The Acura we venerate—a spunky premium brand that sells sporty sedans and coupes with redlines above 8,000 rpm—is dead. Your peers killed it, deciding that four-wheel drive and three rows of seating are way cooler than slick manual transmissions and screaming four-cylinder engines. The MDX, introduced in 2001, is now far and away Acura’s most popular and best-selling model. In a good month, it’ll nearly double the total number of Integra Type Rs sold here from 1997 to 2001. So when a new version of the MDX rolled out in early 2013, we decided to spend a year getting to know the 2014 MDX, the Acura that—evidently—everyone else adores.

The point of premium crossovers is to pamper, so we picked a fully loaded 2014 Acura MDX with the Advance and Entertainment packages and a sticker price of $57,400. Pricey, yes, but worth it for the extra equipment: remote start, navigation, a rear-seat DVD and Blu-ray player, a 12-speaker surround sound system, heated and cooled front seats, and a suite of active safety features. Though the MDX is available with front-wheel drive for the first time, we were willing to give up its mild fuel-economy benefit to take advantage of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which came in handy when the MDX first arrived in our snow-covered parking lot in November.

We ordered a set of Bridgestone Blizzak DM-V1 winter tires from Tire Rack straight away and had the rubber swapped out before sending the MDX with staff photographer Patrick M. Hoey on a 2,200-mile road trip down south. “The MDX is a comfortable long-haul cruiser and a great support vehicle for photography,” he reported. “There’s plenty of space for laptops, cameras, and tripods, plus plenty of power points to charge all my gadgets.”

Over the following months, the 2014 Acura MDX rarely got a break from long-distance trips, hauling people to weddings, vacations, and get-togethers all across the country. Adaptive cruise control and an active lane-keeping system allowed a bit of hands-free driving and made freeway slogs very relaxing. A planted, stable highway demeanor helped prevent driver fatigue, and a comfortable ride and a DVD player showing “Frozen” kept back-seat passengers quiet.

Only drivers who loaded up with more than five passengers groused about interior room, having to pick between carrying lots of people and hauling lots of stuff. With the third-row seats upright, cargo space is a modest 15.8 cubic feet, so many drivers preferred to keep the back seats lowered to score more luggage space (45.1 cubic feet). The third row isn’t really meant for adults anyway, with too little legroom and very upright seat backs.

Those editors who picked flying solo instead of traveling with their families were still satisfied by the big Acura, praising the 3.5-liter V-6’s strong and predictable power delivery, especially with the six-speed automatic transmission slotted into Sport mode. “The brilliant SH-AWD system and taut suspension help the MDX sprint out of corners with far more enthusiasm than the typical seven-seat crossover,” senior editor David Zenlea said. Too bad we didn’t feel the same about the over-assisted electric power steering. “The steering wheel might as well be a video-game controller,” griped videographer Sandon Voelker, although Zenlea countered that light, feedback-free steering is “probably about right for this sort of vehicle.”

Not one of us had a defense for the MDX’s double-screen infotainment system. The individual features work fine: Bluetooth-linked phone calls come through clear, satellite radio sounds fantastic, and navigation politely reads out accurate directions. But we struggled to remember which screen showed what data and which input to use for various functions. “It’s easy to get lost in the menus and lose track of what’s going on outside the vehicle,” said associate Web editor Eric Weiner. Good thing the MDX can literally steer and brake for itself.

The 2014 Acura MDX caused few other headaches during its time with us, although we did have to deal with a few small issues that were no fault of the car. First, a rock cracked the windshield, setting us back $1,298.24 to replace the glass. Then the plastic cover over the Acura’s forward-facing camera (it sits behind the rearview mirror) kept falling into drivers’ laps. The dealership determined the third-party windshield installer had damaged the cover but still replaced it for free.

When the signal from the car’s key fobs went weak, we paid $7 for button-cell batteries from a convenience store and installed them ourselves. A leaking front-right tire had a screw removed and a plug installed for free. A wayward chunk of lumber broke the MDX’s lower grille insert, which cost $170.89 to replace. And when a quarter-sized paint chip in the front fender began rusting, we were quoted $679.54 to put it right. (Oh, and the leather on the driver’s seat started to stretch and fade as jeans constantly slid over it.) Despite all these minor dings and blemishes, the Acura MDX ran trouble-free all year long, requiring only two regularly scheduled trips to the dealer.

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