by Roger Biermann
The MDX is Acura's three-row midsize luxury SUV and, now in its third generation, continues to be a strong seller for the brand. The Sport Hybrid MDX uses a 3.0-liter V6 engine linked to three electric motors for a fine balance of powerful performance and good fuel efficiency. Total system output for the MDX Hybrid is 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque and power is delivered through a seven-speed DCT (Dual-Clutch Transmission) to all four wheels thanks to Acura's SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system. In a class packed with competitors sporting large, lavish cabins (consider the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90, each with excellent interiors), the MDX struggles to keep pace with below-average space for passengers in the second and third rows, and middling materials. There's also Acura's less intuitive infotainment system to contend with. Still, the MDX keeps itself in contention with its sporty powertrain, sharp handling capability, and an impressive list of standard convenience and safety features.
Following a comprehensive range of updates in 2018, the changes to the 2019 MDX Hybrid are less obvious. Wider wheels and tires are now used for models specified with the Advance Package. Interior materials have been upgraded, with new wood trim being introduced. Four new exterior colors have also been made available, while on the Advance, both front seats now boast four-way power lumbar adjustment (previously two-way). Desert Olive Ash wood inserts and high contrast stitching on the seats and door panels are now incorporated, while the Advance model gets matching wood center console trim.
The wider 20-inch wheels (on the Advance Package) are the most noticeable of the changes to the exterior of the MDX Hybrid. These wheels are gray metallic and machine-finished, although the MDX's bulk somewhat disguises their size. Both the Technology and Advance Packages have Jewel Eye LED headlights, LED daytime running lights, and LED-illuminated tail lights. The Advance Package adds LED fog lights, body-color lower trim, and roof rails.
The MDX Hybrid is 196.2 inches in length, 77.7 inches wide, and 67.4 inches tall. The wheelbase is 111 inches long and ground clearance is 7.3 inches. These are similar dimensions to the Honda Pilot, with which the MDX shares a platform. The Lexus RX is a similar size as well, although it's notably narrower than the MDX. Curb weight is 4,471 pounds for the MDX Hybrid with the Technology Package and 4,486 lbs if you opt for the Advance Package.
Four new exterior colors have been introduced for the 2019 MDX Hybrid. They are Gunmetal Metallic, Majestic Black Pearl, Performance Red Pearl, and Canyon Bronze Metallic, the latter three available at a cost of $400. White Diamond Pearl, Fathom Blue Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, and Modern Steel Metallic have been retained, while color options which have fallen away are Basque Red Pearl II, Crystal Black Pearl, and Black Copper Pearl.
The MDX Hybrid makes the most of its single powertrain to deliver compelling performance. The 3.0-liter V6 combines with a three-motor hybrid system comprising a single electric motor in front and dual rear motors. Combined system output is a healthy 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. A single transmission option is available, being a seven-speed DCT (Dual-Clutch Transmission). Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive sends power to all four wheels.
The combination of AWD traction and instantly available power translates to excellent performance, with the MDX Hybrid completing the 0-60 mph sprint in 5.7-seconds. Max speed is 143 mph. By comparison, the AWD Lexus RX 450hL hybrid is down on both power and torque, and its CVT transmission means that performance isn't as easily accessible as via the MDX's DCT. Overall, the MDX Hybrid's performance is excellent for this segment, with competitors that are significantly faster carrying a much higher price premium. Like some other hybrids, the MDX is not recommended for towing.
The smooth 3.0-liter V6 engine is a 24-valve, i-VTEC unit and delivers 257 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque on its own, with the additional output from the three electric motors increasing overall power delivery to 321 hp and 289 lb-ft. The dual rear motors provide instant torque (54 lb-ft at each rear wheel) and the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is generally a good pairing with the hybrid system, changing gears quickly and unobtrusively.
At lower speeds, the MDX makes use of electric power, with the V6 only springing into life when requiring more urge. There is a slight delay between applying gas and the V6 responding, and this can take some getting used to when pulling away from a traffic light. Once up to speed, passing slower-moving traffic is an effortless exercise, the torque on tap making light work of the MDX's large body.
It would be disappointing if the excellent hybrid powertrain were not matched by competent dynamics, but thankfully the MDX delivers in this area too. For starters, handling is outstanding for a sizeable SUV that can seat up to seven passengers. Together with the grippy AWD system, the dual rear electric motors enhance the handling characteristics by being able to apply power to each wheel independently. The effect is most useful when executing a sudden lane change and, together with reasonably feelsome steering feedback, the MDX can be hustled along a twisty patch of road at a pace that is pleasantly surprising. There are four driving modes to choose from - Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+ - and most drivers should be perfectly happy sticking with Comfort or Normal, the sport modes adding unnecessary heaviness to the steering.
Despite the excellent handling, ride comfort has not been compromised. Adaptive dampers help to maintain serene, smooth progress, and the MDX generally does a great job of isolating passengers from imperfections and surface changes. In electric-only mode, the sensation of refinement is even more enhanced without the sound of the V6.
Off-road, the MDX Hybrid isn't really in its element, with the AWD system being primarily conceived to improve handling, not enable the MDX to tackle seriously tough obstacles. Still, the 7.3-inches of ground clearance and AWD do provide a modicum of added assurance on gravel roads.
The MDX Hybrid's powertrain provides significant fuel economy gains over the gasoline-only MDX. EPA-rated estimates are 26/27/27 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles, which is a welcome improvement on the AWD gas model's 22 mpg in mixed driving. With a 19.4-gallon gas tank capacity, the MDX Hybrid manages a combined cycle range of 523 miles. The Lexus RX 450hL does, however, boast superior figures of 31/28/30 mpg, but the MDX Hybrid's overall balance of performance and efficiency just trumps it. Premium unleaded octane is the recommended gas type for the MDX's V6.
In isolation, the MDX Hybrid's interior appears to live up to the luxury SUV billing. The front seats offer a wide range of adjustment and all seats are attractively finished and bolstered. The upgraded materials and standard of construction are robust, the Advance model's finishes are especially attractive, and the switchgear operates with solidity befitting vehicles in this class. It's with more familiarity that the interior displays its shortcomings. While decently built, you'll find the cabins of the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Volvo XC90 all feel more special and expensive. Headroom and legroom in the second row aren't overly generous, and the third row feels cramped for adults. The dual-screen infotainment system and electronic shifter look interesting at first glance, but you'll soon realize they don't work as well as competitors' offerings.
The MDX Hybrid seats either six or seven passengers depending on the package you opt for. Models equipped with the Technology Package seat seven passengers in three rows, with the middle row being a traditional bench seat for three. Specify the Advance Package, and the middle bench is replaced by a pair of plush captain's chairs for a total seating capacity of six. The front two rows feel sufficient rather than vast, and the driving position is adaptable for drivers of all sizes. A fully adjustable driver's seat and power tilt-and-telescopic adjustment for the steering column help in this regard. Second-row legroom is mediocre for the class and varies between 35.6 and 37.5 inches depending on their position, but it's best to leave them in their forwardmost position if anyone is occupying the third row. Passengers consigned to this third-row have between 28.1 and 30.9 inches of legroom at their disposal, which isn't much. To be fair, most rivals with a third row - including the Infiniti XQ60 - don't fare much better, and it's best to consider the third row for kids or for shorter trips if an adult must sit back there. At least access to the third row is made easier thanks to the standard one-touch operation of the second-row seats.
Both MDX Hybrid models feature attractive leather seats allround and, for the 2019 model, appealing natural wood trim. On the Technology Package, these sports seats are trimmed in perforated premium leather with contrast stitching, while the Advance Package adds Milano premium leather for an even more luxurious feel. Four interior colors are available to complement the upper black dashboard: Graystone, Parchment, Espresso and Ebony. The second-row captain's chairs of the Advance Package also add a large center console trimmed in leather and finished with the same wood treatment found on the dashboard and doors.
One of Acura's most noteworthy achievements with the MDX Hybrid must be how it's managed to package the hybrid system in such a way that utility and cargo space haven't seen any significant compromises relative to the non-hybrid model. Cargo space behind the third row is a reasonable 15 cubic feet, which is double what's available in the Lexus RX 450hL and a shade more than what's offered by the Audi Q7. Fold the third row of seats down, and there's 38.4 cu-ft of space available, expanding to a full 68.4 cu-ft if both the second and third rows are folded flat. Doing so also reveals a usefully flat floor, making it easier to slide larger items in and out. The second row has a 60/40 split folding seat if specified with the bench and 40/40 if specified with the captain's chairs. Third row seats have a 50/50 split fold.
Interior storage space is generous, with the clever center console offering lots of space, as does the second-row console between the captain's chairs (should you specify the Advance Package). There are plenty of cupholders dotted around the cabin and they are well-sized.
Whether equipped with the Technology Package or the range-topping Advance Package, both MDX Hybrids are loaded with a full suite of driver assistive aids and comfort features. The Technology Package has a power moonroof, Jewel Eye LED headlights, LED puddle lights, parking sensors front and rear, power-folding side mirrors, and rear doors smart key entry. Inside, the heated driver's seat has 12-way power adjustment and power lumbar support with easy entry. There are also two-way memory controls for the driver's seat, side mirrors, and steering wheel position. The front passenger seat has eight-way power adjustment and is also heated. Tri-zone climate control, a keyless access system, push-button ignition, and safety features like a multi-view rear camera and adaptive cruise control are also fitted.
The Advance Package adds on an active damper system and auto-dimming side mirrors. The front seats both get ventilation, and the passenger-side front seat adds power lumbar support. Heating for the rear seats and steering wheel, a surround-view camera system, and a head-up warning also form part of this package.
The MDX Hybrid makes use of Acura's unloved dual-screen infotainment system. Conceptually, two screens make sense as different functions can be handled by each, and there is more screen real-estate to display information. In reality, the combination of the upper screen and lower eight-inch touchscreen make it challenging to know where to look, and the menus are not especially well laid out. The upper screen displays the standard navigation system's information but suffers from poor resolution. However, the system doesn't want for much in terms of features. Standard is a ten-speaker ELS sound system including auxiliary input jack, USB audio interface with iPod integration, Aha and Pandora compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, HD radio, and Bluetooth streaming audio. The comprehensive smartphone interface includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, a Bluetooth HandsFreeLink wireless telephone interface, and Siri Eyes Free. Both trims include a 3D view function for the navigation system and real-time traffic updates thanks to AcuraLink. For such a large vehicle, it's important to provide USB ports for more than just the front passengers - the Technology Package has two ports per row for the front two rows, while the Advance Package adds another two USB charging ports for passengers in the third row.
The third-generation MDX's reliability has improved since its launch in 2014 when most complaints related to the engine and brakes. J.D. Power's reliability rating for the 2019 MDX Hybrid is just below average, with the one safety recall issued for potentially reduced braking performance due to an insufficient coating on the rear brake caliper pistons.
The MDX Hybrid comes with a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty. Acura's roadside assistance and Total Luxury Care (TLC) offering are valid for four-years/50,000 miles. The warranty compares favorably with competitors, although both the Lexus RX and Audi Q7 offer unlimited mileage as part of their roadside assistance cover.
The MDX Hybrid is a safe SUV and boasts a five-star NHTSA overall safety rating and an overall IIHS safety assessment of Good, the highest available safety rating. The forward collision warning system also received high praise from the IIHS, with a Superior rating and the ability to avoid a collision in both the 12 mph and 25 mph tests.
There is a high level of passive and active safety features in both MDX Hybrid models, along with a generous suite of driver assistive technologies. There are advanced front airbags, front side airbags, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor, and a driver's knee airbag. Driver assistive technologies - the bulk of them falling under the AcuraWatch suite of safety features - amount to a multi-view rear camera, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation system, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. The Technology Package (standard on both Hybrid models, but optional on non-hybrid models) adds a blind spot information system and rear cross traffic monitor to provide the driver with an extended range of rearward vision.
The MDX remains one of Acura's higher volume selling models, and for good reason. It is endowed with an advanced hybrid powertrain and nimble handling characteristics that stand out in what is a bulky, three-row luxury SUV. In hybrid form, whether you opt for the Technology or Advance Package, the features count is high enough to keep the driver and passengers entertained. However, no matter how many refinements and features have been added through the years, this third-generation model doesn't provide the most space for passengers not fortunate enough to sit up front. The infotainment system is also fundamentally flawed and remains an Acura weak point in every model it appears in.
However, if you can make peace with this system and are happy to keep the third row of seats folded down most of the time, the MDX Hybrid actually doesn't have a competitor that comprehensively outguns it. While the Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and BMW X5 are all better engineered and have the more polished cabins, they are priced out of contention with the MDX when equipped to the same level. The Honda Pilot isn't as expensive but misses out on the MDX's luxury feel and high-tech features. The Lexus RX 450hL Hybrid is one of the closest matches for the MDX Hybrid, but its third row is even more cramped than the Acura's, it's less powerful, and it's less engaging to drive. The MDX Hybrid remains worthy of a place on your shortlist if a powerful, luxury SUV is what you are looking for.
Both MDX Hybrid models are equipped with the same 3.0-liter V6 engine, three-motor hybrid system, and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. The Sport Hybrid with the Technology Package has an MSRP of $52,800 and adding on the fully loaded Advance Package raises the price to $59,550. Prices do not include taxes, license or a destination and handling charge of $995.
The MDX Hybrid is available in two models, both using an identical powertrain and all-wheel drive system. The 3.0-liter V6 engine gets extra power from a three-motor hybrid system and channels it through a seven-speed DCT. The first model is the Sport Hybrid with Technology Package followed by the range-topping Sport Hybrid with Advance Package. The Advance Package adds on to the Technology Package, and so includes all of its features.
Opt for the Technology Package, and as standard, it boasts 20-inch machine-finished alloy wheels, LED puddle lights, power-folding side mirrors, parking sensors front and rear, a premium ELS audio system with ten speakers, Acura's navigation system with 3D view, a blind spot monitoring system, and remote engine start. The seats are trimmed in leather and boast 12-way power adjustment for the driver and eight-way power adjustment for the front passenger. Seating is for seven across three rows and climate control is taken care of by a tri-zone system.
Adding on the Advance Package changes the middle bench seat to a pair of captain's chairs with a large center console between them, reducing seating capacity to six. The Advance also receives an active damper system, LED fog lights, roof rails, auto-dimming side mirrors, upscale Milano leather for the seats, seat ventilation in front, side sunshades in the second row, a head-up warning, a heated steering wheel, and a surround-view camera system.
Owing to Acura's unique 'package' structure - essentially a trim line on other brands' models - it means that there are fewer available additional options than you may find on other brands. Still, the MDX is more generous than many other Acura models with the number of optional extras to up the level of customization.
LED fog lights - standard on the Advance - can be specified for the model with the Technology Package for $650. Chrome roof rails are a stylish addition to this model as well and go for $560. Inside, a heated steering wheel can be specified for $500 - it comes as standard on the Advance.
Whether you choose the Sport Hybrid with the Technology Package or the Advance Package, you'll be getting a well-specified and high performing luxury SUV. The two don't provide a markedly different experience from behind the wheel, and so the choice would depend on whether you would be willing to spend the $6,750 extra on the Advance model. Its most appealing features are those second-row captain's chairs (although these do reduce the seating capacity to six), the adaptive damper system for more control over the ride characteristics, and the useful surround-view camera system/head-up warning. If you don't mind the extra outlay, the Advance wants for little in terms of equipment and is an attractive choice.
The Lexus RX Hybrid range is available in standard and 'L' versions - the latter adding a third row of seating. This means that the Lexus provides a bit more choice for buyers in this class, some of whom may be perfectly happy with a five-seater. A lower MSRP range of $46,245 - $54,905 makes the RX the more affordable option, but it is down on power alongside the MDX Hybrid and its CVT transmission isn't as involving to use. Inside, the Lexus has the edge for material quality but its third-row seating is even tighter and the infotainment system also lags behind the best for easy operation. While the RX provides a beautifully refined ride, it doesn't match the sharp handling abilities of the MDX. The MDX's list of available features is also more extensive. Overall, the MDX is the better driving companion but the RX is just a bit better to sit in - provided you don't find yourself squeezed into the third row.
Like the current MDX, the 2019 Toyota Highlander was first launched in 2014 but has been kept fresh thanks to several upgrades through the years. A more affordable hybrid SUV than the MDX, the Highlander promises Toyota's famed reliability and pairs this with a powerful hybrid powertrain. With 306 horsepower, the Highlander is not too far off the MDX Hybrid's output, while being slightly more fuel efficient than the Acura. Seating capacity is eight for the Toyota, one more than the MDX, although features-wise the MDX atones for its higher price with more available niceties. The Highlander also misses out on Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Dynamically, the MDX outshines the Highlander, providing a more enticing driving experience, the Toyota not feeling especially agile. Unlike the MDX, which Acura doesn't recommend for towing, the Highlander Hybrid is capable of towing 3,500 pounds. If you're considering an SUV at a lower price point, the Toyota Highlander comes highly recommended. The MDX justifies its premium positioning with more advanced features and an interior that feels plusher than the Highlander's.