Review and photos by Michael Bettencourt

Newburg, OR – Can conservative and classy trump avante garde and thirsty? That’s the big question with this all-new 2014 Acura MDX, which has moved away from its former manufacturing home in Alliston, Ontario, and is now starting to roll off the line in Lincoln, Alabama, with deliveries slated to start in July.

2014 Acura MDX
2014 Acura MDX. Click image to enlarge

As Canada’s bestselling three-row luxury SUV, the Acura MDX is one of the key pillars of Honda’s upscale brand in this country, and its bestselling model over the past six years. Yet the brand went through a period where its sharper, more aggressive styling – especially on its sedans, but to a lesser degree on its SUVs – were not universally well-received. As such, it has turned around with much more conservative designs lately, last year’s all-new but tamely styled RDX being a prime example, and this new third generation MDX following in that more cautious design direction.

Judging from the RDX’s increasing sales, which in 2013 are quickly closing in on the MDX for Acura’s top-seller status, buyers of such upscale SUVs tend to favour modern but conservative looks. The MDX is an inoffensively handsome luxury SUV, but stylists may have been a touch too cautious for some beholders, and from various angles, many would be hard-pressed to tell if this is an Acura or Infiniti JX 35. My driving partner for this preview event, coming from lunch and heading back into our silver MDX Elite tester, accidentally stepped into a silver support RDX parked nearby – twice.

2014 Acura MDX
2014 Acura MDX. Click image to enlarge

He and others looking for new styling cues to help identify the new MDX should look for the tighter LED headlights, which are now five small circular LEDs that allow the overall size of the headlights to be smaller and sleeker. This is now the signature styling change, with the rest of the shape largely remaining the same, outside of a sharp body crease starting from the lower fender line before fading into the rear doors.

The exterior size of the new MDX is longer but narrower, increasing 50 mm in length, but also becoming 32 mm narrower, to address concerns that the MDX was just a touch too wide for some garages. Overall, passenger volume is down from before, from 4,015 litres to 3,747, but there’s now a sliding second row seat, so passengers in the back two rows can adjust legroom to suit. Also, there’s now a clever button at the base of the second row, which tilts and slides the seat forward slickly with one touch, making it easier for folks to climb in and out of the third row.

After seeing this, the third row now in view, my drive partner and I looked at each other: “After you?” I said hopefully. No, okay, I’ll do it. Clambering into the third row of any SUV is usually awkward for adults, but the relatively clear path helped here – it was no sliding door minivan, but fine. Returning the second row seat back to upright and locked needed some careful maneuvering to preserve my legs, but once ensconced back there, headroom for my near six-foot height was actually good, though the low-mounted seat had my knees pointing skyward.

2014 Acura MDX2014 Acura MDX
2014 Acura MDX. Click image to enlarge

Once back there, the extra-wide 16.2-inch roof-mounted screen on this Elite tester (nine-inch on Tech trim) instead of the dual screens in the front head restrains used by some rivals means that third row passengers can still see those screens, thus avoiding at least one cause of potential sibling warfare. There was another button on the seat back that was handy to let me out, too.

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