MDX Bets On Sportiness

By Derek Price

Acura is betting big that people who buy practical, roomy crossover vehicles don’t want to give up sporty handling.
The bet makes sense, considering just how successful BMW has been selling sports sedans to people who want to feel engaged with the road. As luxury shoppers trade in their 3-Series — and 3-Series imitator — sedans for today’s more popular crossovers and SUVs, they don’t want to give up the sense of exhilaration they’ve come to know and love.
Now Acura’s MDX, already blessed with one of the best handling all-wheel-drive systems for sale today, is taking things to a new level by rolling out an A-Spec package.
Like on the TLX A-Spec, the MDX version aims for a more exciting look and feel. Available exclusively with Acura’s spectacular all-wheel-drive system, the A-Spec MDX has wider 20-inch wheels and tires, a vicious front-end look and ominous blacked-out trim.

The new A-Spec package, shown here, helps the Acura MDX’s style match its newfound emphasis on handling.

Assuming you’re OK with the idea of a high-riding performance car — something I still struggle to accept — it’s a fun way to add some spice to everyday driving. It has the generous cargo volume, flexibility and seating space of a family-friendly crossover vehicle but also can stop, go and change directions with vigor.
A sportier cabin matches the A-Spec’s antagonistic body. Sport seats with Alcantara leather inserts, contrast color stitching, gloss black trim and a thicker steering wheel all combine to make it feel more performance-focused than the more mundane trims, comfortable as they may be.
To drive home the point on sporty handling, Acura is rolling out the MDX’s active damper system to all trim levels with the Advance package. It was previously only available on the Sport Hybrid, and its ability to adjust the ride and handling is a nice upgrade.
The nine-speed automatic transmission is more refined for 2019. Acura claims it “gains a smoother, more fluid acceleration feel in normal driving by prioritizing second-gear starts.” I didn’t think the previous transmission was too jerky, but the one I tested felt flawless.
While I think people who want a sporty, firm driving feel will love the MDX, it’s not as good a fit for buyers who are looking for more of a traditional luxury experience. The cabin doesn’t feel as supple and impressive as some luxury-brand competitors, and the ride is tuned much more toward crisp performance than a graceful highway ride.

Sport-trimmed seats along with unique gauges and pedals help the A-Spec MDX deliver a sportier cabin feel.

Its technology, though, is among the best in this highly competitive segment, especially for the price.
One of the MDX’s biggest selling points is the tech it packs into every trim level. Every version, including the base model, comes with the AcuraWatch driver assistance package, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. Some luxury brands make those features high-priced upgrades, making the MDX look like a feature-for-feature bargain.
Perhaps that’s why the MDX is the best-selling three-row luxury SUV in history. It’s sold more than 50,000 copies for six straight years and totals more than a million units sold since its inception, Acura says.
Pricing starts at $44,300, while the A-Spec is priced at $54,800.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Acura MDX SH-AWD A-Spec ($54,800). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $55,795
Wheelbase: 111 in.
Length: 196.2 in.
Width: 77.7 in.
Height: 67.4 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6 (290 hp, 267 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 19 city, 26 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 8
Price: 9
Handling: 9
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 9
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s a practical, family-friendly vehicle that still tries to inject some driving excitement into the equation. It offers a good value for luxury shoppers.

Posted in Acura

A Legitimate Difference

By Derek Price

There’s something to be said for contrast, and the Toyota 4Runner definitely provides that on the showroom floor.
Parked next to Toyota’s more refined and freshly designed Highlander, the 4Runner offers a dramatic lesson on the difference between 1990s-style SUVs and today’s wildly popular crossovers. For people who want or need a real SUV — with both the capability and drawbacks that entails — the 4Runner offers buyers a choice that many brands have abandoned.
Designed first and foremost for off-road driving, the 4Runner feels heavy, huge and tall. People who drive pickups will be perfectly at home with the hefty driving feel and high seating position that you climb up into, making every drive feel a bit adventurous.
Compared to the Highlander, which drives more like a big Camry sedan, it’s a night-and-day difference.

With a savage grille, the 4Runner TRD Pro isn’t shy about its off-road chops. This high-riding, heavy SUV feels and looks like it could conquer any trail.

My favorite flavor of 4Runner, the made-for-trails TRD Pro, gets a noticeable upgrade this year that includes Fox internal bypass shocks, a roof rack, standard JBL premium sound system and a skid plate with big, bold “TRD” lettering.
I was pleasantly surprised at just how comfortable the Fox shocks felt on my TRD Pro test vehicle. While it’s still obviously not designed to be a commuter car, I was expecting this meanest off-road grade to have a stiffer, rougher ride — more like the TRD Pros of the past. But just like they do in the incredible Ford Raptor pickup, the internal bypass shocks manage to soak up potholes and bumps impressively well while also delivering good control and traction off the pavement.
While my test vehicle was not cheap, ringing up at nearly $50,000, it also felt like a bargain compared to luxury off-roaders. The new TRD Pro’s mixture of a super-smooth ride and extreme traction reminded me of the Range Rover and Toyota’s pricey Land Cruiser, both of which start well over $80,000, albeit with much fancier cabins and amenities.
Still, there’s a reason car-like crossovers such as the Highlander outsell traditional, truck-based SUVs like the 4Runner by a wide margin. There are some meaningful downsides to all that heft and capability.
At the top of the list is gas mileage. My tester was rated for 17 mpg in the city and 20 on the highway. At a time of low gas prices, both now and in the 1990s, that’s not such a big deal, but it will be more painful every time prices spike in the future.

The 4Runner’s high seating position provides good visibility and makes climbing in and out an adventure.

The 4Runner also has an interior that shows its age. A small digital screen feels odd in such a big vehicle in contemporary America, and the plastics and overall blocky design don’t match the sleeker, soft-touch cabins that are available today. If you can overlook that, the layout is quite smart and useful, including a huge cargo area with an optional slide-out floor and large, easy-to-use control knobs that feel beefy in your hand and are simple to grab and understand.
If you believe, as I do, that function should dictate form, you’ll love it.
Also new for 2019 is a Nightshade Edition 4Runner with blacked-out wheels and trim for a more custom, menacing and ominous look.
Pricing for the 4Runner starts at $34,910 for the base SR5 trim. The TRD Off-Road package, which is not quite as extreme as the Pro, starts at $38,085.
The Limited trim with a luxurious chrome look starts at $43,225, while the glorious, aggressive TRD Pro tops the range at $46,415.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Toyota 4Runner TRD Pro ($46,415). Options: Running boards ($345), paint protection film ($395), hitch ball mount ($60). Price as tested (including $1,045 destination charge): $48,260
Wheelbase: 109.8 in.
Length: 191.3 in.
Width: 75.8 in.
Height: 72 in.
Engine: 4.0-liter V6 (270 hp, 278 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 20 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 9
Price: 7
Handling: 5
Ride: 6
Comfort: 6
Quality: 7
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
Designed to withstand brutal off-road conditions, the 4Runner offers real SUV capability with a surprisingly smooth ride. New Fox internal bypass shocks on the TRD Pro are very impressive on and off the road.

Posted in Toyota

G70 Meets High Standard

By Derek Price

If Genesis succeeds as a luxury brand, it’s going to be thanks to the strength of products like this: the new G70 sports sedan.
If it fails, there could be other places to lay blame — the marketing plan, the dealer network, or the decision to initially fill its lineup with sedans when the market is ravenous for SUVs — but this Korean upstart is somehow managing to build cars that are just as compelling as the German stalwarts.
That’s my impression after driving the G70 for a week.
This is the first car designed from the ground up as a Genesis product, not one with roots as a Hyundai, and it feels just as thrilling, composed and elegantly dramatic as its deeply established competitors from Audi, Mercedes-Benz and BMW.
Of course, these days the German triumvirate doesn’t hold a monopoly. Strong competition from Alfa Romeo, Jaguar, Lexus, Infiniti and Cadillac means buyers have more viable choices than ever before for a sexy, four-door performance machine.
It’s a good time to be affluent, that’s for sure.
What sets the G70 apart is not just its competence — its sparkling handling, herculean power and lavish cabin equal some of the best products in this class, earning it Motor Trend’s 2019 Car of the Year crown — but also its sense of value.
It starts at $34,900, thousands less than the base Mercedes C-class or Lexus IS, and tellingly, the exact same price as the benchmark 2018 BMW 3-Series.

A completely new model for 2019, the Genesis G70 is engineered to compete head-on with the best sports sedans in the world, most notably the BMW 3-Series.

You don’t have to look far, only under the hood, to see the differences, though. The base BMW 320i comes with a 180-horsepower engine, not the kind of prodigious power most people associate with BMWs. You’d have to step up to the 330i at $40,250 to get comparable performance to the Genesis, and even then, the base G70 ever-so-slightly out-muscles the 330i, 252 horsepower to 248.
For even more power, a turbocharged, 3.3-liter V6 engine is optional. It creates a V8-like 365 horsepower and can rocket the car from a standstill to 60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, Genesis claims.
Look closely at the options list, and you’ll see the G70 tries hard to out-offer its competitors at every price point. It’s a feature-for-feature bargain.
Bargain cars usually have drawbacks, but they’re hard to find in this one. Its trunk isn’t the roomiest and fuel economy isn’t the most frugal — only due to the decision to offer a powerful base engine — but the usual nickel-and-dime quality cuts are invisible. Soft-touch materials reign in the cabin, where tight construction, sculptural design and excellent sound insulation make it feel palatial over the road.
The only functional downside is its relatively small trunk. It swaps luggage volume for sleek design, a necessary tradeoff to make the rear proportions look perfect.

The G70’s cabin blends the futuristic feeling of contemporary technology, including real aluminum and steel trim, with the old-fashioned-luxury look of quilted leather.

Inside, I love the contrasting mixture of high technology with old-fashioned, quilted upholstery. The thick leather is reminiscent of classic British luxury cars, while real brushed aluminum trim and stainless steel speaker grilles look thoroughly modern.
And modern it is. The G70 can be connected to any Amazon Alexa device for voice control, for example, letting you remotely lock and unlock the vehicle, start it up and set the cabin to a certain temperature, all by simply speaking to Alexa.
While the base price is under $35,000, the V6 3.3T version is priced from $43,750. Pricing tops out at $52,250 for the Dynamic Edition with all-wheel drive.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Genesis G70 3.3T ($43,750). Options: Prestige package ($4,250). Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $48,995
Wheelbase: 111.6 in.
Length: 184.5 in.
Width: 72.8 in.
Height: 55.1 in.
Engine: 3.3-liter V6 (365 hp, 376 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 18 city, 26 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 8
Handling: 10
Ride: 7
Comfort: 7
Quality: 8
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It’s not only an impressive performance luxury car, but a bargain at that. It matches the speed and sophistication of the best sports sedans in the world while undercutting them on price.

Posted in BMW