Review: 2018 Acura MDX
Large in some ways, small in others
THE PROS & CONS
- What’s Best: Nicely finished at a reasonable price.
- What’s Worst: Impractical cargo space behind third row.
- What’s Interesting: Having both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a rarity in the luxury segment.
To put a modern spin on a well-worn saying: one person’s cast-off is another’s treasure.
This is because we humans, fortunately, are a wonderfully diverse bunch. Life would be awfully boring if we weren’t. We could all drive identical vehicles and be well-served and entirely happy.
Because we are all very different, though, I’m about to list off some reasons why the 2018 Acura MDX is not the three-row luxury SUV I’d choose while at the same time fully acknowledging that it could very well be the perfect car for plenty of others.
After all, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada voted the MDX the Best Large Premium Utility Vehicle in Canada for 2018, and that sort of accolade doesn’t form out of thin air. But if your priorities in a high-end three-row crossover happen to line up with mine – solid handling, a usable third row with cargo space, and user-friendly connectivity – consider reading on before you make a final decision.
A lot of drivers are delighted when they learn that the standard engine in the MDX is still a naturally aspirated classic. Given the way I drive, though – and how quiet the car’s cabin is, which reduces how much growling finds its way to the driver’s ears anyway – I hope the next generation comes with a turbocharged option.
The 3.5L V6 that comes with nearly all MDX models makes 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. Those are solid figures on paper, but the full amount of that torque doesn’t come until 4,700 rpm. With a curb weight of 1,940 kg (4,277 lb), that amount of rotation takes a fair while to reach from a stop.
On top of that, the baseline, more comfortable drive mode makes both the nine-speed automatic transmission and the suspension feel very relaxed in responsiveness. The combination leaves the MDX feeling very large from behind the wheel and me feeling left behind at every light and passing opportunity.
Frankly, I was ready to write the car off – until I discovered the sport and dynamic modes. With those two enabled, this couldn’t possibly be a more different vehicle.
Sport mode alters the transmission’s shift pattern to hold the revs in that useful range for accessing peak torque, and a push of the dynamic button flattens the ride completely, removing any trace of pitch or body roll. Suddenly, I quite enjoyed driving the thing and wished I’d made the changeover as soon as I’d first sat down.
If I owned this car, I would need to drive it with sport and dynamic modes enabled at all times to be able to live with it. As a result, I would plan to use a lot more fuel than the advertised 12.2 L/100 km in the city and 9.0 on the highway. I finished my week with the MDX at 11.2 L/100 km, but I used it for several long highway stints where the engine’s variable cylinder management no doubt was of significant help. For people who do that sort of driving most of the time, this car would serve them well. I usually do far more city driving, which means that between my preferred settings and the requirement for premium fuel, I’d need to expect my bills at the pumps to be expensive.
The MDX Sport Hybrid is likely a different proposition. Its 3.0L V6 and trio of hybrid-electric motors produce 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque along with the hit of instant torque on acceleration that electric power provides. However, I haven’t yet tested that model, so I can only guess that it might be a better fit for my needs.
Looks that Suit
The MDX made a huge leap in style when the new pentagonal grille and LED headlamps were added for the 2017 model year. Suddenly, the entire package seems much more fashionable.
That means that a revolution is no longer necessary, but in the next redesign it still would be nice to see an evolution through tighter and more refined lines and a larger grille in proportion to the rest of the front end.
Inside, the design is certainly tasteful, if not especially memorable. The seats don’t leave an impression visually, but they are plush and comfortable. Multi-driver homes will love that the driver’s seat automatically adjusts to the preferred settings for the owner of the remote that’s starting the car – a highly underrated convenience.
The pair of centre consoles between the seats in the first two rows are not necessarily beautiful, but they are eminently useful with plenty of compartments for hiding away doodads and treasures (and the one in front is large enough to hold a small handbag). There is a sunroof, but it’s smaller in size and only adds light to the front of the cabin where it’s not as needed.
The open-pore wood trim that comes standard in both Elite trims brings the class level up considerably and is probably the most memorable element of the entire interior.
Where problems come into play is with the third row. Don’t get me wrong – as third rows go, the seats here are actually quite useful. They’re wide, well-cushioned, easy to access, and there’s plenty of leg room if the people in the second row choose to offer it. Unfortunately, as soon as you’re using them, you lose nearly all of the useful storage space in the back. My daughter and I went with four friends to Buffalo to watch a baseball game, and I tried to load a cooler so that we could bring some Trader Joe’s frozen foods back with us – only to find that the liftgate wouldn’t close with the cooler inside. And it’s a good thing that it didn’t fit after all because our friends had stayed with family overnight and their bags needed that entire space, leaving us to sit with bags of groceries piled around our feet all the way home. If you use it as a four-seater, the MDX will gobble up almost anything you want to throw at it. As a six or seven-seater, though, you’ll need to plan to pack judiciously.
Too Many Buttons, or Not Enough?
Buttons are a far more delicate balance than many people would ever believe. With too many, you can get lost just trying to change the radio station.
But as it turns out, taking away too many buttons creates the same problems.
One place where the MDX has a less-than-usual set of buttons is for the shifter, where a panel replaces the traditional stick. This frees up a lot of perceived space between the driver and passenger, and it’s laid out such that reverse is set completely differently from park and drive, which removes the potential for mistakes. Some people don’t like it; I find it simple and effective.
Move up the centre console, and a whole lot of traditional buttons are gone entirely. The temperature controls, front and rear defrosters, and on/off control for the fans are all still on buttons, but every other adjustment, from radio stations and phone functionality to finer HVAC controls and the heated and cooled seats, is managed through the infotainment system. In some cars, this works. In this one, I find the layout less intuitive. It requires more hunting and pecking than I’m comfortable with doing while driving.
Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are built in on the MDX, which is still a rarity in the luxury segment. Here, the smartphone apps run off the topmost of the two screens in the centre stack. This is nice in the sense that it keeps the bottom screen running, so important controls like HVAC aren’t lost and the radio can be adjusted independently. However, the top screen is not touch-activated, which means that app screens and functions must be navigated using the bottom-most large dial. It gets annoying very quickly.
Lots of Safety
The MDX Elite models are packed to the hilt with safety features: forward collision warning and collision mitigation braking, lane keep assist and lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, blind spot information, cross-traffic monitor, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and a surround-view parking camera with front and rear parking sensors.
In terms of the things I tend to look for in an SUV of this size – three rows of seating with enough cargo left over for travelling, engaging drive dynamics, user-friendly infotainment – I find that this car is not my ideal fit. If your priorities are different, though – perhaps you will almost never use the third row, or a long list of safety features appeals to you most, or you want a luxury badge without the exorbitant price tag – the Acura MDX could very well be the one for you.
2018 Acura MDX Elite 6 Passenger
BODY STYLE: Three-row mid-size SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel drive
ENGINE: 3.5L V6 with variable cylinder management (Power: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm; Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm)
CARGO CAPACITY: 447 L behind third row/1,230 L behind second row/2,575 L behind first row
FUEL ECONOMY (Regular): 12.2/9.0/11.0 L/100 km city/highway/combined
PRICE: MSRP $66,190; total with fees $68,363
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