The Acura MDX is one of the best-selling crossover on the market today.
As well as being a pioneer of the three-row luxury SUV as we know it, the MDX was the first SUV to offer seven-passenger seating, giving families an alternate option to the minivan and making the midsize SUV one of the most popular categories of vehicle today. The three-row midsize crossover almost drove the minivan into extinction. Since the MDX’s debut in 2000, it has gone through three generations of evolution. The 2020 Acura MDX SH-AWD A-spec is already in the sixth-year of the current generation model. In such a highly contested segment, competition is coming up with new options and features constantly to get ahead. We took a deeper look to see how the MDX is holding up.
The current MDX received a mid-cycle refresh for the 2017 model year, fitted with Acura’s new corporate fascia to freshen up its look. Our 2020 MDX is the A-Spec version, meaning it is fitted with an appearance package. The bumpers are redesigned with more aggressive vents accented with sleek dark shadow accents. The grill is also finished in the A-Spec specific dark shadow accent for a menacing look. The headlights are Acura’s distinctive jewel eye configuration generating sharp and bright illumination. Around back, the A-Spec has a pair of real exhaust tips which add to its bold and sporty look. The rear bumper is colour contrasted with a black pseudo diffuser for a sporty look. Finally, the package comes with a unique set of 20-inch wheels finished in Shark Gray and with wider tires, giving the MDX a more planted and aggressive stance.
In usual Acura fashion, the only available powertrain is tried and tested. The MDX continues to use the “J35”, a 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6 SOHC updated with direct injection. The engine generates 290 horsepower at 6,200RPM and 267 lb-ft. of torque at 4,700RPM. The engine is extremely smooth and generates a very satisfying growl under load. Power is delivered through Honda’s proprietary nine-speed automatic transmission with Sequential Sportshift paddle shifters. The transmission is very smooth and you never find it hunting for gears. Paddles are available, but the response in manual mode is quite sluggish, with a significant delay on upshifts. Otherwise, the MDX’s drivetrain is comfortable, effortless and engaging – all expected traits from Honda.
One of the key features of the MDX is the revered Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). This is a true torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system which makes the MDX handle and turn in like no other SUV. The system actively shuffles power between all four wheels and pushes power to the rear outer wheel to ensure the MDX tracks beautifully and not understeer. In adverse weather and deep snow, the MDX trucks through like a tank. In “Sport” mode, the MDX is more willing to send power to the rear wheels, particularly fun in the snow. While on the light side, the steering isn’t completely disconnected; but is sufficiently direct and responsive. For more steering weight, “Sport” mode is preferred, and doesn’t compromise ride quality as the A-Spec’s dampers are fixed. The ride overall is comfortable and stable, but being in the luxury segment, our expectations are higher. On the highway the MDX’s springs and dampers are a bit out of sync, with slight oscillations at speeds.
Efficiency is surprisingly good considering the MDX has a true full-time all-wheel drive system and a hefty curb weight. Acura provides ratings of 12.2L/100km city, 9.2L/100km highway and a combined 10.9L/100km. Interestingly, during our week of testing through with rough winter conditions, we averaged below 14.0L/100 km with mostly city driving on winter tires and plenty of idling. Even with this observed consumption, the MDX is actually in line with other SUVs in similar conditions. Fuel tank capacity is 73.8-liters requiring premium fuel.
The interior of the MDX is nicely trimmed, with excellent materials. The door panels are lined with perforated suede, arm rests are all nicely padded and wrapped in leather, and the dash is covered in soft-touch materials. The center console has a fine carbon fiber-like pattern to keep larger surface areas interesting and avoids the use of piano black. The steering wheel in the MDX is the center piece on the interior, with perforated leather and ergonomically shaped grip that takes inspiration from the NSX with the added comfort of heat for winter. Our tester was equipped with beautiful red leather seating with black suede center and contrast stitching, heated and cooled up front. That said, the MDX’s interior is beautifully executed but lacks the wow-factor compared to other luxury offerings.
The infotainment uses a dual screen design, unchanged from previous years. The non-touch sensitive top screen is used to display maps, phone, settings menu and now, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The bottom touchscreen is dedicated to infotainment and climate controls. The climate controls are a combination of hard bottoms and touch screen controls, which can take a bit of getting used to. I find it frustrating that Android Auto and CarPlay is not displayed on the touch sensitive screen, which makes navigation not very intuitive and creating an unwanted learning curve. The analog gauges are a double-edged sword. While they’re very clear, easily eligible and less straining on the eyes, they date the car overall as many offerings move towards digital displays.
Interior space is one of the reasons you would be interested in the MDX, offering three rows of seating for up to seven passengers. Legroom in the front and second rows is ample, however the third row is relegated for small passengers only. It can be made more usable by sliding the second row forward, and cargo space behind the third row is a healthy 447-liters. When the third row is folded flat, this grows to 1,087 liters. The cabin is on the tighter side but still roomier than Lexus’ three-row RX 350L, and about on par with Infiniti’s QX60 (reviewed here).
The MDX is well equipped the AcuraWatch suite of safety technology, designed to help drivers remain aware of surrounding hazards and make adjustments to avoid them. This package includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking. In addition, there is blind spot information, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation and cross traffic monitoring system. All of these features are standard in the MDX. The rear-view camera has a multi angle option but 360 surround views are only reserved for the top-trim Elite model.
Our tester 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec comes in at $60,990, though the base trim starts at $54,390. The MDX’s key competitor is the Lexus the RX 350L, starting at $66,050. It is a more expensive option to the MDX, but it does provide a more serene and upscale driving experience. The Infiniti QX60 is another rival, with a very enticing base price of $48,995 but a similarly equipped version with all the safety features will start at $61,695. The Cadillac XT6 is a new player in the segment with a starting price of $60,998 for the base model, with many safety and convenience features requiring packages driving up the costs much higher than the MDX.
The 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec still continues to be a strong contender; with great packaging and great build quality despite not having the highest level of luxury appointments. At its price point, the MDX’s performance, dynamics and refinement are all hard to be beat without looking into more expensive options in the spectrum. The MDX does not have the most up to date bells and whistles, but it has the updates where it counts. It has the most up to date safety features as standard equipment, smartphone connectivity and solid driving dynamics. The Acura MDX is beginning to show its age against the competition, but still delivers excellent refinement at a competitive price point.