Car Reviews First Tests

2019 Acura MDX A-Spec First Test: The Sport-Looking Option

Testing the MDX's latest variant

Testing the MDX's latest variant

The MDX is Acura’s bread and butter. The crossover leads three-row premium crossover sales, and for 2019, an A-Spec model joins the regular MDX and MDX Sport Hybrid models. Some automakers create sport trims that add little beyond a spoiler, wheels, and badging. Is this the case here, or does the A-Spec package actually up the MDX’s fun factor?

Acura has A-Specced most of its lineup and isn’t forgetting the MDX. As cool as A-Spec sounds, it doesn’t add any horsepower or suspension upgrades. Instead, the attractive package includes features that make it stand out from the rest of the lineup such as exclusive half-inch-wider 20-inch gray aluminum wheels with lower-profile 265/45 tires, a unique front fascia, body-color rocker panels, larger exhaust tips (which aren’t fake), and gloss black and dark chrome exterior trim. Usually, I loathe white crossovers, but with the MDX A-Spec’s dark wheels and sporty front fascia, the color looked good.

Inside, the seats are wrapped in perforated red or black leather with black Alcantara inserts and contrast stitching. I’d opt for the red leather our tester has; it looks much sportier and pops against the black Alcantara. Interior goodies continue with unique A-Spec red gauges, sport pedals, black Alcantara door panel inserts, gloss black trim, A-Spec-badged door sills, and a leather-wrapped and thicker-rimmed steering wheel with paddle shifters. The red and black upholstery is a visual treat, and I enjoyed touching the very soft Alcantara. But other than the red ambient lighting, the rest of the interior looks much like the regular MDX.

The MDX’s 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 with 267-lb-ft of torque offers more power than most drivers will need in a three-row crossover. It hit 60 mph in 6.3 seconds during instrumented testing, which is quick but not as swift as the MDX Sport Hybrid’s 6.0-second run from earlier this year (the regular MDX SH-AWD has almost identical acceleration figures). The hybrid’s additional power (321 hp, 289 lb-ft) plays a part in that, but so does the instant torque from the three electric motors. Driving the regular MDX A-Spec V-6 around town, I missed the hybrid model’s more immediate torque delivery. Still, once the naturally aspirated V-6 gets to power, it’s strong and the engine note is very enjoyable. It might be the larger exhaust tips, but that six-cylinder almost sounds like a V-8 at wide-open throttle. Road test editor Chris Walton also appreciated the “snarl” of the engine during his acceleration runs.

On those runs, Walton noted, “With or without pedal overlap, there’s a delay between wide-open throttle and leaving.” I also noticed that slight hesitation when the pedal hits the floor from a stop. This happens because the nine-speed transmission typically starts in second gear for smoother takeoffs, but under certain circumstances—like wide-open throttle—the transmission starts in first gear for maximum thrust. But once it engages, the Acura quickly rockets off with lots of grip and minimal tire squeal.

The big premium crossover handling impressed, too. Pushed around corners faster than your average driver, the MDX felt more stable than many smaller crossovers. And more fun, too. But testing director Kim Reynolds didn’t care for its at-limit handling—something you’d only experience in extreme situations—on the figure-eight course. “The first corner is fun—you can definitely feel the SH-AWD—then all the corners after that collapse into understeer and are power-limited by the software,” he said. To keep things shiny side up, the electronic stability control system can be aggressive, and that’s of course OK in a three-row crossover. The trade-off for its capable handling is the ride quality; big bumps and dips are fine, but sharp impacts are really felt. Braking feels strong, and it should because the A-Spec stopped from 60 mph in just 116 feet, better than the Sport Hybrid, regular MDX SH-AWD, and many smaller vehicles.

As much as I like the MDX, there are some annoying quirks. The transmission takes too long to engage into gear. I noticed this when doing quick three-point turns and when it rolls a little after selecting the gear and releasing the brakes. The electric parking brake doesn’t automatically disengage, even when you apply the throttle. I know this is the sport trim, but a three-row family hauler shouldn’t default to Sport mode every time you turn it on. The extra throttle response and heavier steering is not needed for regular daily driving; Normal mode is fine for that.

Besides the A-Spec package, our tester also came with the Technology package that includes a 10-speaker ELS Studio audio system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and LED puddle lights. The Acura Watch suite of driver-assist features is standard. In case you’re wondering, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio are standard. The sticker price totals $56,195 USD.

What you can’t get on the A-Spec model is the Entertainment package (a rear-seat entertainment and comfort package) and the luxurious Advance package that includes a surround-view camera system, second-row heated captain’s chairs, and active dampers.

The 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec does a good job distinguishing itself from the rest of the MDX lineup. A sport-tuned suspension could be added, but that might worsen the ride. Extra horsepower would be nice, but it’s not a deal breaker. What I really want is the aggressive Sport+ mode and the active dampers I thoroughly enjoyed when I reviewed the Sport Hybrid model. The A-Spec would have been a winner with those features, but instead, it’s simply a well-done visual package.

2019 Acura MDX SH-AWD A-Spec
BASE PRICE $55,795
PRICE AS TESTED $55,795
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.5L/290-hp/267-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 9-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4,218 lb (58/42%)
WHEELBASE 111.0 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 196.2 x 77.7 x 67.4 in
0-60 MPH 6.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.8 sec @ 94.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 116 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 27.1 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 19/25/21 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 177/135 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.91 lb/mile