You’re reassured as soon as you walk up to the new MDX, since its styling is familiar, in a good way, as if everyone in the family had gotten a nice promotion at work and there has been some new landscaping at home that includes LED lights. Maybe more significant is the interior architecture, which features a dash design with an un-provocative yet high-style expression of modernism, including a center console that has a touchscreen interface rather than an array of buttons.
You’ll find the driving experience just as familiar, because the MDX drives in the same self-effacing way – coolly comfortable and always steady on its feet, as if it has been this way before. Yet while we’re navigating up and down the narrow country roads through the hills above the Willamette River in the middle of a rainstorm (hey, this is Oregon), we’re struck that the new MDX is a lot better at this than we remember. The rush of the tires on the pavement is subdued at last, so you can make a telephone call and not have to shout to be heard. The electric-assist steering hardly crackles with communication, yet the front tires instinctively find their way through a rain-swept corner. When the wheels roll through a pothole, the body jounces once, not twice. And the engine always seems to be in the right gear, makes noises as if it means it at 6000 rpm, and then lets you sail past the gas station.
As with so many things about Honda, it’s the little things that add up. Clever engineering and high-strength steel have created a body structure that’s lightweight as well as crashworthy, while better seals, thicker acoustic-insulated glass and active sound control muffles the noise. The platform has been remade with new geometry for the front suspension that minimizes torque steer and a new multi-link rear suspension that keeps out noise and has high-tech dampers besides. The direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 delivers 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, and it combines variable-cylinder deactivation with a six-speed transmission that has a fairly active shift schedule, which helps deliver an EPA-rated 18 mpg City/27 mpg Highway for the all-wheel-drive MDX and 20 mpg City/28 mpg Highway for the front-wheel-drive MDX (both are best in class, Acura tells us).
Actually the 2014 MDX might be even more remarkable for the stuff that you don’t actually notice. The all-wheel-drive system delivers torque vectoring front to rear to enhance traction, and side to side across the rear axle to improve cornering. The adaptive steering uses steering assist and the brakes to enhance cornering stability. Add on blind-spot warning, collision warning, lane-keeping assist, an adaptive cruise control that works even at a walking pace, and even GPS-linked air-conditioning control. Never mind the bright sparks at Google, because Acura has already invented the autonomous-driving car.
When you combine these things in a vehicle that has been engineered to weigh 275 lbs less than before, it’s no wonder the MDX feels like a car. The living space has also been engineered with car-like convenience, including the extended-slide rear seat, improved third-row access, a smoother (though no lower) incline to the cargo floor when the seats are lowered, and a center-console cargo bin as magically spacious as Harry Potter’s tent. The interior is fractionally smaller than before despite a stretch of the wheelbase by 2.8 inches, as shoulder room and hip room in the rear seats are each down by about an inch.
If you’re looking for the best expression of the smartness, practicality, efficiency and enjoyment that sets Honda’s prestige division apart from other luxury brands, the 2014 Acura MDX is the best car you can buy with an Acura badge.
2014 Acura MDX
- Base Price: $43,280-$54,805
- On Sale: Now
- Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC 32-valve V-6
- Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6200 rpm
- Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic
- Drive: Front- or or all-wheel
- Curb Weight: 4297 lbs
- Fuel Economy: 18-20/27-28 mpg city/highway
- Cargo: 15.8/45.1/90.9 cu. ft.
- Legroom (front/middle/rear): 41.4/36.6/28.1 inches
- Headroom (front/middle/rear): 38.1/38.3/35.6 inches