Rating: 7.5
Bottom Line:
The controversial “beak” remains, but the number of revisions to the 2014 MDX suggest Acura is trying to make it all things for all people. It’s close, but these changes come at the cost of a slightly duller and cheaper-feeling MDX.
Pros:
  • Active Sound Control allows great engine noise in Sport mode
  • Integrated Dynamics System is a long-awaited addition
  • New body styling makes for a good-looking vehicle
Cons:
  • Why does the "beak" remain?
  • Steering unnecessarily softened, with little feedback
  • New interior too sparse and Honda-like for Acura

View Pictures:  2014 Acura MDX

The outgoing MDX was a good SUV, a winning combination of luxury, comfort and capable performance. Consumer and critical issues with the MDX were minor; most had to do with simplifying the spaceship-like controls cluttering its instrument panel. Driving the all-new 2014 MDX, however, feels like Acura overcompensated for issues real and imagined. The new MDX is still a good SUV, and some new features bring welcome changes, but it doesn't feel as exclusive and engaging as it once did.

Model lineup
The 2014 Acura MDX is a 5-door SUV that comes standard with a power moonroof and LED headlights. The Technology package adds a 501-watt 10-speaker stereo, navigation, and safety systems including forward collision warning and lane departure warning. The Technology and Entertainment package adds a 529-watt 11-speaker stereo system, a 115-volt outlet, and a rear entertainment system with 9-inch display, a DVD player and two wireless headsets. The Advance and Entertainment package bumps the stereo to 546 watts with 12 speakers and includes a rear entertainment system with a 16.2-inch display, adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation braking system, lane keeping assist, ventilated front seats, leather interior, remote engine start and parking sensors at the front and rear. The base MDX comes with 18-inch alloy wheels while all other packages get 19-inch wheels.

Under the hood
All 2014 MDX models come with Acura's 3.5-liter direct-injected V6 engine with intelligent-variable-valve timing and variable cylinder management. The V6 produces 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm. The only transmission available is a 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The 2014 MDX editions are available with Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive or, for the first time, front-wheel drive.

Inner space
It's not the roominess or comfort where the interior of the 2014 MDX falls short; it's in the materials that the driver sees and touches while inside. Acura chose to respond to complaints that the MDX's controls were too cluttered and busy — which was true of the 2013 MDX — but in a way that leaves the 2014's instrument panel looking a bit bare and cheap. The added controls to the steering wheel are intuitive enough, but now it looks a little cluttered, too. Somehow, despite the wall of buttons, switches, etc., on the old MDX's interior control panels, it just looked better than this new one.

The 2014 MDX's dash and instrument panel feels more Honda than Acura. While there's nothing inherently wrong with that, it's not reflective of the Acura experience. All is not lost, however. The push-button rear-seat access is especially convenient, although it can be a pain to return the seatback to its original position. One thing Acura nailed is pairing the Active Sound Control system to its Integrated Dynamics system, allowing more of the V6's noise into the cabin when in Sport mode. The 3.5-liter V6 engine has always sounded good; it's nice to be able to hear it better.

On the road
Another reported quibble with the outgoing MDX was that its steering required too much effort, although we beg to differ. Nevertheless, Acura has installed an electronic power steering system that has a 10 percent faster ratio than the old setup, yet it still feels far too soft. We're not sure that the new steering will have anyone talking, except to note how much better it used to be. But that's the standard electric power steering gripe.

There's a new multilink rear suspension setup replacing the old trailing arms, and with the all-wheel drive, the MDX still performs well. The Integrated Dynamics system sees Acura finally following the German builders with a pushbutton setup and performance settings including Normal, Comfort and Sport modes. (Sport mode is intriguing, but the traction control nannies will shut you down if you start having too much "fun.") The V6 is still a great engine, but without downsizing and turbocharging, or the option of a 7- or 8-speed transmission, gas mileage returns aren't anything to brag about. MDX all-wheel-drive variants rate at 18 mpg city/27 mpg highway/21 mpg combined, with front-wheel-drive models faring a bit better at 20/28/23 mpg.

Right for you?
The 2014 Acura MDX will go on sale in early July. Both front- and all-wheel-drive versions will be available in base trim or with the Technology, Technology and Entertainment, or Advance and Entertainment packages. Prices range from $42,290 to $54,505 for front- drive MDX models, and $44,290 to $56,505 for MDXs with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Those looking for an up-market 7-seater SUV will find many aspects of the 2014 MDX compelling, especially its comfort and available entertainment packages. In an increasingly crowded $40,000-to-$50,000 SUV market, the 2014 MDX seems a bit underwhelming when up against competitors such as the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, but the Acura's more basic layout and softer feel may win some consumers over.

(As part of a sponsored press event, the automaker provided MSN with travel and accommodations to facilitate this report.)

James Tate cut his teeth in the business as a race team crew member before moving to the editorial side as Senior Editor of Sport Compact Car, and his work has appeared in Popular Mechanics, Automobile, Motor Trend and European Car. When not writing, Tate is usually fantasizing about a vintage Porsche 911.