Review 2023 Acura MDX A-Spec
Just who, exactly, is the Acura MDX for? A glance at its starting MSRP, its feature list, and its performance might suggest that it’s a competitor for European luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Mercedes-Benz GLE. But a glance at its sharp exterior, its interior design, and its slightly old-school naturally-aspirated powertrain suggest something different. To behold, and behind the wheel, this is a unique, and uniquely involving, take on a luxury SUV – one whose appeal is focused as much on the driving experience as it is on luxury and function.
What makes the MDX special is what lives under the hood. The 3.5-litre, direct-injection V6 may not produce a lot of power (290 hp) or torque (267 lb-ft) compared to European competitors, all of which feature some kind of forced induction. But from the moment you hit the red-lit starter button, you know the MDX is something different and special. The i-VTEC engine spins so smoothly, has a wonderful sound, and builds power in a linear, progressive manner, with no turbo lag. With the power concentrated at higher revs compared to torquier turbo motors, the MDX can feel just a touch sleepy in town until you adjust your driving habits; on the open road, the engine and 10-speed transmission respond more like a sports car than a lumbering three-row SUV.
The rest of the truck really wants to play along, as well. Race-car inspired double wishbones up front and multi-link suspension in the rear combine with adjustable dampers to deliver the right balance of ride comfort and suspension support in every condition. MDX has a multitude of adjustable drive modes operated by a rotary knob on the centre console; press and hold the Acura logo and you can set up an individual mode with your favourite combination of steering weight, engine and transmission response, suspension stiffness, and even ambient lighting. Tech and A-Spec models feature 20-inch wheels, which deliver great cornering grip and decent steering feel; the brake pedal feels light but it’s very easy to modulate smoothly.
Acura’s approach to luxury is very different from the Europeans, who all seem to have bought in on the all-touchscreen all-the-time bandwagon. While there is a large central screen, an abundance of physical knobs, switches, and buttons make the MDX easier to use than any of its Euro competitors. A touchpad on the console operates the infotainment system, and while it may take a moment to get used to, it’s preferable to trying to stab at the screen with a finger while driving. Controls are clearly labelled, backlit at night, and easy to use; indeed, the only ergonomic misfire are the buttons to operate the transmission, which are less intuitive than a simple gearshift lever. Otherwise, setting the car up to your liking is a cinch, and offers all of the customization features you’d expect, from adjusting the colour of the ambient lighting to the setup of the digital instrument cluster and more.
Certainly, you get all of the comfort and space you’d expect of an SUV with a starting price in the mid-sixties and which can top $70,000 in sporty A-Spec trim or $73,000 in Platinum Elite trim. There’s room to stretch out in the front two rows of seats, and sufficient room in the third row for kids on a road trip. The panoramic sunroof is massive, stretching well over the second row. Four-zone climate control keeps everyone cool and collected, and the ELS premium audio system is spectacular. Wireless Android Auto and CarPlay are standard, along with a inductive charging pad on the console. The materials are gorgeous, too: leather with Ultrasuede inserts on the A-Spec’s seats, piano-black and metallic trim, all solid and beautifully assembled. Getting in and out is easy thanks to huge door openings and a relatively low step-in height, and the sizable cargo area has a large opening, a low floor, and can be accessed simply by waving your foot under the rear bumper.
There is an even more impressive MDX model, which we haven’t yet had a chance to sample: starting at over $83,000, the MDX Type-S has all of the A-Spec goodies but ramps up the sportiness even more with a 355-hp 3.0-litre turbocharged direct-injection V6, which also ramps up torque to 354 lb-ft. 21-inch wheels are standard, as is four-corner air suspension, which should deliver an even wider spread of capability between serene ride quality and sportiness in the corners. Giant four-piston Brembo brakes come standard, too. The air suspension and increased power will make even better use of Acura’s awesome Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which does an amazing job of putting power to the road and keeping the vehicle stable in all conditions.
A veritable alphabet soup of driver assistance systems comes standard on MDX. All models have a blind-spot information system, lane keeping assist, rear cross-traffic monitor, traffic jam assist, collision mitigation braking system with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning system, and a lane departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel when you’re straying from your lane. The systems, like everything in the MDX, operate unobtrusively and intuitively, and don’t take away from the driving experience.
That driving experience, after all, is what the MDX is all about. Yes, it ticks all of the boxes that you would expect a big luxury SUV to tick: comfort, features, style, quality, and awesome resale value. But it’s the sound it makes and the way it responds to your inputs that sets the MDX apart from other SUVs – so much so that you’re likely to accept its small compromises if you’re a keen driver. This is an SUV whose experience lives up to the promise of its sharp style.