By Ed Piotrowski and CarPreview staff
Acura’s flagship crossover enters the final year of its current design generation with a new limited-production trim level but no other significant changes. A fully redesigned MDX is due for model-year 2021, with new styling and the possible addition of plug-in-hybrid and turbocharged-four-cylinder powertrains.
The 2020 MDX is still very much worth your attention, however, especially as the ’20 model year winds down and dealers entertain deep price cuts to clear inventories ahead of the all-new ‘21. This premium midsize crossover offers seating for six or seven and shares much of its underskin engineering with the Pilot from Acura’s parent company, Honda. The ’20 MDX offers a conventional gasoline V-6 engine and a gas-electric version called the Sport Hybrid. Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is standard on the Sport Hybrid and optional on the gas model in place of front-wheel drive.
It’s one of the oldest vehicles in the premium midsize-crossover segment but the MDX remains remarkably popular thanks to its roominess, performance, and especially value. Only the Lexus RX and Cadillac XT6 outsold it through the first three quarters of 2019. Here are five reasons behind that success.
One: People Like the Way It Looks
Today’s third generation MDX premiered for model-year 2014, its styling an evolution of the well-received 2007-2013 second generation. It was more aerodynamic than its predecessor and sported Acura’s then-new “Jewel Eye” LED headlights. It was significantly refreshed for model-year 2017, when it introduced the inverted pentagon grille that became the face of the brand.
The hot-looking A-Spec Package was added for 2019. Available exclusively on gas-only AWD models with the optional Technology Package, the A-Spec adds dapper 20-inch wheels, unique front and rear bumpers, additional blackout exterior trim, and LED fog lights. Order an A-Spec in Performance Red or Apex Blue and you have a crossover that truly stands apart from the sea of black, white, and gray. Of course, you can still get an MDX in black, white, or gray, but for the style-conscious luxury shopper, the extra $3,900 for the A-Spec Package and bolder paint is well worth it.
If the A-Spec Package isn’t exclusive enough, there’s the 2020 PMC Edition for gas-only models. With production limited to just 360 units, this MDX starts life as a bare shell at Honda’s East Liberty, Ohio, factory. It gets plucked from that plant and transported to the company’s Performance Manufacturing Center in Marysville, Ohio, where it is built by hand on the same line as the Acura NSX supercar.
Every PMC Edition receives multiple coats of “Valencia Red Pearl” paint and two coats of lacquer for a deep, almost prismatic shine. The paint process alone takes five days. Once finished, every MDX PMC gets a unique Vehicle Identification Number (VIN), a serial-number plaque on the center console, and the same final quality-control checks as the NSX. It’s then shipped to a dealer via enclosed transport.
Two: People Like Its Interior
And why not? Accommodations are excellent, with standard seating for seven via a three-across second-row bench or for six with the optional Advance Package, which substitutes two second-row captain’s chairs. Unlike some rivals (looking at you, Lexus RX), Acura treats the third row as more than an afterthought. Adults get legroom adequate for short-to-medium trips, although headroom is a bit tight. Access isn’t great, but a one-touch slider that moves the second-row seats forward helps.
Standard amenities on every 2020 MDX include leather upholstery, heated power front seats, and driver’s-seat memory. All have stacked dual-screen information displays for climate, infotainment, and optional navigation. The interface launched for 2014 was a slow, confusing mess and frequently required drilling into submenus to access key functions. Subsequent hardware and software updates mostly resolved the issues, while adding support for Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto. Imbedded navigation that doesn’t require a connected smartphone is standard on the Sport Hybrid and included with the gas-only model’s Technology or Advance packages.
Interior materials are a selling point at MDX’s price. Quality is notably better than in most mainstream midsize crossovers but admittedly falls shy of the costlier Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac XT6, Lincoln Aviator, or Mercedes-Benz GLE. Durable-looking plastics mixed with soft-touch surfaces are the order of the day. Convincing imitation woodgrain trim is standard. The Advance Package adds real wood while the A-Spec Package substitutes metal-look accents, sport bucket front seats, alcantara faux-suede door inserts, and red ambient interior lighting. For extra visual flair, the A-Spec Package offers vibrant red upholstery. PMC Editions have black leather with Alcantara inserts and red contrast stitching.
Cargo volume is competitive, at 15.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seats, 43.4 behind the second row, and 90.9 behind the first.
Three: People Like Its Performance and Fuel Economy
Most buyers choose the gas-only MDX, which has a 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with a nine-speed automatic transmission and a choice of front-wheel drive or AWD. Though far from the most powerful entry in its competitive set, the 3.5-liter MDX delivers satisfying starts and plentiful passing punch.
The Sport Hybrid combines a 3.0-liter V-6 with three battery-powered electric motors. Combined output is 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. One electric motor is in the housing of the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. It facilitates battery charging and provides additional power. The other two motors power individual rear wheels to aid traction and provide handling-enhancing side-to-side torque vectoring. This isn’t a plug-in hybrid. Battery recharging is accomplished by recapturing energy otherwise lost during coasting and braking.
Even if you live in the Sunbelt, AWD is a worthwhile upgrade. It provides a tangible benefit to handling in nearly all conditions. The system dynamically apportions power to individual wheels based on weight distribution, available traction, and other factors. Combined with natural, progressive steering feel, you get road manners bested only by the likes of the far costlier BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne.
With a relatively modest 7.3 inches of ground clearance, MDX isn’t designed for off-roading much more challenging than a gravel path. Also note that the A-Spec Package and PMC Edition are purely aesthetic exercises; they include no performance-enhancing features, not even a firmer suspension or a less-restrictive exhaust.
The MDX comes with 18-inch wheels and tires and they deliver the best ride quality. The Technology, Advance, and A-Spec packages, as well as all Sport Hybrids, include 20-inch wheels and tires. You’ll sacrifice some bump absorption for their extra grip, but their extra style is worth the tradeoff.
The MDX’s EPA ratings are in the thick of the competitive set. Gas-only models with front-wheel drive rate 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined. AWD versions rate 19/25/22 or 26/21/22, depending on option-package selection. Our recent AWD A-Spec review sample averaged a slightly disappointing 20.3 mpg in our suburban test loop.
It’s just as well Acura touts the Sport Hybrid as a performance vehicle; its EPA ratings are a comparatively ho-hum 26/27/27 mpg. Acura recommends premium-grade 91-octane gas for all MDX models.
Four: People Like Its Features
Acura has for the most part done a fine job packaging the MDX to appeal to a wide range of premium-crossover shoppers. Every ’20 comes standard with the AcuraWatch suite of safety features. This includes autonomous emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beam headlights, forward-collision warning, and lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction. Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection are standard on the Sport Hybrid, but available only as part of the Technology or Advance packages on gas-only models.
About 20 percent of buyers choose the Base MDX without any options packages. It still carries an impressive array of standard features. In addition to the features mentioned earlier, it comes with a power sunroof and rear liftgate, imbedded garage-door transmitter, three-zone automatic climate control, keyless access with pushbutton ignition, a power tilt and telescopic steering column, active noise cancellation, and a capless fuel filler.
Some 40 percent choose the Technology Package, which adds the 20-inch wheels, rain-sensing windshield wipers, power-folding exterior mirrors, upgraded leather upholstery, GPS-linked climate control, remote engine start, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert, front- and rear-obstacle detection, imbedded navigation, Acura’s excellent ELS-brand audio system, and AcuraLink telematics. Note that the contents of the Technology Package are standard on the Sport Hybrid.
The A-Spec appearance package can be added to gas-only models equipped with the Technology Package; about 15 percent of buyers choose it.
About 25 percent of buyers spring for the Advance Package. Available on all MDXs, it includes the contents of the Technology Package, plus an active damping suspension, LED fog lights, even nicer leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, heated steering wheel, manual second-row sunshades, extra USB charging ports, and surround-view camera.
An Entertainment Package that includes an ultra-widescreen rear entertainment system is available as an extra-cost option on gas-only models with the Technology or Advance package.
The PMC Edition includes the contents of the Advance and A-Spec packages, along with black Milano leather seats with Alcantara inserts, black piping and red stitching for the seats, doors linings and center armrest. Its thick A-Spec sport steering wheel is adorned in dimpled black leather with red stitching and metal-finished paddle shifters, complemented by a red illuminated meter and A-Spec floormats.
Five: People Like Its Value
For its blend of performance, features, and passenger accommodations, MDX remains one of the best values among premium-midsize crossovers. Its pricing trends thousands of dollars below that of rivals such as the Q7, X5, XT6, Aviator, and GLS.
Base prices here include Acura’s $995 destination fee. For gas models, add $2,000 for AWD.
With front-wheel drive, the gas-only 2020 MDX starts at $45,395. The Technology Package costs $5,000. The A-Spec Package is $3,500, and the Entertainment Package is $2,000. Curiously, the A-Spec and Entertainment packages cannot be ordered together. The Advance Package adds $6,750.
Pricing for the PMC Edition was not released in time for this report, but Acura estimates the mid-$60,000 range as a starting point.
Base price for the 2020 MDX Sport Hybrid is $53,895 (including the contents of the Technology Package) and $60,645 for the Sport Hybrid with the Advance Package.
For a sticker price of $55,300, an AWD MDX with Technology and A-Spec packages plus extra-cost paint is our pick. With these options, you’ll get a crossover with striking looks, solid versatility, and top-flight road manners.