published Saturday, July 13th, 2013

Test Drive: Acura polishes third-generation MDX

The restyled 2013 Acura MDX has an aggressive face with elegantly integrated LED headlights. 
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
The restyled 2013 Acura MDX has an aggressive face with elegantly integrated LED headlights. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

* Model: 2014 Acura MDX

* Exterior color: Crystal Black

* Interior color: Ebony

* Engine: 3.5-liter V-6

* Horsepower: 290

* Transmission: six-speed automatic

* Fuel economy: 28 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

* Dealer: Pye Acura

* Price (as tested): $49,459

We can tell that a new vehicle has hit the mark when we have to sprint to a dealership to sneak in a test drive before the last one flies off the lot.

That's what happened this week with the redesigned 2014 Acura MDX. Greg Black, of Pye Acura here, let me sample the improved Acura MDX assembled in Lincoln, Ala.

"We had two and we sold one this morning," Black said as I arrived at the showroom. Not to worry, more on the way, he said.

The MDX slots in the ultra-competitive premium SUV market with such worthy seven-passenger adversaries as the Tennessee-made Infiniti JX, the BMW X5 and the Audi Q7.

In past generations the MDX has shared light-truck components with the Honda Pilot, but for 2014 it gets its own chassis. With the rebuild, Acura shows a sharper focus on fuel economy. Incredibly, this two-ton SUV uses engine-cylinder management to squeeze out 28 mpg on the highway. Our MDX tester was a front-wheel-drive model, although all-wheel-drive is also available. Even the AWD model gets 27 mpg highway.

STYLING AND FEATURES

Changes to the MDX's already smooth lines were subtle. As before, a massive chrome shield serves at the face of the vehicle, and the horizontal body lines are typical of modern SUV design. The MDX has gently flared wheel arches and smart character creases along the bottom of the door panels.

Our Crystal Black test vehicle looks handsome from all angles, and includes nice tailoring touches such as an exhaust pipe tucked away and hidden from view. My favorite new design flourish is the addition of Acura's new "Jewel Eye" LED headlights, five on each side, that give the MDX a radiant, modern appearance.

Inside the MDX uses the upmarket materials you'd expect in a premium brand. Buttery leather seats are standard, and ours came in Ebony, completing a black-on-black color-scheme.

The automotive press had been somewhat critical in the past of Acura's overuse of buttons. The new MDX seeks to address this with more dials and a multi-use touch screen that ties together phone, music and navigation functions. As a result, the cockpit is much less cluttered and the technology is easier to use. Tech functions include XM satellite radio, text messaging, Bluetooth, Pandora Internet interface and a multi-angle rearview camera.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

In order to earn its keep, the MDX must deliver as both a family hauler and a fun-mobile. Even though the MDX sheds 10 horsepower -- 290, down from 300 in 2013 -- it has also lost weight to compensate. Motor Trend says the new MDX will scoot from zero-to-60 mph in about seven seconds.

Indeed, on our test drive on Highway 153 earlier this week, the MDX proved to be a good broken-field runner, shooting to daylight through mid-day traffic. Steering, while not sports-car sharp, is also not numb. All MDXs come with a velvet-smooth six-speed automatic transmission.

One of the main reasons that luxury buyers trade up these days are all the enhanced safety features in brand new models. The new 2014 MDX has forward collision warning and lane departure warning for us baby boomers who don't see and hear as well as we once did. (They're also nice for teen-age grandkids learning to negotiate traffic.)

BOTTOM LINE

If you haven't seen the new ads for the MDX on TV, they boil down to a tag-line: "Made for Mankind." This suggests a new emphasis on ergonomics (read better comfort), and our tester certainly delivered. With dealer-installed step rails included, our test MDX stickers for $49,459, just under the magic $50,000 price point that serves as a psychological ceiling for some buyers.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFPCOLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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