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What’s the safest vehicle you can buy today?  It may well be the 2014 and 2015 Acura MDX, especially among vehicles for 6 or more passengers.  It aced the IIHS crash tests, achieving a “Good” result in every test and in every single sub-category evaluation for each of those tests.  It’s the only 3-row vehicle to accomplish that!  With the tech package, it earns a “Basic” IIHS front crash prevention score and a Top Safety Pick+ rating.  The Advance package has a full set of advanced safety features including autobrake and active lane keep assist, earning an “Advanced” IIHS front crash prevention rating.  It also earned a 5-star NHTSA overall crash rating, with 5-stars in all five crash tests as well!  It’s one of a few SUVs and minivans that earned a top overall ratings from both agencies, and one of a handful of vehicles in any class to get top results in each and every crash test from both agencies.  At nearly 4400 lbs., it has the advantage of weight in a frontal crash combined with handling that is better than average for a midsize SUV.

What You Get:

The MDX was redesigned for 2014 and the 2015 model reviewed here is essentially identical.  Acura really left nothing on the table when it comes to safety, except that more of these features could be standard or at least available on the base model.  You sort of expect to pay more for advanced safety features on mainstream sedan, but when Subaru offers them for less than $1200 on most of its family vehicles, even mid-level trim versions, we do wonder what some luxury brands are thinking when it comes to a 3-row family hauler.

For example, with the MDX, you must add the $4,300 Tech package to get the Blind Spot Information system, a basic Forward Collision Warning system and Lane Departure Warning.  Definitely opt for at least this trim level.  To equip a frontal crash prevention system competitive with the $1,200 Subaru Eyesight system, you must tack on over $12,000 to get the Advance Package with Entertainment Package.  Yes, that is 10x the cost to protect your family!  The Advance package adds an IIHS Advanced rated Collision Mitigation autobrake system with front seatbelt pretentioners as well as a Lane Keeping Assist system.  You also get the handy Adaptive Cruise Control with the unique low-speed follow system and an array of parking assist sensors.  I’m not a fan of leather seats without ventilation in the summer, but Acura also forces you to buy the most expensive model to get this feature as well.

mdxheadlightAside from these marketing issues, the MDX is quite simply an excellent vehicle.  Plus, with the new 3.5L engine, fuel economy got a nice bump and you can now order a 2WD version with even better gas mileage, up to 20mpg city.  The styling is sharp and more aggressive than the previous generation.  The Jewel Eye headlight treatment is very slick.  Kudos to Acura for avoiding the trend to add ubiquitous Christmas tree running lights around their headlights.  The interior is also very nice, though I wish luxury manufacturers would use more realistic-looking wood trim if they must use wood grain at all in their interiors.

The Drive:

Unlike the Infiniti QX60 I drove recently, the MDX is a much nicer driver’s vehicle.  The Integrated Dynamics system is adjustable.  I prefer the Sport setting for a heavier steering feel and a little more performance tuned throttle and more aggressive transfer of power in turns.  A driver with another keyfob could have their preferences saved to Comfort, for easier turns and more conservative throttle.  A nice setup that automatically switches for each driver!  In any setting, the MDX is a better handling ride than the QX60 and many other larger midsize SUVs.   The only peculiar thing I noticed is a little cabin vibration at idle, mostly on the steering wheel and armrest.

acuramdxwheelI also found the transmission to be very smooth overall, but perhaps a bit quick to downshift in Sport mode when coasting.  Paddle shifters let you override this one quibble.  Acceleration, emergency handling and braking all seemed competent overall.  Zero complaints.  No, it’s not like a sport sedan, but it’s far superior to any truck-based SUV.  The 290 hp V6 engine has plenty of power, but can also shut off three cylinders to bump its fuel economy to 20/28/23 in 2WD trim and 18/27/21 with SH-AWD.  My SH-AWD tester managed 19mpg around town.  Not all that good overall, but still respectable for the class.  With the optional tow package, you can pull 5,000 pounds.

Access is pretty easy front and back, even for kids.  I found the seats to be pretty comfortable and supportive overall.   All the adjustments were adequate.  Visibility is mediocre, typical for a midsize SUV.  With the rear head restraints UP and the entertainment screen DOWN, the rear-view mirror is all but worthless.  Thankfully a backup camera is standard.  The gauges and forward display are great.  The split-screen console stack is a little confusing at times and has a little more of a learning curve than some others, but ultimately is fine once you learn the setup.

Overall, it’s an excellent vehicle on the road.  Smooth, quiet and it just has that well-built and solid feel to it that many other vehicles lack.  I rate it very close to the Mercedes GL450 in this regard and that is high praise.  I also appreciate the adapative cruise with low speed follow.  One of those features that just strikes you as making a difference.

Fitting your Precious Cargo:

The second row is an oddity for midsize SUVs.  It not only has three top tether anchors, but it also has three separate pairs of lower LATCH anchors.  Combined with two more top tether anchors in the third row, it is nearly as flexible in this regard as the Honda Pilot.  The 2nd row does have some issues with the center seat, as is the case in many midsize SUVs.  With the plastic seat hardware, a somewhat narrow width and some issues with seatbelt and LATCH anchor crossover, it’s not nearly as easy to fit 3-across carseats as it is in a Honda Odyssey minivan.  It can be done with careful selection, though.  The third row is mainly for kids, especially on long trips. Access is relatively easy and it is comfortable for kids in forward-facing carseats, boosters and pre-teens as well.  We wish manufacturers would add more rear-seat USB or other charging outlets in their family vehicles, though.

 Gallery:

Below left, a handy spot for a rear-facing tether accessory strap as can be used on a few select convertible carseats, like those from Diono, Combi or Britax.  Below right, a Britax Parkway being used in the 3rd row seat next to a forward-facing Britax Advocate.

RF Rainier tether in Acura MDX 2015mdx3rdrowB

Below left, a 9-year old using a Safety 1st Incognito in the 3rd row behind a Maxi-Cosi Rodifix.  Below right, a 3-across with a Peg Perego Primo Viaggio 4-35, BubbleBum booster and Graco Size4Me/Headwise convertible carseat.
2015mdx3rdrowA 2015mdx2ndrow 2015mdxcargo2

Fitting your Other Cargo:

All rear seats have split folding capability, as you can see above with a Britax Frontier 90 combination carseat used in the 2nd row outboard seat with all other seats folded flat.  Basically, no issues fitting a wide array of cargo.  A video and a couple photos justify keeping my text to a minimum!

mdxcargo 2015MDXcargo

 

Top Ten Likes:

  • IIHS Top Safety Pick+ with Tech Package
  • NHTSA 5-star overall, aced all tests
  • Three pairs of LATCH in second row plus two extra top tethers in 3rd row!
  • Advanced crash prevention+autobrake with Advance Package
  • Improved fuel economy, very reasonable in 2WD trim: 20 mpg city, 28 hwy
  • Handling and performance better than most midsize SUVs
  • Push-button third row access is easy, though not particularly wide
  • Adaptive Cruise with Low Speed Follow is handy
  • Improved ride, comfort and cabin noise
  • Acuralink provides emergency crash notification, but only with subscription

Top Ten Dislikes:

  • mdxrearviewAdvance package is almost $57K with AWD
  • Low 3rd row seats for kids only, no thigh support
  • Rear view mirror sometimes useless
  • No rear USB/charging jacks
  • Premium fuel recommended
  • Some 2nd row center seat installation issues
  • Can’t get all advanced safety features without adding all other options
  • Doors often ajar, guess they need a little more force than our Toyotas to close.
  • Front seat cushion heat/cool system seems noisier and less effective than others.  No knob to adjust, only on touchscreen.
  • Quirks: Seat heater controls are on the touchscreen, keyfob larger and heavier than normal, does anybody really want fake plastic wood trim in their luxury car?

 

Conclusion:

There are other nominees for safest vehicle that also get top crash protection and prevention ratings from the IIHS and NHTSA.  The Mercedes Benz ML350 is a top contender for the title, and has similar fuel economy with its BlueTec diesel.  It is only slightly more expensive with AWD and a full set of advanced safety features, but only seats five passengers.  The new Toyota Highlander Limited is perhaps the best contender in a 3-row SUV, while the Honda Odyssey is a top safety choice as well.

If you are looking for an ultra-safe, luxury class vehicle for your family, the Acura MDX must be one of the top considerations.  Along with top safety ratings from the IIHS and NHTSA, it is among the most flexible luxury vehicles for seating kids in back.  That starts with 5 seating positions with a top tether anchor, and 3 of those have LATCH.  You’ll also get above average performance and handling, plus easy access to get kids into the third row.  If you are looking to save a little money, the 2WD model with the Tech Package offers excellent safety and above average fuel economy for under $47,000.  For those seeking all the active crash prevention features, opt for the top-of-the-line Advance package that is bundled with a nice entertainment system for the kids in back.  Either way, you’ll protect your most precious cargo in one of the safest vehicles you can buy.

Thank you to Acura for loaning us the 2015 Acura MDX SH-AWD with Advance and Entertainment Packages used in this review.  No other compensation was provided and all opinions are my own.