Mountain Wheels: Acura’s MDX gains low-key flash in the AWD A-Spec edition
Over the years, Acura’s MDX has been a favorite of the mid-upscale SUV set. But I had forgotten that it’s still one of the more pleasant and even vaguely sporty examples of a now-overcrowded category, even more so in the A-Spec edition, which I drove a week or so back.
That slightly flashier model receives red leather and black suede sport seats, a lot of stylish dark chrome exterior trim and a full console of carbon-fiber-look trim to sex up the interior — all for $56,295. For 2020 models, MDX begins at $45,395, and a hybrid version begins at $53,895.
In a back-to-back test with the Honda Pilot, I have to say that I really liked the MDX’s lower, wider stance and much wider tires, providing a more stable, early-winter ride.
I also realized I totally underestimated MDX’s size, parking it about a micron from a somewhat older Hyundai Santa Fe that I mentally envisioned being about the same size.
Lo and behold, MDX is much longer and capacious than its height would suggest, with a full set of third-row seats hidden in the back. But it does not drive or feel like a standard three-row monster, and the 290-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 — an engine that’s becoming a bit of a rarity in a world of 2.0-liter turbo motors — also gave it enough spunk to make me feel like I was driving a smaller machine while still generating about 25 mpg.
Put it to the test, and the engine is capable of careening power or confident uphill blasts, and the addition of Acura’s Super-Handling AWD system also made it feel entirely grounded during a run up and over Loveland Pass. Braking, too, is right on the money, and the nine-speed transmission could be paddle shifted to help slow the action on the ride down.
We’ve seen lots of variations on Acura’s style calendar over the years, but the current MDX achieves a pretty balanced blend of striking but not overly showy design. A-Spec gets a darkly outlined version of the new Superman logo-styled grille emblem, with starburst lines flowing out to the sides, bookended by five-lens LED headlamps with daytime running lamp surrounds. That all sits on top of a black-outlined mesh grille and three-lens fog lamps; a gently curved and creased hood makes it all very appealing.
Mine rode on black smoked 20-inch chrome wheels, shaped like propeller blades; all around the vehicle, the dark trim is a nice effect, including a blacked-out air dam above the rear glass and under-bumper aerodynamic effects – plus giant, boastful exhaust ports.
Minus the audacity of those red seats, they end up being broad and supportive, though I got some sort of odd mid-back wiggle sensation each time I came to a stop. Side mirrors are in a low position, and side and forward visibility is pretty good despite fairly large A-pillars.
To reach the second or third rows, both sides of the second row seating flip and slide forward with the press of a button; second-row seating is taller but offers the same stiffly sporty sensation.
Overall cabin design and interior style remains top of the class here with a smooth and elegantly angled dash, vibrant arches across the doors and some brilliant instruments — sharp looks and layout. Acura (and Honda) are still playing with a double-stacked set of monitors, which still borders on overkill, but the controls are easy to access and for the first time, I got the hang of a largely digitized bank of heat, fan and seat-heat controls contained in one of those screens — plus a big navigation control knob for the rest.
The pushbutton transmission, all laid out in one vertical strip, also makes sense after you’ve used it for a week. And other than on-screen warnings saying you have to absolutely floor the brake pedal for the engine auto-stop function to engage (which is not a bad idea, really), it was all pretty intuitive.
A sliding lid with rubber strips does a good job of holding your phone and slides and tilts, revealing an unusually large under-the-elbow storage space.
If you decide to go the hybrid route, it’s probably an even sportier experience, as the 3.0-liter engine and a three-motor electric AWD system provide 321 overall horsepower, notching mileage up to 27 mpg, highway and city combined.
Andy Stonehouse’s column “Mountain Wheels” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Stonehouse has worked as an editor and writer in Colorado since 1998, focusing on automotive coverage since 2004. He lives in Greeley. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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