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First drive: 2014 Acura MDX boasts improvements, yet feels unremarkable

Consumer Reports News: May 31, 2013 03:38 PM

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The Acura MDX has long been a favorite SUV choice for many affluent suburbanites. We think its 2014 redesign will continue to please many, though impress few.

This three-row car-based SUV has cultivated a loyal clientele by combining a measure of luxury with a lot of versatility. It's less ostentatious than, say, a BMW X5 yet has a bit more exclusivity than a Toyota Highlander.

When the 2014 Acura MDX goes on sale in July, its prices will span a wider spectrum thanks to the addition of a front-wheel drive version. Sticker prices will run from $42,290 to $56,505, with a typical AWD Tech trim level retailing for $48,565.

We've just had the opportunity to drive a pre-release MDX borrowed from Honda.

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First impressions: 2014-Acura-MDX-back-seat.jpg
As always with Acura, the powertrain is slick and powerful. It's also nice to see that road noise is reduced, and handling is still responsive. The cabin is well put together and impeccably finished, but many controls have become more convoluted and confusing.

The functional seven-passenger interior remains the MDX's biggest drawing card. The front seats are very supportive; the second row can slide fore or aft to optimize leg room for second- or third-row passengers as needed. The 50/50-split third row is ideal for little kids, but pre-teens will feel they've outgrown it. A power release feature lets kids climb in and out of the third-row seat more easily.

Generous cabin storage facilities include a deep bin between the front seats with a padded top that serves as an elbow rest. A handy compartment behind the third-row seat has a slick lid that stays open as needed, rather than flop down. An available rear entertainment system includes a wide retractable video screen. The rear lift gate is power operated, but does without height adjustment.

2014-Acura-MDX-interior.jpgUnfortunately, Acura just couldn't resist fitting the MDX with the same two-tier display-screen arrangement found in the RLX. On the plus side, it lets you control the audio system through the lower touch screen and view the navigation or other functions on the top one. But it also creates visual overload, and some simple functions take multiple steps to execute. Happily, a multifunction thumb wheel on the steering wheel alleviates some of that nuisance. (Read: "First drive: Bland Acura RLX is under equipped and outclassed.")

Most current MDX owners may not complain about how the new one drives, but some astute drivers might. The ride is firm yet compliant, but some motions at low speeds can be a bit abrupt. While the new electrically assisted steering is appropriately weighted, it is largely devoid of true feedback. That's too bad because the previous MDX steered quite well. Cabin quietness will certainly be appreciated with reduced levels of road noise, but we noticed some unwelcome suspension noise at low speeds.

We commend the punchy and refined 290-hp, 3.5-liter V6. The engine now employs direct injection. That, combined with some weight reduction and other measures, results in a combined EPA fuel economy gain of 2 mpg. We got 18 mpg with the previous MDX. The slick six-speed automatic is largely a carryover and shifts are always timely.

The MDX lacks a few features compared to its market peers, such as an oversized sunroof and cross-traffic alert. But the MDX comes with a front collision-warning system and lane-departure warning on all trim lines, except the Base. Oddly, a heated steering wheel is a dealer-installed option.

Bottom line:
Although the driving experience is unremarkable and the styling is quite anonymous, the new MDX preserves most of the assets of the previous generation, especially the plush and versatile interior. Plus, it gains one or two new tricks. In the three-row SUV club, it has all the ingredients to remain one of the sensible choices.

Below is the initial video preview filmed at the 2013 New York International Auto Show.

Gabe Shenhar

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