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Lame duck, but still game? Why the 2019 Acura MDX is an intriguing value

2019 Acura MDX

2019 Acura MDX

What changes will make the 2019 Acura MDX different?

Likely nothing — aside from higher prices – in the final season of the current-generation MDX. A fully redesigned version of this seven-passenger premium midsize crossover SUV is due in calendar 2019 as a 2020 model. Honda’s upscale Acura division hopes it’ll continue the success enjoyed by the outgoing 2014-2017 generation. The MDX is Acura’s best-selling model, just ahead of the smaller five-seat RDX compact crossover.

The MDX is also America’s most popular three-row premium crossover, despite a 1-percent slip in demand in ‘17. Sales of all premium midsize crossovers declined 2 percent for 2017. But the class could get a boost in 2018, as Lexus launches the first seven-passenger version of the RX crossover, the segment’s over sales leader. In addition to attracting Lexus-brand loyalists, it will almost certainly steal potential buyers from the established players in the three-row competitive set: the MDX, Audi Q7, BMW X5, Buick Enclave, Infiniti QX60, Land Rover Discovery, and Volvo XC90.

Why should I wait for the 2019?

You shouldn’t. The current-generation MDX was significantly refreshed for model-year 2017 and benefitted from a few feature tweaks for 2018. Don’t expect Acura to invest resources in updating the 2019 model as it prepares its 2020 replacement. In essence, you’re likely to suffer some price increase to a vehicle that’s virtually unchanged. If you do wait, it’s possible Acura could field a farewell special edition that might group desirable features at a money-saving price. And all ’19 MDXs could be heavily discounted as the model-year draws to a close and dealers clear inventories ahead of the all-new ‘20s.

Should I buy a 2018 model instead?

It’d be a wise decision. This is the best-balanced entry in its competitive set, with just the right blend of roominess and sportiness and a value story underpinned by Acura’s outstanding reputation for reliability and resale value. The only change of note to the ’18 MDX was faster infotainment hardware and introduction of Apple CarPlay and Google Android Auto.

The 2018 lineup should carry into 2019, with two versions of the MDX available. The volume-seller is the gas-only model powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 engine. The other is the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD. It combines a 3.0-liter gas six with electric motors, one of which kicks in to power the rear wheels and provide all-wheel drive. The primary goal of the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD is enhanced performance over outright fuel efficiency.

The gasoline MDX roster begins with the Base grade and builds on it with equipment packages that Acura describes and prices as individual models. These are the MDX with Technology Package, MDX with Technology and Entertainment Package, MDX with Advance Package, and MDX with Advance and Entertainment Package. Each is available with front-wheel drive or with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). The 2018 Sport Hybrid lineup consists of the Technology Package and the flagship Advance Package models, both with standard SH-AWD.

Will the styling be different?

No, not until the 2020 redesign. The model-year 2017 freshening introduced styling themes Acura would adopt going forward. Dimensions and main body shape didn’t change, but the MDX got the brand’s new inverted pentagonal grille with a large Acura logo in the center and a bright chrome surround. It’s flanked by Acura’s signature “Jewel Eye” headlights with full LED illumination.

For 2018, Basque Red and San Marino Red brightened available paint colors, but there will continue to be little visual distinction between the different MDX grades. The Base should again come with 18-inch alloy wheels while all others, including the hybrid, return with 20-inch alloys. Small badges on the fenders and rear liftgate are likely to again be the only way to identify the MDX hybrid from its gas-only stablemates.

Inside, the 2019 MDX should retain the dual-screen infotainment system Acura began to use a few years ago – with mixed results. It duplicates some displays and doubles inputs for others. The redesigned 2019 RDX signals Acura’s phase-out of this setup. Its replacement is a single, widescreen display mounted atop the center of the dashboard and governed by a laptop-style touchpad located in the center console. The screen handles audio and vehicle settings while climate controls are independent. It strikes a better balance between form and function and expect it to be used in the next-gen MDX.

No quibbles with the overall interior design. All seats are comfortable and supportive. Models with the Advance Package get a pair of plush captain’s chairs in the second row, replacing a three-across bench seat. A power-sliding second row is standard and opens a decently sized aperture to the aft-most seating positions. Adults can fit in the third row for short trips, but only with the Advance Package will occupants back there get a USB charging port. Cargo space is among the class leaders, with 15.8 cubic feet behind the third-row seats, 43.4 behind the second row, and 90.9 behind the front seats. Small items storage is very good as well, with spacious door pockets and a roomy center console.

Any mechanical changes?

Not before the 2020 redesign, which will likely include the introduction of the MDX’s first four-cylinder engine, a turbocharged unit that should best today’s gas V-6 for fuel economy, and possibly for torque, too. The ’19 MDX gas models will carry over a 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. It pairs with a 9-speed automatic transmission. Acceleration is snappy, though the transmission is occasionally reluctant to downshift when you need immediate power for highway passing and merging.

The Sport Hybrid’s 3.0-liter V-6 produce 257 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque, but it’s supplemented by a trio of electric motors for a net system output of 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. It uses a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The extra power offsets its 230-pound motor/battery weight penalty, so acceleration is on par with that of the gas-only MDX. The Sport Hybrid can run solely on electric power under very light throttle and at cruising speed. Otherwise, the electric motors assist with acceleration and automatically furnish power to the rear wheels when sensors detect front-tire slip. This is not a plug-in hybrid. It relies on regenerative braking and coasting to recharge the battery pack.

Handling will remain a strong point with any 2019 MDX, especially those with AWD. The system’s improvement to dry- and wet-road grip is readily apparent as it dynamically apportions power among the four wheels. Steering feedback is outstanding. The Base grade will have the best ride quality because its 18-inch tires better absorb bumps that the 20s, which allow more impacts to be felt in the cabin.

Will fuel economy improve?

Unlikely. With no mechanical changes, EPA ratings should carry over. That means Base and Technology Package models would again rate 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 18/26/21 with AWD.

The Advance Package adds a stop/start function that shuts off the engine at idle and restarts it when the driver releases the brake pedal. The ’19 MDX with Advance Package and with Advance and Entertainment Packages should again rate 20/27/23 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 with AWD. Expect the 2019 Sport Hybrid to retain ratings of 26/27/27 mpg city/highway/combined. Figure Acura will again require premium-grade 91-octane gasoline for all versions of the 2019 MDX.

Will it have new features?

Probably not. Key driver-assistance features should remain standard, including automatic high-beam headlights, lane-departure warning with lane-maintaining automatic steering, autonomous emergency braking to slow or stop the MDX to mitigate a frontal collision, and adaptive cruise control to maintain a set distance from traffic ahead.

Blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection have been standard on all models save the Base grade; Acura would do well to send off this MDX generation by making it standard across the board for 2019.

All models should retain standard leather upholstery with heated power front seats, a power sunroof and rear liftgate, capless fuel filler, and CarPlay/Android Auto. In addition to blind-spot alert, the Technology Package would add imbedded navigation with AcuraLink telematics and GPS-linked climate control, remote engine start, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and an upgraded audio system.

The Entertainment Package nets a 16.2-inch screen that flips down from the overhead console. It’s capable of displaying two input sources side-by-side, though only models with the Advance Package would benefit from a secondary HDMI input for connecting devices such as video game consoles.

Other Advance extras would include ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and second-row seats, rear side-window sunshades, front- and rear-obstacle detection, and a surround-view camera.

How will 2019 prices be different?

They’ll likely increase, but probably not by much, as Acura looks for every edge it can muster to sustain interest in this outgoing generation with its all-new replacement just ahead. As a baseline, we’ll list here the 2018 MDX prices, including the manufacturer’s $975 destination fee. Note that for the gas-only models, these starting prices are with front-wheel drive. SH-AWD is a $2,000 option.

The 2018 Base grade was priced at $45,175, the MDX with Technology Package at $49,575, and MDX with Technology and Entertainment Package at $51,575. With the Advance Package, the price was $55,625, and with the Advance and Entertainment it was $57,625. There are no factory options, but a variety of 20-inch wheels designs are available from Acura dealers at $2,000-$3,325.

Acura had not announced pricing for the 2018 Sport Hybrid in time for this review. The 2017 version was priced at $52,935 with the Technology Package and $58,975 with the Advance Package, including a $975 destination fee.

When will it come out?

Expected release date for the 2019 Acura MDX is the third quarter of 2018.

Best competitors

Audi Q7, BMW X5, Buick Enclave, 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]