To paraphrase Erasmus: in the land of multiplying bitty crossovers, the luxury 2020 Acura MDX still reigns.
Desiderius Erasmus, in the 15th or 16th century, famously wrote, “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.”
The maxim is interpreted to mean that even someone with limited abilities or opportunities can be dominant over and considered special by those who have fewer abilities and opportunities.
It is apt when considering the new MDX, and other luxury crossover SUVs, awash in a flood of subcompact, compact and midsize crossovers.
Many of the newer small crossovers have much to recommend them: low prices, practicality over any four-door sedan, good performance and handling, and decent fuel economy.
They are named Kicks, Corsair, GLA, C-HR, Venue, Enclave, QX-30, HR-V, Niro, Kona, X1, Renegade, Seltos, CX-3 and Trax, among others. Some are luxury; most are popular priced.
As good as most of them are, many buyers aspire to something bigger, more luxurious and comfortable, with better performance and, important to some, reputation and presence. Those sentiments are what gave rise to luxury crossovers — at a time when truck-based SUVs like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Wagoneer of the last century dominated what then was a tiny slice of the market.
Mercedes-Benz was the first to introduce a luxury SUV, the ML-320 in 1998, though then it was not a crossover but a proper body-on-frame hauler built like a truck. It was followed in short order by the Lexus RX and the Acura MDX, both built with unit-body construction like automobiles, which the ML-320 also morphed into. The MDX distinguished itself by starting out as the first three-row, seven-passenger crossover SUV.
It remains that way in 2020 and fits the interpretation of the famed Erasmus admonition. It is not a perfect vehicle, meaning it has some limitations, but it has been dominant in the marketplace.
Acura brags that it was the retail sales champ among three-row luxury competitors in 2019, beating Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Tesla and Volvo then and in every year since 2010. The claim gets some argument because it counts only sales to individual buyers and ignores fleet sales.
Nevertheless, Acura also says the MDX is the best selling three-row luxury SUV of all time, and has completed its eighth straight year of sales higher than 50,000.
No vehicle is perfect and the MDX A-Spec tested for this review is no exception, fitting the Erasmus definition of limited capabilities in some areas. The most obvious: It seats seven passengers, but only four of them comfortably.
The front bucket seats, done up in suede-like Alcantara cloth with leather trim, are supportive and comfortable for both long-distance cruising and challenging mountain curves. The same goes for the outboard rear seats.
Unaccountably, however, the center-rear seat, despite a flat floor, has a hard, uncompromising cushion that would be torture on a long trip. The second-row seats can be adjusted as much as five inches fore and aft, but there’s no way to divide the knee room to prove space for second- and third-row passengers.
The third row is tiny, difficult to access for all but athletic youngsters, and without decent space for adults. So it’s best to think of the MDX as a two-row crossover with the third row folded to open a giant cargo area, usable mainly for extra passengers in emergencies.
So much for the MDX’s limited capabilities. In other respects, especially the driving experience, it is a superb performer despite its two-ton heft and length of 16 feet 4 inches.
There’s an old adage that says small vehicles should drive big and big vehicles drive small. The MDX, for all of its bulk, drives small. On curving roads, the MDX feels soft and flexible while also clipping corners with the composure of a smaller vehicle tuned for sporty handling.
Buttressing the handling is Acura’s integrated Dynamics System, which provides driver-adjustable settings for steering effort, throttle responses and, with SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive), torque vectoring to tighten cornering. Settings are Comfort, Normal and Sport, but the differences are small and handling remains confident.
Under the hood lies Acura’s 3.5-liter V6 engine, as smooth a power plant as you can find anywhere. It makes 290 hp with 267 lb-ft of torque, or twisting force, delivered to Acura’s SH-AWD through a nine-speed automatic transmission with a manual shifting mode. It’s a personality any driver would embrace.
- Model: 2020 Acura MDX AWD A-Spec four-door crossover sport utility vehicle.
- Engine: 3.5-liter V6; 290 hp, 267 lb-ft torque.
- Transmission: Nine-speed automatic with manual shift mode and all-wheel drive.
- Overall length: 16 feet 4 inches.
- Height: 5 feet 7 inches.
- EPA/SAE passenger/cargo volume: 138/16 cubic feet.
- Weight: 4,303 pounds.
- Towing capability: 5,000 pounds.
- EPA city/highway/combined fuel consumption: 19/25/21 mpg. Premium fuel.
- Base price, including destination charge: $55,895.
- Price as tested: $55,895.
Disclaimer: The manufacturer provided the vehicle used to conduct this test drive and review.
Photos (c) Acura
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