Despite its age, the Acura MDX continues to be the luxury brand's most valuable player, ruling the sales chart year after year. With so much riding on the seven-passenger SUV (especially with the Infiniti JX gunning for it) Acura must keep the MDX feeling fresh. The 2014 Acura MDX Prototype debuting at the 2013 Detroit auto show demonstrates how the automaker plans to keep the third-gen MDX as successful as the first two generations.

While its shape is unmistakably MDX, the prototype has been given lower and wider proportions in the name of aerodynamic efficiency, which is up 16 percent compared to the outgoing MDX. Its arcing roofline has been lowered 1.5 inches and its wheelbase stretched. Jewel Eye headlights (first introduced on the RLX) and LED strips on the lower front fascia are new to the MDX, and the polarizing Acura grille has been softened up. But the real news for luxury crossover customers is that a front-drive MDX with the automaker's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive configuration will join the crossover. When the 2014 Acura MDX goes on sale in the middle of this year, we may see a slight price drop below the current MDX's $44,175 starting price.

The 2014 MDX will house a new direct-injected, 3.5-liter i-VTEC V-6 engine that Acura promises will deliver more torque and efficiency, likely coupled with the same six-speed automatic in the outgoing car. Considering the 2013 MDX is EPA rated at 16/21 mpg city/highway, there's definitely room for improvement. Along with the peppier engine, Acura says the MDX will be more rewarding to drive, thanks to an all-new chassis that's more lightweight and rigid because of new front and rear suspension designs. What really piques our curiosity is the question of whether Acura will ever offer an MDX Hybrid using the 370-hp powertrain from the 2014 RLX.

Although the MDX prototype keeps its doors closed, the luxury automaker claims the stretched wheelbase has allowed for a more capacious interior with increased second-row legroom (the current car has 38.7 inches) and improved third-row seat access. We'd be curious to see if Acura does anything similar to the JX's easy-sliding second row, which can move forward even with a child seat installed.

With the 2014 Acura RLX getting two screens in its center stack, we're guessing the 2014 MDX -- now Acura's flagship crossover with the ZDX discontinued -- will also get the dual displays. Additional sound-deadening materials have also been added for passengers to better enjoy the available Acura/ELS premium audio system. The next-gen AcuraLink connectivity system will also find its way inside the new MDX, and will feature Pandora, Sirius XM, SMS text messaging, and Aha by Harman, which brings personalized news, information, and media feeds into the cabin through a smartphone. AcuraLink isn't all about entertainment, though; it can issue automated crash notifications and remotely lock and unlock the vehicle.

Packed with a host of safety features, the MDX sits atop the next-gen Advanced Compatibility Engineering structure, which helps the vehicle absorb more energy in the event of a crash. Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warnings will be available, and visibility shouldn't be an issue, thanks to a multi-angle rearview camera and a blindspot information system.

Production for the MDX will move from Alliston, Ontario, Canada, to the vehicle and V-6 plant in Lincoln, Alabama. Expect further details to be revealed closer to the 2014 MDX's launch in mid-2013.