Premium SUV buyers in the U.S. continue choosing the Acura MDX. Honda’s luxury brand has sold over 50,000 units of the three-row crossover utility model every year since 2012, and despite a small decline through July that seems unlikely to change in 2018.
For the 2019 model year, Acura didn’t sit pat with the largest vehicle in its lineup. Several appearance and mechanical updates came to the standard ($45,295), all-wheel drive ($47,295), and Sport Hybrid ($53,795) editions. Here’s what’s new this time around.
1. Drive experience upgrades
In previous model years, Acura took some criticism for the 9-speed transmission, so it seems about right that the automaker made an effort to improve the system for the 2019 edition.
According to an Acura statement, engineers delivered on the promise of more rounded, smoother acceleration by placing the emphasis on second-gear starts. When towing, climbing uphill, or getting a blast of acceleration from the driver’s foot, the transmission will prioritize the first gear.
Otherwise, consumers will see the other main drive-experience upgrade in the idle-stop feature that became standard in every MDX for this year.
2. New A-Spec sport appearance model
Buyers who opt for the super-handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD) can keep going with the A-Spec package that’s new for 2019. It includes 20-inch aluminum wheels, a special front fascia with lower sills matched to the body color, black and dark chrome trim for the exterior, and a rear tailgate spoiler.
Inside the cabin, black- or red-trimmed leather seats, A-Spec pedals, sport gauges, and a special steering wheel with paddle shifters are some highlights. This package boosts the SH-AWD starting price to $55,795.
3. Interior and exterior upgrades on other models
In addition to the A-Spec package, Acura brought out some new luxury flourishes as options in other models. Inside the MDX, consumers can add wood trim in Desert Olive Ash, contrast seat and door stitching, and some other details on the side of the front seats.
Four-way power lumbar adjustments will come standard, and in the Advance Package ($57,045 with front-wheel drive) some matching wood trim heads to the center console.
On the exterior, buyers have four new premium colors: Performance Red Pearl, Canyon Bronze Metallic, Majestic Black Pearl, and (just in A-Spec models) Apex Blue Pearl.
4. 2019 MDX Sport Hybrid
While there isn’t much new exclusively to the MDX Sport Hybrid, it’s worth going over the specs of this new-ish model. It runs on a three-motor hybrid powertrain that powers all four wheels with a 3.0-liter V6 doing most of the heavy lifting. It rates at 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque. (All Sport Hybrid models have four-wheel drive.)
A 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission borrows some of the engineering excellence of Acura’s NSX supercar. Meanwhile, the hybrid’s active damper system and Sport+ mode aim to give drivers more fun behind the wheel than you find in the typical midsize SUV (or compact SUV, for that matter).
5. Safety and fuel economy ratings
While the MDX was not one of the handful of SUVs that scored the top IIHS safety ratings for 2018, Acura’s midsize crossover did post a strong showing. MDX aced all six crash tests and has strong accident-prevention technology that comes standard. It landed a Top Safety Pick award for ’18. (The 2019 model, which has the same structure, has not been crash-tested yet.)
In the fuel economy department, all the ratings have come in for the 2019 model, and they’re about what you’d expect. Front-wheel-drive models scored the best of standard editions (20 mg city/27 mpg highway/23 mpg combined). Meanwhile, SH-AWD models rated one tick lower (22 mpg combined).
Otherwise, A-Spec models fared the worst for fuel economy (21 mpg combined), likely due to the thicker wheels. Sport Hybrid models, which lean more on the “sport” than the “hybrid,” rated the most efficient of any MDX at 27 mpg combined.