Look to Acura to find out why there are so many luxury crossovers clogging parking lots at soccer fields and Starbucks. One of the first family luxury utility cars was the Acura MDX, which gave parents who cared about style an upmarket substitute for minivans.
Although competitors are catching up, the MDX is still the market leader in its category. A third row was just introduced to the Lexus RX, while the Cadillac XT6 and Lincoln Aviator are brand-new models. Acura has made an effort to keep the MDX competitive in the meanwhile by including hybrid technology and one of the most advanced all-wheel drive systems available. However, the durability of the Honda premium brand and consumer inertia are more likely to keep buyers returning to Acura dealerships.
Does staying predictable make sense in light of all the different options available? We borrowed a 2020 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid to find out. A base non-hybrid model with front-wheel drive starts at $45,395 while the all-wheel drive hybrid variant starts at $53,895. The Advanced variant that served as the basis for our test vehicle cost $60,645. The MDX is priced like a premium vehicle by Acura, but what do you get for your money?
attempting to win over everyone
To develop distinctive style that doesn’t turn off buyers, Acura has battled. Over the years, the carmaker has experimented with styling, only to face criticism and backlash from consumers. Overcorrection as seen in uninspired and anonymous designs has resulted from this. The 2020 MDX is what Acura considers to be a good middle ground.
Even if it meant upsetting a few buyers, Acura might have done more to make the MDX stand out.
The MDX is easily identifiable as an Acura from the front. It has a pentagonal grille with the TLX sedan and the smaller RDX crossover, as well as having LED headlights that resemble bugs. Acura gave the MDX this distinctive appearance as part of a redesign for the 2017 model year. The MDX has a lovely face thanks to that, but it appears like Acura’s designers stopped working there. The remainder of the MDX appears saggy and faceless. Even if it meant upsetting a few buyers, Acura might have done more to make the MDX stand out.
One advantage of choosing a luxury crossover over a more affordable vehicle is its beautiful design, but the major draw is its passenger and baggage room. In both categories, the MDX is respectable but not exceptional. In this segment, the front row is the most roomy in the Lincoln Aviator, while the second and third rows have the most legroom in the Infiniti QX60. We thought the third row of the Acura was better suited for kids because it seemed a little more crowded than other competitors’ third rows.
Although above average, the cargo space is not exceptional. However, it was simple for us to reposition the seats so that we could fit extra cargo. The MDX incorporates a sliding second-row bench seat that can be moved back to expand legroom in that row or forward to increase cargo space, unlike most of its rivals. The third-row seats are easily lowered and elevated using a straightforward clasp, but we believe a car of this price should include a power-folding alternative.
Unremarkable but practical
The MDX’s interior is functional but not very innovative in terms of design or technology. Naturally, you get leather seats and some wood trim in a luxury vehicle, but the latter feels like an afterthought. The nicer materials are also mixed up with a little too much plastic. The dull general design and monochromatic color palette would be acceptable on a high-end version of a popular vehicle, but it doesn’t scream “luxury.”
With the infotainment system, Acura likewise adopted a conservative stance, but at least it is user-friendly. Nothing here compares to the sophisticated digital instrument cluster in the Lincoln Aviator or the portrait touchscreen in the Volvo XC90, but you do get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. We didn’t miss the MDX’s lack of the touchpad-based controller found in the smaller Acura RDX, though. We thought that using a large, central knob to access the screen menus was a preferable solution. Acura also provided a volume control, which is crucial. Another nice detail are the click wheels on the steering wheel that allow you to scroll through options.
The controls for the infotainment system may be excellent, but Acura made mistakes with the controls for the actual driving. Pushbutton shifters are unsightly and take up too much room. Although this version is badly done, we still prefer buttons over computerized shift levers, which can occasionally leave the driver unclear of whether the car is in drive or reverse. Acura could take a lot of inspiration from Lincoln’s chic and efficient layout.
Luxury, not athletics
The 2020 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is the official name of this car, however that’s incorrect. The MDX is a true hybrid, however it doesn’t have any sporty features. This is just deceptive advertising; it doesn’t imply that the MDX is a horrible car to drive.
Although Acura isn’t the first automaker to overstate a car’s sportiness, we had high expectations for the MDX Sport Hybrid. What other family transporters have competed in the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, after all? The NSX supercar Acura developed has taught them a lot about creating sporty hybrids. The specifications appeared to be rather good.
The MDX is faster than its size might imply.
The Sport Hybrid has three electric motors set up in a hybrid-specific version of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, and it has a 3.0-liter V6 engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The front wheels are driven by one motor, while the rear wheels are driven by the other two. It sounds like a sporty setup. The two rear motors are configured for torque vectoring, which sends exact quantities of torque to each wheel separately to improve handling. The dual-clutch transmission may shift more quickly than a standard torque converter automatic. A respectable 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque are produced by the entire system.
From the driver’s seat, you can definitely feel that power. The MDX accelerates faster than its size may indicate, and its electric motors have ample of low-end power for acceleration. Highway overtaking is also a straightforward process. But instead of the vicious onslaught of a true performance vehicle, the MDX delivers its power with the smooth rush of a conventional luxury sedan.
The driving experience is the only aspect that even somewhat resembles being sporty. Even with the clever hybrid all-wheel drive system, the steering is sluggish, and the MDX never seemed eager to turn. The V6 engine was kept running at a higher RPM in Sport and Sport Plus modes, but the car’s feel remained same.
However, the MDX excels in more significant areas. With their three-row crossovers, most purchasers definitely aren’t seeking to nail every apex, but they do value quiet and comfortable rides. The MDX succeeds in both respects. The top cars in the segment are right up there in terms of refinement. The MDX felt as comfortable as a comfy sofa for a full day of highway driving, even though we didn’t get the chance to road trip with this vehicle.
Gas mileage is adequate but not great.
Better gas mileage is the fundamental justification for purchasing a hybrid, and the MDX does offer better mileage than the average crossover of this size. The Acura is rated for 27 mpg combined (26 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway), but our lead-footed driving only managed an average 24.1 mpg.
Although the Acura might be fine, the competition is superior. The hybrid Lexus RX 450h L has a combined fuel economy rating of 29 mpg (29 city, 28 highway), while plug-in hybrid powertrains are also available for the Volvo XC90 and Lincoln Aviator, allowing for some all-electric driving.
The useful information
When it comes to standard driver-assist technology, Acura shames the majority of other high-end manufacturers. Forward collision warning, autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, road departure mitigation, blind spot monitoring, and adaptive cruise control are all part of the AcuraWatch suite of driver assistance features. A similar selection of features is only available as standard equipment on the Lexus RX. For instance, the majority of other luxury automakers charge extra for adaptive cruise control.
A four-year, 50,000-mile standard warranty and a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty are both provided by Acura. Like its parent company Honda, Acura enjoys a solid reputation for dependability. However, opinions on reliability for the current-generation MDX are divided. J.D. Power gave the MDX a pretty high rating, but Consumer Reports gave it a below average grade. That’s a huge setback for the MDX because dependability was historically Acura’s strongest weapon versus European and American premium competitors.
In every crash test conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the MDX achieved the highest “good” rating, as well as the highest rating for its front crash prevention system. The child seat anchors and headlights on the Acura, however, were only given a “average” rating. The MDX received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
How DT would set up this vehicle
Our test car would be a close match for our ideal MDX. We would continue to choose the Sport Hybrid since it offers greater fuel economy and more power than the MDX that isn’t a hybrid for what we believe to be a fair price premium. We would also select the Advanced option, which comes with 20-inch wheels, a surround-view camera system, USB connections for the third row, and heated front seats.
It’s understandable why a lot of buyers wind up parking an Acura MDX in their driveways. The hybrid powertrain of the MDX provides power and good gas consumption while also being quiet and comfortable. Acura also got the small details right, providing the MDX easy-to-use infotainment controls and a flexible interior for carrying both passengers and baggage. This Honda Pilot would be sufficient if it were the most recent model. But because Acura is a luxury brand, it must provide more.
Acura got the details right that customers will actually notice in daily use.
The rivalry is engaging in this. With available plug-in hybrid powertrains, the Lincoln Aviator and Volvo XC90 not only outperform the MDX Sport Hybrid, but they also have a more upmarket and distinctive appearance both inside and out. The Audi Q7 is far more fun to drive while driving a three-row crossover if you want a bit of sportiness. All of these automobiles convince you to spend the extra cash on a luxury model rather than one from a lesser-known manufacturer. Unlike Acura.
Do you need one?
No. The MDX is a nice family vehicle but not a particularly luxurious one.