2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite Road Test Review
November 27 2017, Trevor Hofmann
Most Popular Three-Row Luxury SUV in Canada for Good Reason
In the highly competitive luxury sport utility business, you've got to be very good to be number one in your segment. And to that end the Acura MDX speaks for itself, because it's been the best-selling dedicated three-row model in its mid-size premium class since 2005. That's more than a dozen years at the top. How have they done it? By delivering superb value.
When I say value, I'm not just talking about price. In fact, the MDX isn't even the least expensive three-row SUV in its segment. That honour goes to the $48,000 Buick Enclave, which is followed closely by the $48,195 Infiniti QX60. The MDX sits third in three-row, mid-size, premium-branded affordability, with a 2018 starting price of $53,260 plus freight and fees. So why did 20 percent fewer Canadians choose a QX60 and 40 percent less opt for the even cheaper Enclave?
Value is never solely about price, especially in the luxury sector. Overall build quality and refinement are often more important, as well as mechanical sophistication and performance, digital interfaces and other convenience features, advanced driver assistance and safety features, practicality and functionality (these last points particularly true amongst sport utilities), plus reliability, styling and brand cachet that impact residual/resale values. The MDX gets high marks for most of the above, and therefore gets rewarded with consistently strong sales.
Distinctive New Styling Sets the MDX Apart
Acura addressed styling last year, when a mid-cycle update transformed the frontal design with its new trademark "Diamond Pentagon" grille. The MDX was already ahead of its peers with respect to lighting, its advanced "Jewel-Eye" LED headlamps and LED taillights standard across the line, but many of the SUV's other design details were enhanced as part of the redo as well. The result is a much more eye-catching, distinctive design that's been received positively from repeat owners and newcomers alike.
The refreshed MDX' interior remained mostly carryover, but that's no bad thing as the current model offers an attractive cabin design and excellent quality. New for 2018, Acura added some user-friendlier tech. Specifically the standard 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, while Acura's technology team reorganized the menu items into a more logical layout, plus upgraded the internal operating system so it responds 30 percent faster to inputs. After time well spent with the updated infotainment system, I can attest to improvements made to both its ease of use and overall speed.
Elite Trim Enhances Materials Quality and Features
As for the rest of the interior, my tester was finished in top of the line Elite trim, which means that its Black Limba or Olive Ash Burl wood inlays (dependent on exterior and interior colours), found across the instrument panel, door panels and lower console bin lid, were real, its perforated Milano leather seat upholstery featured contrast stitching and accent piping, and its feature set was upgraded to include a really useful surround view parking camera, a great sounding 546-watt ELS Studio audio upgrade with Dolby Pro Logic II, 12 speakers and a sub plus more, rear DVD entertainment with an "Ultrawide" 16.2-inch display, a remote, two wireless headphones, and an HDMI input jack, four USB charge points, a 10-way powered front passenger seat, ventilated front cushions, and that's just on the inside.
Outside, the Elite gets attractively painted front and rear lower skid garnishes, nice looking vertically stacked LED fog lamps, a sharp looking set of 20-inch alloys, always helpful front and rear parking sensors, plus roof rails up top, while a fuel-saving, emissions reducing engine idle start/stop system gets added under the hood.
Base, Navi, and Tech Trims Are Impressively Equipped Too
I should also point out the Milano leather upholstery was pulled up from mid-range Tech trim, as were the auto-leveling headlamps, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, rear door proximity keyless access, a 115-volt household-style AC power outlet, and a set of heatable rear outboard seats.
Notable MDX Elite features not yet mentioned that get pulled up from Navi trim include perimeter/approach puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, an upgraded HVAC system with sun position detection, navigation, voice activation, hard drive media storage, AcuraLink connectivity, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic assist, and more.
On the subject of safety, all MDX trims get standard AcuraWatch auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies such as road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection resulting in an IIHS best Top Safety Pick rating and five-star NHTSA status, once again driving home the MDX' value proposition.
Lastly, items pulled up to Elite trim from the base MDX include automatic high beams, remote engine start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered steering column, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, a colour TFT multi-info display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, text message and email reading capability, Siri Eyes Free, satellite radio, a 10-way powered driver's seat with two-way powered lumbar and two-position memory, heated front seats, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, a powered liftgate, and much more.
All 2018 Acura MDX Trims Deliver Great Value
When you combine other standard items that aren't included in upper trims, like 18-inch alloy wheels, the base 432-watt eight-speaker audio system, a slightly lower grade of leather upholstery (but genuine leather nonetheless), a less adjustable eight-way powered front passenger's seat, etcetera, with the comprehensive list above, it's easy to appreciate how much bang you get for just $53k, while the near top-line Elite shown here starts at $65,360.
To put this price in perspective, that's less than where the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE start out, once again driving home the superb MDX value proposition. What's more, the MDX comes standard with a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 that's good for 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, a sophisticated nine-speed automatic transmission with standard steering wheel paddles, and Acura's much-respected torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which was recently upgraded to include a twin-clutch rear differential that directs torque between front and rear wheels, as well as side to side, for faster, smoother cornering and ultimately better traction. When combined with its amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, SH-AWD helps the MDX' rigid body structure and nicely sorted front strut and multi-link rear suspension to manage fast-paced curves very well, while providing a comfortable, compliant ride.
Making matters better still, Acura includes something it calls an Integrated Dynamic System (IDS), which includes a Sport mode that quickens throttle response, allows for higher engine revs between shifts, adds steering weight, and sends more torque to the outside rear wheels amid corners to improve turn-in, while it also enhances engine sound. Of course I employed Sport mode often, although I also made sure to leave it in Comfort mode when traveling at regular speeds, especially when managing rough patches of tarmac.
Strong Performance Is Joined by Competitive Fuel Economy
Along with its impressive ride and handling, the MDX remains wonderfully quiet, even when the outside world seems loud and chaotic, and when driven modestly the big SUV proves quite efficient with a claimed combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 10.7 L/100km when fitted with the Elite's auto start/stop system, or 11.0 L/100km without. It should also be noted the top-line MDX Sport Hybrid receives an even more agreeable 9.0 L/100km combined city/highway rating, while boosting output to 321 net horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque-something to consider if you want a best-of-both-worlds alternative.
All in all the 2018 Acura MDX is a fine SUV deserving of its ardent following. Its inherently well engineered mechanicals provide stronger than average performance, a high level of refinement, reasonably good fuel economy and dependable reliability, while its solid construction makes it feel bulletproof, its superb standard safety set adds to its confidence-inspiring demeanor, and its comfortable and accommodating interior makes it easy to live with no matter the size of occupants or load. Now all you need to decide on is which MDX trim level and colour you want.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.