It would be easy to read Acura’s brochure and assume that the A-Spec package on the MDX crossover SUV is nothing but a few bolt-on appearance parts. While that is technically accurate, the upgrades are meaningful enough to justify the extra cost.
I spent a week with the 2019 MDX in A-Spec trim as part of the New England Motor Press Association’s Winter Vehicle Testing process. Unsurprisingly, the seven-day trial included opportunities to drive through snowstorms over icy pavement, and to navigate the plow-torn roads in central Maine. The MDX performed admirably in nearly all circumstances and showed that it’s up to the task of comfortably moving people of all sizes in all sorts of conditions.
The MDX has been on sale in its current form for around six years now, and even though a total redesign is due sometime very soon, the A-Spec package is a new addition for 2019. The pentagon grille and “diamond eye” headlights from the standard MDX are present, but sharpened body work and gray 20-inch wheels give the A-Spec a much more aggressive look.
Beyond a few A-Spec badges, there isn’t a lot more to differentiate the new package from its “normal” counterparts. The MDX’s high beltline and gently sloping roof stretch out the profile and give the SUV a speedy stance, no matter the trim.
Some version of Honda’s 3.5-liter V6 has powered Pilots, Ridgelines, MDXs, and now the Passport for years now, and it manages to develop its own personality in each application. In the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, it’s tuned to 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. That’s slightly stronger than what you’d get in a Pilot or Passport, and while the difference is negligible on paper, the real-world feel is sportier than that of the Honda siblings.
The acceleration provided by this powertrain combination is good enough for a 0-60 mph time that’s just north of six seconds and more than adequate for a vehicle with three rows of seating. The noise at full throttle is equally as impressive, snarling and howling away in convincing fashion.
Facing roads that frequently buckle under the unrelenting and brutal forces of a Maine winter, I was skeptical of the big 20-inch wheels and the slimmer rubber’s ability to soak up the worst of what we see here. I quickly dropped the cynicism, mostly. The MDX Sport Hybrid and other MDX versions equipped with the Advance Package have a damper system that can adjust itself quickly to changing road conditions. The Acura MDX A-Spec doesn’t have that benefit, but the MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension do their jobs without much drama. That said, there are certainly smoother rides to be had in this segment, but none come in a package that looks this good.
If this review were to have been written after a day or two with the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, the verdict on tech would look very different than it does now. At first the dual-screen, multi-purpose infotainment/climate/vehicle options system is counterintuitive, but it starts to make more sense as time goes on. The top screen is operated by a large dial in the center stack and is reserved for maps and things like Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, while the bottom screen is touch-capable and handles climate controls and other vehicle settings. Without the benefit of a touchscreen, controlling CarPlay is awkward but manageable once you determine which way the cursor moves with turns of the large dial.
The AcuraWatch advanced safety package is integrated so well as to be almost invisible. Features like lane keep assist, when turned on, step in to do their jobs gently and aren’t tuned to be overly aggressive. Small details, like the decision to put the blind spot monitor alert light inside the vehicle where it’s visible no matter the outside conditions, make a big difference in living with the vehicle on a daily basis.
Our A-Spec tester’s interior came with soft, leather upholstery and Alcantara inserts (the same suede-like stuff you’ll find in a new Ferrari), which brings an upscale feel but attracts all manner of fuzz and debris along the way. Even so, the seats are plenty wide and offer generous padding, at least for front-seat passengers. The A-Spec trim’s sporty demeanor would be better served with more prominent bolstering on the front seats, but the sticky Alcantara keeps butts firmly planted for all but the most spirited driving.
Second-row seats, while spacious enough for full-size adults and plenty wide enough for two car seats, are in need of more padding. While it’s not an issue for the kids in their booster seats, anyone with more than a few miles on their bodies will find themselves shifting for a more comfortable position before long.
The third-row seats in the MDX are perfect for kids – even those still using car seats — but won’t be comfy for anyone over five-ish feet tall. As a hideaway for the six-year-old kids in my life, the third row provides an excellent respite from the “lame” (really she’s awesome) two-year-old little sister in the second row.
Though the A-Spec package pushes the MDX into more-than-just-a-family-wagon territory, the vehicle’s intended purpose as a people-hauler hasn’t been washed away. This sort of thing is a refreshing upgrade to an SUV that might otherwise be just one of several vehicles in the luxury segment. Acura hasn’t forgotten that picking up the dad card doesn’t mean giving up on having fun, and I suspect that many people like me will happily agree.