The importance of crossovers and SUVs in the premium segment cannot be overstated. The category represents one of the biggest sales slices for luxury brands, both worldwide, and especially in the U.S. market. The RX is Lexus' perennial best-seller, and the MDX was Acura's best-selling model in 2012, and along with its little brother RDX, is the brand's second-best seller for the first quarter of 2013. To say a lot was riding on the 2014 Acura MDX is an understatement. It was imperative that the brand not screw up one of its top star players.

The 2014 MDX is no slap some LEDs on it and call it a day refresh. Engine, chassis, powertrain and dimensions were all re-thought from a clean-sheet standpoint, with particular focus given to areas that current MDX owners singled out for improvement. But the changes made to please the faithful will likely expand its appeal to general luxury SUV buyers. But far more dramatic than the styling changes is the change in the behind-the-wheel character between the new and old model.

It's instantly recognizable as an MDX, but side-by-side with the old model, the differences are manifold and significant. Length is up by two inches, but the 2014 model is 1.3 inches narrower, based on owner feedback of the previous-generation model being cumbersome to park. Like the RLX sedan, the MDX gets standard Jewel Eye LED headlights, which besides looking super high-tech and premium, cast a brighter light closer to daylight. Overall, the lines of the new MDX look like a slightly larger version of the RDX, which is not a bad thing.

Being a three-row model, third-row access was a major focus area for the third-generation model, and a 2.8 inch longer wheelbase makes a big difference in third-row access. In addition to the larger rear door opening, more clearly-marked second-row seat controls make folding them forward more intuitive. Knowing that the second row would be getting more regular use than the third row, Acura gave the second-row seats five recline positions, and 5.9 inches of fore and aft seat travel. Also aiding third-row passenger and/or cargo room is a redesigned multilink rear suspension.

Refined Performance
The 2014 MDX is far more advanced from a technological and engineering standpoint than its predecessor, but unlike some other models and brands that become increasingly isolated and synthetic with each successive generation, the new MDX shows a renewed focus and emphasis on performance and driving dynamics. But the most remarkable accomplishment with the new model is that overall refinement was not lost, but actually enhanced with the sharper focus on performance.

Under the hood, last year's port-injected 3.7-liter engine makes way for a 290-hp 3.5-liter direct-injected Earth Dreams V-6 engine. On-paper, the downsized GDI engine makes 10 less hp and 3 lb-ft less torque than its predecessor, but you wouldn't know it from behind the wheel. With an eight-percent improvement in torque below 2750 rpm, as well as a 275 lighter weight model-for-model, the 2014 MDX feels much livelier than its predecessor from behind the wheel, with sharper throttle response, and noticeably improved low-end torque. But the biggest coup for the new Earth Dreams V-6 is the huge improvement in fuel economy, with the new model getting 6 mpg better highway fuel economy, and a 17-percent improvement in combined fuel economy for the all-wheel drive model, from 16/21 to 18/27. New for 2014 is a front-wheel-drive model that gets an even better 20 city and 28 highway. Aiding the V-6 in its efficient operation is a 16-percent reduction in drag coefficient, cylinder deactivation (Variable Cylinder Management in Acura-speak) and a 19 percent reduction in rolling resistance.

On the all-important yardstick of dynamic performance, the Nürburgring, the 2014 MDX completed a lap of the Nordschieife a significant eight seconds faster than its predecessor.

At 4297 lb, the 2014 MDX is no lightweight, but that's still 275 lb lighter than its forebear, thanks to 64 percent of the new structure consisting of high-strength steel, aluminum or magnesium. Acura is especially proud of the one-piece hot-stamped front door ring, which is expected to give the 2014 MDX the coveted IIHS Top Safety Pick+ rating, which includes the small overlap test. Acura engineers proudly boast that the front door could still be opened by the exterior door handle even after grueling crash testing.

Dashing Style
Driving the 2013 and 2014 models back-to-back, before even starting the engine, the improvement in cabin materials and design is immediately apparent. The last-generation model had all the expected amenities, but they were presented in a somewhat chunky, angular package. The overall theme of the 2014 model's interior is a leaner, more detailed, more refined presentation. Telling of the attention to detail given to the interior is that the bottom half of the dash is padded, a relative rarity even on luxury-brand models, which usually have a padded upper dash, but frequently cheap out with a hard plastic lower dash.

Although Acura has gotten some blow-back on its On Demand Multi-Use Display (ODMD) in the RLX sedan, after a brief orientation, we found the operation in the MDX to be relatively intuitive. A return of the touchscreen in the third-generation model was again based on owner feedback that gave the last-generation model's non-touchscreen control interface mixed reviews. Acura points out the number of physical buttons on the console has been reduced from 41 to nine. As in some other cutting-edge cabin interfaces, such as some versions of MyFord touch, we're not exactly sure if the radical reduction in actual buttons necessarily results in improved ergonomics, but the result is certainly a much cleaner appearance.

So it's well-established that the "new" MDX is truly all-new. But what's it like to drive? For a 4300-lb SUV, surprisingly fun. The direct-injected 3.5 provides ample power at any speed, and eagerly swings the tach needle to the redline with an enthusiastic growl, and an appropriately healthy shove into the seatback. Acura is confidently predicting a half-second improvement in 0-60 performance. Considering the last-generation MDX we tested dispatched the benchmark on-ramp sprint in just 6.8 seconds, it's safe to say the 2014 model is probably capable of sub-seven-second runs. The MDX felt comfortable and composed on twisty two-lanes, with the nine-percent quicker steering ratio of the 2014 model giving it a more nimble feel than its predecessor.

Pricing on the 2014 MDX spans more than $10,000, with the entry-level front-drive MDX starting at $43,185, including $895 destination charge. The top-line all-wheel-drive Advance model with Entertainment Package ringing the register to the tune of $57,400. The bread-and-butter Technology Package goes for $47,460 in front-drive, and $49,460 with all-wheel-drive. The Technology package includes navigation, 19-inch wheels, forward collision and lane departure warning, and GPS-linked climate control. Typical of Acura and Honda products, there are few a la carte options, with running boards, mud guards, backup sensors, and an engine block heater being the handful of note. Most options are bundled in one of the four packages.

If you're a current MDX owner and are looking for an upgrade, or looking at some of the MDX's competition, like the Infiniti JX, Lexus RX or even the BMW X5, the 2014 MDX combines the driving dynamics the German brands are generally known for, with the quality and value synonymous with Honda and Acura. Whether your purchase criteria are more practical or performance-oriented, the MDX skillfully covers both areas with quantitative improvements in comfort, practicality and economy, while still delivering a satisfying behind-the-wheel experience.


2014 Acura MDX
BASE PRICE $43,185-$57,400
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 7-pass, 5-door, SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/290-hp/267-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve direct-injected V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 4025-4332 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 111.0 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 193.6 x 77.2 x 66.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.5-7.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 18-20 / 27-28 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 169-187/120-125 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.85-0.92 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. July 2013