The Acura MDX gets its third consecutive year of updates for 2019, signaling the importance to Acura both of this class and of SUVs in general. The MDX competes against premium and luxury three-row mid-size SUVs like the Audi Q7, Buick Enclave and Infiniti QX60. Compare it with those models here.
Changes abound for the refreshed MDX, including a needed update to its nine-speed automatic transmission, upgraded interior materials and a more seamless engine stop-start system. All that adds $100 to the MDX’s base price, so it now starts at $45,295 (including destination). Compare the 2019 MDX with last year’s model here.
Also new for 2019 is an A-Spec variant, which happened to be the model I tested. It slides into the middle of the MDX lineup, which doesn’t have traditional trim levels but rather a series of packages. The first package that can be added to the base model is the Technology Package, and the new A-Spec can be added on top of that. The Advance Package has the highest sticker price and the most features. There’s also an Entertainment Package that can be added to the Technology Package and Advance Package, but not to the A-Spec.
What You Get on the A-Spec
The A-Spec splits the Technology and Advance MDX models in price, starting at $55,795. It’s the most aggressively styled of the MDX models, with 20-inch Shark Grey alloy wheels, a revised front bumper, gloss-black trim pieces, a rear spoiler and two giant exhaust pipes. A family SUV might feel like a weird place for this kind of aggression, but I find the A-Spec to be the most attractive of the MDX models; it’s a good-looking SUV.
Inside, there are red or black leather seats with Alcantara inserts for the first two rows, a thicker steering wheel with paddle shifters, and a few other garnishes that spruce up the styling inside.
Also noteworthy is that the A-Spec is the only MDX to come with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive standard; all other models come with front-wheel drive standard, and SH-AWD commands a $2,000 premium.
How It Drives
Under the hood of every MDX is a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 267 pounds-feet of torque and comes mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission. This is the same powertrain found in the Honda Pilot, and it was a weak point when we last reviewed the MDX in 2017. The problem doesn’t lie with the engine, which makes plenty of power — it was the laggy transmission that bogged down the driving experience.
That has changed somewhat for 2019. Acura says the transmission now prioritizes 2nd-gear starts for smoother launches, and it has revised mapping up top for more responsiveness. I did notice the change while driving it, and it’s for the better, but I don’t think Acura went quite far enough; when driving in Normal mode, I still wanted the transmission to react more quickly to accelerator pedal motion. Somewhat making up for this is an aggressive Sport mode, which ended up being my preferred way to drive the MDX. It holds lower gears longer, keeping the MDX in the engine’s power band for a longer stretch of time and making the whole vehicle feel more in tune with what I wanted to have happen.
Ride quality and comfort are still quite good. Though the MDX looks sporty, it doesn’t come with any kind of sport suspension, and that’s a good thing. An adaptive suspension that automatically varies shock absorber firmness is available with the Advance Package, but I didn’t find myself wanting it; a comfortable ride matches the MDX’s aims well.
Fuel economy estimates for the MDX give it a slim edge over the competitors mentioned above. FWD gets an EPA-estimated 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined, dropping to 19/26/22 mpg with AWD. The A-Spec is slightly behind that at 19/25/21 mpg. Driving in Sport mode, as I preferred to do, is bound to lower observed mileage somewhat.