The 2014 redesign of the upscale Acura MDX pushes the popular SUV closer toward the class best-seller, the Lexus RX. But the MDX has a trick up its sleeve.
It has a third row.
Lexus created the midsized luxury crossover segment, but it continues to avoid the three-row niche. To carry more than five aboard a Lexus SUV, you need to buy a GX or LX. Both of these are big lumps of truck, not the car-based SUVs that most buyers seek. Even though Lexus sells over 100,000 RXs a year, they're probably giving away piles of money with this omission.
All MDXs have a third row seat--they always have had that extra row, spanning all three generations. Sure, most buyers will leave it folded down. But having that extra capacity is like a security blanket for lots of parents, something that means they can haul half of the soccer team- even if they never will. Lots of automotive decisions work that way.
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Beyond that, the distinctions between the Acura and Lexus blur with the MDX's redesign. Improvements in cabin quietness and ride show that Acura chased after the plush RX. (After all, those 100,000/year Lexus sales must be tempting.) Sure, the MDX has lost some of its sporting appeal, partly traceable to the fuel-economy-improving switch to electric steering. But combining the RX's plush feel with the MDX's third row might prove a temping recipe, providing a product that Lexus lacks.
In general, it's getting hard to know where Acura is aiming. They're shying away from the overt sportiness that typified the brand half a decade ago. On the other hand, cars like the Civic-based ILX and the lackluster RLX show that Acura isn't succeeding at providing the quiet isolation that marks a luxury brand. First impressions are that the MDX manages to be more well-rounded than Acura's other recent efforts. But the Acura conundrum continues.
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