AutomobilesExtra

[REVIEW] 2014 Acura MDX Elite – A jewel in its class

IMG_3362-3

Acura sells a lot of MDXs to folks who want a plush luxury three row SUV with Japanese reliability and sporty handling.

For the 2014 all-new model, they rounded off some of its rough edges and made it a bit lower profile and sportier. The look is still conservative and arguably even a bit boring.

However, buyers in the segment don’t want anything too radical, so Acura smartly stuck with what has worked so well in the past.

IMG_3369-4

EXTERIOR

This 3rd generation MDX is very important to Acura. No longer does it share the same platform as the Honda Odyssey minivan but in fact is the first vehicle to be spawned from Honda’s entirely new light truck architecture.

IMG_3389-1

This platform will eventually be shared with a future Honda Pilot and Ridgeline. Being the premium brand though, Acura got first crack at it.

IMG_3390-2

Outside you can tell that it’s still an MDX. The window shape cues and body lines are still reminiscent of the previous generation models. It’s a look that is evolutionary rather than revolutionary.

IMG_3394-5

Regardless this still looks like an Acura, and a recent one at that with the addition of parent company Honda’s JewelEye LED headlamps.

I thought that the lights were visually and technically stunning, but some people weren’t quite as flattering, comparing them to offspring from a bug mating with the MDX. Your mileage may vary!

Regardless of what you think, the JewelEye LED headlamps add a very distinct look to the brand. It’s one that you’re unlikely to mistake for any other vehicle other than a Honda or Acura.

Screen Shot 2014-04-01 at 1.53.55 PM-27

That being said, I found that the MDX’s LED headlamps didn’t necessarily work significantly better than other Bi-Xenon based systems. The higher (whiter) colour temperature output that resembles daylight more closely is great for reducing driver fatigue.

However I didn’t find the beam pattern to be significantly wider or brighter than a Bi-Xenon system with active cornering (which the MDX’s system doesn’t have).

IMG_3507-51

That being said though, the Acura RLX flagship luxury sedan’s LED headlamps work noticeably better than the MDX’s (more on that in a future review). Perhaps because it has almost double the number of projector lenses to cast a more evenly spread and wide beam.

INTERIOR

Inside the MDX you’ll find a comfortable and functional cabin. It’s all very plush and a really nice update from before.

IMG_3477-33

While they could use a bit of extra lateral bolstering, the MDX’s front seats are one of the most comfortable I’ve experienced ever, and not just in an SUV but in any car.

IMG_3518-54

As with previous MDXs, you’ll still get 3 rows of seats and standard 7 passenger capacity. The 2.8” longer wheelbase means that there is now more room in the 2nd and 3rd rows.

IMG_3489-40

A new multilink rear suspension that is both lighter and more compact provides a lower floor for 3rd row access compared to the outgoing trailing arm setup.

This setup also has fewer frame connection points and allows loads to be better managed to quell road noise.

IMG_3491-42

That being said, the 3rd row is still best for kids or small adults on trips more than an hour. If you absolutely must have true 3rd row seat comfort for full-sized adults in a luxury package, you’ll need to go to a full-sized luxury SUV (a la Mercedes-Benz GL-Class or Cadillac Escalade ESV) which wouldn’t have the handling characteristics of the MDX.

A new one-touch folding system for the 2nd row seats, dubbed 
”One Touch Walk-In”, means that even kids can fold up the 2nd row seats for access to the 3rd row.

Just press the button and the seatback tilts forward and the whole 2nd row seat slides forward. A similar button is also located on the back of the 2nd row for the 3rd row passengers.

Other clever touches include an absolutely gigantic centre console that can store a small laptop and easily swallow several iPads. This centre console has a slick sliding shelf that also doubles as the lid.

I liked the grippy rubber ribs on the wood grained shelf as you can put things on it, such as a cellphone, without the items sliding around.

The previous generation MDX had a large number of buttons and knobs making the dash look cluttered. Acura’s designers really tried to simplify things this time.

What they came up with was a high tech looking dual LCD screen setup with a lower (smaller) touchscreen that houses a lot of the functions including seat heaters, climate control, radio, navigation, and vehicle settings.

 

IMG_3434-5

A larger upper (non-touch) LCD screen shows the GPS navigation map as well as other information. A large rotary knob below the lower LCD screen is how you can make your selections on the upper display.

IMG_3431-2

For the most part, this dual LCD arrangement works well. The haptic feedback system is responsive and syncs well to the virtual button pushes on screen. Acura’s implementation is probably the model for others in the industry to follow.

However the headunit’s graphics look a bit simplistic (more Honda, less Acura-grade) and a bit boring. Navigating the dual screen system can also get a bit convoluted for certain functions especially when you are new to the vehicle.

I never quite knew when to look in the main menu or in the settings. Further adding to the confusion is a second layer settings within each function. Confused yet? But such is the price we pay in order to reduce the button count on the dash in modern vehicles.

With some usage and time, I eventually figured out the dual screen setup. Thankfully Acura provides a clever shortcuts function that allows you to store not only radio functions but climate control as well.

THE SOUND OF SILENCE

The new MDX is now much quieter than before. Acura did a lot to make this SUV quieter, including extra sound dampening and thicker acoustic glass. All of these physical changes keep road noise at bay.

But there is even an active noise cancellation system built into the sound system to keep those decibels to a minimum.

IMG_3467-26

It’s a good thing too because my Elite package MDX was equipped with Acura’s 546-watt Premium Audio 12 speaker Surround sound system with DTS Dolby Pro Logic II.

The Elite package also adds Acura’s DVD excellent entertainment system with the unique 16.2” ultrawide LCD screen, wireless headsets, and an integrated remote control.

IMG_3444-10

This impressive system plays DVD movies and can accept anything that has an HDMI output. There is even a 110 volt inverter built into the back of the centre console which allows game consoles to be plugged into the vehicle.

IMG_3480-34

If one of the rear passengers doesn’t want to watch what the other is watching, no problem! The ultrawide LCD screen’s real estate can be split in half, allowing two distinct video feeds to be displayed.

One person can even be listening to the satellite radio system or a CD while the other plays a game or watches a movie. Let’s just say that your rear seat passengers will be hard pressed to be bored.

SO HOW DOES IT DRIVE?

Power comes from a 290hp 3.5L direct-injection V6. This new power plant features cylinder deactivation technology and can run on only 3 cylinders to save on fuel consumption under light load conditions.

While output is less by 10 horsepower compared to the previous generation MDX, a 275+ lbs weight reduction balances it all out. Due to this serious diet, Acura claims better acceleration times and best-in-class fuel economy.

I found the new 3.5L V6 to be responsive and refined. Acura lists the fuel economy figures of 7.7L/100 kms on the highway and 11.2L/100 kms in the city. I averaged a respectable 12.5 L/100kms over my week with the MDX Elite in 80% city driving.

IMG_3461-21

Acura loves touting their Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system via the prominent badge on the tailgate. More than once I was asked about what the “S.H.” stood for. As an advertising and branding tactic, the badge has done its job.

While the name may seem typically Japanese-gimmicky, the system works very well in the real world.

IMG_3472-29

SH-AWD uses an active rear differential with clutch packs to split torque side-to-side. You can really feel the system working in corners where the computer can send extra power to the outside wheels to tuck the vehicle tighter in line.

The system does work only under power (i.e. your foot has to be on the throttle pedal) and is no substitute for careful driving. But it really does make the vehicle handle better than you would expect for something so large.

IMG_3469-27

Change the IDS (Integrated Dynamics System) setting into Sport mode and SH-AWD sends even more power to the outside rear wheel for even tighter handling. The effectiveness of SH-AWD was particularly noticeable during inclement weather where the MDX didn’t understeer very much under power even when attacking slippery corners.

A nifty active display in the gauge cluster shows the driver how much power is going to each corner of the vehicle.

In addition to the SH-AWD’s rear axle torque vectoring, a brake-based stability control system also helps to stabilize the MDX’s handling in off-throttle situations.

Perhaps slightly disappointingly though, in making the MDX more plush, some of the sportiness was loss. The move over to the electric power steering has resulted in a system that is precise enough but lacks road feel. Despite the three IDS modes (Comfort, Normal, Sport), the steering feel was still lacking.

Most of the MDX buyers won’t care about this though, and the MDX will continue to sell in droves. Over the course of my test period with the MDX, I came to realize that many soccer moms who drive these vehicles really just want an easy-to-drive SUV. One that can soothe the driving experience, especially when they have to deal with potentially up to 5 screaming kids in the back!

LKAS, ACC, FCWS, LDW…WTF?

Most MDX’s are packed with driver convenience and safety technology. My Elite package MDX came with just about everything that Acura could throw at it.

IMG_3462-22

Here’s a quick glossary to help you decipher the systems:

ACC – Adaptive Cruise Control (with Low-Speed Follow)
LDW – Land Departure Warning
LKAS – Lane Keeping Assist System
FCWS – Forward Collision Warning System
CMBS – Collision Mitigation Braking System

As a technology geek, one of the MDX systems that I was most looking forward to testing out was its LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System). Available only on the Elite model, this system is as close to fully autonomous driving as one can get at the present moment.

IMG_3464-24

The system works by using a combination of the lane departure warning camera as well as the electric power steering system. It will literally keep the vehicle centred in between the painted lines as long as it can see the road markings and provided your speed is high enough.

You will still need to keep at least one hand on the wheel as the LKAS shuts off if it detects no human steering input for more than a few seconds.

How does it feel? Well think of it as having your front passenger reach over and provide minor steering corrections with two of his/her fingers. They’re there to assist, but still easy for you to overpower and take back steering control.

The system works best on straight roads making minor steering corrections, but it can also handle slight curves.

IMG_3475-31

Combine LKAS with the Adaptive Cruise Control system and you have an SUV that can practically steer and accelerate/brake itself! Fantastic for long distance road trips.

Around town, the Adaptive Cruise Control’s Low speed traffic follow function works well too. It provides pedal free driving in stop-and-go traffic and I found really effective in reducing driver fatigue in rush hour traffic situations. The MDX stopped safely and securely each and every time.

Regrettably, there are a couple of limitations with some of these systems. Strangely, LKAS only works from 72 km/hr onwards and up to a maximum of 145 km/hr.

Curiously too, the lane departure warning system doesn’t work until you’re at 64 km/hr and above (up to 145 km/hr) Most other vehicles that I’ve tested with such systems do not have such speed restrictions.

Other tech niceties include a 360 degree Surround View camera system to assist with parking. I particularly liked the system’s ability to automatically turn on the front view camera when slowing down.

This made parking into tight spots an absolute clinch. Or you can be amused at red lights watching people’s shoes while they’re walking across the intersection.

IMG_6363-5

When you’re backing up, the rearview camera can display 3 types of angles. A super wide angle (with some barrel distortion), a typical rearview camera angle, and a split rearview and top down 360 degree display. I opted for the latter in most cases.

IMG_6481

Of special mention is the integrated remote starter system equipped with all MDX Elites. There’s nothing quite like slipping into a warm cabin onto a pre-heated seat with a pre-heated steering wheel to warm the hands.

This system was truly appreciated during the cold mornings and this is the first time I’ve seen a factory system that sends visual feedback to the key to indicate that the engine has been started.

WRAP-UP

It seems clear that Acura has aimed aimed its gun sights on Lexus’ top selling RX luxury SUV. While the RX only seats 5, it still competes with the MDX in both price and some features.

IMG_3342-1

Not wanting to rock the boat, this latest MDX doesn’t look too different than its predecessor. However I still consider this progress as the MDX is now lighter, quicker, and more fuel efficient than before. Handling does suffer a bit with less agility and numb steering though.

On the plus side, the active safety and tech features are very impressive and easy-to-use once you get the hang of them.

Overall, I also thought that this redesigned model was very well-rounded with its comfortable and functional cabin. The hushed cabin and comfortable (but not floaty) ride is a definitely step-up from the previous generation MDX.

With all of these great attributes in mind, it’s no wonder that the 2014 MDX won the Automobile Journalists Association’s coveted 2014 “Luxury SUV of the year over $60,000” award.

So if you’re in the market for a luxury SUV that can seat seven passengers, your next vehicle may not be any further than the closest Acura dealer!

IMG_3355-1

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
X
X