2020 Acura MDX Review

2020 Acura MDX - Acura builds upon hand-built luxury


Three-row crossovers remain top of mind as the cusp of a new decade approaches.  Twenty years ago during the millennial turn, conventional minivans still commanded attention as a family favorite, but the uni-body, car-based crossover movement was already gaining momentum.

Acura, the luxury division of Honda, was an early adaptor into three-row upmarket uni-body vehicles in the form of MDX. The 2020 model-year MDX is part of a third-generation platform coming online in the 2014 model year. The MDX debuted in 2001 replacing the slower-selling Acura SLX, built upon a heavier, body-on-frame truck-like structure.

Honda launched its upstart, stand-alone luxury brand back in 1986 with Integra and Legend models, the first Asian luxury brand out of the gate. Toyota and Nissan followed up soon thereafter, introducing Lexus and Infiniti brands respectively.  

From the outset, MDX committed to three passenger rows measuring in at the larger end of the midsize segment.  Consistent sales and a solid build results in predictably high resale values since its outset.  Front-wheel drive comes standard with Acura's in-house branded SH (Super Handling)- all-wheel drive optional for an extra two grand, providing a more agile driving experience and recommended for upper Midwest on-road travel.

Subtle exterior nuances get a touch of flash upfront with inline, angled, bejeweled headlights flanking a large center dash with diminutive multiple diamond-like patterns surrounding Acura's "A" logo.

Last year in the 2019 model year, Acura introduced a new A-Spec version boasting exterior nuances such as 20-inch alloy wheels with more girth than standard treads, body-colored side sills and bolder exhaust tips. Inside, expect sports seats, sport pedals and gloss black accents. This version returns in 2020 (all-wheel drive comes standard) and adorns this week's tester.  Changes from 2019 remain minimal with one gleaming hand-built notable.

At the Los Angeles Auto Show last month, Acura showcased the new MDX PMC (Performance Manufacturing Center) edition. Only 300 get earmarked for U.S. sales when going on sale early next year. Shoppers may choose from any exterior color as long as its hyper glossy Valencia pearl red. This same hue adorns Acura's two-door NSX supercar, also hand-built in Marysville, Ohio.  Door handles, roof, side mirrors and grille contrast with glossy black with the MDX PMC. Starting in the $65,000 neighborhood, the MDX PMC edition (which includes A-Spec content) checks in about $100,000 less than the eye-popping NSX halo vehicle.  

The sole gas engine, returning from last year (and also motivating the new PMC edition); a 3.6-liter, naturally aspirated (non turbo charged) V-6 cranking out 267 horsepower and connected to a nine-speed automatic transmission. It's a more-than adequate engine for this vehicle.  Acura also offers a self-charging gas-electric MDX hybrid (no plug-in necessary) extending fuel economy especially around town with all-wheel drive standard. The hybrid edition went on sale in 2017.

Standard in all trims, a grouping of radar-enhanced safety nuances branded as 'Acura Watch.' Automatic cruise control, road departure warning/mitigation, forward collision warning and lane keep assist all contribute to an extra level of passenger safety.

Pricing starts at a very competitive $45,395 with the sport hybrid edition checking in at $53,895. Both front wheel and all-wheel drive structures offer two major option groups (Technology, Advance) with a rear-entertainment package available only in all-wheel-drive selections. Think of the relatively new A-Spec as MDX's top level mass-produced offering.

Our A-Spec tester started at $54,900(which comes with the technology package) with the only stand-alone option a $400 bump for premium exterior blue pearl paint brought the bottom line to $56,295 with $995 destination charge. Acura estimates 15 percent of MDX 2020 model year sales will derive from A-Specs.

The Tech package includes in-dash navigation with voice recognition, power folding side mirrors, upgraded audio system and an additional layer of radar-savvy safety items such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic monitor and front/rear parking sensors.

Acura recommends premium unleaded 91-octane fuel to occupy the relatively spacious 19.5 gallon tank with convenient self-sealing fuel lead eliminating the next for a flimsy plastic twist cap.

Push button electronic ignition comes standard in the form of a lower dash bright red circular orb to the right of the steering column. A small green rectangle inside the circle illuminates when the engine hums, flickering off when the engine shuts off.  

Pilot's automatic transmission operates via a press or tap of well-marked in-line electronic designates (PRND) rather than a mechanical shifter. Designers purposely dedicated specific finger motions summoning each choice. For example, Park requires a down push of a rectangular button (illuminating sides in red) while Reverse necessitates a tactile tab push. Summoning Drive requires the push of a circular button which than glows green. This layout's been tried successfully in many other Honda/Acura vehicles and includes a drive mode selector when opting for normal, comfort or sport options. To the right reside dual in-line beverage holders.

Between front buckets a deep, wide storage bin includes multi-levels and enough depth on the bottom level for a small laptop computer, man bag or conventional ladies purse. It's also home to multiple USB ports, 12-volt outlet plugs and other sized plug ports. The top-portion doubles as an arm rest sliding fore and aft, allowing multiple choices.

The MDX includes one of the few dashboards with two separate in-dash screens. The top deeper-set, none-touch sensitive choice provides the navigation feed and secondary information windows choices (digital clock, etc.) summoned and controlled by a large circular push-center dial extending out below the second screen.  This touch screen includes audio and secondary climate functions. A row of quick-select push buttons below the screen speeds up the process.  

Popular Smartphone interplays, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, come standard, allowing downloadable phone apps and emails to seamless play through the lower screen.

The easy-glance instrument panel includes a largely analog format with two prominent circular gauges (left-side tachometer, right-side speedometer along with quarter gauges (temperature, fuel level) at each outside edge.  A small middle animated multi-panel screen includes selections (range to empty, compass, audio information) scrollable via a rotary thumb scroll on the steering wheel's three o'clock position. Gas and power hatchback release push buttons reside on the driver's door.

Seven seating positions adorn MDX with a standard row two bench layout. The $6,750 Advanced Package adds a pair of optional captain's chairs in the middle reducing that row's capacity from three to two.  Smartly, Acura's rather diminutive third row includes two seating positions rather than shoe-horning in a third. Both second and third row backrests manually fold flat onto cushions below, opening up a cavernous 68.4 cubic feet of room. Second row seatbacks utilize a 60/40 split while the back row evens out with a 50/50 split.  

Raising third-row seat backs to a prone positon is best tackled from the opened hatch end and requires a bit of a stretch to grab each backrest side and pull. A narrow strap or power option would make a better mouse trap. In addition to folding flat, the split second-row bench cushions slide forward manually once seatbacks tilt forward, creating a small aisle to maneuver into row three.

Preteens and younger experience optimal enjoyment back in row three. Longer-legged adults may not share the same gratification level or the contortion necessary to climb to and fro.

2020 Acura MDX
Price as Tested
: $56,295
Wheelbase: 110 inches
Length: 196.2 inches
Width: 77.7 inches
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 267
Curb weight: 4,264 pounds
Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Powertrain warranty: Six year/70,000 miles
Assembly: East Liberty, Ohio

Dave Boe

Dave Boe, a lifetime Chicago area resident, worked at the Daily Herald, Illinois' third-largest daily newspaper, for 24 years. In 1989, the Daily Herald began a weekly Saturday Auto Section and he was shortly appointed editor. The product quickly grew into one of the largest weekend sections in the paper thanks to his locally-written auto reviews, the introduction of a local automotive question-and-answer column, a new colorful format and news happenings from Chicago area new-car dealerships.

Five years later, a second weekly auto section debuted on Mondays with Boe adding an industry insight column and introducing a "Love Affair with Your Car" column where readers sent in their own automotive memories for publication. During the next 10 years, the number of weekly auto sections Boe edited and coordinated grew to five and featured expanded NASCAR racing coverage, a dealer spotlight/profile feature and a Car Club Calendar where grass-roots automobile clubs could publish upcoming events for free. Boe also introduced more local automotive columnists into the pages of the sections, all of whom were seasoned members of the well respected Midwest Automotive Media Association. In 1997, Boe earned the Employee of the Year award from the Daily Herald.

Boe is a founding member and current president of the Midwest Automotive Media Association. He has degrees in Journalism and Business Administration from Northern Illinois University.