Three-row family wagons are very popular on the U.S. market and not so long ago car makers did not pay too much attention to design of these vehicles but it is quite obvious that this is changing. On this market we have few really strong competitors like Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota Highlander, Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot and Acura MDX. Comparison of 2014 Honda Pilot and 2014 Acura MDX is something that will be interesting to buyers so we are delivering this article.
Though the Pilot might have a more rugged look, it’s still a crossover tried and true, with a standout interior package and an excellent drivetrain, though we have nits to pick with its fit and finish, and features and equipment.
Especially if you’re a household that eschews minivans yet needs a roomy interior, and three rows of seating, the 2013 Pilot remains one of the best picks. The overtly boxy body yields an especially roomy interior, as well as great versatility for busy weekend-hauling needs. Yet with a carlike unibody design, bolstered structurally with some of the benefits of an SUV, the Pilot is able to draw from the best of both worlds.
A five-speed automatic transmission is paired with the familiar 250-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 in the Pilot, and it altogether keeps with Honda’s smooth, responsive, and sweet-sounding reputation for these powertrains. EPA highway ratings are now up to 25 mpg, making it one of the most fuel-efficient three-row vehicles.
Once you get past the initial surprise of the tall driving position, you’ll find handling to be reasonably crisp, with good maneuverability. Ride quality is on the firm side, but the optional four-wheel-drive (actually all-wheel drive) system has a Lock mode and is a champ in deep snow or mud. Four-wheel-drive models can tow up to 4,500 pounds.
The Pilot has for years been a top safety achiever, and it includes side-curtain bags cover all three rows, along with the usual roster of security items. For 2013, a rearview camera system is standard on all models and helps with visibility, which can be an issue in the blocky, tall Pilot.
The 2013 Honda Pilot remains offered in four different trim levels: LX, EX, EX-L, and Touring. All four are offered in 2WD or 4WD, but beyond that you need to ante up to one of the top two trims in order to get a lot of the more desirable options and convenience features.
We recommend the more affordable LX and EX models, as they’re a better value and don’t overlap in pricing with some luxury vehicles, as top-of-the-line Limited models do. They include rear air conditioning, keyless entry, cruise control, and a seven-speaker sound system. Leather upholstery, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, USB/iPod connectivity, a power tailgate, and a navigation system all remain only available on the EX-L and Touring–a serious impediment to broader sales success.
Blockbuster sequels are all about one-upmanship—more explosions mean more popcorn sales. Luxury carmakers generally follow Hollywood’s lead, with horsepower standing in for special effects. So when Acura introduced a redesigned but less powerful MDX, we were puzzled. Then it said the three-row SUV would, for the first time, be available in a dumbed-down, front-wheel-drive model.
Acura didn’t have a front-drive MDX at our preview, but a few hours behind the wheel of the all-wheel-drive 2014 MDX convinced us we needn’t have worried.
The old MDX had 300 horsepower that bellowed, “Prepare for glory!” like so many Spartan warriors in a Gerard Butler movie that, although critically panned, has lately developed a cult following. Anyway. That 3.7-liter V-6 has been supplanted by a version of the 3.5-liter V-6 from the RLX sedan. Here, it’s rated at 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque and still mounted transversely. With variable valve timing and lift (a.k.a. VTEC), direct injection, and cylinder deactivation, the new V-6 screams efficiency nearly as loudly, helping the MDX’s EPA-combined rating jump from 18 mpg to 21, with highway fuel economy hitting 27 even with four-wheel drive.
A new platform makes its debut here, developed just for the MDX (at least for now). Cutting ties with the rest of Honda’s light trucks, which shared architecture with the Odyssey minivan, helped the MDX drop 275 pounds compared with the old model. The body in white saw 123 pounds trimmed, thanks to the increased use of high-strength steel. A new rear-suspension design netted a 26-pound weight saving. The diet means the MDX’s power-to-weight ratio improves, despite the reduced output of the smaller engine.
The carry-over six-speed automatic isn’t great. Whether in Sport mode or through the steering-wheel-mounted paddles, shifts aren’t as quick as those executed by state-of-the-art seven- or eight-speed automatics offered by German competitors. Acura replaced the old MDX’s dual exhausts with a new single pipe hiding behind the rear bumper, a disappearing act that mirrors what happened to most of the noisiness of the old MDX. Better sealing and insulation and thicker acoustical glass quiet the cabin enough that you’ll be able to hear the kids whispering insults to each other in the third row, at least up until 4950 rpm. That’s the threshold where the VTEC kicks in for a 1850-rpm howl to the redline.
Both the middle and rear seats now fold flat, and one-touch third-row access means kids can climb aboard unassisted. Pressing either of two buttons—one on the back of the seat or one on the side, both lit at night—slides the second row all the way forward on tracks that permit fore-and-aft adjustment. Two optional DVD screens, one of which is able to display two programs side by side, make the MDX a veritable multiplex.
Appointments in the MDX have been upgraded throughout, with more leather and nicer metal and wood accents, although the materials are still entry-luxury grade. The RLX has a cameo in the cabin, too, donating optional safety features such as lane-departure warning and adaptive cruise, which can decelerate to zero in stop-and-go traffic and start up again.
As in the RLX, a haptic touch screen sits below the main infotainment screen. This is Acura’s attempt to clean up the dashboard-by-Boeing look of the old MDX, with its dial controller and dozens of buttons. It’s an improvement, but the digital buttons aren’t any more logically deployed than the real ones were.
A wheelbase that grows by 2.7 inches helps improve the ride quality, and two extra inches in length add cargo capacity. The new model sits an inch closer to the ground, nominally reducing its off-road capabilities, and Acura shrunk the MDX more than an inch in width to make it easier to park. This does tighten up the passenger compartment, but it’s still comfortably roomy. The new dimensions hurt weight distribution a bit, with front bias up two percent to 58.
You’d never know it, however, thanks to Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. This is still the MDX’s signature feature, and a new calibration in Sport mode sends even more torque to the outside rear wheel, speeding directional changes so much that you’ll have to dial back your normal steering inputs. Selecting Sport on the MDX’s integrated dynamics system (IDS) sharpens throttle response and adds heft to the wheel. The steering is quicker than in the old model, and weighting is as good, regardless of the switch from hydraulic to electric assist.
Acura swapped out the old model’s rear multilink suspension for a more compact setup with coil-over shocks. The subframe now has extra bracing and more substantial body mounts. The damping is firm, and body motions are controlled well enough to provide encouragement while still serving as reminders that you’re in a 4350-pound vehicle. The brake feel improves with more immediate bite and better modulation. Acura’s Agile Handling Assist appears here, as in the RLX, using the brakes during initial turn-in to help induce rotation. Combined with the SH-AWD, the two types of torque vectoring work seamlessly to help the MDX banish understeer when driven hard.
And drive hard you shall, because the 2014 MDX remains among the sportiest and most dynamic three-row SUVs extant. Sure, there will be customers lining up for the front-drive, minivan-surrogate model. They will be the same ones who will lock the IDS setting in Comfort, boosting the steering assist and erasing any feel. Regardless of this concession to the audience, Acura still regards the MDX as a vehicle worthy of carrying the tag line “from the producers of the NSX.” And we’re inclined to agree.
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