The Truth About Cars » Acura MDX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Sun, 27 Jul 2014 20:45:49 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.1 The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars no The Truth About Cars editors@ttac.com editors@ttac.com (The Truth About Cars) 2006-2009 The Truth About Cars The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. The Truth About Cars » Acura MDX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/wp-content/themes/ttac-theme/images/logo.gif http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com Editorial: Acura Needs Another Crossover http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/editorial-acura-needs-another-crossover/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2014/01/editorial-acura-needs-another-crossover/#comments Fri, 31 Jan 2014 12:00:28 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=728482 450x278xsuvx-450x278.jpg.pagespeed.ic.qs_Rnv3QLW

Everyone is eager to read Acura its Last Rites, but in the United States, it managed to outsell Audi last year. Despite having little to offer enthusiasts and traditional fans of the brand, the RDX and MDX are unqualified successes: the RDX outsells all of the small crossovers from Germany’s luxury bands (Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK etc.) with the larger MDX outsold only by the Lexus RX and Cadillac SRX respectively. As much as Acura touts the NSX as the future of the brand, what they could really stand to use is another crossover, one that slots below the RDX.

Acura’s sales have been a roller coaster over the past decade. 2006 saw the beginning of a steep decline in sales, with Acura losing nearly half of its volume by 2009, going from 201,000 units annually to just over 105,000 in three years. In the throes of the financial crisis, Acura canned expensive projects like a front-engined, V10 NSX, a planned V8 and rear-drive platforms. There was even talk of shuttering the brand altogether.

Evidently, that didn’t happen, and the brand managed to claw its way back. Last year, it sold 165,000 units, with the RDX and MDX accounting for 59 percent of the brand’s total volume. People are coming to Acura for the crossovers, not for the cars, though that picture should improve now that the RLX has replaced the RL and the moribund TL is on its way out.

That doesn’t change the situation, as much as the Integra GS-R worshiping faithful may not like it. Crossovers are a growing segment, and perhaps the only bright spot in a globally depressed auto market. Even in Europe, the spiritual home of the station wagon, crossovers are practically the only segment that is not shrinking. Acura itself is not a global brand, but the key markets in competes in – North America, China and Russia – are crossover crazy, especially the latter two, where poor roads dictate a higher ride height, and a high driving position and faux-SUV proportions are all desirable traits.

In America, CUVs are already eating into segments like mid-size and large sedans, while small crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Ford Escape are among the most popular light trucks. At the same time, premium small cars like the Mercedes-Benz CLA are gaining conquest sales from mainstream nameplates like the Honda Accord. It would be foolish to assume that the upcoming Mercedes-Benz GLA won’t do the same with the CR-V, Escape and other larger, but comparably priced mainstream vehicles.

Acura is said to be working on a GLA-sized vehicle for the Chinese market, based on the Honda Vezel. From a business standpoint, they’d be foolish not to bring it here. It’s hard to imagine it would fare worse than the awkwardly proportioned ILX, which hasn’t been accepted by the market place, and will likely get its lunch eaten by the CLA.

When it comes to passenger cars, the European nameplates have Acura beaten lock, stock and barrel. But the crossover space is a different story, and it’s only going to grow further and further. A competitor to the GLA, the BMW X1 and an Audi Q3 could be a way for Acura to turn the ship around, adding volume for the brand while maximizing profit for the Fit/Vezel platform and preventing the European brands from owning that corner of the market.

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Acura Pitchman Jerry Seinfeld: Car Advertising “Too Commercial-y”. Really? http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/acura-pitchman-jerry-seinfeld-car-advertising-too-commercial-y-really/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/10/acura-pitchman-jerry-seinfeld-car-advertising-too-commercial-y-really/#comments Fri, 04 Oct 2013 20:17:57 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=606049

Click here to view the embedded video.

In a rather promotional feeling interview with Bloomberg, comedian and noted car collector Jerry Seinfeld discusses his growing relationship with Honda Motor’s Acura brand. Last year’s Super Bowl featured an ad for the upcoming revival of the NSX sports car scripted by Seinfeld himself, with a cameo from Jay Leno, riffing off of the two comics’ reputation as serious collectors. More recently Acura has become the sole sponsor of Seinfelds popular “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” webcasts. Jerry told the news agency that in general he’s not a fan of car advertising.

Seinfeld said, “For the most part, car advertising is a total turnoff to the consumer; I think it needs a complete reboot. It’s too commercial-y and fear-based. Stop showing us the cars driving through the desert.”

Seinfeld thinks that auto companies shouldn’t focus on product in their advertising, but rather getting consumers to like them.

“Don’t sell me your product, sell me you,” said Seinfeld. “You’re trying to make people like you. You don’t have to sell them your product. You have to make them like you.”

So if Jerry doesn’t like how automotive advertising is “too commercial-y” one can’t help but wonder if the wisecracking comedian has offered his opinion to Acura on their high concept “Made for Mankind” commercial that somehow equates owning a MDX crossover with humanity’s eternal quest for knowledge and adventure. I suppose that it sort of fits into Seinfeld’s notion of selling the brand, not the product, but the ad takes itself so sonorously seriously, that it’s easy to imagine Jerry’s reaction to something like “If your quest is to built the world’s smartest luxury SUV for mankind, you must hold yourself to the standard of mankind”. Really?

Click here to view the embedded video.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS

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First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX (Video) http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/first-drive-2014-acura-mdx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/05/first-drive-2014-acura-mdx/#comments Fri, 31 May 2013 14:01:05 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=489100 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

The RDX may have supplanted the MDX as Acura’s best-selling model, but Acura hopes to put the their mid-sized crossover back on top with the all-new 2014 MDX. To show us how they plan to do that, Acura invited us to Oregon to sample the new MDX for a day around Newberg. Even without the snazzy trip it’s easy to see that regaining the Acura sales crown shouldn’t be difficult. After all, the current MDX is Acura’s second best-selling vehicle and despite being seven years old (ancient in the auto biz) the MDX is still the best-selling 7-seat luxury SUV in America and the second best-selling mid-sized SUV/crossover period. How does one redesign success? Carefully.

Click here to view the embedded video.

Exterior

You’d be forgiven for thinking little has changed by just glancing at the MDX, and that’s the way Acura shoppers like it. That statement makes me scratch my head just a little, because the 2014 model still sports the Acura “beak,” the most controversial style decision Acura ever made. We have to keep this in perspective however: nothing about the MDX is overdone, the only reason anyone complained about the beak in the first place is that Acura is known for conservative design cues. This love for conservative, evolutionary design is why the MDX is instantly identifiable as an Acura despite riding on an all-new MDX-exclusive platform and sharing little beyond some transmission parts with the outgoing model.

Bringing the MDX’s signature shape up-to-date we have standard full-LED headlamps which (if I am not mistaken) will make the MDX the least expensive vehicle on the road with the snazzy beams. Since we only had a limited time with the car in the day I can’t say how they perform at night, but the color temperature of the lamps is a pleasing neutral color and not the harsh blue light LED lamps are known for.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Although the 2014 looked wider to my eye, it’s lost 1.3 inches in overall width and 1.4 inches of track up front, 1.2 in the rear. Perhaps it’s the loss of 1.5 inches in height over last year that creates the illusion of width? One thing’s for sure however, the MDX is longer and looks longer, gaining 2 inches overall in length and an important 2.8 inches in wheelbase, helping out that tight third row seat.

Interior

The MDX is notable for being a mid-sized crossover with seven seats. This size difference is important to keep in mind because comparisons to the likes of the Infiniti QX56, Mercedes GL, and Lexus GX seem everywhere. The more appropriate cross-shops are the Infiniti JX35 (now the QX60), Buick Enclave, Volvo XC90 and maybe the Lincoln MKT. (If you watch the video, pardon the lack of MKT comparisons, it slipped my mind, as I’m sure it slips the minds of most luxury shoppers.)

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Acura continues to stick to their formula of traditional injection molded dashboards and plenty of convincing fake wood. I would be interested to hear your opinions on this choice, so be sure to sound off in the comment section below. While I like the look and the materials are premium in feel, it can’t match the visual impact or feel of a stitched leather/pleather dash, something that the refreshed Buick Enclave does incredibly well. The MDX continues to do have a very uniform feel with perfect seams and gaps and a consistent quality level throughout, something that Buick’s CUV continues to struggle with (the lower dash and door plastics in the Enclave are still a bit cheap.)

The MDX’s front and middle thrones still sport the Acura hallmark “Lady Gaga horny shoulders,” a design cue frequently imitated but never duplicated to the same effect. Like Lexus and Infiniti, Acura still hasn’t discovered seats that more in more than the same basic 8-10 ways as any $25,000 family sedan. Despite having only half the “ways” as BMW’s sport seats, I find the MDX’s redesigned thrones to be among the most comfortable in the segment for my body shape.

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Most of the MDX’s length increase has gone where current owners wanted it: the cargo area. That means the passenger area is smaller than last year with a drop in headroom ranging from more than an inch up front to two-tenths in the back. Legroom stays largely unchanged but Acura altered the middle seats to slide further forward/rearward allowing either more middle leg room than before or more third-row room than before (not both at the same time.) That third-row is best left to the kids or your mother-in-law, although it’s not as cramped as the Infiniti JX’s rear accommodations. Helping you get back there is a new push-button middle-seat folding mechanism that worked well but reminded me the Infiniti has middle seats that can slide forward to allow ingress while a child seat is strapped in.

The cargo area stretches by 2.75 inches from the third-row seat hinges to the tailgate and 5.88 inches from the third-row headrests to the rear glass. That’s the difference between fitting a 20-gallon cooler and 7-people in your SUV and not. There isn’t much daylight between the Infiniti or Acura and the MDX when it comes to stuffing bags behind the third row, all three beat the old XC90 by a wide margin and all hold considerably less than the Buick Enclave.

2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Infotainment

Honda’s two-screen infotainment/navigation system has filtered up from the 2013 Accord to the RLX and now to the MDX as standard equipment. The logic behind the twin screens is: the lower screen is for your media devices while the upper screen is for navigation. In practice, the lower screen allows you to select sources, skip to a different album and change tracks, but in order to browse or search playlists, songs, change treble, bass, and surround processing, you have to use the upper screen and the rotary control knob. In essence this is the same software as before with a snazzy color touchscreen remote that handles some of the functions. The result is a system that could have been more elegant but the execution seems half-baked. Put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.

Although out time with the MDX was limited, I was able to sample my usual audio selection from my iDevice and didn’t notice too much difference between the base 8-speaker audio system, the 501-watt 10-speaker or 529-watt 11 speaker systems. They all exhibit the same balance I have come to expect from Acura: neutral with a somewhat limited range but excellent fidelity for a $42,000-$56,000 vehicle. The Logic 7 systems in the BMW are better, but they are also spendier. If you’re one of the 10 Acura customers that latched on to DVD audio, it’s time to sell those discs on Ebay, DVD-A is dead.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Now is as good a time as any to talk pricing. The FWD MDX starts almost a grand lower than the 2013 AWD model at $42,290 and is only available in four flavors. $46,565 adds the “Technology package” and included rainsense wipers, lane departure warning, collision warning, a color display between the dials, 19-inch wheels (not sure how that’s a tech item) and links your climate control to your GPS position. $48,565 adds on the “Entertainment package” which is a 16.2-inch wide-screen rear entertainment system that allows either a single wide picture or will display two things side-by-side. The system brings two extra speakers, a 110V power outlet, wireless headphones and HDMI in to the party. If you want lane keep assist, full-speed-range radar cruise control, remote start, auto dimming mirrors and parking sensors, you need to pony up $54,505 for the “Advance package” which cannot be had without the rear seat entertainment system for some reason. Want AWD? add $2,000 to those prices. That places the MDX in the middle of the pack with the Enclave delivering similar bang for less buck and the Acura and Infiniti very similarly priced.

Drivetrain

For 2014 Acura has swapped the 3.7L V6 for the new 3.5L “Earth Dreams” mill with direct-injection and “Variable Cylinder Management.” (VCM allows the V6 to drop to a 3-cylinder mode on the highway.) To quell vibrations, the MDX gets unique active engine mounts which generate vibrations opposite to what the engine produces to cancel them out. (Think Bose noise cancelling headphones.) Despite the DI treatment, power is down from 300HP to 290 and torque takes a small drop from 270 to 267 lb-ft as well. To counter the power loss, Acura put the MDX on a diet and 2014 sees 275lbs shed. The weight loss and improved low-end torque mean that performance is up, even with the power down.

2014 Acura MDX

Perhaps the bigger change is not the engine, but which wheels spin. For the first time since the MDX rolled onto the scene there is a FWD model. While I think this dilutes the MDX “brand” because it has been associated with AWD system since its debut, the rational can’t be dismissed: fuel economy and sunbelt sales. According to Acura’s research, the southern states love their 2WD crossovers and while the 2WD RDX compact crossover did eat into sales of the AWD model, combined RDX sales were up some 90% when they added the FWD model. Go figure. We didn’t get our chance to drive a FWD MDX, as none had made it across from the factory in Alabama, but Acura is promising a class leading 28 MPGs on the highway and 20 in the city –  one more highway MPG than the recently announced Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid model (25/27 MPG). When equipped with AWD, economy drops to 18/27 MPG, still a huge bump from last year’s 16/21 score.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Drive

Because the MDX has a transverse engine and a transaxle under the hood, weight balance isn’t as ideal as the Audi Q7 or BMW X5 (Acura thinks the X5 is their prime competition). Aside from the fact that Honda/Acura doesn’t have a RWD drivetrain to borrow, the benefit is improved interior packaging evident in the ginormous center console (positioned right where the X5 keeps its transmission). On the down side Acura is two-cogs shy of Audi and BMW with their revised 6-speed transaxle. Before you discount Acura, we must discuss SH-AWD.

“Super Handling All Wheel Drive” may not have been the best name for the system, but it is arguably the best AWD system you can tack onto a transverse FWD platform. The systems used by Infiniti, Lexus, Volvo, Lincoln and just about everyone out there that had an AWD system tacked onto a transaxle has no center differential. Instead the power flows from the final gearset of the transmission to the front diff and the rear diff via gears at a fixed 1:1 ratio. Between this gear arrangement and the rear diff is a clutch pack that allows the car to connect, disconnect or have a varied connection between the transmission and rear axles. When fully connected the power is split 50/50 assuming all wheels have traction.

SH-AWD also uses the same arrangement but adds a unique differential unit in the rear that does two things. First, it has a gearset to “speed up” the rear wheels so that when they are connected, they spin 1.7% faster than the fronts. Next it has a torque vectoring unit that is capable of slitting power 100:0/0:100 left to right. In a straight line, “overdriving” the rear wheels gives the MDX a more RWD feel than otherwise possible and in corners the system is capable of sending up to 70% of the power to the outside rear wheel helping the MDX’s cornering manners and masking the “plowing” tendencies normal in a front heavy car. For 2014 Acura took this a step further and uses a system to brake wheels selectively to improve neutral handling. This is beyond stability control because the system is always active rather than active only when things are going pear-shaped.

2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

Thanks to SH-AWD, the Acura is almost the X5′s dynamic dance partner, unfortunately you can’t completely hide the MDX’s extra nose weight. Still, despite Acura’s insistence I can’t see than many X5 shoppers stopping by Acura’s lot. Instead the MDX shines against the Infiniti with a more refined and better performing drivetrain. The JX hybrid is likely to get better combined MPG numbers, but with only 250 ponies on tap and no “sporting” changes, it’s unlikely to be half a hoot, let alone a hoot and a half. Encore shoppers looking for a more premium brand and some handling cred won’t be appointed and Mercedes ML shoppers will find a better value than on the German lot.

How does that FWD model compare? You’ll have to wait for that review as Acura didn’t have any examples on hand. I can posit an opinion however: the driving dynamics will be disappointing. Remove SH-AWD and you have a front-heavy front driver just like base Buick Enclave models. I know that Acura is sure to sell lots of these, but please TTAC readers, check that AWD option box.

 

Hit it or Quit It?

Hit it

  • One more MPG on the highway than the Infiniti JX35/QX60 hybrid and the same highway economy as the RX450h.
  • Oddly enough, “Super Handling” really does describe the AWD system.

Quit it

  • I’m not sure what radar cruise and parking sensors have to do with rear seat DVD players. Why are they only sold together?
  • The two-screen infotainment system seems half-baked, put it back in the oven and let me know when it’s done.
  • Fake wood was so 1980s Oldsmobile.

 

Acura flew me to Oregon, stuffed me with poached salmon and craft beer and set me loose on the streets of Oregon for this review (but not in that order necessarily).

2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-001 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-002 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-003 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area-004 2014 Acura MDX Cargo Area, Interior, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-001 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, LED Headlamps, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-003 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Rear 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-005 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-006 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-007 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-008 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-009 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-010 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front Grille, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-012 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-013 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-014 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-015 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-016 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-017 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-018 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-020 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-021 2014 Acura MDX Exterior, Front 3/4, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Exterior-023 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Dashboard, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-001 2014 Acura MDX Interior-002 2014 Acura MDX Interior-003 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Infotainment, Navigation LCD, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes ` 2014 Acura MDX Interior-006 2014 Acura MDX Interior, Third row seats, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes 2014 Acura MDX Interior-008 2014 Acura MDX Interior-009 2014 Acura MDX-016

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NAIAS 2013: New Acura MDX Looks Like Old Acura MDX http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-new-acura-mdx-looks-like-old-acura-mdx/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2013/01/naias-2013-new-acura-mdx-looks-like-old-acura-mdx/#comments Tue, 15 Jan 2013 15:57:43 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=473902

Acura will replace their long-in-the-tooth MDX with a new model that looks a lot like the current MDX and even uses a similar 3.5L V6. The new model should look very similar to this concept. As it underwhelming as it seems, Honda did this with the CR-V and it’s arguably the best small crossover out there. The new RDX, despite criticisms relating to its lack of turbochargers, is a vastly improved car. I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one.

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The CAW’s Long, Futile Road To Organizing Honda Plants http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-caws-long-futile-road-to-organizing-honda-plants/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/07/the-caws-long-futile-road-to-organizing-honda-plants/#comments Mon, 02 Jul 2012 15:56:45 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=450997

If you believe Ken Lewenza, president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, the CAW is well on its way to organizing Honda’s Alliston, Ontario assembly plant. Lewenza told Ward’s Auto that “We’re getting some enthusiastic and strong support, but we’re not there yet.” The biggest problem for Lewenza is that the CAW has been in that position for almost two decades with respect to Alliston and hasn’t made any progress.

You may not know that, if the only thing you’ve seen so far are totally inaccurate, poorly aggregated articles like “CAW Begins to Organize Workers at Honda’s Ontario Factory“. This is simply not true. The CAW isn’t begging to organize workers at Alliston. Nor are Honda’s Canadian plant employees a bunch of pinkos who want to revolt against their foreign overlords while reaping the benefits of a union card. The truth is far more mundane and less exciting, as it usually is.

Honda hasn’t gone on the record with any publication regarding the CAW’s attempts – but we have sources that are familiar with the company, and are willing to talk to us. According to our source, the CAW has been trying this since at least the early1990s, but has never had much success.

There are assembly line workers at Alliston who want to unionize, but the majority apparently have no desire; wages are competitive and union dues don’t have to be paid. The union hasn’t been warmly received in the past either.  Alliston, which builds the Honda Civic, CR-V, Acura MDX and ZDX, is one of Honda’s crown jewels in North America, and to Honda brass, the idea of unionization is anathema to the Big H’s corporate culture.

“It runs counter to the Japanese concept of loyalty,” our source said. “The whole idea is that if you’re loyal to the company, they’ll look out for you and your best interests. The workers shouldn’t need a union for that.” Honda also doesn’t want an outside force interfering in the way their plants are run. As our source put it “…[Organizing] interferes with the management structure of the plant itself – which is unacceptable to them.” As for what would happen if Alliston, or another Honda plant unionized? “Well,” said my source “remember what happened to Wal-Mart in Quebec?”

The idea that the union is making “progress” like so many blog headlines suggest, may be relative to say, being nearly dead in the water over the past two decades. The CAW is, to put it lightly, f***ed if they don’t sign up new members, and in a world where even the Oshawa plant is at risk, their future is precarious at best.

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Review: 2013 Infiniti JX35 Take Two http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-take-two/ http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/2012/05/review-2013-infiniti-jx35-take-two/#comments Mon, 14 May 2012 16:46:08 +0000 http://www.thetruthaboutcars.com/?p=444206

Infiniti has characteristically taken the path less travelled. The original Q45 was styled to express Japanese culture (rather than imitate the Germans), tuned for drivers, and infamously advertised with video of rocks and trees. The brand finally hit its stride thirteen years later with the compact rear-wheel-drive G35. It jumped on the crossover bandwagon with a pair of cozy cabined, firmly suspended, VQ-propelled eggs. Those seeking space for their family and their family’s stuff had a choice between the massive truck-based QX56 and something that wasn’t an Infiniti (often an Acura MDX). Market and dealer pressure to offer something much closer to the norm was no doubt intense. So, for 2013, we have the Infiniti JX35 (originally reviewed by Derek Kreindler). Has the brand’s character been overly compromised, or is this the crossover Infiniti should have offered from the start?

Recent Infinitis have been curvaceous, even bulbous. You won’t find fuller forms on any other new car lot. With the JX35, Infiniti clearly struggled with an inherent conflict between this design language and the need to offer competitive interior space. The JX’s exterior is an incompletely resolved combination of a curvy M-like front end (dominated by an over-sized grille and emblem) and a space-maximizing box. A “crescent-shaped” D-pillar is distinctive, but there’s probably an aesthetic reason that explains why it’s never been done before. Expect it to spread to other Infinitis as they are redesigned.

Inside the JX35, Infiniti has also backed off its usual tendencies in order to cater to the typical large crossover buyer. The interior is styled to resemble those in other Infinitis, so it’s easy on the eyes, but the forms are much different. The instrument panel and console are less curvy and less intrusive. The seats are flatter, nearly bolster-free, and less cushy. As a result, the JX feels less “tailored to fit” (or, for larger people, not fit) than other Infinitis. The appeal isn’t as deep, but it’s much broader.

Infiniti is very proud of the way the JX’s second-row split bench folds forward. With no child seat in it, the cushion folds up tightly against the backrest GM Lambda-style to open up a very wide path to the third row. Infiniti’s innovation: unlike in the Lambdas, if you strap in a child seat the bench can still slide forward enough to permit people to squeeze through. There’s no need to order captain’s chairs (that aren’t offered) to maintain access to the third row with child seats in the second row.

In other respects the JX’s rear passenger accommodations are nothing special. As in most crossovers (Ford’s being the major exception), the seats are flat and are mounted too low to the floor to provide adults with thigh support. And as in too many luxury vehicles, there isn’t any space under the front seats for the toes of second-row passengers, essentially reducing second-row legroom by about four inches. There’s still plenty of legroom in the second row if the bench is shifted fully rearward along its five inches of travel. But, again all too typically, if the second row is all the way back there’s very little legroom in the third row. Ultimately, there’s just enough space to fit average-sized men in all three rows if everyone limits their legroom to the amount they absolutely need. To Infiniti’s credit, the third row is better ventilated than most, so the kids won’t bake back there. Behind the third row you’ll find 15.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, about the same as in an Acura MDX. My five-person family’s luggage wouldn’t fit without folding at least half of the third row.

There’s considerably more space for both people and cargo inside a Buick Enclave. But Infiniti’s marketing people never mention the Enclave as a competitor. They prefer to talk about the Acura MDX and Audi Q7, both of which have tighter third rows than the JX and both of which have gone six years since a thorough redesign. But, in terms of specs and configuration, the Buick is actually the JX’s closest competitor. Inside, the Buick wins on quantity, the Infiniti on quality (unless GM has worked wonders with the 2013 refresh).

With a powertrain and chassis derived from the Nissan Murano (and shared with the upcoming 2013 Pathfinder), the JX35’s performance neither delights nor disappoints. Even with all-wheel-drive curb weight is a very reasonable 4,419 pounds, so the 3.5-liter V6’s 265 horsepower are sufficient. The mandatory CVT assists by holding the engine in its power band when this is required. I personally didn’t mind the behavior of the CVT. If you do, select sport mode and it mimics a conventional six-speed automatic. Go WOT with front-wheel-drive and there’s some torque steer and front-end float, but not nearly enough to by themselves justify all-wheel-drive. Unlike in the MDX, which has an oversteer-inducing rear differential, the JX’s all-wheel-drive system doesn’t significantly enhance the driving experience on dry roads.

Fuel economy according to the EPA is 18 city / 24 highway with front-wheel-drive and 18/23 with all-wheel-drive, similar to the numbers earned by large domestic crossovers. The trip computer reported about 21 on my largely exurban driving route (infrequent stops, speed typically between 40 and 60). Given the vehicle’s relatively low curb weight and CVT, it should be capable of better. Blame the aging VQ V6 engine.

The JX’s ride and handling are similarly sufficient for the vehicle’s intended mission. The steering is light but well-weighted, and even provides some feedback if you’re paying close attention. Body motions and lean are fairly well controlled, but rush the JX and it feels heavy and out of its element, lapsing into a safe, dull plow. Did I really expect otherwise, even with the Technology Package’s “active trace control”? Hope, perhaps. Expect, no. The ride is generally smooth and quiet, though there’s some “head toss” over uneven roads (a by-product of thick stabilizer bars) and some minor jitters over patchy pavement (the standard 18-inch wheels might help–the tested vehicles all had the optional 20s). One “feature” that few people will notice, or be bothered by if they do: the 60 side of the second row often vibrates, as if it’s harmonizing with a frequency in the suspension.

The Infiniti JX starts at $41,400. Add $1,100 for all-wheel-drive. Tick all of the major boxes and the sticker’s bottom line reaches $54,800, which is $540 below a 2012 Acura MDX Advance with Entertainment Package. But the ancient Acura lags in the safety nannies department, while the oh-so-2013 JX has them all (ICC, FCW, BCI, DCA, BSW, BSI, LDW, LDP, XYZ, PDQ, WTF). BCI—Back-up Collision Intervention—is a first: if the system detects that you’re about to back up into something, it automatically stops the vehicle. Between this feature and the around-view monitor Infiniti pioneered a few years ago (I’m a fan), the paint on the JX’s rear bumper should be good for the long haul. Use TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool to assign typical values to these features, adjust the price accordingly, and the JX emerges with a nearly $3,700 price advantage over the MDX. Compared to a loaded 2012 Buick Enclave, a similarly-equipped JX lists for $1,890 less before adjusting for feature differences and about $3,200 less afterwards. Even though the Infiniti can be optioned into the mid-fifties, it’s actually a good value. Willing to forego the fancy bits for a lower price? Nissan has a closely related Pathfinder on the way.

In the end, I’m not sure how to answer the question posed by the introduction. In the next few years, I’m going to take my kids on a grand tour of the western national parks from Arizona to Alberta. When I do, I’d like a roomy three-row vehicle with an athletic chassis. I like how Infinitis drive, my wife likes how they look and feel. They might have stuck to their characteristic way of doing things and created our ideal family truckster. But the entire auto industry has realized the pointlessness of catering to fecund driving enthusiasts taking once-in-a-lifetime Rocky Mountain road trips. The Cadillac SRX lost its barely-there third row and shifted to a front-wheel-drive platform. The relatively car-like Mercedes-Benz R-Class was vastly outsold by the clumsier GL. Lexus never delivered a planned driver-focused GS-based crossover, instead peddling the RX, GX and LX. Infiniti paid its car guy dues with the EX and FX; the former has sold poorly, the latter just a bit better. So the JX, which takes the emerging segment norm and dresses it like an Infiniti, is only a surprise in that it didn’t happen years ago. Unless you get off on safety nannies, there’s no wow, and little in the way of driving excitement. But there’s a lot of nice. The big question isn’t whether the JX will sell–it will–but how many other Infinitis will head down the same path.

Infiniti provided a couple of the tested JXs, fuel, insurance, airfare to Charleston, a fancy boutique hotel, and excellent food. Bill French at Suburban Infiniti of Novi provided another JX so I could test the ride on Michigan roads. Bill can be reached at 888-779-2907.

Michael Karesh operates TrueDelta.com, an online source of car reliability and real-world fuel economy information.

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