by Karl Furlong
Acura's midsize luxury SUV, the MDX, is a strong seller for the marque. With a combination of a spacious and comfortable cabin, plenty of standard features, and fun driving dynamics courtesy of its Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system, it has a lot going for it. In hybrid guise, the total system output of 321 horsepower positions this model as the performer of the range, not just a more efficient crossover. The three-motor hybrid system is refined and smooth, integrating well with the 3.0-liter V6 engine, and is one of the highlights of the package. The MDX isn't perfect, however - it's saddled with an infotainment system that delivers a poor user experience, the interior materials aren't exceptional for a luxury SUV, and the Honda Pilot exists as a superb cheaper alternative for buyers who haven't succumbed to badge snobbery. There is no arguing with the sales charts, though: the MDX clearly ticks many of the boxes that matter to buyers in this segment.
Acura introduced a few enhancements to the MDX range in 2019, such as a couple of new exterior shades and wider wheels/tires when equipped with the Advance Package. For 2020, no changes have been made to the SUV range.
The MDX Hybrid looks as it did last year, which means that it's a handsome, inoffensive, but not spectacularly designed three-row crossover. The first signs that the MDX Hybrid is well-equipped are evident from the outside, where it gets 20-inch alloy wheels, LED puddle lights, power-folding side mirrors, front/rear parking sensors, a power moonroof, and a power-operated tailgate to make loading cargo less laborious. At the front, Acura's familiar Jewel Eye LED headlights are fitted. Models with the Advance Package also get LED fog lights and roof rails.
Sharing a platform with the Honda Pilot, the MDX is similar in size to that model. Key dimensions are a length of 196.2 inches, a width of 77.7 inches, a height of 67.4 inches, and a 111-inch wheelbase. The MDX Hybrid's curb weight is either 4,471 pounds (with the Technology Package) or 4,486 lbs (with the Advance Package). This is over 400 lbs heavier than a base, non-hybrid MDX. Not that off-road ability would be top of mind for most MDX owners, but for what it's worth, ground clearance (unladen) is 7.3 inches, with approach/departure/breakover angles of 14.9/17.4/15.2 degrees, respectively.
The MDX Hybrid's powertrain pairs a 3.0-liter naturally aspirated V6 engine (with i-VTEC) with a three-motor hybrid system - there is one front electric motor and two rear electric motors. The combined system output is 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque. Power goes to all four wheels via the Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system (SH-AWD), while a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission is fitted.
The performance is strong. The MDX Hybrid can complete the benchmark 0-60 mph run in under six seconds in real-world testing, on its way to a top speed of 143 mph. This represents above-average accelerative performance in the segment, with the three-row Lexus RX 450hL hybrid more than two seconds off the pace of the MDX to 60. German competitors will require you to part with significantly more cash to match the MDX, which proves responsive off the line. Electric power alone is enough to motivate the MDX Hybrid at lower speeds, and there is just a slight delay when waiting for the gas engine to spring into life. Once the gas engine joins the party, passing power is excellent. The dual-clutch transmission is also a solid pairing with the engine, executing smooth and fast enough gear changes. As with some other hybrids, towing isn't recommended for the MDX Hybrid.
Acura is known for excellent chassis tuning and, even within the extended dimensions of a three-row SUV, they've been able to imbue the MDX with that same fun-to-drive DNA. The SH-AWD system endows the MDX with excellent grip, while the dual rear motors can enhance handling characteristics by independently apportioning power to each rear wheel - just like in an NSX. The steering itself is accurate and returns useful feedback, making the driver feel at least somewhat part of the action. Comfort and Normal modes will suffice for most situations, and while Sport and Sport+ do add a bit more dynamism, the steering becomes unnecessarily heavy in these modes.
Ride comfort hasn't been lost despite the sporty handling. The MDX rides with assurance and absorbs road imperfections impressively. The cabin is also well-insulated and keeps unpleasant noises at bay. For the hybrid variants, an active damper system is standard and makes constant adjustments based on road conditions. This further smoothes out the ride. The MDX was designed with much more of an on-road bias in mind, so off-road excursions won't be a regular occurrence. Still, it's useful to have the assurance of AWD and 7.3 inches of ground clearance in these situations.
Like all hybrids, a major advantage of choosing the MDX Hybrid over its gas-only counterparts is improved consumption, especially in city commuting. According to the EPA, economy estimates for the MDX Hybrid work out to 26/27/27 city/highway/combined. By comparison, the gas-only MDX (when equipped with AWD) returns a heavier 19/26/22 mpg. Premium unleaded fuel is recommended and, when the 19.4-gallon gas tank is full, a range of about 523 miles is possible. The Lexus RX 450hL returns a superior 29 mpg in mixed driving, but it's not nearly as rapid as the MDX.
The MDX seats either six (Advance Package) or seven passengers (Technology Package) in three rows. The Advance features two second-row captain's chairs, while the Technology has a traditional second-row bench seat that can seat three. Legroom and headroom in the first and second rows are good, and even six-footers should be able to get comfortable. The driver has a comfortable seating position, with 12-way power adjustments making it easy for the majority of people to get comfortable. A power-adjustable tilt/telescopic steering column also helps in this regard. Of course, the second-row captain's chairs offer greater comfort than the bench seat, but no matter which model you go for, third-row occupants will find minimal legroom - this row is better suited to children. At least a quick push of a button is all that's needed to move the second row forward, easing access to the third row.
Often, three-row SUVs require the third row to be folded flat to avail anything approaching decent cargo capacity. That's thankfully not the case with the MDX, which offers 15 cubic feet of space behind the third row, more than enough for the weekly stop at the grocery store. Folding down the third row more than doubles cargo capacity to 38.4 cubes, while a maximum of 68.4 cubes is freed up when the second and third rows are folded flat. The second row features a 60/40-split folding design on the Technology Package and a 40/40 split with the Advance Package. On both models, the third row has a 50/50-split-folding design for maximum versatility, allowing you to choose between seating and cargo capacity.
Interior storage space for smaller items like phones and wallets is well catered for. The center console for the driver and front passenger is large, while there is additional storage between the optional captain's chairs in the second row. There's no shortage of well-sized cupholders to conveniently store cups of coffee or other beverages.
As the hybrid models sit near to the top of the MDX crossover range, they're highly specified before adding any options. The Technology Package comprises power-folding side mirrors, LED puddle lights, front/rear parking sensors, remote engine start, a power moonroof, and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Driver and passenger comfort is enhanced with power-adjustable front seats (including power lumbar support and easy entry for the driver), along with tri-zone automatic climate control. The Advanced Package includes all of these features and adds LED fog lights, sport seats with perforated Milano leather upholstery, heated rear outboard seats, a heated steering wheel, and second-row side sunshades. Regardless of which model you go for, there are plenty of standard driver aids, from adaptive cruise control to road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist, and a multi-view reverse camera with helpful dynamic guidelines.
Acura has persisted with its dual-screen infotainment system for the 2020 MDX. The eight-inch upper screen is primarily used for navigation, while a lower eight-inch touchscreen color display controls climate control settings, amongst other things. Unfortunately, one never knows exactly which screen to look at, delaying the time it takes to execute simple functions. Combined with the average quality of the display and confusing menu layouts, and it doesn't come close to the likes of BMW's iDrive. Somewhat compensating for the poor user experience is a full house of connectivity features: Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Pandora compatibility, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, Bluetooth HandsFreeLink, Siri Eyes Free, and a USB audio interface are all standard. A ten-speaker Acura/ELS audio system is standard on the Technology Package, while the Advance Package gets an additional speaker to take the total count to 11.
J.D. Power rates the 2020 Acura MDX Hybrid at 76 out of a possible 100. At the time of writing, the NHTSA hadn't issued a single recall for the 2020 MDX Hybrid, and there was just one recall for the 2019 model, whereby moisture could enter the taillights, obviously affecting visibility.
Acura does provide a competitive warranty, though. The four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty is complemented by a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, outer body rust-through coverage for five years (regardless of miles covered), and roadside assistance for four years or 50,000 miles, whichever comes first.
Equipped to a superb level with safety gear, it's no surprise that the MDX rates highly for crashworthiness. According to the NHTSA, the 2020 MDX attained a full five stars for safety. For now, the MDX Hybrid has only 2019 ratings available, but it achieved the same full five-star rating. The IIHS rated the 2020 MDX with a spread of highest Good ratings for all major crashworthiness tests, although the crossover did miss out on the agency's Top Safety Pick award. Even so, this is evidently a safe family vehicle.
Standard safety features include seven airbags (including a driver's knee airbag and side curtain airbags with a rollover sensor) and a raft of driver safety technologies like a multi-view rear camera, road departure mitigation, collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, forward collision warning, and lane departure warning. The Advance Package adds a surround-view system and a head-up warning. Try to find a Porsche with all of these safety features fitted as standard, and you'll come away empty.
Last year, once again, Acura sold over 50,000 MDXs in the United States. Clearly, the crossover is a mix of practicality, luxury, and performance that Americans find appealing. In hybrid guise, it's also quite a performer, scooting to 60 mph in under six seconds and exhibiting excellent handling characteristics by virtue of its clever all-wheel-drive system. The brand has also been generous with both convenience and safety features - it doesn't matter which variant you choose, the MDX is brilliantly equipped. There are a few flaws, though, such as the cabin's rather ordinary feel (especially considering the price) and the poor infotainment system, plus the lack of space in that third row. At $53,000, the cheapest MDX Hybrid isn't priced far away from the much newer base BMW X5 sDrive40i - the German is not only far better built, but rides better and has a sublime six-cylinder powerplant. Similar comparisons can be drawn to the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class and the Audi Q7, while the Honda Pilot offers just as much capability for much less money. So, while competitors keep the MDX Hybrid honest, this luxury crossover will likely continue to find thousands of homes in 2020.
The Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD starts at $53,000 for the Technology Package, going up to $59,750 with the Advance Package. These prices exclude a destination charge of $1,025, along with tax, licensing, and registration charges. On the plus side, the high standard specification won't require you to shell out thousands more on options. Upgrades are mainly restricted to cosmetic enhancements like larger wheels, specific colors, and illuminated door sill trim, but these shouldn't add more than around $3,000 to the base price.
You only get to choose between the Technology Package and the Advance Package. Both models feature the same V6 engine and three-motor hybrid system, and adaptive dampers, so performance is the same for each. If you can stretch to the Advance Package, its add-ons like a head-up warning, ventilated front seats, the second-row captain's chairs, and a surround-view camera system do make it feel especially luxurious. It's the model we'd want.
The Lexus RX 450hL is as close a rival to the MDX Hybrid as any: it is also a three-row, hybrid, luxury SUV, although it starts at a slightly less expensive $50,510. With a total system output of 308 horsepower, the RX 450hL doesn't seem significantly outmuscled by the MDX, but it is, taking 8.1 seconds to hit 60 mph, a long way off the MDX Hybrid's sprightly 5.7 in real-world testing. The Lexus is more efficient though, returning a combined 29 mpg in a mix of city and highway driving, bettering the Acura's 27 mpg. Despite the MDX's cramped third row, it actually offers much more rear legroom back there (up to 30.9 inches relative to the RX's poor 22.6 inches), so the Acura is better if you actually want to use its full seating capacity often. The RX's strengths include exceptional build quality and a super smooth ride, but the MDX is more fun to drive. Overall, the Acura is a more well-rounded product and it's the better luxury crossover here.
Currently, Audi doesn't offer a Q7 with a full hybrid system, although the 55 TFSI models do feature a 48-volt mild-hybrid system. Starting at $54,800 for the 45 TFSI Quattro Premium, this positions the base Q7 right in between the two MDX Hybrid models. This base Q7 has a 248-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged engine and will hit 60 mph in 6.9 seconds, so it's not as potent as the MDX Hybrid. It does, however, have a towing capacity of 4,400 pounds (and up to 7,700 lbs with the 55 TFSI versions), whereas the MDX Hybrid isn't rated to tow at all. In general, the Audi does a better job of living up to the luxury SUV description, as its cabin is meticulously constructed from upscale materials. It also has a far superior infotainment system and a great balance between controlled handling and a smooth ride. Although it's much more expensive in its upper trims and the MDX offers some great features as standard, the facelifted Q7 feels like an altogether more polished product.
Check out some informative Acura MDX Sport Hybrid video reviews below.