One Week With the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Reminds Us Why We Still Like It
Even the most-hardened SUV hater admits the MDX is an exception to the general rule.
Alright, I admit it: As things turn out, there are premium luxury SUVs worth considering, though it helps if you need or want three-row seating and therefore have no interest in the "crossover coupe" variety. It also helps if the premium SUV you choose is from a company that has gotten it right from the beginning. Quickly, before we get to the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec, it is relevant to note that the 2020 Acura MDX marks the last model year of the third generation of the marque's three-row model. It's striking how months before the anticipated launch of an all-new 2021 MDX, the outgoing version is much more livable than a couple of high-priced German crossover coupes I've driven and reviewed recently, the 2020 Mercedes-AMG GLC 63 S Coupe and the 2020 BMW X6 xDrive401.
A Brief MDX History
Consider that my first vote in an awards-comparison for our sister publication, Motor Trend's 2001 SUV of the Year, chose the very first Acura MDX over a field of new SUVs that included the very first BMW X5, which staffers criticized for giving up too much ride quality in order to try to be an upright, off-roadable sport sedan. Some things never change.
Except wheels and wheelbases, that is. The largest tires available on the 2001 Acura MDX were 235/65 17-inchers (the BMW X5 4.4i with Performance Package already rode on 19s), and the SUV had a wheelbase of 106.3 inches.
The 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec rides on 265/45 20-inch all-season tires, but its wheelbase is 4.7-inches longer than it was way back when. If you're keeping score and using my wheelbase-to-tire-size ratio (explained in this review), that's 6.25:1 for the old model, and 5.55:1 for the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec. The two-row 2020 BMW X6 xDrive40i coupe comes in at a slightly better 5.58:1, but there are other mitigating factors. Curb weight for the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec is, impressively, 412 pounds lighter than the BMW, and it has even shed 176 pounds since its first-generation ancestor.
Then there's Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, a sort of variation of torque-vectoring that actively distributes torque front-to-rear and side-to-side. In the big 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec, this system effectively makes the SUV drive much smaller. The SH-AWD is good enough to question the ride and handling advantages of the rear-wheel-drive-based AWD BMW and Mercedes-Benz SUVs versus the front-wheel-drive-based Acura.
Over freeway expansion strips and on rough roads, SH-AWD's qualities are apparent in the way the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec feels like any good premium SUV that's not trying to masquerade as a sporty vehicle. The tires are big, sure, but there's enough compliance that they don't seem to lead the vehicle around. No doubt the relatively light weight, which is about equal to a midsize RWD luxury sedan, helps.
Yet when the SH-AWD kicks in and does its stuff in fast turns, there's very little understeer to scrub off speed and none of the impending oversteer that can make a tall sporty SUV feel like a handful in such situations. In both ride and handling, the 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec is calm, composed, and self-assured in the way it makes its driver feel like he or she isn't doing too much work at the wheel. Steering is fairly light and sufficiently precise, again without feeling too quick for the SUV's size and height.
Relatively light weight again does its part in helping the MDX accelerate quickly into traffic, though again this is no Mercedes-AMG or BMW M wannabe. The 3.5-liter V-6 is smooth and quiet, getting a bit throaty only under heavy or full throttle.
The Alcantara black inserts of the bolstered red leather seats keep the driver and passengers in place pretty well. Offset against Apex Blue exterior paint, the only option ($400) for my 2020 Acura MDX A-Spec tester, the SUV has some of the look of the colorful, high-zoot interiors and color schemes finding their way into German brands' performance models lately.
I've become accustomed to the pushbutton controls for Acura's nine-speed automatic transmission, though I'm still no fan of the infotainment system's touchscreen controls; they're at least as fussy as those of any of the brand's competitors.
This all comes in at a reasonable mid-$50,000s price. Yes, that's still a load of money for what is effectively a premium family wagon, though it's far more reasonable than most of its European-brand competitors. And, of course, top-trim versions of commodity-brand SUVs—including the MDX's platform-sibling Honda Pilot—can be optioned up within a few thousand dollars of this sticker price.
If you want to spend more, Acura has added a very limited edition of the SUV—330 units—to its supercar NSX's assembly line. For $62,745, you can buy one of these 2020 Acura MDX PMC Edition models, with "concept-car quality" red paint.
If you wait for the 2021 Acura MDX, that SUV will mark an all-new fourth-generation edition—and if history is a guide, it will be good. This is coming from a car critic with known antipathy toward big SUVs, but in the case of the Acura MDX, it's an exception that proves the rule.
2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Pros:
- Excellent ride-and-handling balance
- Tight SH-AWD handling makes it feel smaller than it is
- Decent space for six passengers, luggage
2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Cons:
- Another fussy touchscreen
- Though often updated, basic design goes back to 2013
- Not much else to nitpick if you need something this big
|2020 Acura MDX A-Spec Specifications|
|PRICE:||$55,895/$56,295 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE:||3.5L DOHC 24-valve V-6/290 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm|
|LAYOUT:||4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE:||19/25 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||196.2 x 77.7 x 67.4 in|
|0-60 MPH:||6.3 sec|
|TOP SPEED||145 mph (est)|