Drive to Five Review: 2014 Acura MDX

Odometer (MDX):  3,180

3180

Odometer (ILX):  59,275

59275

Odometer (Legend):  527,902

527902

ilx_mdx_headlights

Button Bestseller

Of the 14,296 new Acuras sold last month, 39% of them were this one single model.  What makes it so special?  After being coddled and pampered by Acura’s flagship RLX Advance sedan last weekend, I set out to put its SUV counterpart through a similar evaluation and find out.

mdx_ilx_head_to_head

When I was growing up, my family’s go-anywhere rig was this Grenadine Metallic 1988 Jeep Cherokee Laredo 4×4.  My dad called it the “rattle trap,” and for very good reason.  It was perhaps the most unrefined vehicle I’ve ever been in.  We subjected it to multiple rugged hunting trips and I recall at least one time when the inline-6 engine overheated while pulling our 2 jetskis home from Lake Mead in Nevada.

jeep_right_rear

Those 15″ Eagle Alloy custom wheels were so 1990′s, weren’t they?

It’s mind-boggling how far the SUV world has come in the 25 model years since that rickety 1988 Jeep rolled off the line.  I got a brief taste of the all-new 2014 Acura MDX Advance at the Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year competition a couple of weeks ago, and the MDX reigned supreme in the “Luxury Family” division there.  As over 100 athlete evaluators agreed, luxury is a role that the MDX fits very well.  It provides so many creature comforts that the window sticker has 54 separate bullet points to describe everything that’s included.

mdx_interior

Most journalists would probably be content to just drive the MDX for a week in their normal urban commutes (yawn).  On Saturday, I decided to grab a few adventurous friends and take things a step further:  I took the MDX off-roading.

group_with_mdx

Today’s Route

Arizona Highway 88 – the “Apache Trail” – has long been a favorite drive of mine.  It’s a road with split personalities:  for the first 20 or so miles, it’s a paved two-laner with hairpins and sharp curves in abundance.  For the last 20 miles, it’s an off-road experience with some of the best desert scenery in the southwestern United States.  I last drove this road in June in the ILX.  On Saturday, I rallied a few amigos and headed for the Apache Trail hills in search of some MD Xcapades.  Here’s the route we took from Apache Junction to Roosevelt Lake.

az88_map

Fueled up on $7.95 “All American” breakfast combos from the Waffle House in Apache Junction, Arizona, 9 of us set out in 3 vehicles to explore these great back-roads:  the 2014 Acura MDX Advance, a 2014 Nissan Pathfinder, and a 2013 Mitsubishi Lancer.  For the first stretch of road, I took the lead and set the pace as we climbed the twisty switchbacks of the Apache Trail.  I loved the MDX step-in height and its commanding presence on the road (I’m used to cars that sit much lower).

The 3.5 liter V6 was anxious to provide necessary torque.  Did you know that its 290-hp powerplant has no scheduled tune-ups for over 100,000 miles?  That’s something worth considering if you’re a hyper-miler like me.  The degree of body roll was far less than I would have expected from a vehicle of its high profile.  On the road, the MDX behaved more like a sedan than an SUV.

tyson_driving_mdx

vehicle_lineup_on_az88

A Change of Scenery

Soon, we passed a yellow sign on the side of the road:  “PAVEMENT ENDS 500 FEET.”  I was unfraid.

As the blacktop ended and we passed a Saturn Vue that was crawling along at a snail’s pace, the MDX began to show its prowess as a mountain crawler.  Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) gave me confidence and competence in conquering the road’s terrain.  Right away, I noticed how helpful the MacPherson strut front suspension was at soaking up the washboard ruts on the road.  The suspension tuning, coupled with the AWD system, enabled all 4 tires to grab even when I went heavy on the throttle.  The MDX grips the road like it’s driving on fly-paper.  I tried unsuccessfully for 22 dirty miles to get it to lose traction.

mdx_front_right_on_apache_trail

15mph

You know those grab handles attached to the ceiling above each door inside most vehicles?  Better make sure those are tightly fastened before attempting to descend the “Fish Creek Grade” on the Apache Trail.  The ruts in the narrow dirt road quickly increased in size, the grade led us sharply downward, and there was nothing but a wooden plank guardrail separating us from plummeting into the sandstone canyon hundreds of feet below.  Still, the MDX was easy to navigate.  Its ground clearance was more than ample for making this descent, and the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters allowed me to keep the vehicle in 2nd gear without riding the brakes.

view_on_apache_trail

The MDX hauled 6 people down the dirt road with ease, and the truest testament to MDX people-hauling capability was this:  Nobody got motion sick!  After Nick and Kurt got settled into the far back seat, I heard Nick ask, “Now, where’s the button that I push for Tyson to bring me a drink back here?”  He found accommodations adequate there, which is rare for anyone who’s ever been forced to squeeze into the tiny seats found in most 3-row SUVs.  But I won’t be offering in-flight beverages any time soon.  Sorry Nick.

mdx_on_apache_trail_2

Return to Phoenix

Our crew took but a few minutes to soak up the sights at Roosevelt Dam before setting out for the trip back to Phoenix.  Roosevelt was, after all, the largest stone dam in the world when it was completed in 1911.  My passengers were all too anxious to hop back into their seats and get cozy once again for the drive back home to Scottsdale.  Paul took shotgun while Conor and Brad took the 2nd row – mastering the how-to of the MDX’s “Entertainment Package”.  They watched a DVD featuring some classic Will Farrell skits from Saturday Night Live.

With plenty of amenities for driver and passengers, the MDX made our 2-hour drive home quick and painless.  We quite enjoyed the heated/ventilated seats and the ELS audio system to the fullest.  Even at 65-75 mph, the MDX was quiet and refined.  The adaptive cruise control & lane departure systems (as also found on the recently reviewed RLX) added safety and ease to my driving experience.  All-in, this MDX retailed for $57,400.  For those interested in knowing, I averaged 20.7 miles per gallon with my lead foot, right in line with the EPA 21 mpg overall rating.

dirty_mdx

mdx_pathfinder_lancer

Pro:

  • Very solid, premium materials.  “I love the feel of this leather,” said my friend Jason.
  • Cavernous (and very usable) storage.  Even the center console is huge enough to accommodate a purse or small laptop.  I stored a hooded sweatshirt and my camera in there.
  • Nice luxury touches.  The interior door handles are backlit by blue LED lights at night.
  • Ride quality both on- and off-road.  The MDX is extremely versatile – a true go-anywhere vehicle.
  • Comfort & convenience is top notch. Tri-zone climate control makes everyone happy.

Con:

  • Touch-screen is subject to glare and fingerprints, both of which impeded my visibility at certain times of day.
  • Entertainment system operation somewhat complex to learn.  One of my passengers said, “Kids would never figure this out.”  To which another said, “They’d probably figure it out faster than we are.”

Final Take

When the 2014 MDX showed up in my driveway last Wednesday, I text messaged a picture of it to a friend. “I’ve always liked the MDX,” he said, “… for upple-middle class mommies.”  Indeed, this vehicle is a home run with families.  It’s the SUV that moms choose when they’ve become too good for a Honda Odyssey minivan.  But in my week with the MDX, I became convinced that there’s so much more to this vehicle than just being a complacent people-hauler.  It’s equally at home on a dusty, remote mountain road as it is in a strip mall parking lot.

The MDX is the perfect match for anyone who needs all-terrain, all-weather capability but who doesn’t want to sacrifice creature comforts.  I only wish it had rained torrential downpours on Saturday so I could return the vehicle to Acura wearing a thick layer of well-earned mud.  Thanks to Acura for letting me take the MDX for a whirl!

Check out the rest of the pics and video from our day below.

Washing cars before the drive.  Only a true car fanatic would do such a thing.  Nick and Kurt wiping down the Nissan 300ZX convertible.

nick_kurt_washing_z

Matt’s Pathfinder was an Australian-spec, right-hand-drive vehicle.

matt_in_rhd_pathfinder

Breakfast of champions.  Or, breakfast of fatties.  Waffle House is a great place to start the day.

waffle_house_breakfast

Arrival at Tortilla Flat, Arizona:  This place was once a stagecoach stop and is now a popular tourist destination for those exploring the Superstition Mountains.

z_arrival_tortilla_flat

We happened to arrive shortly after a group of Mustang owners, so we backed our 3-row SUVs in as if we belonged there.

suvs_with_mustangs

Road conditions got progressively worse as we distanced ourselves from civilization at Tortilla Flat.

tortilla_creek

Corralling the troops for a quick chat before beginning our next leg.

group_at_tortilla_flat

Tyson, Paul, Conor.  I don’t remember what I was gesturing for.

tyson_paul_conor_tortilla_flat

Finally, feeding the MDX a taste of Arizona dirt.

mdx_on_apache_trail

As the Apache Trail made its way toward Roosevelt Lake, there are dozens of opportunities for shots like these.  Views are spectacular year-round.  Here, the MDX was in the lead with the Pathfinder and the Lancer following behind.

apache_trail_cars

We made a stop at the Fish Creek bridge to do a little hiking.  It was perfect weather outside, after all.

mdx_fish_creek_bridge

The MDX “Jewel Eye” headlights mirror those found in its RLX sedan sibling.

mdx_lancer_at_fish_creek

This bridge dates back to the early 1900′s when construction workers used the Apache Trail to deliver supplies for construction of the Roosevelt Dam.

nick_kurt_at_fish_creek

Hiking around a little – Nick, Alan, Matt, Ian, and Conor

group_at_fish_creek_2

Back to the vehicles we go.

pathfinder_mdx_lancer

A layer of dust descended on the formerly nice MDX paintjob.

dusty_mdx

Here’s where we tried out some of the MDX’s people-hauling skills, with rows 1, 2, and 3 each filled with 2 passengers.  Nick and Kurt tried out the back.

nick_kurt_mdx_backseat

Conor and I rode up front.

group_in_mdx

Kurt says I always capture him pointing.  So, he found something to point at!

kurt_pointing

Ian’s Lancer looked right at home on the Apache Trail as well – ready to rally.

ian_lancer

I was impressed with how well Ian’s car was able to keep up with the SUVs in our caravan.

ian_lancer_on_bridge

I’ve blogged before about the 357-foot-tall Roosevelt Dam.

roosevelt_dam

As well as the 1,080-foot-long bypass bridge on Highway 188.

group_at_roosevelt_lake

I’d definitely say we were inspired by the Inspiration Point Interpretive Overlook.

inspiration_point

On the way home, Conor and Brad test drove the Entertainment system, which came with a 16.2″ wide-screen monitor and wireless headsets.

conor_brad

Here’s that center console I was writing about earlier.  Massive space!

mdx_console

Time for an MDX bath with the help of friends.  I did a great job supervising this effort while Conor, Paul, and Brad slaved away.

group_washing_mdx

Conor drives a silver Acura TSX so he knows all-too-well how to keep an Acura looking shiny.

conor_washing_mdx

The MDX and its sibling ILX share a family resemblance but each vehicle has a distinct purpose.

fronts_ilx_mdx

Signing out until next time!

mdx_interior_at_night

13 Responses to “Drive to Five Review: 2014 Acura MDX”

  1. My wife and I drove the Apache Trail (in our 2010 MDX) several years ago, so your story brought back good memories.

    • Hey, thanks for the comment! Interestingly enough, we did encounter another MDX on the drive. Seems other people have discovered what a neat route it is – and the MDX is great vehicle to experience it with. Hope your 2010 is still serving you well.

      • There were also a few scary moments when we encountered trucks pulling boats around sharp corners! Even though the signs clearly said that they were not allowed.

        We have since upgraded to a 2014 MDX Advance model, so would like to do the trail again in it.

  2. nice trip. So do the cooled seats really get “cool?” The ones in my wife’s Expedition just kind of blow a bit of cool air. LOL

    • Dave, yeah they do definitely get cool! When I was wearing gym shorts it got downright chilly with the system turned on. Pretty sweet ride that MDX is. Just got home from the LA Auto Show – lots to share in a couple of days after I go through pics.

  3. Tyson Hugie:

    Part time Reviewer, Full time Acura enthusiast.

    Never a dull moment, never a disappointing blog to read.

  4. Tyson, I was pretty impressed with the MDX. I loved the first generation and really wanted my Dad to get one back then. When the second gen came out, I was a little disappointed. Based on your review here and that short drive I took, I think I’d say I’d recommend it to anyone looking for an upscale midsized SUV. Looks like you guys had a ton of fun and it handled what you threw at it well. Keep the reviews coming!

    • Will do, Jason! Yeah glad you were able to take it for a quick spin during your cruise through Phoenix last weekend. You timed that trip just right! I’m not yet sure what vehicle I’ll be reviewing next, but it’s great to get some seat-time in a wide variety of cars. Now if I can just pull enough strings to get myself into a 2015 NSX… Hehehehe.

  5. A friend in Vegas has a MDX and hers has over 200K miles, still ‘runs perfect’!

  6. Nice write-up and I agree with your take on the MDX, based on the brief test drive I took of one a little over a week ago. It really still carries over most of the best traits of the last generation and adds a few major improvements, like the center console interface. We are expecting to swap out our 2012 model with a brand new 2014 FWD version in a little over a week and will be taking the opportunity to do some long-term write-ups of it.

    -East Brother

    • Kevin, I look forward to seeing your assessment of the latest MDX in detail. I haven’t spent much time with the outgoing model, though my dad has a 2013 Advance and loves it. If I had a need for a people-hauler, MDX would be at the top of my list but it’s too much vehicle for me at this point. RDX might work well for some of my off-roading escapades. Maybe I’ll add one of those to the stable someday. Hope you had a nice weekend!

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