Desert Exploration Weekend - 2014 Acura MDX AWD Long-Term Road Test

2014 Acura MDX AWD Long-Term Road Test

2014 Acura MDX: Desert Exploration Weekend

March 11, 2014

2014 Acura MDX

It had to happen. Shortly after I completed the RTI measurement of our 2014 Acura MDX (and griped about its potential) I was invited to join a group of friends on a weekend trip to the Mojave Desert near Ridgecrest, California.

There would be twelve of us in three cars. I always like to drive on these sorts of trips, so I needed an SUV that could carry four adults, their luggage, daypacks and a big ice chest. The 2014 Acura MDX seemed to fit the bill.

Once there, our little convoy would spend 90 percent of the time on dirt roads and single-lane OHV trails on BLM land. Would its lack of suspension flexibility and weak approach angle cause trouble? There was only one way to find out.

2014 Acura MDX

The desert south of Ridgecrest is popular with motorcycles and quads, which means the OHV trails tend to be dug out in a nearly endless series of whoop-dee-doos.

This was a mixed bag for the MDX. On the one hand, the whoops came at us "in-phase" which is to say the left and right side tires were moving in the same direction at the same time. Its lackluster RTI performance never came into play.

But the whoops were deep enough that the Acura's low and protuberant chin spoiler was a concern. I dealt with this in three ways: I kept my speed down, I steered around the deep sections as best I could within the confines of the narrow lanes, and I always went first so the convoy didn't lead me down a path the Acura couldn't manage. The other crossovers in the group had better front-end clearance than I did.

Along the way I discovered the Acura had the better all-wheel drive system in at least one sense. It turns out Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, aka SH-AWD, is fairly capable on sand. This wasn't excessively deep wash-bottom sand or fine-grained silt, mind you, but I was able to start and accelerate smoothly every time. I never had to finesse it in the soft spots where the others in the group felt the need to tread carefully, in places where locals had dug divots and laid down chatter marks.

2014 Acura MDX

Some of the better-maintained and well-traveled sections led to cool points of interest. One of these was a memorial for Major Michael Adams, the only X-15 test pilot to lose his life during that otherwise successful space-plane program. We also spent some time exploring the hauntingly beautiful Pinnacles National Monument near Trona, California.

All in all, the 2014 Acura MDX did well in this sort of desert environment even though its ultimate capability is limited by a relative lack of chin clearance and suspension flexibility. But with a little care these factors weren't much of a factor out here on roads where the dominant geological feature is dirt and semi-compacted sand, not rocks and deep silt.

Dan Edmunds, Director of Vehicle Testing


  • Acura always highlights the Super Handling part of SH-AWD but the AWD part is one of the best. It can not only transfer power from front to rear but also side to side. So even when only one tire has traction it send most of the power to that one tire. And it always starts accelerating with a 50/50 power distribution not waiting for slip to be detected.

  • s197gt s197gt Posts:

    i would spend endless hours driving trails if i lived close to that type of land... but i suppose a lot of people say that.

  • 7driver 7driver Posts:

    Wait, I'm confused. Pinnacles is not near Trona. It's on the eastern edge of the Salinas Valley.

  • duck87 duck87 Posts:

    SH-AWD is possibly the best luxury market AWD system out there right now. Unfortunately such systems are wasted on Acura's sedans.

  • joner800 joner800 Posts:

    curious as to what the other SUVs in the caravan were. looks like one of them is a Patriot.

  • actualsize actualsize Posts:

    One was a Honda Pilot and the other was a last-generation Toyota Highlander. As for Pinnacles, there's another two places with the same name out near Salinas. East and West Pinnacles sit astride the San Andreas fault, with the sites some large number of miles apart because of the movement of the plates.

  • chuckie6 chuckie6 Posts:

    (Face palm). Ugh. Hey, Edmundsmotortrendcnet dudes. Can you pleeeeeze leave those really, really tough environments in SoCal and NorCal and test your SUVs in places where people really need them, like cold-weather places? Where, you know, it's COLD? Yeesh. "It turns out Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, aka SH-AWD, is fairly capable on sand." Um ... chee-yaaaah. For those of us who've owned an MDX and live and drive in the snow (read: sand or any soft unstable surface) every year, of course the SH-AWD is frickin' amazing. Nothing touches it. Hey, Dan Edmunds. Wanna blow your own mind? Try driving this thing over ice patches. It'll feel like Ton Ton wearing ice-climbing shoes on Hoth.

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