Acura takes the 2014 MDX to a higher level

The 2014 Acura MDX boasts “Jewel Eye” LED headlights that increase down-the-road visibility by 75 feet. Just one of many improvements in this new model.
The 2014 Acura MDX boasts “Jewel Eye” LED headlights that increase down-the-road visibility by 75 feet. Just one of many improvements in this new model.
Bill Griffith for The Boston Globe

NEW YORK—My instructions were pretty simple. Come back from an East Coast introduction to the 2014 Acura MDX luxury SUV with the answer to this question:

“Do we buy a leftover 2013 MDX or wait a few months for the 2014 to go on sale?”

The question came the Acura wing of my family—my son-in-law and daughter. Their garage contains:

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1. A 2004 Acura TL with 150,000 miles and a broken air-conditioning unit that needs a $1500 repair.

2. A 2010 MDX.

Their plan is to replace the TL with another MDX.

They could save some serious cash (and waiting time) by purchasing a leftover.

My verdict, however, is to opt for the 2014 even though it means son-in-law Steve has at least six more weeks of driving without A/C.

The simple reason for my feeling—also known as putting the ‘bottom line’ up near the top—is that the new third-generation MDX is THAT much improved over its predecessor.

Such improvement becomes more impressive when you consider the MDX already was at the top of the heap in the competitive world of mid-sized luxury SUVs.

In this situation, it always helps to seek some sage advice (couldn’t resist this bad pun) from Acura’s senior public relations manager Sage Marie.

His take: “Especially where your family keeps their Acuras for so long, they’ll want to have the latest technology from the beginning instead of starting off with the outgoing technology.”

That technology is represented in every area of the new MDX—including lighting, safety, warning systems, body materials, suspension, steering, fuel economy, interior upgrades features, and infotainment systems.

Stylewise, Acura’s engineers opted for an evolutionary approach with the most visible changes being “Jewel Eye” LED headlights, front running lights, and tail lights. The headlights increase down-the-road visibility by 75 feet.

Manhattan seemed to be an unlikely location for a “first drive,” but Acura had the logistics figured out. It was only several blocks through mid-town traffic, then a traffic-free 50-mile drive out the Henry Hudson Parkway and north along the Hudson River to Garrison, NY.

On the road, the 3.5-liter V-6 with direct injection and six-speed automatic transmission performed flawlessly. It’s rated at 290 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. The all-wheel-drive model is rated at 18 miles per gallon in city driving and has a 6 mpg increase to a 27 mpg rating on the highway. The two-wheel-drive variant is rated at 20 mpg city and 28 highway.

Acura increased fuel economy with improved aerodynamics and power-train efficiency, by shaving 250 pounds from the vehicle, and lowering both friction and rolling resistance.

In looking for ways to increase the market for the MDX, Acura is adding a 2WD version for 2014, eyeing increased Sunbelt sales. Main competitors are Audi’s Q7, the BMW X5, Infiniti JX35, and Lexus RX 350.

Acura’s market studies showed that current MDX owners were happy with the overall package, but wanted improvement in the interior (better materials, simplified controls, road and wind noise), better steering feel, and improved ingress and legroom for the third row.

In my daughter’s second-generation MDX, it’s pretty much impossible for an adult to crawl past the second-row seat to the third row, where you then find a lack of legroom.

The third generation does a pretty good job of fixing this.

Overall, the new MDX is two inches longer with a three-inch longer wheelbase. Acura used increased interior room to give the second row a six-inch low-resistance sliding feature that gives an additional 4.5 inches of space to access the third row. That makes it easy for a youngster to get back there and something that’s do-able for an adult.

Trim levels start with the well-equipped base MDX, which offers (among a long list of features), touch screen, push-button start, heated seats, and rear view camera. The Tech version adds blind spot warning, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, and upgraded ELS audio. The Tech/Entertainment adds rear entertainment, heated rear seats, rear window shades, and a 150-watt inverter.

Go for the advanced entertainment package and add a lane-keeping assist system, front and rear parking sensors, low-speed following technology, adaptive cruise control, remote starting, a 16.2-inch split rear screen among other goodies.

Sometimes engineering advances are hard to explain but we saw three we liked:

1. The slightly larger rear cargo area is reconfigured to handle larger objects. There’s also a larger under-deck compartment in the rear.

2. The rear suspension has fewer connection points to the frame, allowing for the redesigned rear suspension and better noise and vibration control.

3. The front wheels are designed to shatter instead of being able to intrude into the passenger cabin in the event of an offset front crash.

The number of “hard” buttons on the center stack has been reduced from 41 to 9; however, there are additional touch-screen buttons and the option to use voice recognition and steering wheel controls.

An aside to daughter Sandy: The center console looks to be big enough to hold your purse—though you’ll have to open it to buy this MDX.

A well-equipped base 2WD MDX will go for $43,185 (including destination) while a loaded top-of-the-line AWD will go for $57,400. The most common version in this projects to be the AWD with the tech package, would list at $49,460.