There is only really one Japanese SUV in this category. A new design, inside and out, introduced to us in 2017 for the 2018 model year. Inside the 2018 Acura MDX is a great example of executive seating for those in the back seats. This 2018 Acura MDX won some awards for design and excellence when it was introduced, and we’ve been a long time waiting to see this SUV. Still, worth the wait, as all good things are. Presented in the six-passenger elite, this SUV also comes in seven passenger flavors and competes directly with luxury SUVs like the Audi Q7 and BMW X5.
It’s easy to recognize the Acura family looks on this SUV, which shares many of the same platform elements with other large Honda vehicles. Acura has a good thing going with their jeweled headlights shared across all vehicles. From the rear, things look a little more interesting. Everything you’d expect from a luxury SUV at this tier. The 2018 Acura MDX is ready for towing, capable of hauling a more-than-reasonable 5000 pounds, when equipped.
Another thing of note is the little key fob Acura uses for the 2018 Acura MDX. A little status LED lets you know if the signal has been sent to the SUV. Sure, modern apps do all this for you, but when you want to swing it old school, using the remote start works at extreme ranges. Even through office walls, bodies and brick.
One thing these Acuras get well, every time, is how quiet they are. Not just quiet, but dangerously close to being silent. There’s so much sound insulation at work here, the engine is essentially undetected when idling. There’s very little, if any, artificial engine noise pumped into the cabin, too. Which is welcome. You can hear the engine, if you listen real hard for it, while under heavy acceleration.
Acura equips the 2018 Acura MDX with a powerful 290HP naturally aspirated 3.5L V6 engine. It’s mated to a smooth nine speed transmission, which handles driving around and, on the highway, quite nicely. There are three diving modes to choose from: normal, eco and sport. In eco mode, the throttle is so muted and the transmission handcuffed. Normal driving is great for around town, though throttle response is still eco centric. To really get out the beans, hit the sport button. Acura’s racing pedigree shines through a bit, turning the 2018 Acura MDX into a delightfully playful SUV. Ideally, the best driving dynamics for everyday would be somewhere between sport and normal.
Some say that true beauty comes from the inside out. Acura must know this because, while the 2018 Acura MDX has a subtle beauty to the outside, Design can be described as simple elegance. Finishing materials are as good as any other luxury SUV. Real wood is pleasant to the touch, and its matt finish elevates the rest of the finishes. It’s a fancy interior, without resorting to shiny bling. Also absent is big name brands on the stereo or speakers. Again, the real beauty lies within, and this sound system easily performs with the same fidelity as its competitors. Acura resisted the temptation to go all digital in the dash, opting for a modern feeling analog dash. There’s still a full featured driver information system, though, to keep you informed.
Here we have Acura’s solution to shift by wire. The literal definition of a gear selector, where you press a button for the gear you want. It’s pretty much universal across the Honda and Acura lineup now. Speaking of technology, there’s lots of it here. Not one, but two screens feed you information from the infotainment system. It’s super helpful when you launch Android Auto, CarPlay or the built-in navigation. This way you can still see and control climate control elements, your radio and vehicle settings without closing the above.
Interior cabin space is great. In this version, the 2018 Acura MDX Elite 6, second row passengers are treated to the same level of comfort as driver and passenger. Seating and wood infused center console are nearly identical, ramping up the passenger comfort. Third row access comes via a one touch button, and is adequate for most. Rear seats haven’t been completely ignored, with comfortable seating materials and reasonable legroom.
The not so good
As well executed as the drivetrain is, sport mode causes the transmission to ride the revs high. It holds the gears in anticipation, but you can feel the dollars leaving your tailpipe. Speaking of, this 2018 Acura MDX is equipped with auto start technology, a great thing in the city. However, it never activated in our test. The engine isn’t really designed to be worked on by owners, either. Large plastic covers look nice, but there’s nothing actually on the engine block itself. This doesn’t change who good it is, though.
The upper screen isn’t touch screen. A touchscreen here is a must, and the dial you have to use is, less than useful. In fact, it’s a hindrance when trying to control Android Auto, in my case. Almost made me rather a single touchscreen. The intention was good, though.
Voice controls built into the infotainment system are a bit dated. Anyone who disagrees with technology will find themselves fighting with it more than using it. But it feels a bit weird complaining about something as space age as voice command technology, but here we are. Another isn’t really a complaint is the missing massage seats. Most luxury SUVs have them at top trim, and the elite nameplate suggests it should be there.
All around, the 2018 Acura MDX is an excellent SUV for the price. Considering this three-row family hauler is going up against the likes of the BMW X4 and Audi Q4. They may offer a few toys here and there the Acura doesn’t, but you can’t ignore the cost savings. The Acura MDX is an elite SUV, with great value, bolstered by great reliability and lower cost of ownership. Despite the clunky infotainment controls and soft driving dynamics, it’s easy to see why the MDX is as popular as it is.