Sweet Surprises Behind This SUV’s Buff Exterior
It’s the feeling you get when you see each other in passing, that flutter in your stomach because you know what it’s like, thrilling and comforting at the same time, and you wonder, why aren’t we together? Sort of like seeing an old boyfriend again, that’s how I felt about the Acura MDX.
Years ago I drove one and fell in love. But it was lacking that one thing I most desperately needed: a third row. Or at least that was what I was told —wrongly, as it turns out. Back then (2004), a third row was seen as so mini van, not something macho sales guys wanted to sell their customers, I guess. So we bought another car. And for years, every time I passed an MDX on the road I had a tumble of mixed feelings: I wish it was me behind the wheel.
Finally, I got my wish. Recently, I got to test drive the 2014 Acura MDX, a muscle-bound bulldog of an SUV, this time with a third row. I was amazed at how many features are packed into this stout little SUV, giving it just about everything you could want including improved fuel economy over its earlier models (still, we hope hybrid-type fuel mileage will be somewhere in this car’s future).
The 2014 is fully redesigned from previous models and has its own distinct DNA; about the only thing it has in common with its cousin the Honda Pilot is its third row and SUV capabilities.
Your Own Private Jet On Wheels
The MDX has the feel of being in the cockpit of a jet: there’s a button, knob or touch screen command for nearly anything the car can do, and all of it, as well as the space, is neatly thought out and arranged. There are not one, but two touch screens: navigation, phone and driver feedback are displayed on a screen at the top of the center stack (more directly in the driver’s field of vision) and entertainment and climate are on the screen in the middle of the center stack. So that its systems are intuitive and easily managed, there are buttons or knobs both on the center stack and on the steering wheel that control most everything; setting things up, though, requires time on the touch screens.
With this many features it’s hard to even remember them all; so we picked out our favorites—the reasons that this car stands apart from the crowd. First, remote start: the Acura’s remote starter takes some getting used to (it takes a few seconds for it to kick in) but it has a nice feature: when you press and hold the remote start (after locking the car, a requirement for the remote start to work) a yellow light on the remote flashes; when the car starts, a green light flashes. It’s subtle but important, because if you think you’ve started the car and get there and haven’t, you’re in for a cold (or hot) ride.
The steering wheel of the MDX has all the requisite controls that steering wheels have these days, with one small detail that was greatly improved: the toggle wheel control. On each side of the steering wheel is a round wheel that you control with your thumb. It not only scrolls up and down, but you can push it side to side. The left wheel changes radio stations as well as volume, and the right wheel scrolls through driver information, which is displayed on the dashboard between the center gauges.
Here’s a how-to guide to pairing a Bluetooth device with the Acura MDX:
A Smart Console
We also loved the well-thought out center console, which has several different capacities. While it wouldn’t hold my handbag, it could hold my iPad or a smallish purse or both. The console has a sliding top that pushes back to reveal an open box with charge ports. Your phone, cords and chargers are all tucked neatly away yet are accessible. There are also cup holders and a small space perfect for phone, keys or other small items.
Intuitive and Smart Safety Features
Safety features in cars these days don’t vary greatly car to car thanks to new government standards that require all cars to have rear view cameras among other things. The challenge to manufacturers is to refine the features so they’re not intrusive, and to strike the right balance of features so that buyers aren’t paying for all safety and no fun. The MDX’s designers came up with a nice mix and some refined designs. Among them, adaptive cruise control isperhaps my favorite feature, because it slows the car when a driver pulls in front of you on the highway, and also, reduces your stress behind the wheel on long drives.
Building on that is the collision mitigation braking system. Basically, a radar keeps an eye on things ahead and brakes before you can to avoid an accident.
Then, there is a vehicle stability assist function that keeps the car from rolling over, tire pressure monitors and all wheel drive, which keeps the car at maximum traction in challenging conditions.
And, the MDX’s designers came up with a clever spot for the blind spot detectors: glowing car icons are embedded on the stems of the side mirrors, making them a little more visible to the driver; they are easier to see and stand out better against the metal of the mirror’s frame than the actual mirror, where many blind spot indicators are found.
Second Row Passengers: Not Second Class Citizens
Usually my kids compete for time in the front seat. While I like to think it’s because they can listen to an interesting lecture from me, more likely it’s because front seat features are much more fun, like controlling the radio, the heated seat and helping out with navigation. But in the MDX there was no competition: the rear seat is full of features, too. The fold down video screen can display two movies at once, and the system comes with wireless headphones and a remote control that pops out of a bay in the ceiling. There are two charge ports—one for USB and one for a 115W household plug— and an A/V port for games. Rear passenger controls also include climate and heated seats. So one daughter could set the Sirius XM radio to Z100 while the other listened to a DVD or her iPod on the wireless headphones. Priceless.
Third Row Convenience
After years of looking at the huge cargo bay of my Jeep and wondering, ‘why can’t they put some flexible seating here?’ many car manufacturers have done just that: installed seats in what was once only cargo space. But that often leaves another issue: lack of cargo space. Acura’s designers were able to accommodate both: the MDX has ample room behind the third row (enough for several suitcases, a stroller or two or a couple of golf bags) and even a hidden compartment under the cargo floor, enough to hold some necessities such as a handbag, laptops or other gear that is best kept out of view.
For third row passengers there are basic comforts, like air vents and an accessible charge port, but since it’s a ‘convenience’ row and not a ‘comfort row,’ it’s not as well outfitted as the second row.
The third row does, however, pass the one-hand test: That is, you can access it by pushing the center seats forward (and pushing them back into place) with one hand. They also pop up or fold back down into the cargo floor with one hand. After all, what good is a convenience row if it’s inconvenient?
For all its smartly redesigned space on the inside, the MDX has some nicely refined and beautiful lines on the outside. Its front fenders flare just enough that behind the wheel you can see its curves; the rear’s squarish shape is toned down with a spoiler at the rear of the roof and LED head and tail lights give the MDX a modern feel.
We take a tour of the 2014 Acura MDX here:
What We Loved
Keyless entry and push button start
Easy to sync Bluetooth and connected phone features
Navigation with real time traffic
Adaptive cruise control
Collision mitigation braking system
Center console with easy to access space
Toggle wheel controls on the steering wheel
Easy access to third row seats
Second row entertainment system with flip down dual movie screen
Heated seats in front and center rows
Two touch screens
Second row charge ports
Smaller foot print for so much space
Assembled in Lincoln, Alabama
What you Need To Know
Heated/cooled seats are a touch screen operation, which can be a slow process
Third row isn’t as spacious as center row
18 MPG city/27MPG Highway
Requires premium fuel
All wheel drive
4 year/50,000 mile limited warranty
6 year/70,000 mile power train warranty
Price of the model we tested: $57,400
Disclosure: Acura provided the MDX for our test drive; opinions expressed here are all our own.
Correction: The Acura MDX has had a third row option from its earliest design. Our story has been updated to reflect this.