Driver's Seat: Acura MDX is a big beast with flaws


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2014 Acura MDX AWD Advanced Entertainment: Acura for seven.

Price: $57,400 as tested. (A base FWD can be had for $42,290.)

Marketer's pitch: "Made for mankind."

Conventional wisdom: Edmunds.com likes the "superbly crafted interior; capable handling; good fuel economy; quiet, comfortable ride" but not the front seats' "limited adjustability; less cargo space behind the third row than most rivals."

Reality: A nice vehicle, but one overpowering drawback ruined the experience for me.

Great inside: Normally, I find myself delighted by each model Acura sends me. But ...

Can't touch this: The touch-screen radio-HVAC control system has cemented itself as the system I never, ever want, especially in a big crossover. Want to adjust the seat heating? Press the seat heater touch-screen button, then get a row of buttons to adjust heating or cooling. Want to adjust where the air is flowing? Touch screen. Want to change the radio station? Press audio, then pick from the choices.

Perhaps in time I'd have made the voice recognition system work for me.

I don't change channels so they must change me: Because of the MDX's bulk, it actually made me question at times whether I really wanted to change the radio station. For instance, the sound was great, but I never did bother to figure out how to adjust the equalizer levels. It was too complicated.

The only endearing part of the whole setup was temperature control toggles that send a blue cloud up the screen when you turn it colder and a red cloud when you turn it warmer.

Up to speed: The 3.5-liter V6 engine creates 290 horsepower. So it's a fast crossover, but it has a lot of bulk so it's no hot rod.

On the curves: Handling is OK. It's a big vehicle and it feels like every pound of it. The Mazda CX-9 has definitely won the race for a nice-handling crossover with room for seven, but surprisingly I find the MDX's cousin Honda Pilot is a much nicer vehicle to live with.

Driver' Seat: The MDX suffers from Crossover Offcenteritis, a problem I've also noticed in the 2013 versions of the Kia Sorento and Nissan Pathfinder. The seat doesn't seem to match up with the steering wheel; I end up sitting a little off center and kind of crooked.

The lookout: Along with that, even with the seat up high, visibility is poor. Parking the vehicle is difficult; I never felt like I could see around the vehicle very well. The corners are invisible.

Night shift, inside edition: The interior lighting is good but interferes for night driving.

Night shift, outside edition: The four xenon headlights create a pretty pattern at night but seem to sit just a little low for me. They're so focused that they just don't seem to cast enough light up high.

Carrying the kids: Three rows of heated seats -- standard -- pleased 13-year-old Sturgis Kid 4.0. And he could easily watch a DVD in back while the front row enjoyed its own music, which is a challenge in some vehicles.

The way, way back: The rear is for kids. No headroom or knee room for me. You can't move the middle row forward, so there's no way to make enough room in the back seat. No place for feet, either.

Getting there: The middle row has a power function to move it out of the way for getting in and out, but the ceiling is low so climbing in is actually a challenge more than in most similar vehicles.

Room for stuff: You can fit a couple pizza boxes behind the third row, but that's about the maximum depth. An enormous storage bin stands ready for CDs and more between the front seats. The cup holders are designed for larger cups, but the holders don't squeeze down tight enough for small cups.

Fuel economy: 23 mpg in a highway-heavy mix of driving. Premium fuel is recommended.

Where it's built: Lincoln, Ala.

How it's built: Consumer Reports puts its predicted reliability at above average.

In the end: The touch-screen controls slayed this beast for me. Given only two choices I'd have to pick the Buick Enclave I reviewed last week. But given more options, I'd probably go with a Honda Pilot or Mazda CX-9 (although I'd weep at the gas pump with that last one).

Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at mrdriversseat@gmail.com


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