The Truth About Cars » MDX The Truth About Cars is dedicated to providing candid, unbiased automobile reviews and the latest in auto industry news. Thu, 24 Jul 2014 14:26:12 +0000 en-US hourly 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 (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 » MDX First Drive: 2014 Acura MDX (Video) Fri, 31 May 2013 14:01:05 +0000 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.


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.


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


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.


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


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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Review: 2010 Acura MDX Wed, 23 Jun 2010 17:15:43 +0000

The MDX was the first luxury brand crossover to offer three rows of seating, and Acura was rewarded accordingly. For its tenth model year the second-generation MDX has received a refresh. But is there enough here to maintain Acura’s position in an increasingly crowded segment?

Much of the Acura MDX’s exterior remains the same with the 2010, with the front end receiving the most noticeable changes. With the 2007 Acura introduced its first highly controversial front end. The grille opening was largely filled with a faux-metal shield that no other Acuras received. Instead, their grilles have sent owners in search of especially large blocks of cheese in need of grating. For 2010 the MDX’s shield has been replaced by the cheese grater. A pair of chrome-ringed openings have also been inserted in the upper half of the bumper, above the gray fascia that houses the fog lights. The overall effect, also found on the related ZDX, is more aggressive than the previous nose, and it looks better here than on Acura’s cars. The rest of the exterior remains clean and well-proportioned, it’s only fault being a lack of distinctiveness.

If there have been any changes to the Acura MDX’s interior for 2010, they aren’t readily apparent. A mild high-tech vibe continues with the various metallic trim bits, countered a bit by the wide band of faux wood that spans the dash and covers the top surface of the center console. The wood at least looks real. The metallic plastic looks and feels less than premium. Sadly, the interior door pulls, the first point of contact when getting into the car, are composed entirely of the stuff. The switchgear might be good by the standards of a decade ago, but the target has been moving upwards. The overall fit and finish of the interior (or lack thereof) is clearly second tier among premium brands. The door-to-dash panel fit is downright awful.

Even GM’s interiors are more tightly and precisely constructed lately, and the new SRX looks and feels much nicer inside than the latest MDX. Then again, the SRX also costs quite a bit more. The MDX probably competes more directly with the Buick Enclave, which it continues to lead in interior quality.

The best thing about the interior: the front seats. Large and amply bolstered, they provide both comfort and lateral support to such a degree that I wonder why so many front seats clearly make tradeoffs between the two. The driving position provides very good forward visibility and doesn’t place the various controls too far away. A wide center console contributes to a somewhat sporty ambiance, but might leave larger people wishing for more space.

Putting three rows of seats inside a 191.6-inch long vehicle tends to compromise rear legroom and cargo room, and this is certainly the case in the MDX. Legroom in the comfortable second row is adequate, if not outstanding. Adults won’t want to spend much time in the third row. But then most people will use it for kids, anyway. There’s less cargo space behind the third row than in longer competitors. So when traveling families with have to either pack very light, fold the third row, or add a rooftop luggage carrier.

Beyond-sufficient power continues to be supplied by a 3.7-liter V6 that sounds a little less sporting and a little more truck-like than the related unit in the Acura TL. Honda has yet to announce its first direct-injected engine for the U.S. market. The big powertrain news with the 2010 MDX: while other luxury car makers are introducing seven- and eight-speed automatics, Acura is introducing its first six-speed. Remember when Honda was a powertrain innovator? Since it’s so late to the party, hopefully the new six-speed is at least solid. Honda’s past record with transmissions for its larger vehicles has been spotty. Time will tell. The new transmission’s shorter first gear (14.3:1 vs. 12.2:1 when multiplied by the final drive) translates into more punch off the line. The top gear overall ratio, little changed, makes for an EPA highway rating of 21. What could a taller top gear do? The quicker, heavier 2011 BMW X5 manages 25.

When I drove the 2007 MDX three years ago, with the optional auto-adjusting shocks set to “Sport,” I thought it handled well for a 4500-pound crossover. Partly because I drove the base model this time around, the 2010 felt large, with excessive understeer in hard turns despite the trick SH-AWD system and a disjointed overall feel that borders on clumsy. Here as with the interior I felt as if I were driving a domestic car from five years ago. The steering, overly light at low speeds, never provides much feedback. Other manufacturers have been making major improvements in the handling of their large crossovers, and Acura has some catching up to do.

With the standard, non-adjustable shocks the ride is less floaty than with the optional shocks set to “Comfort,” but still absorbs pumps pretty well. The problem here is a traditional one for Honda: road noise. There’s more of it here than in the typical luxury crossover.

Pricing for the Acura MDX is commensurate with its interior ambiance. You’ll spend much less for it than any three-row crossover wearing a European badge—even a Volvo XC90 V8 (the base I6 doesn’t provide competitive performance) lists for about $6,000 more. But the MDX seems little if any more upscale than a Buick Enclave or even a top-level Mazda CX-9. The Buick is priced about even with the MDX, but the Mazda is about $5,000 less than either, based on comparisons run using TrueDelta’s car price comparison tool. Both the Buick and the Mazda provide more space in both the third row and for cargo behind it. And yet both also handle better than the more compact Acura.

Overall, with the 2010 refresh Acura hasn’t done enough to keep the MDX competitive. The Acura brand image calls for tighter, more precise handling. The interior ambiance positions the Acura between the mainsteam and luxury brands rather than as one of the latter. But then the pricing isn’t at luxury brand levels, either. The third row seat is a match for those from BMW and Volvo, but cannot compete with those from Buick and Mazda. IN the end, we have a good vehicle for people who want a slightly upscale vehicle with an occasional-use third row. People who want a crossover that handles especially well, that has a truly luxurious interior, or that can handle six people AND their luggage will be better off elsewhere.

Michael Karesh owns and operates TrueDelta, an online source of auto pricing and reliability data.

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