2014 Acura MDX: Desert Exploration Weekend
March 11, 2014
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.
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.
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