"Don't mess with success" - that's the mantra to which Acura adhered while redesigning its best-selling model, the midsized, seven-passenger MDX luxury crossover. At first glance, nothing about the new model will offend or surprise current MDX owners, but the familiar exterior hides a number of useful new tech features, a more versatile cabin and a significantly more efficient powertrain.
Precious little has changed in terms of the crossover's basic shape, but revised details, such as smaller fender flares and fluid character lines, make for a fresh and attractive appearance. LED jewel array headlamps lend a futuristic air to the front end, and a tastefully understated rendition of Acura's "beak" grille provides a finishing touch.
Well-styled sheetmetal can turn heads, but it's the interior that consumers have to spend extended periods of time with on a daily basis. Recognizing this, Acura put a great deal of effort into making the cabin a comfortable and user-friendly space. The dashboard has been completely reimagined and now boasts a unique two-tier LCD screen setup that looks cutting-edge and reduces the number of buttons from 41 in the old MDX to just nine. The eight-inch upper unit displays navigation information, while below that is a seven-inch touchscreen that furnishes access to climate control, entertainment, and navigation functions.
Further increasing the MDX's technology quotient is the available AcuraLink connectivity system, which includes real-time traffic and weather updates and a concierge serve that can make restaurant reservations. Also part of the setup are cloud-based apps such as Aha radio, which can play streaming internet radio stations and podcasts as well as read aloud content from Facebook, Twitter, audiobooks and news reports.
When the time comes to pack the MDX full of passengers, the crossover is ready for action thanks to several practical new features. The second-row seats now recline for extra comfort and also offer six inches of fore/aft adjustment to create the ideal balance between second- and third- row legroom. A one-touch power folding function for the second-row makes it easy to clear a path to the rearmost seats, which are more spacious than before due to a more compact rear suspension design and a longer wheelbase. Still, they're best left to children, or smaller adults for around-town trips.
The reworked center console is now large enough to fit a laptop, purse or a pair of iPads, and passengers will also appreciate the upgraded leather upholstery, soft-touch plastics and upscale silver-plated accents that distinguish the cabin.
Lower Weight, Higher MPGs
The MDX is available with a single engine/transmission combination and a choice of all-wheel-drive or a newly available front-wheel-drive setup, the latter of which should prove appealing to efficiency- and value-focused buyers in southern states.
Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 that teams with a six-speed automatic and produces 290 ponies along with 267 lb-ft of torque. Mileage checks in at 18/27 city/highway mpg for the AWD model - a big boost from the last-gen MDX's 16/21 mpg rating. The new FWD variant returns 20/28 mpg.
Much of the crossover's improved mileage can be attributed to enhanced aerodynamics and a 275-lb. lighter curb weight achieved through the extensive utilization of high-strength steel, aluminum and magnesium in the structure.
Also providing an economy boost is a Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system that shuts down half the cylinders during light-load cruising situations in order to save gas. An active noise cancellation system ensures that the VCM doesn't send any uncouth noises to the cabin.
Aside from making the MDX a sure-footed traveling companion in inclement weather, the optional AWD system - dubbed "Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive" by Acura - gives the big 'ute surprisingly agile dynamics with a torque-vectoring system that sends extra power to the outside rear wheel in turns. FWD models get a less-sophisticated brake-based torque vectoring setup.
Acura says that the MDX's suspension was honed on Germany's famed Nurburgring circuit, and the lessons learned on treacherous turns of the "Green Hell" were also put into tuning the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS). IDS lets the driver tailor steering effort, accelerator response and AWD settings by choosing from three different pre-set modes.
Standard and Optional Features
The MDX comes standard with leather upholstery, heated, power-adjustable front seats, an eight-speaker, 432-watt AM/FM/CD stereo system with USB and AUX inputs, a seven-inch touchscreen, an eight-inch display screen, a rearview camera, a sunroof, full LED headlights, heated, power-adjustable exterior mirrors, a proximity key, push button start, a power operated tailgate, tri-zone automatic climate control, active noise cancellation, Bluetooth connectivity, full power accessories, cruise control and 18-inch alloy wheels.
Three optional equipment packages are available.
The Technology package includes a 10-speaker, 501-watt ELS audio system, a navigation system, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, rain sensing windshield wipers, a color TFT display screen and 19-inch wheels.
To those features, the Technology and Entertainment Package adds an upgraded ELS sound system with 11 speakers and 529-watts of sonic output, heated seats and window shades for the second row and a nine-inch DVD entertainment screen.
The Advance and Entertainment Package includes all of the content from the previous two packages as well as a top-of-the-line 12-speaker, 546-watt ELS sound system, an ultra-wide DVD entertainment system with a 16.2-inch WVGA display, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist collision mitigation braking system,, Milan leather upholstery with expanded coverage, remote start, ventilated front seats, parking sensors and 19-inch wheels with "Euro Silver" finish.
All MDX models come standard with dual front, front side and full-length side curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag and traction and stability control systems.
Optional safety tech includes Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). CMBS uses a camera mounted high in the windshield to detect potential collisions with vehicles ahead of the RLX and provide visual and auditory alerts to the driver. If the system senses that the driver will not be able to brake in time, it can automatically apply the brakes to lessen the severity of the collision.
LDW alerts the driver if the RLX is beginning to drift into an adjacent lane, while LKA can help reel the sedan back into its proper lane.
An available Blind Spot Information System warns the driver if there is a vehicle present in one of the MDX's blind spots.
Before rushing out to pick up a new MDX, buyers should also take a peek at comparable rides such as the BMW X5, the Infiniti FX37 and the Lexus RX. Notably, of those competitors only the X5 offers a third-row seat; if passenger space is a priority, the larger Audi Q7 is also worth a look.