Big families looking for a luxury crossover would do well to consider the 2018 Acura MDX.
It hits in all the right places: superlative safety, standout comfort, and a relatively fuel-efficient hybrid model offered at a tempting price.
Its overall rating of 7.3 on our scale reflects its nearly perfect safety scorecard and three rows of seating suitable for adults. If we’re nitpicking, its conservative style keeps it hidden in plain sight, and pricey extras can inflate the bottom line well beyond its $45,175 entry price.
The biggest change for this year is a new 7.0-inch lower touchscreen that Acura says is more responsive than the outgoing model, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility.
The MDX is still offered as a single model, with Advance or Technology packages effectively acting as trim levels. All-wheel drive, which Acura calls “Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive” is available at every stop for $2,000 more.
A hybrid model was added to the lineup that adds standard all-wheel drive and a relatively unique electric motor setup that improves fuel economy and handling. Those models add about $1,500 to the bottom line when compared apples-to-apples with similarly equipped MDX SH-AWD versions. It’s a compelling and aggressive value proposition.
Without extra batteries, the MDX makes 290 horsepower and is mated to a 9-speed automatic. Its ride is sublime, and its unique all-wheel drive system should be considered for cold-weather buyers.
The MDX Sport Hybrid mates the same (but detuned) engine to a pair of electric motors that power the rear wheels only. It’s a clever system cribbed from Acura’s NSX supercar and RLX hybrid model.
We like all of the above, and place the MDX near the top of our list for luxury crossovers.
The 2018 Acura MDX stands pat after a redesign last year—that’s a good thing.
Its exterior curves and features help shrink the prolific size of the MDX, and looks closer to a wagon in our eyes than an upright SUV.
We give the MDX points above average for a good interior and exterior moves. It earns a 7.
Last year’s redesign smoothed over the corporate “beak” (or perhaps you saw bottle opener?) that plagued Acura design for years. The new MDX hasn’t changed much else since 2014, when it was completely overhauled.
Reshaped bumpers and fenders last year helped align the MDX with its sharp LED headlight array, and better fit into the Acura stable. We think Acura has smoother moves on the horizon, but for now, the MDX looks just fine—even a little sporty.
Inside, the interior reads a little technophile with a push-button shifter and dual infotainment screens. It manages to miss the redundancy that other cars with dual screens fall victim to, but we still think one is enough.
The rest of the interior is plain and relatively straightforward, mostly missing overly complicated interior themes. Optional wood grains can add a touch of elegance to the mix without too much clutter.
The 2018 Acura MDX performs very well for its class, which is to say that ride and comfort come before outright performance. The Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is intriguing for many reasons, but we suspect that more buyers will pick the traditional powertrain.
We give the MDX a point above average for a glassy ride—even on optional 20-inch tires. It earns a 6 out of 10.
Most versions of the MDX will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The engine has been tuned to produce more tug at lower speeds, which helps in stop-and-go daily slogs. The MDX is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds with a trailer attached, enough for most small weekend toys.
A 9-speed automatic is standard on all models, and all-wheel drive is available with every trim level. It’s a competent transmission but not without its faults, we’ve found. The 9-speed can get confused with so many cogs available at its disposal—entering an interstate can induce momentary indecision. Toggling the transmission into “Sport” mode seems wholly unnecessary for a vehicle as large as the MDX, but opens one option: drivers can opt to select their own gears with the paddle shifters in a true “manual” mode. Lug or blitz the engine all you want, Acura presupposes a level of sophistication with its drivers that we clearly don’t meet.
The MDX benefits from special shocks that smother road imperfections. Like other tall crossovers, there’s a hint of body lean in the MDX around corners, but head toss is negligible to imperceptible in most cases.
The MDX rides on standard 18s, but opting for either Technology or Advance packages subs 20-inch wheels on each corner. They don’t ruin ride quality, even with less sidewall, and fill the wheel arches fairly well.
Although the Sport Hybrid and all-wheel drive models share similar concepts, the two systems are mechanically different.
On non-hybrid models, all-wheel drive adds cold-weather confidence thanks to a true mechanical torque vectoring system that can shuffle 100 percent of power left to right, or up to 70 percent of power to rear wheels when needed. Acura is one of the few automakers to offer mechanical torque vectoring (Mitsubishi did too) and the MDX is better for it.
Acura MDX Sport Hybrid
Beginning last year, Acura subbed in a hybrid powertrain to its MDX that was largely borrowed from its NSX supercar and RLX sedan. The system adds electric motors to power the rear wheels exclusively, which is sometimes called “through the road” hybrid system.
A detuned 3.5-liter V-6 still rides up front, a 7-speed automatic is swapped in, and the net system power output is up to 321 hp in Sport Hybrid models.
Acura says the “Sport” in Sport Hybrid is intentional—an MDX with electrons is a sportier drive, according to them. OK, sure.
But the added bonus of improved fuel economy and slightly better roadholding in our rainy drives meant that the $1,500 apples-to-apples cost for a hybrid model sounded better to us.
The 2018 Acura MDX can rightfully boast that it’s among the most comfortable and advanced family crossovers available today.
We give it points above average for good first and second rows of seats, excellent cargo capabilities, and seating seven without fuss. It earns a 9 out of 10 on our scale.
The base seats in the MDX are comfortable and supportive, with plenty of bolstering for long trips and adequate leg room in the first two rows. Opting for the Advance package swaps out those base seats with sportier versions, the only difference to our backsides being a little more side bolstering.
A deep and wide front bin and plenty of storage cubbies keeps small items out of the way, and an electronic shifter placed just below the touchscreen helps free room for keys and cellphones to rest on rubberized mats.
Second-row passengers are treated to a smidge more leg room than front-seat riders, which makes us wish that someone else had claimed the keys before we left. Opting for the Advance package subs out a second-row bench with captain’s chairs for better flexibility overall, but the 60/40-split bench folds easily in a pinch for better cargo room.
The third row is adequate for children or medium-sized adults, which may be surprising to buyers considering this kind of crossover. Access to the third row is relatively drama-free, the second-row seats slide out of the way easily. Two additional USB charge ports are added to the third row when the Advance package is selected.
Overall, the finish in the Acura MDX is excellent with standard leather and plenty of sound-deadening material added to keep outside din at a minimum.
With the third row in place, the MDX sports 15 cubic feet of cargo space, or 38.4 cubes when tumbled out of the way. The MDX maxes out its cargo capacity at 68.4 cubes. Opting for the hybrid model doesn’t diminish capacity.
Federal and independent testers think highly of the 2018 Acura MDX—and we agree. A lone four-star score from federal regulators keeps it from climbing higher our safety scale. It earns a 8 out of 10 for safety.
About those scores from federal safety officials: they’re stellar. The MDX earned a five-star overall score, including top scores in front- and side-impact crash safety.
The insurance industry-funded IIHS agreed, giving the MDX a Top Safety Pick nod. It earned top “Good” scores in every category, including a “Superior” rating for front-crash prevention that’s standard on all models. Its lone blemish is an “Acceptable” rating for its headlights, which are standard on every MDX.
Very few cars on the road today have better safety records than the MDX.
All Acura MDX crossovers leaving dealer lots are equipped with LED headlights, forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning with active lane control, and adaptive cruise control.
Opting for the Technology package adds blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert. Advance package adds to that a surround-view camera system.
Primary safety equipment includes a full complement of airbags for all passengers, stability and traction control systems, and automatic headlights.
Among crossovers in its class, the 2018 Acura MDX is a relative standout for its tech-heavy approach. It offers plenty of standard and optional charging ports and multiple options for connectivity.
This year, Acura has swapped out its lower 7.0-inch touchscreen for a new version that’s quicker to respond to inputs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity have been added to the system as well.
We give the MDX points above average for its base features, good options, and standard infotainment. We’re not in love with the software, but the hardware is more than adequate for its class and can be supplemented with smartphone interfaces that consumers may be more comfortable with. It earns an 8 out of 10.
Every MDX is equipped with leather upholstery, keyless ignition, 18-inch wheels, a moonroof, LED headlights, power-adjustable heated front seats, three zone automatic climate control, four USB charging ports, an eight-speaker audio system, an 8.0-inch information display atop a new 7.0-inch touchscreen for controls. Base models start at $45,195, including destination, which is $170 more than last year’s model.
A rearview camera and advanced safety features that we cover separately are included on all models.
From base, options for the MDX go down two roads: Advance or Technology.
A $2,400 Technology package adds 20-inch wheels, navigation, HD radio, blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert, remote start, and Acura’s telematic services. An optional rear entertainment package adds heated second-row seats, a 9.0-inch drop-down screen with Blu-ray player for rear passengers, a 110-volt power plug, and a premium 11-speaker stereo system for $2,200 on top of the Technology package.
A pricey Advance package adds $10,450 to the base price ($55,645 to start, including destination) and adds all of the features included in the Technology package and a surround-view camera system, start/stop for improved fuel economy, cooled front seats, interior wood accents, second-row captain’s chairs, sport seats, two additional USB charge ports for the third row, parking sensors, and heated second row seats.
A rear entertainment package for Advance models can add a 16.2-inch drop-down widescreen for rear passengers, 12-speaker stereo, and a 110-volt power plug for $2,000 more.
All-wheel drive can be equipped at any trim level for $2,000 more.
The MDX Sport Hybrid starts at $53,095 with the Technology package or $59,145 with the Advance package, including destination.
Among three-row crossovers, the 2018 Acura MDX is mostly on-par with its class, according to the EPA. Most versions of the MDX will manage around 22 mpg combined, which is good enough for a 6 out of 10 on our fuel-economy scale.
By the book, front-drive versions of the MDX are rated at 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 22 combined. Opting for the Advance package raises those numbers slightly thanks to its stop/start system that cuts off the engine when the car is stationary for a short time: 20/27/23 mpg.
Adding all-wheel drive drops the rating to 18/26/21 mpg, or 19/26/22 mpg with the Advance package.
Predictably, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is the efficiency champ of the bunch, even with standard all-wheel drive. The EPA scores it at 26/27/27 mpg.
Other three-row crossovers such as the Volvo XC90 and Infiniti QX60 manage roughly 22 combined in normal guise. The Land Rover Discovery can do the same when equipped with its turbodiesel.