Like many Acura cars, the MDX comes in one well-equipped base trim, though there are several option packages that essentially serve as trim levels: Technology, Technology with Entertainment and Advance with Entertainment. For 2014, front-wheel drive becomes available with all packages; previously all-wheel drive was standard. At a media preview in Portland, Ore., I drove a number of the all-wheel-drive MDX SUVs with Technology and Advance packages alongside its predecessor and several competitors.
The outgoing MDX's bumper inlets sat high enough to give a mustachioed expression. Its successor has shaved, thankfully, but styling otherwise stays put. The biggest shift is the headlights, which adopt standard LEDs for a sort of reptilian appearance. In back, the MDX loses its exposed tailpipes for chrome-ringed reflectors and a concealed single pipe. Yawn.
Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are standard, and 19s are optional. Citing research that showed nobody wanted a bigger MDX, Acura added just 2 inches to the overall length while reducing height and width by 1.5 inches and 1.3 inches, respectively. The resulting profile is the most wagonlike of the MDX's three generations.
Less Defined, More Refined
Fans of the past MDX's deliberate driving characteristics — heavy, swift steering; a busy ride; a growling V-6 — will be disappointed, but I suspect most shoppers will deem the new generation an improvement. A direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 replaces the 2013's port-injected 3.7-liter V-6, and it provides stout oomph despite shedding a bit of power. The smaller six makes 290 horsepower — down 10 hp from last year, with torque down a tad too — but Acura also shaved nearly 300 pounds' curb weight in all-wheel-drive models.
The standard six-speed automatic helps pick up the slack, with short lower gears, smooth upshifts and responsive highway kickdown. Downshifts could come sooner as you accelerate through a bend, and a selectable Sport mode provides just that; it even drops a gear or two on downhill stretches.
Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive actively sends power to the rear or outside wheels to improve handling. Hammer it on a corner and the MDX swings its tail wide before the standard electronic stability system — or a shrieking spouse — reins you in. You'll earn forgiveness at the pump: Thanks to the weight loss, the all-wheel-drive MDX achieves an impressive 18/27/21 mpg city/highway/combined, which is up 3 mpg combined over the previous generation. Front-drive MDXs save 230 pounds for a class-leading 20/28/23 mpg. Acura recommends premium fuel for maximum performance; some competitors require it, but others, like the Enclave and RX, make full power on the cheap gas.