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For 2014, Acura SUV adds comfort, uses less gas

Overall Rating
A conservative yet worthwhile remake of the seven-seat luxury SUV sales leader. You’ll like this vehicle if: you’re a soccer/hockey parent.
Looks Rating
Refined and mature, characterized by five round LED headlights shaped to lead into a metallic “headband” in the grille. Anonymous otherwise.
Interior Rating
Huge improvement aesthetically, down from 41 buttons to nine, but still more sleekly advanced tech than luxuriously rich.
Ride Rating
Right up there with the Lexus RX350 as one of the smoothest-riding in the business.
Safety Rating
The first ultra-high strength steel door “stiffener ring,” driver’s knee airbag, electronic aids and e-mail/text reading capabilities.
Green Rating
Extra fuel efficiency is a major plus, but no hybrid or plug-in.

Acura has a curious target in its sights with the all-new redesigned seven-passenger MDX luxury SUV: the five-passenger Lexus RX 350 luxury SUV. Both are the best-sellers in their respective classes, but Acura believes that the additional seats, room, comfort and fuel economy it has wrung from its top-selling SUV may be enough to supplant the Lexus people-mover.

This used to be a battle of two Ontario-built luxury crossovers, but MDX production has moved from Alliston, Ont., and is now starting to roll off the line in Lincoln, Ala., with deliveries slated to start in July. Importantly for this battle, Acura has dropped the base price to less than $50,000, or much closer to the $45,000 starting price range of a base RX.

Style-wise, the MDX takes on a more refined but still conservative look. A fellow tester on this preview event through Oregon back roads, heading back into our silver MDX Elite tester, accidentally stepped into the driver's seat of a silver support RDX parked nearby – more than once. The MDX's five new small circular LEDs that allow the overall size of the headlights to be tighter and sleeker is the big styling giveaway that this is a 2014 model, as is a sharp body crease starting from the lower fender line that fades into the rear doors.

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The interior received a much more extensive makeover. Rear cargo room is boosted by its 50-mm increase in length, but it has also become 32 mm narrower, as Acura reported that some owners felt it had become a touch too wide for their garage. Passenger volume is up for the front row, but down for those in rows two and three. There is now a sliding second-row seat, so passengers in the back two rows can adjust legroom to suit.

Plus there's now a clever one-touch button at the base of the second row, which tilts and slides the seat forward slickly, making it easier for nimble folks to squeeze their way to the third row, although it's still impossible to beat a minivan for third-row access. There's also another button up high on the seat back that folds the second-row seat forward easily, making quick jump-outs easier for smaller kids.

Even parents with only two children will appreciate the roof-mounted screens, either nine inches or a massive 16.2-inches on Elite models, since ever-arguing siblings can be separated by row, and not whine that they no longer can see the screen, which is the main problem with the dual screens in the back of the head restraints on some competing models. For parents with three or more children, the large screen can be split in two to show two different movies, while the standard 115-volt outlet allows iPads and gaming systems not to lose charge on long journeys.

Up front, the interior retains a high-tech look, but now in a minimalist design. The lower screen and mouse-like controller helps reduce the button count to nine from the visual and sensory overload of 41 that wallpapered the previous centre console. There are more controls now on the steering wheel, including two scroll wheels and a trip meter button, which seems a touch overboard, but also a welcome heated steering wheel, though the lovely cooled seats are reserved for the MDX's top $65,990 Elite trim.

Maybe the trip meter is now front and centre because Acura wants to encourage its owners to take note of its improved fuel efficiency. From close to the bottom of this class, the Acura is now near the top of non-hybrid rivals, even compared to most luxury V-6 five-seaters, thanks to a crash diet of 131 kg, reduced rolling resistance through tires and aerodynamics, as well as a new, smaller displacement 3.5-litre V-6 engine that's a touch less powerful than the outgoing 3.7, but more efficient, with official Canadian ratings of 11.2 litres/100 km city and 7.7 highway, compared to the '13 MDX's 13.2 city/9.6 highway.

Surely, the increased fuel efficiency will be appreciated by more consumers than the few ponies lost will be lamented, especially since the 0-100 km/h dash is still half a second quicker. The standard paddle shifters indicate a desire for performance that's backed up by its torque-vectoring SH-AWD system, though the six-speed automatic transmission seems down a gear or two of the leaders.

The overwhelming feeling of comfort, quiet and isolation in this MDX contrasts with the louder engine and tighter body motions of its BMW and Infiniti rivals. The 2014 Acura MDX is therefore much more Lexus-like, even if they're no longer built in the same province.

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Tech specs

2014 Acura MDX

Type: Mid-size seven-seat luxury SUV

Base price: $49,990; as tested, $65,990

Engine: 3.5-litre, SOHC, V-6 with cylinder deactivation

Horsepower/torque: 290 hp/267 lb-ft

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Transmission: Six-speed automatic with paddle shifters

Drive: All-wheel with torque vectoring

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.2 city/7.7 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mercedes-Benz ML 350, Infiniti JX 35, Lexus RX 350 2014

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