2019 Acura MDX A-Spec Road Test Review
November 22 2018, Trevor Hofmann
A-Spec Adds Performance Look and Feel to Latest MDX
The MDX has been successfully navigating the luxury crossover map for almost two decades, which is a great deal longer than the majority of its challengers. This gives Acura rare insight into this model's three-row mid-size premium SUV class, which is reason enough for its continued leadership.
Yes, the MDX has long held its own at the front of the entire mid-size luxury SUV category, once again leading all dedicated three-row competitors in sales throughout calendar year 2018, just like it did in 2017, 2016 and so on, yet even with this impressive track record it wasn't as if Acura would simply rest on its laurels moving into this latest model year.
New for 2019, A-Spec trim represents the biggest upgrade since the MDX' dramatic 2017 mid-cycle makeover. It now delivers a perfect balance of sporty design elements to match the model's always potent performance, allowing the new 2019 MDX A-Spec to play black sheep within an otherwise ideally elegant trim lineup.
It all begins with an inherently handsome mid-size SUV design, with the A-Spec adding sportier glossy black and darkened chrome details to the grille, headlights, window trim, and rooftop spoiler, plus a more aggressively shaped lower front fascia, painted front and rear skid plates, body-coloured exterior door handles, body-colour lower side skirts, beefier tailpipes, and stunning new 20-inch 10-spoke Shark Grey alloy rims on lower profile 265/45 all-season rubber.
Sliding into one of the MDX A-Spec's seven seats means that you'll be passing over one of four A-Spec-signed aluminum treadplates, while additional A-Spec enhancements include unique red highlighting for the primary gauge cluster, a meatier A-Spec-branded sport steering wheel that comes mostly wrapped in grippy dimpled leather, and a superb looking set of sporty metal foot pedals.
Additionally, the A-Spec cabin's performance-infused upgrades include a special carbon-look treatment on the lower centre console's surface, plus exclusive sport seats in vibrant "Rich Red" or, as per my tester, high-contrast stitched black leather upholstery, with soft, plush perforated black suede-like Alcantara inserts. Altogether this is one sensational looking sport-luxury SUV, but there's a lot more behind the new MDX A-Spec than just a stylish new design.
Large, comfortable interior makes the MDX a favourite amongst premium SUVs
Leading its dedicated three-row rivals in popularity has everything to do with how roomy, accommodating and comfortable the MDX is in all of its various trims. For instance, its two front seats provide four-way powered lumbar support so you and your most important passenger can benefit from perfect placement of lower back pressure in order to make longer trips more enjoyable, while the comfortable driver's position also includes every additional adjustment expected in this highly-competitive segment.
What's more, A-Spec owners get the cooling comfort of three-way ventilated cushions to go along with the standard three-way heatable front seats, while those aforementioned perforated suede-like Alcantara seat inserts feel as sumptuously comforting as they look, and help maintain an even surface temperature when first sitting down amid cold winter months or the heat of summer, plus they hold the hips and torso in place when pushing the MDX A-Spec through fast-paced curves.
Another MDX bonus that keeps dedicated owners coming back over and over is all-round visibility, which remains excellent no matter which way you're looking. This makes the MDX easy to manage in dense traffic and tight parking garages, but before I start talking about driving dynamics I probably should fill you in on my personal experience when seated in all three rows.
As usual I set up the driver's seat for my medium-build, longer-legged, shorter-torso five-foot-eight body type, which still provided me with more than enough overall room when sitting behind. The second-row seats easily slide back and forth to improve legroom when needed, although I pulled my left-side position as far forward as possible and it still left me with a few inches of space ahead of my knees, as well as room aplenty for my winter boots underneath. Then, when sliding that seat as far rearward as possible, I was able to stretch out and relax almost completely.
Third Row Amply Roomy for Teenagers and Medium-Sized Adults
Even more of a surprise, when positioning the second-row as far rearward as it would go, the MDX' back row remained spacious enough for comfort. I'll admit the second-row seatback was fairly close to my knees, but once again I had plenty of room to move my feet around while wearing boots, plus loads of hip, elbow, shoulder and head space, which was impressive for someone who's not exactly the same girth as I was 40 or so years ago. It's easy to make even more third-row space, of course, by sliding the second row slightly forward, which still provides ample room for those ahead, yet made life in the very back a lot more comfortable. I have to say, the level of passenger flexibility in the MDX is hard to find elsewhere in this luxury class.
The rearmost seating area isn't claustrophobic either, thanks to good visibility toward the front and large windows to each side, while Acura added cupholders beside each third-row passenger plus useful reading lights overhead, which should help keep the peace during long drives. I found the third row easy to climb in and out of too, sliding the second row forward only needing a rear passenger (or someone standing outside) to press an easy-to-reach button on the backside of the second-row seat, and voila it slid forward and out of the way immediately.
Back in that second-row seating area, Acura includes a panel of well-organized climate controls to let rear passengers choose their own temperature setting, plus a couple of USB chargers are handily placed to keep personal devices powered.
Speaking of powered, the rear tailgate fully powers open to an impressively finished cargo area trimmed out with a stylish aluminum sill protector, chrome tie-down hooks at each corner, durable premium carpeting on the sidewalls and seatbacks, plus more. At least as importantly, there's room for all your active lifestyle gear thanks to 447 litres of volume behind the third row (about the size of an average car's trunk), plus a useful compartment under the floor that's ideal for stashing valuable items. Lowering the 50/50 split-folding rear seatbacks down is an easy process too, and by so doing expands the MDX' cargo carrying capability to 1,230 litres, while dropping the second row down brings the sizeable total up to 2,575 litres, making the MDX capable of hauling building supplies home from the hardware store, and a whole lot more.
Fully Featured MDX Remains a Value Leader
While the MDX is nicely finished in its cargo area, Acura has also done an excellent job when it comes to the quality of materials and overall refinement in the passenger compartment. This is especially true for new A-Spec trim, starting with the aforementioned sport steering wheel, which feels great in each hand thanks to a nicely textured, leather-clad rim and carved thumb indentations, while the rest of the interior is tastefully decorated with attractive satin-silver aluminum accents and yet more premium surfaces. Some of the latter include high-quality pliable composites over the dash top, instrument panel, door uppers, and almost everywhere else including the glove box lid, while each door insert is beautifully finished in yet more velvety Alcantara.
Specifically for the driver, a large colour TFT multi-information display (MID) is flanked by a set of black-faced analogue gauges, while two vertically stacked infotainment displays make up most of the centre stack, the bigger 8.0-inch top screen defaulting to the navigation system's detailed mapping or the rearview camera (the latter only while in reverse of course), and controllable via a rotating dial and surrounding buttons below the second display, that lets you adjust Acura's excellent route guidance system, the direction of view for the multi-angle camera system, and other features.
This leaves the easy-to-reach 7.0-inch touchscreen for controlling the sensational sounding 10-speaker ELS Studio surround audio system, plus the climate control system and more, all combining for a user-friendly infotainment setup filled with other features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, Bluetooth connectivity with audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading capability, voice recognition, hard disk drive (HDD) media storage, satellite radio, AcuraLink subscription services, a total of four USB ports, plus more.
Decades of MDX popularity attests to the model's strong value proposition, and the same can be said for new $60,490 A-Spec trim, which along with all the features already mentioned includes LED fog lights, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, perimeter/approach puddle lamps, proximity-sensing keyless entry buttons for the rear door handles, cooled/ventilated front seats, enhanced climate control with sun position detection, front and rear parking sonar, Blind Spot Information (BSI), and rear cross-traffic alert.
Advanced Standard Safety Is Always Priority Number One at Acura
Those last two advanced driver assistance features in mind, every MDX trim comes standard with the AcuraWatch suite of safety and convenience features, which includes Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), and Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with low-speed follow. It should be noted that these systems, when combined with the MDX' full assortment of standard active and passive safety features, helps it achieve a best-possible five-star NHTSA safety rating.
Additionally, important A-Spec features sourced from the $54,390 base MDX model include Acura's signature Jewel Eye LED headlamps with auto high beams, sharp looking LED taillights, sound-reducing acoustic front glass, a remote engine starter, proximity remote front entry, pushbutton start/stop, ambient interior lighting, memory for the standard power-adjustable steering column, powered outside mirrors, and auto climate control system, as well as an electronic parking brake, a powered glass sunroof with a sliding shade, a HomeLink universal remote garage door opener, an auto-dimming centre mirror, driver recognition, a heatable steering wheel, transmission paddle shifters, rain-sensing windshield wipers, tri-zone front and rear automatic climate control, Active Noise Control (ANC), Active Sound Control (ASC), heatable 12-way powered front seats with four-way lumbar support, a powered tailgate, a 1,588-kilo standard towing capacity (or 2,268 kilos of trailering capability with the optional tow package), plus more.
Powerful V6 Performance Remains Standard
Towing comes naturally to the MDX, thanks to a standard 3.5-litre V6 with 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque mated to a state-of-the-art nine-speed automatic transmission and Acura's renowned torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Acceleration is instantaneous and strong, while the gearbox delivers fast, smooth shifts that can be prompted by the previously noted steering wheel-mounted paddles, a process that's made even more enjoyable when switching the standard drive mode selector to Sport.
I left the transmission to its own devices when the road became slippery while driving up a local mountain road, but this proved an opportune moment to experience SH-AWD in its element, and believe me it's fully up to most any task it encounters. Even with the whitened roadway winding, and broken pavement beneath, the MDX A-Spec was a joy to traverse across the hillside, and once up at the apex a parking lot edged in thicker, soupier snow provided the perfect play area to test out its stock 265/45R20 Michelin Latitude Alpin all-season tires, which were surprisingly up to the job. After a little fun it was back down the mountain, the Michelin rubber even more suitable for dry stretches of serpentine tarmac, and then when coursing across the North Shore's Upper Levels highway the MDX was once again able to lengthen its stride, this smooth riding SUV right at home at high speeds with dynamic cruise control engaged.
I found the MDX superb in town as well, its long suspension travel and well sorted fully independent chassis ideal for overcoming everything from unkempt back alleys to long, unpaved valley driveways, the latter better experienced in the aforementioned drive mode selector's Comfort setting.
Speaking of drive modes, I really like that the MDX doesn't default back to its Normal setting after parking, but stays exactly where you left it, in Comfort, Normal or Sport, when getting back into the driver's seat and turning on the ignition. This isn't true for most MDX rivals.
Good Real-World Economy Helps MDX Overcome Increasing Fuel Costs
Leaving the MDX in Normal mode helped it eke out more from a tank of fuel, however, which is oh-so important anywhere in the Lower Mainland these days. For this reason I'm glad Acura kept its V6 engine instead of opting for a trendy turbo-four, because in my experience a high-revving, hard-working, overstressed four-cylinder uses much more gas than a nice, relaxed, easy-going V6 when trying to power something as sizeable as the MDX, and while this six can still charge as hard as the rest of its competitors, a more moderate right foot can extract excellent fuel economy.
The ultra-efficient nine-speed automatic doesn't hurt matters, nor does the engine's many advanced technologies like direct-injection, i-VTEC, Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) that turns off a row of cylinders when less power is needed, and finally auto stop/start that shuts the entire engine off when it would otherwise be idling in order to reduce fuel consumption and minimize emissions. All of these features combined with an easy-rolling chassis to help my MDX A-Spec tester achieve a fuel economy rating of 12.2 L/100km city, 9.5 highway and 11.0 combined, which is just a tiny bit more than the less sporty, more comfort-oriented MDX trims that receive a 12.2 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 10.8 combined rating.
Dealing with ever-increasing pump prices in mind, just after spending a week with this MDX A-Sport I put some time behind the wheel of a new 2019 MDX Sport Hybrid, which I'll be covering in an upcoming review. Along with stronger performance due to an innovative two-motor hybrid-electric powertrain, the Sport Hybrid also gets a fabulous fuel economy rating of 9.1 L/100km city, 9.0 highway and 9.0 combined, so stay tuned for my road test review. Then again, if you just can't wait and want to know more about it sooner, or experience it for yourself, make sure to ask one of the good folks at Acura of Langley for a test drive, as the MDX Sport Hybrid is truly an impressive crossover SUV.
The same can also be said of the new A-Spec, or any of the other MDX trims. I've spent many weeks with this SUV, in most of its many grades as well, and I've always been impressed at how well it's engineered and how effectively it satisfies driver, passengers and all their gear. No wonder it's so popular.
Now that it's more efficient than ever before, a stronger performer than anytime in its past, extremely well-made, filled with an impressive list of standard and optional features, wonderfully accommodating front to back, and extremely reliable with a higher than average resale value, the 2019 MDX is a no-brainer in any trim, but this sporty new A-Spec even more of a winner in the styling department. I recommend a test drive, so make sure to give Acura of Langley a call at (888) 690-0290, or come by the showroom at 20257 Langley Bypass, Langley.
Story credit: Trevor Hofmann
Photo credit: Karen Tuggay