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Appeal is strong but sales are weakening; how will Acura solve its MDX dilemma for 2018?

2018 Acura MDX

2018 Acura MDX.

What changes will make it different?

A new paint color or two and higher prices. That’s all to expect for the 2018 Acura MDX following a major freshening for model-year 2017. The ’18 will carryover the improved styling, added safety features, and hybrid-model-option that updated this seven-passenger premium midsize crossover SUV.

That, however, may not be enough. The MDX has been Acura’s best-selling vehicle for nearly two decades, but sales dipped almost 9 percent through the first three quarters of 2016, even as sales in the segment rose 14 percent. Indeed, the MDX now vies with the compact-premium RDX as Acura’s top seller.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Maybe you shouldn’t. Acura made an already top-notch crossover better for 2017, and any 2018 changes will likely be limited to additions of paint options to the body and dollars to the sticker price. We’d like to see Honda’s premium brand make blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection standard across the board; for ’17 it was offered only on MDXs equipped with one of two pricey option packages. Perhaps the only compelling reason to wait, however, would be to take advantage of model-year closeout deals as dealers clear 2017 inventory to make way for more profitable ‘18s.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Absolutely. MDX represents its Japanese roots by delivering exceptional value for the money, delivering a premium experience at thousands of dollars less than segment rivals such as the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. That’s underpinned by a track record of top-flight reliability, resale value, and customer service. Don’t look for lineup changes between the ’17 and ’18 models. Acura offers the MDX in base trim and essentially builds rungs of the model ladder via four extra-cost packages: the Tech Package, the Tech and Entertain Package, the Advance Package, and the Advance and Entertainment Package. Look for the MDX Sport Hybrid continue in two grades called Technology and Advance.

Will the styling be different?

No. MDX got a fresh look for 2017, most obviously at the front, with the inverted pentagonal grille with large Acura logo that’ll represent the face of the brand going forward. The standard “Jewel Eye” LED headlights got a facelift as well, along with the hood, front and rear fasciae, and rear bumper.

Expect an unchanged interior in terms of design and functionality. The driver, front passenger, and second-row occupants will again have plenty of space on very comfortable seats. The third row will retain adequate room for children and small adults, though you should continue to look to slightly larger rivals such as the Infiniti QX60 for true grownup-grade third-row accommodations. Accessing the third row is made a little easier because the passenger side of the MDX’s second-row seat can power forward with the touch of a single button.

Our only serious gripe is the control setup. Most audio and climate functions are integrated into a central dashboard touchscreen that can be relatively slow to respond to user inputs. Also, some key functions are buried under layers of submenus. That can be distracting if you need to make adjustments while driving. Matters are further complicated when you add the navigation system that’s included in the optional Technology and Advance packages.

Any mechanical changes?

No. Part of MDX’s 2017 update included a new transmission along with introduction of a gas/electric hybrid model. Expect these to carry over with no changes for 2018. Conventional MDX models use a 3.5-liter V-6 that should again have 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It’ll continue to team with the 9-speed automatic transmission that replaced a 6-speed automatic for ’17. Front-wheel drive is standard. e Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is a $2,000 option.

Unlike the rival Lexus RX 450h hybrid, Acura’s MDX hybrid emphasizes performance over all-out fuel efficiency. Dubbed “Sport Hybrid,” these MDX models have a 3.0-liter V-6 gas engine mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. A built-in battery pack powers three electric motors: One in the transmission is designed to provide extra horsepower. The other two drive the rear wheels independently, meaning the Sport Hybrid is technically an all-wheel-drive vehicle. The rear electric motors replace the conventional models’ driveshift/differential SH-AWD system and provide “torque vectoring,” a system can instantly transfer power between the rear wheels in order to enhance cornering and traction.

Will fuel economy improve?

Not after the addition of the Sport Hybrid. All 2018 versions should match their ’17 counterparts for fuel-economy ratings. The EPA says the conventional 2017 MDX will achieve 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 18/26/21 mpg with SH-AWD. Models equipped with the optional Advance Package gain an engine idle stop/start feature that shuts off the engine while stopped and instantly restarts it when the driver releases their foot from the brake pedal. This boosts projected fuel-economy estimates to 20/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front drive and 19/26/22 mpg with AWD.

Official estimates for the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid were not available in time for this report. Acura says it will achieve 25 mpg city/26 highway, which would result in a 25-26 mpg combined score. They also have an idle stop/start system, but unlike most other gas/electric vehicles, they cannot operate solely on battery power for any duration. The gas engine in these models is capable of shutting off three of its cylinders at cruising speeds in order to save fuel, which could result in the EPA-estimated highway rating being slightly higher than Acura’s projection.

Will it have new features?

Probably not. As previously stated, Acura might make blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection standard on all models for 2018, but more likely, the entire model/feature range will carryover unchanged.

Leather upholstery and heated front seats will be standard across the board. The AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies will also be included. These safety features include lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction to help keep you in your lane; radar-based adaptive cruise control; forward-collision alert; pre-collision brake assist; and a blind-spot camera that operates similarly to the LaneWatch system offered on many Honda-brand vehicles. The addition of automatic emergency braking allows all MDX model to earn “Top Safety Pick+” honors from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. This crossover also receives five stars out of five for overall crashworthiness from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The Technology Package should again cost around $4,400 and net blind-spot with rear cross-traffic alert; remote engine start; rain-sensing windshield wipers; GPS-linked automatic climate control; Acura’s upscale ELS audio system; in-dash GPS navigation; and AcuraLink telematics with support for e-mail, SMS text messaging, and Apple’s Siri Eyes Free.

Models with the Technology Package should again be eligible to add the Advance Package. At around $6,040, it’ll include ventilated front seats; heated steering wheel (an MDX first); heated second-row captain’s chairs with in-door sunshades; LED fog lights; front- and rear-obstacle detection; and a bird’s eye camera. Rear DVD entertainment should remain available for $2,000 on models equipped with the Technology or Advance package.

The Sport Hybrid feature set was not available in time for this preview, but we expect it to mirror that of its gas-only MDX siblings.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll almost certainly be higher, but probably not by too much, assuming Acura adds little new content. The well-equipped 2018 MDX Base model with front-wheel drive will probably start at or slightly higher than $45,000, inclusive of destination fee, which was $940 on the 2017 MDX. Per Honda/Acura tradition, option packages are priced as separate models. The Technology Package will bring the sticker price to about $50,000, with the Advance Package raising it further to around $56,000. Add another $2,000 or so each for SH-AWD and the rear DVD entertainment system.

Pricing for the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid will be announced closer to its spring 2017 on-sale date. We expect those models to range from $48,000-$60,000. Tack on an extra $500-$1,000 for the 2018 edition.

When will it come out?

Look for a 2018 Acura MDX release date in autumn 2017.

Best competitors

Audi Q7, Buick Enclave, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Jaguar F-Pace, Volvo XC90

What change would make it better?

The addition of blind-spot and rear cross-traffic alert as standard equipment on all models would be our number selection on a very short list of improvements we would make to the MDX. A bit more headroom and legroom for third-row occupants would be good, too, but don’t count on anything like that to happen until the next MDX redesign, which is on track for model-year 2020.

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]