Overview (Overall Score after 8 Categories: A-)
It's for good reason that the Acura MDX has been the brand's best-selling model for many of the past few model years. Quite simply, among luxury seven passenger SUVs it has been and thankfully still is the one to beat. Sure, the BMW X5 is fun to drive and offers a third row but clearly the engineers in Bavaria still need to learn how to somehow squeeze in room for the legs of said back row passengers. Honestly, to get anything with more room and comfort you have to move up to a Cadillac Escalade and for some bling is just not their thing.
The 2014 MDX is clearly an evolutionary design step forward for this handsome SUV and clearly Acura decided not to mess all that much with a really, really good thing as it brings in healthy sales (and profit margins) for a luxury automaker which has suffered a few misfires of late with releases like the relatively uninteresting ILX. Clearly, if Acura was aiming at BMW with the ILX it seriously missed. Actually, it's kind of hard to think what Acura was thinking when it decided to take the Civic platform and recreate the concept which led to the admittedly awful Cadillac Cimarron in the 1980's.
Otherwise, however, Acura does get unfairly criticized in the automotive media as the TL sedan, unique TSX Sport Wagon, RDX compact luxury SUV and RLX luxury sports hybrid all bring interesting engineering, appealing style and solid driving experiences to an admittedly competitive marketplace. Not all of those models sell in huge numbers like the MDX but quite frankly all make for wise purchases and enjoy terrific safety ratings, resale value estimates and reliability rankings. Plus, we all have the new NSX halo sport coupe to look forward to. You know, when we finally get to see it.
Yes, This Really Did Happen (Sampling the Upcoming Acura NSX)
On a side note, over two years ago we were lucky enough to be invited by Honda/Acura to go to Japan and drive a test mule at their Twin Ring Motegi racetrack featuring some of the technology that will one day feature in the NSX and all we can say is that the car handled corners in an insanely designed obstacle course with near telepathic and dare we say magical capabilities. Seriously, Ferrari and the supercar superstars had better get ready for what we predict will be another game changer. And since we all know about the automotive trickle-down effect we have a feeling that Acura's upcoming TLX sports sedan and future planned launches may prove to be a return to performance form for the once lionized Japanese luxury brand. And we are pretty sure it was also the first one as well. Sorry Lexus and Infiniti owners, Acura existed before you.
What We Loved about the 2014 Acura MDX
What We Didn't Love about the 2014 Acura MDX
- The Power from the 3.5 liter V6 engine and road holding from the SH-AWD System
- The sound quality from the ever amazing and utterly vital optional ELS Audio System
- Interior design, build quality and ease of use found in the design of all controls
- We suppose it helps Acura sell more MDX's but we think they should all come with SH-AWD
- Pricing, while still affordable within premium car standards, has gone up maxing out at $58,000
- Some complain the exterior style is too evolutionary. We say, it looks handsome so shut up
Exterior View (9 out of 10)
As of late Acura has been damned if they do, damned if they don't when it comes to taking styling chances with new models. The automaker was raked over the coals for putting what many felt was an offensively large schnoz on the TL sedan to the point they had to tone it down in a refresh not even two years later. Then Acura unveiled it's new "spider eye headlamps" (their multiple lamp bulbs do make the headlamps look like spider eyes) with the RLX sedan and continued that subtly menacing design detail with the MDX.
Gone too is last year's slightly too large chrome shield center grille leaving an overall exterior look that we found both handsome and fresh from all angles. Sure, some may say that Acura played it too safe in this department but we are pretty sure the Lexus RX has looked pretty much the same for nearly two decades. Or has that SUV been around for 50 years? It feels more like 50. The 2014 Acura MDX however looks modern, well-judged and kick-ass thanks to its special Spiderman headlamps.
Interior Comfort, Quality and Overall Ease of Use (10 out of 10)
No matter which trim level MDX you buy, you can rest assured that you will come away from any time spend inside the cabin impressed by its clever use of space, high quality and durability of interior materials and the fact that an agile adult can fit comfortably in its third row seat. Otherwise, if you want two beings back there we recommend they be children, the family dog or a contortionist. In other words, head and shoulder room are fine but leg room is still only marginal.
Albeit, the Acura MDX's third row design is leagues ahead of the BMW X5, Kia Sorento, Audi Q7 and many other models with third row seats in that they are at least usable occasionally and when not in use they fold flat with utter simplicity and grace after pulling two handles which you also use to raise them back up again. Storage space behind the third row of seats is 14.8 cubic feet, with the third row flat it is 38.4 cubic feet and that figure grows to 68.4 cubic feet behind the front two seats. And yes, the load floor is completely flat so it would make a nice studio apartment, as well.
While normally the MDX has a tow rating of 3,500 lbs., if you purchase a dealer installed towing package that number rises to 5,000 lbs. on models with the SH-AWD (Super Handling All-wheel Drive) system. So despite the fact that the interior of the 2014 Acura MDX feels as upscale as any SUV that you could take to the symphony, it is also durable and multi-talented enough to handle a rough and tumble weekend at the lake towing your boat. What more do you want?
Technology (9 out of 10)
You name the technology and we have no doubt that you can find it available somewhere in one of the MDX's various trim levels. If you want the best in premium audio be sure to get the Tech Package as it includes the amazingly crisp and downright LOUD ELS Audio upgrade as well as Acura's easy to use navigation system as well as blind spot warning, forward collision and lane departure warning systems. For the ultimate in technology you can get an MDX Advance with rear seat DVD entertainment which adds front ventilated seats, rear heated seats, an in-dash hard drive that can store thousands of songs, the Collision mitigation braking system which can stop the car for you if it detects an accident as well as Lane Keeping Assist which gently will keep the vehicle in the lane by turning the steering wheel by itself if you are not doing so adequately. We have tried the last two safety systems which may sound kind of scary but they work flawlessly.
Fuel Economy (9 out of 10)
Running on premium unleaded gasoline, the 3.5 liter 290 horsepower/267 lb. feet of torque V6 is quoted in EPA estimates as expected to return 20 city/28 highway in front drive form with SH-AWD models seeing both numbers drop by one. During two weeks behind the wheel of the same 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD Tech Package we averaged 21.7 miles per gallon. Frankly we have never gotten much higher than 16-18 miles per gallon out of any MDX prior to now so the improvement is notable. Hence, here we do grade the MDX's performance based on the fact we know it's still a heavy luxury SUV that runs on premium and has a 19.5 gallon fuel tank for cruising.
Predicted Reliability and Initial Quality Ratings (8 out of 10)
The 2014 MDX is an all-new model this year but that still didn't stop J.D. Power and Associates from giving it four stars out of five when it comes to predicted reliability. This is all in spite the fact that all new cars in their first model year are proven in study after study to suffer from more quality glitches on average than vehicles in their second or third. It's a well-known fact that clearly no car company can really claim quality is always "Job One" despite the best intentions.
We say this because contrary to what is the norm at Acura, this 2014 had two pretty major recalls in its first model year one for the automatic transmission and the other the optional trailer tow hitch electrical system which needed inspection and possible replacement of its main wiring harness. The issue with the gearbox is known by the NHTSA as Campaign #13V571000 and a visit to their website or any Acura dealer can tell you if your MDX is affected. Apparently a bolt attaching the six-speed automatic and the entire driveshaft could become loose and possibly detach. Prior to doing so owners would notice excessive grinding noises and if left the problem could severely damage the vehicle or cause a crash.
Safety (10 out of 10)
There are few vehicles sold in which true safety is more important that in the three row luxury SUV class that includes the 2014 Acura MDX, Mercedes GL, Audi Q7 and Buick Enclave to name a few. That's why were quite happy to see that the 2014 MDX boasts a "Top Safety Pick Plus" rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute of Highway Safety). Not only were we impressed watching a poor 2014 MDX get rammed violently into solid objects in a video on the IIHS.org website (the SUV's cabin showed absolutely no deformation of injury to driver dummy, for example). We also were amazed by the MDX's roof-strength rollover rating which essentially stated you could stack over 5 of these over 4,200 lb. SUVs on their roofs without any collapse. So in a rollover accident, you and your family should be very, very safe.
Performance (9 out of 10)
Our 2014 Acura MDX with SH-AWD was powered by a 3.5 liter 290 horsepower/267 lb. feet of torque V6 engine mated to a slick shifting 6-speed automatic transmission. Thank you Acura for resisting the urge to give the MDX a pointless 14-speed automatic as luxury rivals already boast up to 9 gears in the automatic gearboxes. What is the point of that if the Acura's 6-speed worked flawlessly getting all of the power from the engine when we wanted it and kept things hushed when we were cruising? Simply put silly one-upmanship. There were, however, handy little shift paddles attached to our MDX's steering wheel so you could take a modicum of manual control of the gearbox during spirited driving.
Now, not only does Acura's SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system give you more traction in snow or any slippery surface but it can also increase cornering ability and handling in dry weather as well. It can do so because it doesn't just split power 50/50 front and back or shift power back and forth from the front axle to the rear. No, the SH-AWD system can also apportion extra torque to an inner wheel on an axle individually should it not have optimum traction.
This is what makes the SH-AWD system useful even on sunny days and helps the MDX be one of the most agile and fun to drive SUVs in the world. Only the BMW X5 is on a par with the MDX when it comes to steering feedback, cornering ability and overall sportiness in the world of SUVs and crossovers. But where the X5 can sometimes ride harshly over bad pavement, the MDX absorbs potholes and freeway ridges and the 2014 model also has seen wind noise drop noticeably. It's not quite Lexus-like in the MDX but we think Acura wanted you to still realize you were alive when behind the steering wheel.
Pricing and Value for Money (8 out of 10)
On most MDX trim levels, SH-AWD adds about $2,000 to the MSRP and we say it's worth it. The base price for an MDX SH-AWD is $44,290 and that includes 7-passenger leather seating, tri-zone climate control, power moonroof, an 8-speaker AM/FM/CD/USB premium audio system, Bluetooth, a power tailgate as well as multi-view back-up camera among other nice luxuries. Add the Technology Package and the price goes up to $48,865 (with navigation, the ELS premium audio system, voice recognition system, additional safety features and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels) with the rear seat DVD entertainment package adding $2,000 to that figure.
If you decide on the ultimate 2014 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance with Entertainment Package the price will be $56,505 which we admit buys you a luxury SUV with all the trimmings. But to our thinking, that price is too close to BMW and Mercedes money and part of the MDX allure has always been luxury value for money. So we hope Acura doesn't push that price much higher.
"The Final Numbers" and the Competition (73 points out of 80: 91%)
Now as you can see here, we don't really have much to complain about when it comes to the 2014 Acura MDX luxury seven passenger SUV. It has been a stalwart in this class ever since it pretty much invented the notion of a premium, non-truck based 7-passenger luxury crossover SUV way back when people were still afraid the world would end in the year 2000. Yes, it was that long ago (although the first generation models are 2001s if you must know). So despite all of the advancements competitors have made with their own creations so desperately trying to take a piece of Acura's sales pie, few succeed in taking all that much.
Now, we are loath to call the BMW X5 a seven seater because to get an adult human to take that perch would require rope and a ball gag. The Audi Q7 is better but is rather narrow compared to the MDX and will be redesigned quite soon with an all-new model. Lexus has its seven passenger SUVs based on either the 4-Runner or the Land Cruiser, neither or which compete on price or ease of use. Volvo's upcoming XC90 will make an interesting competitor for the MDX but that SUV won't be out for months at least. Infiniti, which everyone forgets still exists, offers the QX60 which has sort of out there styling but is impressive when it comes to third row room and safety features. Pricing is similar to MDX and its 3.5 liter V6 engine is down a bit on power at 265 horsepower and only is available with a CVT (Continuously Variable) automatic transmission which is noisier and less responsive that the Acura gearbox.
Now, we could go on and talk about the Mercedes GL seven passenger SUV but only if you want to spend at least $20,000 more to get less features. Cars from that automaker simply cost more and by more we mean an arm and a leg more than competitors. Just perusing their option list is a terror inducing experience which is why we prefer the way Acura just offers a few trim levels with all of its features thereby increasing the likelihood that at your time of purchase you will be able to find EXACTLY the 2014 MDX you want at your local dealer right down to the color. Because true luxury means never settling.