Acura MDX — Making an excellent crossover better

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura reworked its best-selling mid-sized MDX crossover for the 2014 model year and we called it "a stroke of engineering genius," the personification of what a luxury sport utility is supposed to be. Yet in just its third model year on the new platform, Acura has endowed the MDX with more updates and improvements in several areas that put additional luster on an already well-polished vehicle.

The updates are noteworthy; Acura has scrapped its six-speed automatic transmission, replacing it with a new nine-speed automatic, and it has made its suite of cutting-edge safety equipment — called AcuraWatchPlus — available across the entire lineup. For example the MDX with the popular Technology Package runs $47,290; order it with the additional safety equipment and the price rises to only $48,490.

Also, the newest MDX is endowed with the next generation of Acura's acclaimed Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) that utilizes a new, lighter weight twin-clutch rear differential. SH-AWD progressively distributes torque not only between the front and rear axles, but also between the left and right rear wheels. Using torque vectoring to create a yaw moment that helps turn the vehicle, SH-AWD enables more responsive, neutral and predictable handling characteristics while providing outstanding all-weather confidence and control.

The MDX might be the epitome of mid-sized crossover transportation. We drove the top trim level Advanced and Entertainment AWD model during a three-week 1,400-mile sightseeing excursion on the East Coast that ended in a 10-day visit to family and friends in North Carolina. It carried a hefty bottom line of $58,000. Price aside, we don't think we could have driven a more pleasant vehicle that is endowed so much of the latest safety and infotainment technology including the very helpful Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity. The 10-speaker Acura/ELS sound system with a CD player and USB interface provided excellent sound quality.

The MDX is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making 290 horsepower that feels stronger than the previous 3.7-liter engine that made 300 horses. Acura says this is due to an 8 percent improvement in low-end torque. The addition of the nine-speed automatic knocked about half a second off 0-to-60 time coming in at 5.9 seconds. Quarter mile time is also better, measured at 14.6 at 95 mph.

The MDX has always had an athletic feel, something Acura has become known for, and its handling prowess in the new edition lives up to the billing. Drivers can tailor the vehicle to their driving tastes through the use of three dynamic modes — Sport, Normal and Comfort. These settings change steering effort, throttle response, all-wheel drive settings, and even noise cancellation for different tastes or driving conditions.

Inside, the MDX is attractive and user friendly. Instrumentation is easy to read and Acura has eliminated the myriad of buttons found on the center stack of the last-generation model. But this means that more controls are now buried in a seven-inch touch screen that sits below the navigation screen. Hard buttons are still available for controlling temperature, navigation and radio volume, although we miss the easily accessed radio preset buttons.

Acura has also created a more passenger friendly interior. The second-row seats slide six inches fore and aft, and a new one-touch control folds and slides them forward for easier entry and exit to the third row. Storage has been increased and includes a handy under-floor compartment in the rear cargo area and a center console large enough to fit a laptop or purse. Luggage capacity behind the three rows of seats is 15 cubic feet. With all seats folded it increases to 68.4 cubic feet.

Safety is extremely well covered. AcuraWatchPlus includes blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, a frontal collision warning system, automatic braking for frontal crash mitigation, a lane-departure warning system, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. Lane departure mitigation combines the functions of lane keeping and automatic braking to help the driver avoid drifting into roadside objects.

Don't let the cost of our test car lead you to shop for something less expensive. It's possible to drive off the lot in a relatively well equipped MDX for well under $50,000. Standard equipment across the lineup includes the V-6 and the nine-speed transmission, 18-inch wheels, power liftgate, sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, driver memory settings, leather upholstery, tri-zone climate control, rearview camera, cruise control, and an eight-speaker sound system for $43,785 including destination charge.

If you desire much of Acura's safety technology that comes with the AcuraWatchPlus package, it can be added to the base front-wheel drive format for about $1,500.

Base price: $43,785; as driven, $58,000
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 267 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/3
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 193.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,268 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 15 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 68.4 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 26 highway, 19 city, 22 combined
0-60: 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz M-Class

The Good
• Handsome, quality interior
• Solid performance
• Quiet ride

The Bad
• Odd push-button gear selector

The Ugly
• Small cargo area behind third-row seat