By Kevin Harrison
In my opinion, Acura has gone through a bit of an odd phase over the past decade. The brand was once known as delivering premium luxury mixed with sportiness, topped off with Honda reliability. In other words, they were legitimate competition to the Germans, only they were cheaper and more reliable – one of the many barriers for most perspective German car buyers.
But then something strange happened. They axed the RSX, CL and NSX. That meant if you wanted a coupe you had to look elsewhere.
Then they pulled a GM and rebadged a Honda Civic as the CSX. This strategy worked fairly well when the CSX succeeded the EL, but that trend didn’t continue.
Then they introduced the ILX, which essentially replaced the CSX. There’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but as a result, they’re going to kill the TSX – a sedan once known to be among the best of the best handling front-wheel drive sedans and the ILX isn’t even close to matching its performance and handling.
Then there was the flagship RL luxury sedan which consistently held the title of worst selling car in Canada, mostly because no one knew it even existed.
Then there’s the new design language. It’s up there with the ‘Bangle days’ that BMW experienced. In other words, it didn’t resonate with too many people. BMW quickly got rid of Chris Bangle and reinstated their understated designs, which seems to have worked. Acura on the other hand is staying the course with their controversial designs, even though they seemed to have toned it back a bit.
But through it all, they’ve had one model which has been consistently good and consistently a top seller: the MDX.
Acura was not the first to introduce the luxury SUV segment, but they were among the top dogs in perfecting it.
And now we have a redesigned model. Does it still stack up in such a fiercely competitive segment?
On the redesigned MDX, you’ll find a lot of the same styling elements from the previous generation making it a bit tricky to distinguish to the untrained eye (side by side pick of previous gen and redesigned version below). Look closely though and you’ll notice Acura’s new fancy headlight detailing (which consist of several small HID’s and LED running lights) a softened front shield on the grille and a revised bumper and fascia and some more chrome accents. The side profile is a bit sleeker with a lowered roof near the back. Rear tail lights have been revised, and even though they are typically Acura looking, they’re also typical looking of most SUV’s nowadays. Overall the look is evolutionary and it seems as though Acura’s corporate design is been in place for a few years now, so the controversial look is an easier pill for most of us to swallow now with each model redesign.
Inside, the interior won’t blow you away but it is still quite nice in terms of layout. I found the MDX’s two tiered display screens to be a bit much, especially since the top screen didn’t seem to control much, but the button reduction both on the centre stack and on the steering wheel is very much welcomed. Interior room is good and entrance and egress to the back seats are decent as well, but as with most crossovers attempting to be minivans, rear legroom is a bit tight. Rear leg room in the second row is good and head room is great all around. The seats in all the rows are quite comfortable. The rear rows get access to a 15 inch screen (no-joke, it’s huge) which is designed to show movies and TV shows in wide screen. As you’d expect in a high $60K vehicle, the materials are top notch and the wood trim actually looks and feels like real wood.
But nowadays you can find good quality materials in a $20K Kia Forte. The MDX needs much more than that to justify the price, and you can believe they loaded up this model with tech. One of the neat features is the MDX’s ability to stay within its own lane. One push of the button and the MDX’s sensors activate. But don’t think this translates into hands-free driving, input from the driver is still very much required. If you leave the MDX to its own devices, all it does is weave about within the lane searching for the parameters. To 99% of people, it just appears as if you are distracted or drunk behind the wheel so to keep unnecessarily 911 calls from happening, you really do need to pay attention and counter the veering a bit. While this is a cool feature in theory, in practice it seems a bit redundant and I honestly am against most driver aids. If you can’t keep your car within its own lane on your own, then you shouldn’t be driving. The same goes for the MDX’s cruise control which can actually bring the vehicle to a complete halt if necessary. But why? Since when does anyone need help bringing a vehicle to a stop? Sure these features are great for inattentive drivers but rather than facilitating inattention, how about doing stuff to prevent it? Anyway, I digress. Despite my criticism of technology like this, the technology itself is innovative, I’ll give it that.
The MDX is down on power for 2014 but fret not because it’s actually quicker. This is partly due to the good tuning abilities of those at Honda but also because the MDX was put on a bit of a diet, losing 324 pounds. This means that the 290 horsepower that the V6 produces is more than adequate in just about any environment. But the better part is the smooth shifting 6-speed automatic which helps to generate that luxury feel. On the highway the road noise is the only thing preventing it from feeling Lexus-like as it soaks up bumps with no problem at all and it’s an extremely smooth ride. Need to pass a moving vehicle? Just downshift using the paddles on the wheel (unfortunately you need to wait a moment for it to respond) or, truthfully, just put your right foot down and the MDX will respond fairly well on its own. Around town the MDX is agile despite its size.
Unfortunately handling and steering have been dumbed down over the previous model, but this likely won’t deter too many customers. And besides, throw the MDX into a corner can still be done with confidence; you just need to be a bit more aware of the MDX’s limits. Besides, since the MDX is trying to up the ante in the luxury SUV segment, it really needs to feel the part. Feeling a bit softer makes for a more luxurious and relaxed driving experience.
The weight shedding also translates into stellar fuel economy, especially on the highway. Officially, the MDX is rated at 13 L/100 kms city and 9.8 L/100 kms highway. I averaged 13.5 L/100 kms in mostly city driving, but on the odd occasion I did get it onto the highway, that consumption number went way down. For a vehicle of this size with this kind of power, those figures are very good. But perhaps what it more impressive is that the MDX gets these figures due to simplicity: just make the damned thing lighter. It isn’t messing about with other technologies such as CVT’s, DSG’s or hybrids, it just puts a good normal transmission in and made it lighter. What a concept.
In the end, this new MDX is clearly better in many ways over the old model. But what does it mean for Acura on the whole? Well I’m not entirely convinced that Acura has gotten themselves out of the odd phase but the MDX’s reduced sportiness but increased luxury could just mean that Acura wants to take itself in a different direction from now on and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, there isn’t much wrong with the MDX itself. The MDX is the second vehicle in the lineup to get a refreshed look and feel to it, and I have to say it could be Acura’s key to getting back into keeping a positive rep. Or at the very least the MDX will be key to eating into luxury SUV sales.
Price As Tested: $67,935
- Comfortable, smooth ride
- Good fuel economy
- Good power
- More luxurious now
- Less buttons now
- Tech is good, but can be overwhelming
- Road noise is prevalent
- Centre stack is a bit much
- Audi Q7
- Infiniti QX60
- Lincoln MKT