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All-new 2020 Acura MDX to get new styling, plug-in hybrid option

2020 Acura MDX

What changes will make the 2020 Acura MDX different?

Nearly everything from the tires up. Model-year 2020 will debut the fourth generation of Acura’s flagship crossover SUV. Expect completely new underskin engineering, a more refined interior, and the premiere of a plug-in-hybrid drivetrain.

When it bowed for the 2001 model year, the original MDX was among the first luxury crossovers with three seating rows. The seven-passenger midsize wagon wasn’t necessarily a styling knockout, no vehicle at the time could match the way it blended comfort and cargo room with driving dynamics, build quality, and reliability. Despite fierce competition in subsequent years, the premium division of Honda hasn’t lost touch with what made this vehicle a breakout hit.

Sales have leveled off as the 2014-2019 generation nears the end of its lifecycle, but the MDX remains America’s best-selling three-row, premium midsize crossover, outpacing the likes of the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover Discovery, and Volvo XC90.

Should I wait for the 2020 model or buy the 2019?

You can make a compelling case either way. Holding out for the 2020, gets you a crossover with the most up-to-date styling, engineering, and technology. And if you’re intrigued by the idea of a plug-in MDX, you’ll naturally want to wait.

Need a luxury three-row crossover more immediately? Put the 2019 MDX high on your shopping list, especially since Acura has given it a handful of enhancements to close out this design generation. There are new paint colors and some new woodgrain interior trims. Models equipped with the optional Technology and Entertainment packages get a revised second-row seat designed for easier passage to the third row. The standard 9-speed automatic transmission gets revisions that promise smoother acceleration. Lastly, Acura brings its sport-themed A-Spec Package to the MDX. Models so equipped get special exterior and interior trim, steering-wheel paddle shifters, and unique instrumentation.

Also returning for 2019 is the Sport Hybrid, a non-plug-in gas/electric. Unlike the rival Lexus RX 450h, this hybrid’s focus is on enhanced performance rather than all-out fuel savings. It receives the same interior upgrades as the gas-only model, but isn’t available with the A-Spec Package.

Will the styling be different?

Yes, but probably not radically so. Expect the 2020 MDX to grow strategically in wheelbase and overall length, freeing up additional passenger and cargo room. It should adopt many of the styling cues found on the recently redesigned 2019 RDX compact crossover. In front, Acura’s latest inverted pentagonal grille should be more smoothly integrated into the body than the retrofitted unit introduced as part of MDX’s model-year 2017 facelift. Also returning will be the brand’s “Jewel Eye” headlamps with full LED illumination. Following current design trends, the body sides will likely have more prominent creases, and the rear end will probably have a more rakish look.

The ’20 MDX’s interior will see a more dramatic evolution, again previewed by elements of the 2019 RDX’s all-new cabin. A steering wheel with fewer buttons than the outgoing model will greet the driver. Expect nothing less than clear, logical instrumentation from Acura.

The current dual-screen infotainment/navigation/climate interface will give way to a single, tablet-style, 10.2-inch ultra-widescreen display atop the center of the dashboard. A laptop-like center-console trackpad will be the primary interface and employ Acura’s True Touchpad technology in which a touch of the pad corresponds directly with that same location on the display. Liberated from an infotainment menu, the climate controls will return to a traditional button/small LCD screen layout that will be much more intuitive. Some will consider Acura’s continued use of a row of console buttons a less intuitive solution to transmission gear selection than a conventional shift lever.

While gaining a bit of breathing room, passenger comfort isn’t liable to change much, and that’s not a bad thing. The current MDX’s cabin can easily accommodate seven, the third row among the most adult-hospitable in the midsize-premium-crossover class. A bit more cargo space would be welcome: the third generation’s maximum 68.4 cubic feet behind the front seats is at the lower end of the competitive set.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes, though to exactly what extent was unclear at the time of this review. Our best guess: most versions of the new MDX will retain a V-6, likely an updated version of the 3.5-liter engine that powers the 2019 model. Expect a slight bump in output from the 2019’s 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The sole transmission will likely remain a 9-speed automatic, carried over from the outgoing MDX. Front-wheel drive would again be standard with the next generation of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) again optional.

The expected plug-in would replace the Sport Hybrid. It would be AWD only and pair a 2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline four-cylinder engine with a battery-powered electric motor. Combined output will likely meet or exceed the 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque produced by the 2019 MDX Sport Hybrid. The plug-in would use either a continuously variable transmission (CVT) or a conventional 10-speed automatic. Drawing an initial charge from a residential or commercial outlet, the plug-in should have the ability to run purely on electric power for a limited range; figure 25 miles or so. It would then revert to conventional-hybrid operation with computers determining the optimal mix of gas and electric power.

Have faith that Acura will maintain MDX’s lively on-road personality. The outgoing model is one of the better-handling midsize crossovers. Expect the next one to have steering feel as direct and responsive, equally little body lean in fast turns, and similarly impressive ride quality, even on what are again likely to be available 20-inch wheels and tires.

Will fuel economy improve?

Yes, particularly if the plug-in hybrid comes to fruition. Even the gas-only model should benefit from tech advances and perhaps some weight savings. Look for it to exceed the 2019 MDX’s class-competitive EPA ratings of 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 with AWD. (Stickier performance tires contribute to 2019 A-Spec Package ratings of 19/25/21 mpg.)

The 2020 MDX plug-in hybrid will likely do better than the 2019 Sport Hybrid’s 26/27/27 mpg rating. Acura should continue to recommend premium-grade 91-octane gasoline across the board.

Will there be new features?

Maybe not new features, per-se, but items previously exclusive to the highest priced models may well work their way into the more affordable ones as standard equipment. And Acura is almost certain to continue to feature what’s essentially a “base” trim MDX, then in effect create a trim-level hierarchy via options packages.

On the safety front, be confident that all grades will continue to include automatic high-beam headlights, autonomous emergency braking, adaptive radar cruise control, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. We are hopeful Acura liberates blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection from a high-trim-level feature to standard on every 2020 MDX.

On the convenience side, all ’20 MDX variations should again count among their standard equipment leather upholstery, heated power-adjustable front seats, a power sunroof, and power rear liftgate. Support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto should be standard across the board.

The Technology Package will likely include imbedded GPS navigation, AcuraLink telematics, remote engine start, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and the brand’s exclusive (and outstanding) ELS Audio system. Ordering the Technology Package would allow access to the A-Spec Package, which would include the aforementioned interior and exterior upgrades.

The top-line Advance Package would include everything the Technology Package plus ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel and outboard second-row seats, rear side-window sunshades, front- and rear-obstacle detection, and a 360-degree top-view camera.

An Entertainment Package, which must be ordered with either the Technology or Advance package, would include an ultra-widescreen display that deploys from the overhead console. It would allow side-by-side playback of two input sources and include a built-in Blu-ray disc player and multiple HDMI inputs for connecting things like video game consoles.

Will 2020 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly increase. Our estimated base prices for the 2020 Acura MDX include the manufacturer’s destination fee, which was $995 on the 2019 model. With front-wheel drive, expect prices to around $45,500. SH-AWD will likely add $2,000 or so.

The Technology Package is apt to cost about $5,000. After that, you can expect the Entertainment Package to be about $2,000, the A-Spec Package around $3,500, and the Advance Package an additional $7,000.

Note that per Acura custom, each option package is priced as a separate model. The best value will likely remain an AWD MDX with Technology Package. The extras in the Advance Package are nice, but not enough to justify what will likely be a very stiff price premium.

When does it come out?

Acura might show the 2020 MDX in concept form at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show in November, with the production model debuting at the 2019 New York Auto Show in April. Look for a release date of the ’20 MDX in late summer 2019.

Best competitors

Audi Q7, BMW X5, Lexus RX350L, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover Discovery, Volvo XC90

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]