For years, the term "all new" has been an abused and incorrectly applied phrase in the lexicon of automotive jargon.
However it's exactly the right term to describe the 2014 Acura MDX. This premium-grade seven-passenger wagon shares nothing with its predecessor and also breaks new ground in content, technology and fuel efficiency.
Of course the shape and familial shield-type grille are dead giveaways as to the MDX's origins. But a slightly lower roofline, a three-inch stretch between the front and rear wheels and a two-inch gain in overall length makes it appear larger than the tape measure suggests. The new MDX conveys a stronger sense of luxury, especially with its "Jewel Eye" headlights that have become the signature styling item for the Acura brand.
Although cargo volume has been slightly reduced, functionality has improved with added length behind the third-row seat. There's also a flatter load floor when both rear rows are folded.
The MDX has supportive front-row buckets and an adjustable second row with nearly six inches of fore/aft travel. That creates a decent passageway to the third row that's suitable for a couple of kids, but remains a penalty box for adults. To assist, however, there are illuminated buttons on each side and behind the second-row bench that, when pushed, make the seat slide forward for easier entry and exit.
Up front, an extra-deep floor console offers storage space for bulky purses as well as a separate bin for wallets and cell phones. Button clutter on the redesigned dashboard and control panel is reduced to nine from 41 as the rest are now incorporated into a console-mounted dial plus a touch-screen display for the audio, communications and climate-control systems.
For the driver, a simple display between the speedometer and tachometer shows basic navigation and audio info plus outside temperature, average speed and fuel consumption.
The previous MDX featured a firmed-up ride and sporty (as in high-effort) steering, but customer feedback showed that that's not the priority. The 2014 model goes the other way, now, with a more supple ride and lighter steering. The MDX drives like an upscale wagon should, but is in no way bouncy or sloppy over rough surfaces.
The finished product now rests on an all-new (there's that term again) and more rigid platform, complete with front and rear suspensions specifically designed to improve ride and reduce annoying road noises.
Acura claims the more aerodynamic body structure weighs 123 pounds less and, combined with other measures, contributes to a total 275-pound weight trimming (for comparison, the Audi Q7 is heavier by nearly 1,000 pounds).
Another area of reduction is the 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 that replaces the 300-horsepower 3.7. Smaller, yes, but no one will be the wiser since the 3.5's torque rating is within three pound-feet (267 at 4,500 r.p.m. versus 270 at 5,000 r.p.m.) of the 3.7 and the lighter MDX moves about as smartly and smoothly as ever. It's also more fuel efficient, with an estimated 18-mpg city rating and 27 mpg on the highway, bettering the previous 16/21 marks. That's close to 30 percent better on the highway.
Those numbers improve to 20/28 for front-wheel-drive MDX, which is a first for the brand and reduces the base all-wheel-drive's starting price of $45,200 by a further $2,000. Fully loaded with AWD, up-level Technology and Advance entertainment packages, the MDX tops $57,000.
The two-grand premium for the improved AWD system seems worth it, considering how well it aids bad-weather grip and works with the braking system to help keep the MDX on its intended path in the turns (called torque vectoring). It certainly demonstrated its abilities by keeping the MDX on track while traversing Oregon's rain-soaked secondary roads.
No matter how you slice it, the MDX's improved status will score major points with buyers and give the proper meaning to the term "all new."
What you should know: 2014 Acura MDX
Type: Four-door, front- /all-wheel-drive sport utility vehicle
Engine (hp): 3.5-liter DOHC V6 (290)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Market position: In a category featuring numerous seven- and eight- passenger competitors, the MDX remains one of the more popular luxury wagons on the market and is a major driving force in Acura's lineup.
Points: More tightly proportioned, but improved space use; Lighter-but-stronger body structure isolates noise better and is stronger; Significant reduction in fuel consumption, especially on the highway; Third-row access is improved, but remains a tight squeeze; Plenty of leading-edge safety features available, but price increases accordingly.
Safety: Front airbags; side-impact airbags; side-curtain airbags; anti-lock brakes; traction control; stability control.
MPG: (city/hwy) 18/27 (AWD);
Base price: (incl. destination) $43,200
Base price: $41,400
New-for-2013 luxury wagon qualifies as the MDX's prime competitor.
Base price: $39,300
Updated-for-2013 model features sharp looks and spacious interior.
Base price: $46,200
Not a top competitor, but worth a look for its content and power options