The Acura MDX has long been one of the more popular three-row SUVs in the Canadian market.
Its current third generation, debuted for 2014 and was heavily face-lifted for 2017, and is still amongst one of the top sellers on Acura’s sales chart. To keep it relevant, Acura introduced an all-new A-Spec trim for the 2019 model year, to slot in between the Tech and Elite trims as a sport-oriented model and attract more buyers shopping in the luxury three-row SUV market.
To understand the appeal, we borrowed a 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec for a week. It arrived in our office in the midst of a massive snow storm, and the striking Apex Blue Pearl colour stole our attention all the way from across the parking lot. The MDX A-Spec follows the latest Acura sporty design language, ditching the awkward silver beak for a blacked-out grille with an oversized Acura logo up front. It features a set of signature Jewel Eye LED headlights to give it an athletic, attractive look.
Moving onto the side profile, you will notice a lower-slung stance, an A-Spec badge on the fender, and a set of 20” alloy wheels in a dedicated A-Spec design. Rounding out the A-Spec appearance package are a couple of enlarged exhaust tips, completing the MDX’s more overall agile look. In my opinion, the MDX A-Spec is one of the more attractive premium crossovers in the market, breaking free from the status quo in a land of boxy, boring SUVs and crossovers.
A bit of bad news is that the A-Spec trim is merely an appearance package with no upgrades to the powertrain or suspension setup. The good news though, is that the standard powertrain and Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) handling setup is very good. All Acura MDXs come with Honda’s tried and true J-series V6, which is a 3.5L i-VTEC V6 engine, producing 290 horsepower at 6,200RPM, and 267 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700RPM.
The J35 engine is known for its silky-smooth power delivery, and the nine-speed automatic transmission helps propel the 1,945kg MDX A-Spec up to speed effortlessly. Gear shifts are quick and responsive once you get moving, however switching from reverse to drive and vice versa does take a split-second longer than one would normally expect after pressing the gear selection buttons on the centre console.
Handling of the Acura MDX is laser sharp for a crossover, thanks to the aforementioned SH-AWD system. During hard cornering, the SH-AWD system automatically sends more power to the outside rear wheel to help give the MDX a sharper and yet smoother rotation, and the traction control will have a preference to send power to the wheel that needs help rather than applying the brakes to help correct as in more traditional setups.
During real world testing, the MDX A-Spec is happy to oblige to any steering command, no matter how sudden the change of direction is. Mechanically, the SH-AWD system is similar to the Intelligent Variable Torque Management (i-VTM4) used in the Honda Pilot (reviewed here), but having tested both vehicles within a month of one another, we can confirm that the MDX is more biased towards sending power to the rear wheels. Both cars are capable winter warriors, but the Acura MDX handles it with flair and offers a more dynamic driving experience.
Steering is nicely weighted and offers excellent road feel. The MDX A-Spec offers three driving modes (Comfort, Normal, Sport) using its Integrated Dynamics System (IDS), and the selected profile is stored in memory by key fob so each keyholder will be able to return to their preselected driving mode. My personal preference was driving in Sport mode, with its sharpened steering feel and throttle response. Acura has smartly separated the IDS and the transmission’s “Sport” setting, the latter of which can be activated by pressing the D/S button on the gear selector, allowing for more customizability in the driving experience.
Fuel economy is rated at 12.2L/100km city, 9.5L/100km highway, and 11.0L/100km combined. Our test week with the MDX A-Spec consisted of extensive testing of the SH-AWD system in wintry and extreme cold weather. We observed an average of 13.2L/100km, but we have no doubt there would be a regression toward the projected average in warmer test settings. Premium unleaded fuel is recommended, and the MDX’s tank will take in 73.8 litres.
The overall sportiness carries over into the MDX’s interior, with a dedicated A-Spec steering wheel, metal sport pedals, and a center console that features metal and carbon fibre-like trim. The seats are specially wrapped with Alcantara and leather with contrast stitching and seat piping, and the heated and ventilated 12-way power adjustable front seats look great and are supportive. There is an abundance of head and legroom in the first two rows, and the third-row space is marginally acceptable for adults. There is ample cargo space behind the second row, with a maximum cargo volume of 1,230L, and a respectable 447L with the third row in place.
Infotainment is controlled using a dual screen system carried over from the MDX of yesteryears. You control the top screen using the rotary dial on the centre console, and the bottom screen is touch-responsive. The fact that this dual screen setup allows you to display information from two different sources is a real bonus, but the display resolution is in dire need of an upgrade to keep pace with competition. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity is supported, and entertainment is delivered using an ELS Studio 10-speaker audio system.
The Acura MDX A-Spec is equipped with all of the safety features you would expect in today’s luxury vehicles. The expansive list includes Blind Spot Information, Collision Mitigation Braking, Cross Traffic Monitoring, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, Lane Keeping Assist, and Road Departure Mitigation systems.
The base Acura MDX, starting at $51,390, slots in between two of its archrivals, the Infiniti QX60 ($48,695) and the Lexus RX 350 ($55,350 for the standard two-row version). The as-tested A-Spec trim starts at $57,490, and our tester’s total was added $500 to get the Apex Blue Pearl colour. The Infiniti represents a greater value proposition and the RX 350 offers a greater luxury experience, but the MDX A-Spec offers a sportier driving experience than either of its competitors, and in my opinion is the handsomest of the trio.
The 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, with its SH-AWD system, is one of the better handling SUVs on the market, and the A-Spec appearance package keeps it looking fresh and relevant until the next model redesign launches. The infotainment is in need of a refresh, but the MDX is well equipped for its price and should continue to contribute meaningful volume to Acura’s sales growth.