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.
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.
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
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.