Wednesday, June 12, 2013
First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX
Enter the third-gen 2014 model. If it looks similar, that's because it bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, despite every piece of sheet metal, plastic, and glass being all new. It's a bit like seeing the current 991 Porsche 911 next to the 997 -- totally familiar but totally different. The appeal is in the subtlety. For instance, the all-LED headlamp and DRL assemblies are beautiful; you just have to take a close look to fully appreciate them.
Dimensionally, the new MDX is up 2.0 inches in length (193.6 in) and down 1.3 and 1.5 inches in width (77.2) and height (66.7), respectively; yet, cargo room has swelled, whether the back two rows are up (plus 0.8 cu ft to 15.8) or down (plus 7.4 to 90.9). On the scales, the 2014's improvements are even more dramatic. According to Acura, curb weight has dropped nearly 300 pounds, attributable to increased use of high-strength steels (up 24 percent) as well as lighter seats, HVAC, subframes, and rear suspension. Along with improved aerodynamics (18 percent more efficient says Acura) that enable the 2014 to travel over a quarter mile longer on a 70-to-0-mph coast-down run, the binge on bulk helps the new model achieve class-leading fuel economy of 18/27 mpg city/highway (AWD) and 20/28 (FWD).
Of course, the all-new 3.5-liter direct-injected V-6 and revised six-speed automatic play a pivotal role in the improved efficiency as well. Touting friction reduction between virtually every moving part, not to mention the addition of Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that deactivates three cylinders when cruising, the single-cam 3.5 puts out 290 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 267 pound-feet of torque at 4500, representing drops of 10 hp and 3 lb-ft compared to the previous 3.7-liter V-6. But given the vehicle's overall weight reduction, acceleration times should improve slightly.
On my preview drive outside Portland, Oregon, the new MDX certainly felt sprightlier than its predecessor. The DI V-6 revs smooth and strong (and sounds sports-car worthy), the six-speed is seamless and intuitive, the new electric power steering serves up solid feel and linearity, and the reworked suspension -- front struts with revised geometry; rear multi-link with coilovers in place of trailing arms -- replete with new Amplitude Reactive Dampers (variable damper rates), delivers a praiseworthy compromise between sport and comfort. What proved fortuitous in light of the showers that drenched the roads thru the Willamette Valley, Acura had only Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive versions available (the new front-drive variant, aimed at lowering the price of entry and broadening appeal along the Sunbelt, had yet to roll off the Alabama production line); naturally, the SH-AWD's active-torque-transfer system, capable of shifting front/rear torque from 90/10 to 30/70 and side-to-side rear torque from 0/100 to 100/0, proved adept at keeping the MDX surefooted in the rain. No doubt, the MDX's testing at the infamous Nürburgring Nordschleife, where one 13-mile lap can yield both wet and dry conditions, paid off -- eight seconds, in fact, over the '13.
A key piece to the MDX's rise in refinement and performance is the lighter, stronger, and safer structure. Completely new, the platform, which will underpin the next-gen Honda Pilot and Odyssey, utilizes Acura's latest ACE safety structure and the first application of a one-piece hot-stamped door ring, with both helping the MDX achieve what Acura predicts will be a five-star safety score from NHTSA and a Top Safety Pick+ rating from IIHS. The airbag total is up to seven, thanks to a new driver's knee bag. In terms of active safety features, the MDX offers forward collision warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitor, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, the last allowing for pedal-free motoring in stop-and-go traffic.
Inside, the MDX pampers with a cleaner, richer, better-equipped cabin. There's less of the faux wood and more of the soft-touch materials, rich Milano leather seating (upper trims), and satin chrome plated accents. Pushbutton start is now standard, and the two keyless fobs are programmable for mirror, seat, radio, and climate settings as well as the optional remote-start feature. The center stack button count has been reduced from 41 to 9, though many functions now require multiple inputs to the new haptic touchscreen. So, the stack appears simpler and less fussy, but determining whether user-friendliness has indeed improved will require more time behind the wheel.
2014 Acura MDX Cabin Third-row access and comfort are absolutely more user-friendly, what with a one-touch folding second row on both sides. Moreover, the second row slides fore-aft 5.9 inches and reclines. Luxury and convenience features are plentiful and include a wide-view backup camera, Bluetooth, USB connectivity, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power-adjustable steering wheel, and a 432-watt audio system with Pandora and Aha compatibility. Move up to a non-base trim (Technology, Technology Entertainment, Advance Entertainment), and the features list grows to include such items as navigation, rain-sensing wipers, heated rear seats, rear-entertainment system, and audio systems flaunting at least 501 watts.
Courtesy of MotorTrend