Is the best-selling luxury three-row crossover still the king?
The Acura MDX is the best-selling three-row luxury crossover in the United States with over one million units sold since the model's introduction in the 2001 model year. Now in its third generation, the MDX faces its stiffest competition yet as the Lexus RX (the best selling luxury SUV overall), now comes in a three-row L trim. The MDX also competes against European SUVs like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Mercedes GLE, and Volvo XC90, the Japanese Infiniti QX60, and its own internal rival, the Honda Pilot. How does the 2019 MDX, now with a sporty new A-Spec trim level, stack up against the competition?
New for the 2019 MDX is a sporty A-Spec package found on our test car. The base powertrain is a 3.5-liter V6 mated to a nine-speed automatic but a 3.0-liter V6 hybrid with 321 hp is also available. Base price for a front-wheel-drive MDX is $44,300 while SH-AWD brings it to $46,300. The hybrid starts at $52,800 but includes the technology package and SH-AWD, so it only costs $1,500 more than the equivalent gas model.
We enjoyed driving the MDX but the car did show a handful of shortcomings. The throaty V6 is let down by the sluggish nine-speed automatic transmission, the infotainment system felt ancient, and some of the door trim squeaked if you applied any pressure to it. For an as-test price of around $55,000, some of the other options in this segment seem like better options. Look for Acura to refresh the MDX soon with a new infotainment system and sportier twin-turbo Type-S model.
The Lexus RX has been a best-seller in the US for a number of years now but it was strictly available with two rows of seating. Lexus finally added a third row in the RXL, although it is smaller than the one found in the MDX. Powertrains in the RX are similar to the MDX with a 3.5-liter V6 producing 295 hp or a hybrid with 308 hp. There is also an F-Sport version of the RX, similar to Acura's A-Spec package.
Pricing for the RX 350L starts at $48,020 or $50,970 for the RX450hL. The biggest problem Lexus has was a cumbersome infotainment system which has now been improved with a new touchscreen for the 2020 model year. So long as the RXL's small third row isn't an issue, it feels like the more premium vehicle inside.
The Infiniti QX60 suffers from many of the same issues as the MDX - a lackluster transmission, aging interior technology, and questionable improvements over its mainstream counterpart. A 3.5-liter V6 sends 295 hp out through a CVT and Infiniti no longer offers a hybrid version of the QX60. With a starting price of $44,350, the Infiniti QX60 seems like it is just outclassed by the MDX.
While we were driving the MDX, we asked ourselves whether it feels worth the upgrade over a Honda Pilot. Pricing for the Pilot starts at just $32,500 and even a loaded Elite trim rings in at under $50,000. With the same drivetrain and similar interior materials, we see few reasons to spend more on the Acura unless you prefer the styling of the A-Spec package.
The Volvo XC90 is an interesting option in this class because it can be relatively affordable but can also get pricey with options. A base XC90 T5 Momentum starts at $48,345 but comes with a less powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder producing 250 hp. To get equivalent power as the MDX, the twin-charged T6 drivetrain with 316 hp bumps the price up to $56,945. The XC90 feels like a decidedly nicer SUV than the MDX but go nuts with the options and the price can easily approach the six-figure mark, putting the Volvo in a different stratosphere from the Acura.
In terms of German competitors, the Audi Q7 feels the closest to the MDX as it's based on an FWD platform but can also be optioned with AWD powered by a V6 engine. The Q7 just received a major refresh for the 2020 model year, though it will be several months before it arrives in the US. For 2019, the Q7 is powered by either a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 252 hp or a 3.0-liter supercharged V8 with 329 hp. Pricing starts at $53,550 for the 2.0T or $59,950 for the 3.0T, so it is more expensive than the MDX in any trim level albeit for a nicer interior and more powerful engine.
Like the Audi, the BMW X5 feels like a class above the MDX, though it does come at a significant price difference. If you can afford it, the X5 offers a greater level of luxury and refinement starting at $60,700 for the 335-hp inline-six model or $75,750 for the 445-hp V8 model. Many people will be accepting of the MDX's level of luxury but the BMW certainly feels like a massive step above in quality. In terms of practicality, the MDX does have the X5 beat in terms of third-row passenger space.
Although it is far from the best value, the 2020 Mercedes GLE is our favorite SUV in the luxury midsize segment. The all-new GLE offers best-in-class comfort, interior design, and technology. Pricing starts at $56,200 for the 255-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder model or $61,150 for the 362-hp inline-six with mild hybrid assist. Adding options can get the GLE well above $80,000 but we think it is worth the cost for the best SUV in the segment. Like the X5, the GLE is best left as a two-row vehicle, so the MDX does have the advantage if you need three usable rows.