2014 Acura MDX Elite: the segment favourite

In the crowd of luxury SUVs, here's one that's quite impressive.

For a reasonable lump of money, the 2014 Acura MDX provides its owner with plenty of luxury amenities, an excellent ride, room for seven and great fuel economy.

What you won't get with the MDX – or with any current Acura model, actually – is a swarm of pesky neighbours polluting your driveway to gaze at your vehicle's breathtaking styling.

You see, no Honda or Acura product right now boasts a design that gets my heart pounding. During auto show press days, when I cross paths with the company's North American styling chief Dave Marek, I imagine myself rubbing shoulders with him and shouting "dammit, man, what's wrong with ya? Listen to Nine Inch Nails, go bungee jumping, get arrested and shot with a Taser gun. For Christ's sake, do something!"

But I resist. First of all, I don't think I could design a nicer-looking car than Dave, or even Homer Simpson. And second, if a mainstream vehicle's design is too striking, it might not age as gracefully as a tasteful, more conservative style.

Still, there are some interesting details to be found here, such as the smart-looking LED headlights, the soft character lines on the flanks and the just-right proportions.

Inside, you won't find a stitched leather dashboard or an Alcantara headliner, but a modern look, rich plastics and a high level of fit and finish. Our top-of-the-line Elite tester also flaunted genuine olive ash wood trim – that actually looks genuine – and upscale perforated leather upholstery.

Besides a third-row seat that's a little shy on legroom, the rest of the cockpit is pretty roomy. The second-row bench slides fore and aft to give third-row occupants a little more breathing room, while accessing the far end of the cabin is aided by the second row which flips out of the way at the touch of a button. As for cargo room, you get a decent 447 litres when all the seats are occupied, 1,277 litres with the third row stowed away and up to 2,575 litres with both rows folded flat; that's more than the segment average.

In fact, during a road trip to New Hampshire over the holidays, the 2014 Acura MDX easily swallowed the belongings of five people, including three kids. Two suitcases, a hockey bag, five pairs of ice skates, five hockey sticks, a computer backpack (because work never ends) and gifts for the relatives; everything fit. On the way back, I had to stuff even more gifts back there – the kids are spoiled rotten – but the MDX and its cavernous cargo hold prevailed.

The Acura also scored with the progeny, thanks to its DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones. The Elite trim gets a 16.2-inch-wide monitor that, when in use, not only renders the rearview mirror completely useless, but can simultaneously display two screens side by side. If some kids want to watch a movie and others want to plug in a game console or a handheld device, using the RCA jacks or HDMI port, no problem. How children can play Super Mario Kart and watch Despicable Me at the same time without throwing up is beyond me. At least they're not fighting with each other during that time.

Ah, but front-seat occupants get their gadgets, too. The centre stack-mounted infotainment touchscreen actually responds well to finger tapping (as opposed to finger smudging) and even vibrates slightly to acknowledge your input. I just wish the climate control fan speed and direction could be selected with conventional dash-mounted buttons or knobs. As for the navigation system, it's easy to use, although not all surrounding street names appear on the map, which kinda defeats the purpose of having navigation in the first place.

Under the hood, the 2014 Acura MDX ditches last year's 3.7L V6 for a growling new 3.5L mill that develops 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, connected to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. Power is down slightly compared to the previous-gen model, but so is the SUV's curb weight. Performance-wise, the MDX is sufficiently gutsy, even with a full load of occupants and their belongings.

The SH-AWD system is confidence-inspiring, as it can quickly shift power from the front wheels to the rear ones at the slightest hint of wheel slippage, or during acceleration. The system can also transfer engine power from one side to the other at the rear, which helps making sure the inside wheel in a curve isn't losing traction. The MDX also benefits from a three-mode drive system with Normal, Sport and Comfort settings; switch to the latter, and the ride is downright smooth without being too cushy.

The most impressive thing about the new MDX is how adept it is at turning every drop of fuel into motion. The engine features direct injection as well as Honda's Variable Cylinder Management, which basically shuts down a row of cylinders in certain driving conditions, in order to reduce fuel consumption. With the help of active engine mounts and noise cancellation technology, the transition from six to three firing pistons, and vice-versa, is seamless.

During the Christmas holidays, I got to flog the 2014 Acura MDX around a lot, covering long distances for free turkey, bacon-laced cocktail wieners, eggnog and raspberry mojitos. A 600-km round trip, with mostly highway driving and four adults aboard, concluded with a stellar 8.8 L/100km average. During the aforementioned voyage to the state where people live free or die, with five people aboard in snowy weather conditions, I recorded an average of 10.2 L/100km. As far as midsize SUVs go, and I've driven quite a few, this is pretty amazing.

With a base price of about $50K, the MDX is an impressive machine. Our loaded Elite tester, which includes features such as adaptive cruise control, a 12-speaker surround sound system, front and rear park sensors, a 360-degree camera system, lane-keep assist and ventilated front seats, among other things, is priced at $65,990. It's a lot of dough, but you get a lot in this mighty impressive SUV.

Simply put, it's my current favourite in the midsize luxury utility segment, no matter what it looks like. I forgive you, Dave.

Child seats fit easily in the MDX, with LATCH anchors in the second row and tether anchors in the third row. The baby stroller fits in the cargo area, even with the third row up.
In collaboration with Canadian Tire.

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