2014 Acura MDX Driving Impressions

Best part of the 2014 Acura MDX is the powertrain, no doubt. We say that about a lot of BMWs, too. Handling is crisp. The faster you drive the new MDX, the better it feels. Despite having a bit less horsepower and torque, it accelerates a bit quicker. Redline is 6700 rpm, and the engine eagerly sprints there, no screaming when it's there. On the racecar, the engine screams.

The 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters and a sport mode is flawless, or at least no flaws appeared during our shared one-day test drive. It's super smooth and quick shifting. We liked that when you use the paddles, it doesn't automatically go into sport mode, it shifts while staying in Drive. We also liked that it's not programmed to out-think you, it does what it's told and no more (although it upshifts at 6500 to out-think your idea of blowing up the engine). In sport mode, the shifts get more aggressive. Another thing that happens is the exhaust note is programmed to growl a bit. Woohoo.

The new rear suspension delivers an excellent ride, we found no jagged spots. The rear dampers mount directly to the rigid rear frame, as opposed to the more flexible rear wheelhouse on the previous model; this allows softer bushings, without sacrificing handling. The MDX platform is prepared for the new two-wheel-drive model, with the engine lowered 1.2 inches.

Acura's IDS, Integrated Dynamics System, uses three modes: Comfort, Normal and Sport. The modes try to give you what you want, by balancing steering effort, throttle response, torque to the wheels, and, to enhance the fun, Active Noise Control. In sport mode you get a rumble, from microphones under the hood and in the tailpipe, enhanced by a subwoofer and wired to a speaker in the headliner.

Suspension settings are not a part of IDS because the shock absorbers already respond to conditions. We found the ride never too stiff and never too soft, challenged over a curvy patchy road. We felt the steering stiffen and quicken, in IDS sport mode, making it easier to keep the vehicle pointed true, in corners and on ripples.

The brakes in the 2014 MDX deliver better stopping distances. They're very big, 12.6-inch vented discs in front, and 13.0-inch solid discs in rear, with all the electronic assistance.

Meanwhile, you've got Agile Handling Assist going on. Standard on the 2014 MDX, it uses the brakes to improve corner tracking, by applying them to individual wheels, which puts turning forces on the car. In the direction you want. This is all in addition to Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), which throws out all the stops to maintain control in dodgy situations.

Rolling resistance is a force that carmakers are looking at closely, because it's important to fuel mileage. An Acura engineer invented his own test, to see. In a 70-0 mph coast-down, the 2014 MDX rolled 1600 feet farther than a 2013, an improvement of 19 percent.

The MDX improvement comes from new low-drag brakes, a lightweight low-drag hub and wheel bearing, and reduced rolling-resistance tires. And the improved aerodynamics, of course, including airflow over the low-profile 19.5-gallon fuel tank, that's got more than 500 miles of driving it. On Premium gasoline, so it'll be $80 fill-ups.

We've saved the worst for last. The good news is it's an option. In the safety package, besides the annoying Lane Departure Warning and Adaptive Cruise Control, there's Forward Collision Warning, upping the bar of capability. When Volvo invented the system, it prevented low-speed rear-enders and hitting pedestrians. Now in the MDX you can drive in 30-mph stop-and-go traffic without using your feet at all.

We did just that. It's true, you can. You just won't want to, because it's so jerky, and the lag time will have all the cars behind you mad at you for not closing the gap. It works by radar, maintaining a set distance behind the car in front of you, so basically that guy has his foot on your throttle and brakes. So you'll keep turning it on and off, and if you forget it's off and, being accustomed to expecting it to save your butt, it won't, and you might more likely crash than if you never had it in the first place.

Don't expect these systems to go away. Expect cars to come with black boxes so your driving can be monitored, like your phone calls, emails and web surfing. You'll get tickets by mail, and if you don't pay them the black helicopters will come for you. That is, if you're allowed to drive your car at all.

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