ROAD TEST EDITOR JONATHAN WONG: This is my first go-round with a third-generation Acura MDX in front-wheel-drive form, a new offering for the 2014 model year. The previous two generations were only available with all-wheel drive -- surely makes sense for people living in areas that experience real winters, but maybe not so much for those residing down south or in the southwest. So here's the front-wheel drive MDX, weighing in at 234 pounds less than its SH-AWD counterpart and costing $2,000 less. Oh, and EPA fuel economy figures are a little better at 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, compared to 18 city and 27 highway for the SH-AWD.
With all of my driving being done in dry conditions, I wasn't missing SH-AWD much. The only difference is that if you pin the throttle, the front tires will squawk from launches or when coming out of corners. I wasn't throwing this 2-ton SUV around really hard during my weekend with it. Instead, I just puttered around normally and found the MDX to be a perfectly comfortable and smooth operator. The fixed suspension keeps the body controlled and still yields a ride quality that's well suited for a luxury vehicle. It nicely absorbs impacts from all potholes we have around here in Michigan.
The adjustable electric power steering is altered, with a center console-mounted button that lets you choose from comfort, normal and sport settings. Most of my time was spent in normal, and provided decent heft and response to inputs. If you were a fan of the outgoing MDX's hefty steering behavior, then you'll definitely want things in sport mode. Comfort for me is too light and numb on center.
Acura's 3.5-liter V6 is still a gem with its silky operation and excellent power. The engine possess enough grunt down low, but like most Honda/Acura engines, really comes alive when you keep your foot down and let it wind up to the latter half of the rev range. It helps the MDX feel quick considering its size and heft. Connected to the engine is a six-speed automatic that performs snappy up and downshifts.
The cabin features good-looking, high-quality materials and finishes throughout. Front bucket seats are cushy enough and still offer good side support. Seating position is comfortable behind the wheel, and there's plenty of room in there, even though this generation is a little narrower than the old car. Isolation from wind and road noise is also good.
While I'm still not a big fan of Acura's very touchscreen-dependent infotainment setup, I'm getting used to it. It not very responsive to inputs but it's intuitive enough to work through. Some of the buttons on the screen are a little too small, though.
After testing out this front-wheel drive MDX, I remain a fan of Acura's three-row SUV. It's not thrilling to look at with the blade grille, but it's not ugly either. Instead it's a practical vehicle that has a usable third-row of seats, packs one of the slickest powertrains in the business and possesses a drive quality that's dialed-in and comfy at the same time.
What stacks up well to this front-wheel drive MDX? The Infiniti QX60 available with front-wheel drive comes to mind. When you spec out a QX60 with comparable equipment to our particular MDX test car, it comes in at roughly the same price of $49K. Then there is a Lincoln MKT that's also offered as a front-wheel driver for about $44K sans a lot of the whiz-bang options that the Acura and Infiniti can be had with. I'm going to write off the MKT right now because, well, it's hideous.
So between the Acura and Infiniti, which one would I pick? We spent a year with a JX35(which is what the QX60 was called previously) in our long-term fleet and liked it a lot, even with its CVT. But given the choice, I'm always going to prefer a torque-converted automatic gearbox like in the Acura over a CVT. And I think the MDX feels a little more refined from behind the wheel.
The 2014 Acura MDX is equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 joined with a six-speed automatic gearbox.
2014 Acura MDX with Technology and Entertainment Packages
SENIOR ROAD TEST EDITOR NATALIE NEFF: To be honest, I would love this 2014 Acura MDX if the mechanicals came in just about any other midsize SUV package. There's just too much that distracts me from enjoying the drive, which even in this front-drive form is actually quite nice. (Aside: Not that I really understand the existence of a front-drive version to begin with; seems to me one of the main reasons to buy a vehicle of this ilk is because one thinks one needs all-wheel drive to survive the occasional snowflake. Why Americans think suburbia can only be negotiated with 2 tons of heft I'll never know, especially considering the command-view-of-the-road argument results in a zero-sum game once you realize that everyone is sitting up high. Whatever.)
As most who have read my notes of late will understand, I'm not one who puts all my stock into how a car performs, e.g., ride and handling, body control, steering responsiveness, etc. Those things are of eminent importance, of course, but I wouldn't say they are of primary importance. Perhaps if we're talking about a car I use solely as a weekend track-day ride, then sure, how good the stereo sounds is of little matter. But because 99.9 percent of my time spent behind the wheel is in the act of commuting and/or errand running, then those things that contribute to the comfort, entertainment and edification of ALL aspects of life spent behind the wheel are of importance. And it's in ALL of those other ways that the MDX -- and, dare I say, all Acuras and Hondas -- falls far, far short.
Frankly, I find interacting with the MDX taxing in every way other than putting rubber to road. The dual screen thingy is the most inefficient information delivery system in any vehicle built today. It's like Acura (Honda) wanted so desperately to delete as many buttons as possible to clean up the dash but then didn't spend a minute on how to effectively add those controls into the two touchscreens. It's just such a clunky, inelegant execution that I can't help but get annoyed by every time I encounter it.
Base Price: $49,550
As-Tested Price: $49,550
Drivetrain: 3.5-liter V6; FWD, six-speed automatic
Output: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 4,500 rpm
Curb Weight: 4,063 lb
Fuel Economy (EPA City/Highway/Combined): 20/28/23 mpg
AW Observed Fuel Economy: 21.3 mpg
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