As Honda’s luxury brand, Acura has some deep shoes to fill. Trying to match Honda’s reputation and exceed over it is no walk in the park. The MDX, Acura’s flagship and largest SUV attempts to cover that task. While it contains Honda’s quality control, reliability, and components— it simply doesn’t live up to its name. We drove the 2020 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, a hybrid SUV that is powered by an electric motor paired up with a 3.0 L V6, a hallmark of Honda SUVs. While the SUV itself claims to be the pinnacle of Acura SUV performance, it sure doesn’t act like it. It’s not a sport SUV, it’s a family hauler, and a subpar one at that.
Under the Hood Isn’t Exactly “Performance”
Instant torque is cool. Don’t get me wrong, the MDX is speedy off the line, but as soon as the gas engine takes over, there’s a severe drop-off in torque and power. The 3.0L V6 is underpowered for such a heavy car— tipping the scale at a 4,032 lbs. Producing only 290 horsepower for such a bulky car is not a sign of performance like Acura wants you to believe. Our 0-60 test put the MDX at a healthy 6.3 seconds, yet still feels sluggish at higher RPMs. A 7-speed automatic transmission is paired to give the best fuel economy, which it does achieve (26/27 city/highway), but feels too short in the low end where the hybrid powertrain does handle most of the drive. The hybrid tech itself is pretty top-notch, and coming from Honda is already meant to be reliable. The low-end RPMs is where the MDX is fun to drive, but its no fun if it doesn’t carry through to the rest of the drive.
Driving it is a bit thrilling, but not to the level of many other performance oriented SUVs. It feels drowsy sometimes and sluggish. Launch it off a stoplight and you’ll find your head pinned back against the seat, but any higher up the powerband and you’re met with nonchalant acceleration made for a minivan. Handling is not exactly the MDX’s strong suit, it struggles due to its high rise structure and long wheel base to suffice the 3 row seating. It feels topsy-turvy coming around any huge corners and a ton of body roll. For a sport version of a vehicle, this one doesn’t come with any significant sport upgrades. Just a slight upgrade in power, but nothing to harness that. The brakes are the same, same tires, Continental CrossContacts wrapped on 20 inch rims. Same shocks, no improved exhaust, no upgraded intake, nothing. Compare that to a Ford Explorer ST, same segment, but a twin-turbo engine, carbon ceramic brakes, upgraded sticky summer tires, lowered shocks, and a less restrictive exhaust paired with wider headers. The MDX isn’t exactly Nurburgring ready, but we wouldn’t expect it to be. Its scant performance features may be a gimmick, but it sure has a lot else going for it.
Built for the Family
While you can’t exactly take your family to Talladega, it’s perfect for nearly everything else. The MDX sits on the RDX platform, a perfect compliment for a solid family SUV. Second row captains chairs are a luxurious option at this price point, even taking me in for a surprise. The seats are amazingly comfortable, and we took this thing from Dallas to Denver and back no issue. I had no trouble sitting in the drivers seat for a long period of time, and not once did I feel uncomfortable. The infotainment system can be improved (albeit it has on the 2022 MDX), the two screen system is a bit much and is vastly overengineered. It’s complex and a bit strange to use, but it’ll get the job done when you do get used to it. However, half the features have to be accessed through the infotainment screen requiring you to take your eyes off the road even to get to the heated seats. Seems like a safety hazard, but I guess it’s the new wave. It just seems counterintuitive to the notion of convenience, but that would be the only big flaw in the MDX’s interior. Plastic is prevalent, but it looks good, not very noticeable and well thought out. Everything is power, which is expected at this pricepoint, and comes with a suite of drivers assistance features which is nice but some are hard to figure out. For example, the Lane-Keep Assist and Departure Warnings have to be turned on constantly when you first turn on the car. A bit annoying, and you’ll probably forget that they’re even there.
In the back, the second row comes with plenty of storage and power spots for children and even adults. Ours was configured to be an 8-seater with the middle section propped in, and yet was still comfortable. Plenty of legroom and spacious headroom thanks to the MDX’s traditional SUV body style allows for comfort on any trip. The third row is where children are meant to be kept and is pretty basic in amenities, with a singular charge port and restricted room, it’s not exactly meant for long haul trips. It’ll do what it’s meant to do in a bind, but don’t expect much more.
The MDX doesn’t exactly live up to it’s big “sporty” name, as it’s just meant to be a gimmick. Yes a larger turbocharged engine is included but at minimal gains. The MDX however is a great family hauler and good on space with 15.8 cubic feet, and nearly 90 with the seats folded down. Driving it is a pleasure, but not performance SUV pleasure.