A few weeks ago, I set off from my home outside Chicago to Petosky, Michigan, where I was to be a guest of Honda for a North American debut drive of the company’s new for 2015 Acura TLX sports-luxury sedan. I didn’t want to fly, so Honda delivered a fresh, 2014 Acura MDX SUV for me to make the trip in. What they didn’t tell me when they dropped it off, however, was that they’d snuck a (practically) fully autonomous car under the MDX’s sharply creased bodywork.
Before I get into that, however, I’d like to give you a little background on the MDX.
Despite being, visually, a lot smaller than the newest 7 passenger Chevy Tahoe and Toyota Highlander models I’ve driven, Acura’s MDX was a much more convincing 7-seater. Part of that had to do with slightly less room up front, but I didn’t mind it. Neither did the wife, in fact, who said that the MDX’ interior “feels rich”, and that she preferred the SUV’s uncluttered surfaces to the “gimmicky” interior of the Lexus. “It looks clean,” she said. “Sporty.”
It looks like lots of people agree with my wife’s take on the newly redesigned Acura MDX, too. Acura claims it’s the best selling 7 passenger luxury SUV of all time, with significantly more takers than Mercedes’ GL or Audi’s Q7.
The Acura feels a lot sportier than those German options, as well. Part of that is the Acura’s lower weight and its 290 HP VTEC-equipped V6 engine, but at least as big a part of it is Honda’s excellent “Super-handling” all-wheel-drive system (Sh-AWD), which features computer controlled torque-vectoring technology that helps the big crossover “bite” into corners, stay neutral at speed, and remain confident in any weather conditions. These were all things that I had no interest in testing out, mind you, but the midwestern storm season decided to dump buckets of water and wind onto me at several points during my time in the MDX, and I can certainly verify that it handled these with aplomb.
In the twisty country back roads outside of Petosky, as well, the newest Acura MDX put the “sport” in “sport utility vehicle”, staying as flat and controlled as the sporty Lexus IS (and nearly as flat as the BMW 3 series) that the company had on hand for comparison … to the TLX. (!) Suffice it to say that a 7 passenger SUV has no business hustling those roads at the same speeds (or faster!) than some of the most highly vaunted sporty sedans from Japan and Germany, though, so we can move on to the new MDX’ best trick, yet: the autonomous car trick.
Nearly Autonomous Acura MDX
The 2014 Acura MDX I drove to Michigan featured the company’s new Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which uses a monocular camera to identifies lane divisions, shoulders, etc. The system basically looks at the road ahead and takes over the job of steering by commandeering the electric assist motors on the MDX’ steering column. It’s a little freaky the first few times you try it, but (assuming it can “see” the road) the MDX will smoothly and effectively steer itself as the road twists and turns.
Acura’s LKAS conspires with another one of its technologies, called Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow. Basically, the system works like other, similar systems to keep the car you’re driving a fixed distance from the car ahead. So that, if the car slows down, you slow down – all the way to a stop. As the car moves out of your way (or you move into another, more open lane), the car resumes its set cruise speed. At bumper-to-bumper speeds, the Low-Speed Follow allows you to follow the lurching, start-stop of traffic ahead of you without keeping your foot on the brake.
In practice, the two systems drove the Acura MDX nearly half of the miles I covered during my week with the car. On the backroads of northern Michigan, where the sun had bleached the dotted yellows and the road itself had been baked nearly white, the system didn’t pick up enough contrast to do its thing. On I75 and I90, though? It was a dream- at one point even bringing me to a stop in a heavy construction zone, following the semi ahead, and zooming back up to 70 MPH without me having to touch a thing – all while averaging 26.8 MPG (just shy of the MDX’ claimed 27 MPG highway performance, and quite a bit better than the 21 “combined” MPG the EPA said I’d get).
Awesome stuff, in other words. Would buy.
Original content from Gas 2, images courtesy of Acura.