2019 Acura MDX A-SPEC — An age defying product for the MDX

By Jim Prueter

(January 28, 2019) I’m inclined to think that when it comes to the automobile business, the slight difference between considerable success and downright failure is not altogether an imaginary phenomenon. Acura, the upscale premium brand of vehicles from Honda, has experienced both phenomena in its history. Take, for example, the effluvium, if you will, of the ZDX, Vigor, EL or RL.

With that in mind, Acura wasn’t about to tinker around too much when it came to applying the A-Spec treatment for the first time to its most popular vehicle, the three-row MDX sport utility vehicle.

The current generation MDX dates back to the 2014 model year, with a minor refresh last year. There hasn’t been much in the way of updates so you’re not missing out on much if you opt to buy a four- or five-year-old MDX and pocket the thousands of dollars in savings. If you’re more inclined to buy new, you might want to wait another year when Acura’s product planners are expected to introduce a fully redesigned fourth-generation MDX.

To be sure the MDX, is a good SUV — roomy, comfortable, relatively trouble free with a notable number of high-tech features. It’s by far not the most exciting vehicle in its segment, with lesser quality ride and handling dexterity, and lacking runway good looks. The interior is chapter-and-verse Acura/Honda DNA — on the simple side but well-structured with trim materials comprising dense urethanes and a blend of alloy trim and leather, depending on the trim level.

Things operate easily, like the folding of rear two rows of seats; legroom is acceptable and getting in and out of the cabin is accomplished with ease. Like most midsized crossovers, there’s ample flexible and practical cargo space — 68 cubic feet when all the seats are folded. It also owns the highest predicted retention of resale value from two to five years of age of any premium midsize utility three-row vehicle. That seems to be a winning formula, evidenced by the abundance of them crowding the streets of suburban America.

For the 2019 model, MDX adds an all-new A-Spec sport appearance variant, and it’s basically a combination of three additional options: the technology package ($5,000) that includes an upgraded interior, navigation, ELS Studio premium audio system and blind spot information; Super Handling all-wheel drive ($2,000); and the A-Spec ($3,500) that includes unique 20-inch Shark Gray aluminum alloy wheels that are half an inch wider.

Up front, it features a different fascia with gloss-black trim, and dark chrome treatments for the grille and headlights. Around the side, you’ll find more gloss-black trim and body-color lower sills, while around back, the A-Spec makes a statement with big, round exhaust pipes and a black tailgate spoiler.

Inside, the package adds a choice between red or black leather with black Alcantara trimmed seating inserts with contrasting stitching. There’s Alcantara trimmed door inserts, glossy piano black trim on the instrument panel and center stack, a thicker-rimmed A-Spec-badged steering wheel with paddle shifters, bright aluminum sport pedals, and A-Spec moniker doorsill plates. 

With its more aggressive styling, the A-Spec package makes the MDX look like a more performance-oriented edition. In reality, it’s still powered by the same 3.5-liter V-6 — good for 290 horsepower — and a new nine-speed automatic transmission that are in the base MDX model. Same is true for the suspension, which is void of any chassis modifications to improve handling.

Acura uses a dual-screen, in-dash infotainment system that we found especially frustrating and distracting to operate. We also do not like the push-button and lever pull console-mounted shifter that’s also frustrating and counter-intuitive to use. It’s the same setup used in the Honda Accord we recently tested, where it was equally unpleasant. On the plus side, however, it has a safeguard that prevents the vehicle from an accidental roll away if you fail to put it in park or open the door while in gear.

On the road, sporty handling and performance isn’t part of the package with the MDX but it does handle competently. Even with the “super-handling AWD” option, it lacks the agility you’ll find in competitors like the Mazda CX-9, Volvo XC90 or the Audi Q7,.

The MDX is a strong buying choice in its class and actually slots between a standard midsize and a luxury SUV. We’d call it premium rather than luxury. Still, it has a lot to offer and costs less than many of its competitors like the BMW X5, Mercedes GLE, Audi9 Q7 or Range Rover Velar. Still, the suburbs seem to be filled with MDXs. It’s mostly a commodity car but one that it seems a lot of people want and might even be attracted to, especially the tarted up A-SPEC optioned model. I’m just not one of them.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $44,300
Price as Tested: $56,195
Powertrain: 3.5-liter 290-hp V6 and a 9-speed automatic transmission
Fuel Economy: 19-mpg City – 25-mpg Highway – 21 mpg Combined
Seating: 7

Crash Test Safety Ratings: Highest possible 5-stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and, a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: East Liberty, Ohio

Competes With:
Audi Q7
Buick Enclave
Ford Explorer
Infiniti QX60
Land Rover Discovery
Land Rover Range Rover Velar
Lexus RX
Lincoln Nautilus
Mercedes GLE
Volvo XC90

Fab Features:
Exceptional passenger space and cargo room
Attractive A-SPEC trim
Excellent history of reliability and resale