Acura is in an enviable position with respect to SUVs. Its compact RDX has managed to maintain first or second place in popularity since it arrived on the scene in 2009, and its MDX has been the top-selling…

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite Road Test

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The impressive MDX was made more stylish thanks to a mid-cycle upgrade last year, which was carried over to this 2018 model. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Acura is in an enviable position with respect to SUVs. Its compact RDX has managed to maintain first or second place in popularity since it arrived on the scene in 2009, and its MDX has been the top-selling dedicated three-row model in its mid-size luxury class since 2005. How have they done it? Value. 

When I say value, I’m not just talking price. In fact, according to, Canada’s best resource for new vehicle pricing, invoice pricing, rebate information and more, the MDX is not the least expensive three-row SUV in its segment, that attribute (if being cheapest is even considered appealing amongst premium buyers) achieved by the $48,000 Buick Enclave, which is followed closely by the $48,195 Infiniti QX60. The MDX sits third in three-row, mid-size, premium-branded affordability, its 2018 pricing starting at $54,090 plus freight and fees. So why did 20 percent fewer Canadians choose a QX60 and 40 percent less opt for the even cheaper Enclave? 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Our MDX SH-AWD Elite tester featured unique 20-inch alloys, painted out front and rear fascias, and more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Value is never solely about price, especially in the luxury sector. Overall build quality and refinement are often more important, as well as mechanical sophistication and performance, digital interfaces and other convenience features, advanced driver assistance and safety features, practicality and functionality (these last points particularly true amongst sport utilities), plus reliability, styling and brand cachet that impact residual/resale values. The MDX gets high marks for most of the above, and therefore gets rewarded with consistently strong sales. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Full LED headlamps come standard across the entire MDX line. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Acura addressed styling last year, when a mid-cycle update transformed the frontal design with its new trademark “Diamond Pentagon” grille. The MDX was already ahead of its peers with respect to lighting, its advanced “Jewel-Eye” LED headlamps and LED taillights standard across the line, but many of the SUV’s other design details were enhanced as part of the redo as well. 

The refreshed MDX’ interior remained mostly carryover, but for 2018 Acura has added some user-friendlier tech. Specifically, the standard 7.0-inch capacitive touchscreen now includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration, a bonus for iPhone users due to Apple’s much better interface, plus useful to Android phone owners that can make it work. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
This is one sweet set of machine-finished 20-inch alloys. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

To be clear, while I like Android-based phones and have owned many from Samsung, Sony, Asus and Huawei, I’m not a fan of Android Auto. It normally hooks up quickly enough, but its capability is limited and graphic interface dismal. My problem in this case came down to the MDX infotainment system’s inability to recognize that my phone was connected to the correct USB (the one with the smartphone graphic), so there was no Android Auto for me. This could have something to do with the 2016 Huawei GR5 I was using, but it’s a relatively common phone in my parts (up until recently providers were giving it away for free with a two-year contract) and therefore shouldn’t be a problem, plus it hasn’t posed a problem when connecting to other brands’ infotainment systems. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Along with standard LED headlamps, the MDX gets LED taillights as well. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

As for Acura’s other 2018 MDX promise, which includes more logically organized functions and an operating system that’s 30-percent faster when responding to inputs, I can attest to both. It’s certainly a better laid out interface than the previous one, but that’s not saying a lot. Unfortunately it remains one of my least favourite infotainment systems to use, and that’s despite being noticeably quicker as well. Somehow Acura has created a system that uses twice as many displays to perform half as many functions, or at least that’s how it seems when trying to perform various tasks. My advice? Acura should study the latest iPad and Samsung tablets, and then do their best to mimic their various functions, such as pinch or swipe capability, without infringing on copyright laws. That’s what Tesla, Volvo, and others have done, and consumers have responded well, while pundits, like me, have given them multiple awards. Acura won’t win any awards for this infotainment system, even with the upgrades. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
All MDX trims are nice, but Acura goes all out with its Elite model, including real hardwood inlays, contrast stitching and piping for the Milano leather upholstery, and much more. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

It’s a shame because the rest of the interior is superb. My tester was finished in top of the line Elite trim, which meant its Black Limba or Olive Ash Burl wood inlays, found across the instrument panel, door panels and lower console bin lid, were real, its perforated Milano leather seat upholstery featured contrast stitching and accent piping, and its feature set was upgraded to include a really useful surround view parking camera, a great sounding 546-watt ELS Studio audio upgrade with Dolby Pro Logic II, 12 speakers and a sub plus more, rear DVD entertainment with an “Ultrawide” 16.2-inch display, a remote, two wireless headphones, and an HDMI input jack, four USB charge points, a 10-way powered front passenger seat, ventilated front cushions, and that’s just on the inside. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Each new MDX generation gets better, with the 2018 model receiving an updated infotainment system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Outside, the Elite gets attractively painted front and rear lower skid garnishes, nice looking vertically stacked LED fog lamps, a sharp looking set of 20-inch alloys, always helpful front and rear parking sensors, plus roof rails up top, while a fuel-saving, emissions reducing engine idle start/stop system gets added under the hood. 

I should also point out the Milano leather upholstery was pulled up from mid-range Tech trim, as were the auto-leveling headlamps, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, rear door proximity keyless access, a 115-volt household-style AC power outlet, and a set of heatable rear outboard seats. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Acura hasn’t introduced a fully digital gauge cluster in the MDX yet, but the current system gets a sizeable, functional TFT multi-info display. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Notable MDX Elite features not yet mentioned that get pulled up from Navi trim include perimeter/approach puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, an upgraded HVAC system with sun position detection, navigation, voice activation, hard drive media storage, AcuraLink connectivity, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic assist, and more. 

On the subject of safety, all MDX trims get standard AcuraWatch auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies such as road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection resulting in an IIHS best Top Safety Pick rating and five-star NHTSA status, once again driving home the MDX’ value proposition. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Acura is doing its best to hobble together updates for this antiquated infotainment system, but it remains far behind competitors. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Lastly, items pulled up to Elite trim from the base MDX include automatic high beams, remote engine start, proximity keyless access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered steering column, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, a colour TFT multi-info display, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, tri-zone auto climate control, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, text message and email reading capability, Siri Eyes Free, satellite radio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar and two-position memory, heated front seats, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, a powered liftgate, and much more. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
Most of the MDX’ switchgear is superb, this knurled metal one for controlling the infotainment system. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

When you combine other standard items that aren’t included in upper trims, like 18-inch alloy wheels, the base 432-watt eight-speaker audio system, a slightly lower grade of leather upholstery (but genuine leather nonetheless), a less adjustable eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, etcetera, with the comprehensive list above, it’s easy to appreciate how much bang you get for just $53k, while the near top-line Elite shown here starts at $65,360. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The long strip of gear selector buttons to the left takes a lot of getting used to. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

To put this price in perspective, that’s less than where the BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE start out, once again driving home the MDX value proposition. What’s more, the MDX comes standard with a direct-injected 3.5-litre V6 that’s good for 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, a sophisticated nine-speed automatic transmission with standard steering wheel paddles, and Acura’s much-respected torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which was recently upgraded to include a twin-clutch rear differential that directs torque between front and rear wheels, as well as side to side, for faster, smoother cornering and ultimately better traction. When combined with its amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, SH-AWD helps the MDX’ rigid body structure and nicely sorted front strut and multi-link rear suspension to manage fast-paced curves well, while providing a comfortable, compliant ride. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The MDX driver’s seat is inherently comfortable, yet it nevertheless gets a lot of adjustment. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Making matters better still, Acura includes something it calls an Integrated Dynamic System (IDS), which includes a Sport mode that quickens throttle response, allows for higher engine revs between shifts, adds steering weight, and sends more torque to the outside rear wheels amid corners to improve turn-in, while it also enhances engine sound. Of course I employed Sport mode often, although I also made sure to leave it in Comfort mode when traveling at regular speeds, especially when managing rough patches of tarmac. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The second row is roomy and comfortable, while it slides out of the way easily when the third row is needed. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

Along with its impressive ride and handling, the MDX remains wonderfully quiet, even when the outside world seems loud and chaotic, and when driven modestly the big SUV proves quite efficient with a claimed combined city/highway fuel economy rating of 10.7 L/100km when fitted with the Elite’s auto start/stop system, or 11.0 L/100km without. It should also be noted the top-line MDX Sport Hybrid receives an even more agreeable 9.0 L/100km combined city/highway rating, while boosting output to 321 net horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque—something to consider if you want a best-of-both-worlds alternative. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The third-row seats are reasonable comfortable for smaller adults, but best relegated to kids. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

In other good news, after multiple weeklong MDX test drives I’m finally fully acclimatized to its unorthodox gear selector, which is basically a row of buttons plus a single pull-tab-like reverse switch, culminating at the just-noted IDS button. It remains unnecessarily complicated, and could potentially turn off as many uninitiated prospects as it turns on tech geeks, but suffice to say it works well enough once you get used to it, and it looks pretty cool. 

2018 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
The cargo compartment is large and accommodating, although when all seats are folded down it’s downright cavernous inside. (Photo: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press)

That it doesn’t do anything to minimize space usage which would otherwise be taken up by a shift lever, and arguably adds to the level of visual clutter a driver needs to deal with are separate issues altogether. At least it provides some sense of occasion to a cabin that could also benefit from a modernized primary gauge cluster, the latter having yet to be upgraded to a fully configurable digital TFT display, plus, of course, the as yet imperfect dual-display infotainment system chastised earlier. 

Other than these few quibbles, the 2018 Acura MDX is a fine SUV deserving of its ardent following. Its inherently well engineered mechanicals provide stronger than average performance, a high level of refinement, reasonably good fuel economy and dependable reliability, while its solid construction makes it feel bulletproof, its superb standard safety set adds to its confidence-inspiring demeanor, and its comfortable and accommodating interior makes it easy to live with no matter the size of occupants or load. Now all you need to decide on is which MDX trim level and colour you want.

I want you to think about something for a moment. The RDX just passed six years since the current second-generation design went into production in March of 2012, and despite only a minor facelift in 2016,…

2018 Acura RDX Elite Road Test

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The Acura RDX still looks sharp after all these years, especially in top-line Elite trim. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I want you to think about something for a moment. The RDX just passed six years since the current second-generation design went into production in March of 2012, and despite only a minor facelift in 2016, Acura Canada still managed to find more compact luxury SUV buyers in 2017 than all but one of its competitors. 

Now consider the only model to outsell the RDX’ 8,101 units, Audi’s Q5 with 10,271 down the road, was all-new for most of last year, so therefore sold 23.5 percent more examples than the year prior due to pent up demand; the third-place Mercedes-Benz GLC, at 8,057 units, was new just two years prior in 2015; the fourth-place Lexus NX, with 7,407 buyers, arrived the year before; the fifth-place BMW X3, at 5,730 units, entered its third generation partway through the year; and the other nine competitors didn’t sell in high enough numbers to truly compete. So what does the RDX have that the others don’t? 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
A good inherent design has kept the RDX fresh despite its age. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

At $42,390 plus freight and fees it’s not the cheapest in the segment, that honour held by Infiniti’s QX50 that starts at $38,900 yet only found 1,812 customers during 2017, so price is clearly not the sole differentiator. Buick’s new Envision is priced a bit lower too, at $40,195, and while it did fairly well for its first full year at 3,357 units, even if it combined sales with the Porsche Macan’s 3,767 deliveries it would still come up short (see pricing for all 2018 Acura RDX trims at 

Obviously premium SUV buyers like the RDX’ styling, its sharp, sporty lines and standard LED headlamps plenty distinctive, while that latter feature brings up another important point, value for money. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The RDX’ standard LED headlamps really stand out. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The RDX is one of few compact luxury SUVs with standard LED headlights, while the well-proven model comes standard with a powerful V6, a pricey option with its rivals if available at all. One could argue this pro as a con with regular unleaded hovering above the $1.50 per litre mark in some parts of the country, but so far rising pump prices haven’t negatively affected SUV sales, so this may be an issue for its turbocharged four-cylinder 2019 RDX successor to address. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
Elite trim gets unique machine-finished 18-inch alloys. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Yes, if you want a new RDX with a V6 you’d better act quickly. A six-cylinder may show up as an option sometime in the future, but so far such prognostication hasn’t been up for discussion. For all we know the current 3.5-litre V6 with its smooth, linear 279 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, not to mention its well-seasoned six-speed automatic transmission, will be relegated to Acura’s history books when the new third-generation RDX arrives in Canadian dealerships later this year. There’s no place for such luxuries in this brave new world where fuel-efficiency comes first and foremost, but this government-forced agenda obviously isn’t an issue with a significant number of compact luxury SUV buyers that keep buying up the RDX in droves. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
Standard LED taillights look good and react quicker. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

I’m not of the belief that small turbocharged engines are particularly better at minimizing fuel usage than larger six-cylinder powertrains when saddled with the burden of sizeable curb weights, the RDX tipping the scales at 1,781 to 1,797 kilos (3,926 to 3,962 lbs) depending on trim. The relaxed nature of the larger engine can actually save fuel in real world driving, especially when hills and highways are a factor. Even when comparing less-real Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy ratings the 2018 RDX fares pretty well at a claimed 12.4 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.7 combined next to the similarly popular Mercedes GLC’s 11.1 city, 8.6 highway and 10.0 combined numbers. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The RDX’ standard 3.5L V6 is surprisingly thrifty while effortlessly capable and wonderfully refined. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

The German isn’t the thriftiest or the thirstiest turbo-four in the class, representing a good middle ground that the RDX comes close to matching despite its larger displacement, sportier V6 exhaust note, and more premium feel, this partially due to its still innovative yet long-time use of Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which automatically shuts down three of its six cylinders when under light loads like coasting. Now, imagine if Acura had chosen to mate this engine up with the more advanced nine-speed automatic found in the MDX, which also benefits from auto start/stop? No doubt it would come even closer to matching the efficiency of its turbocharged four-cylinder peers. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The RDX’ interior is finished nicely and comes impressively equipped for the low asking price. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

That won’t happen, however, so like I said earlier, make sure to snap up a 2018 RDX if you prefer V6 performance and refinement, the latter aided by Active Control Engine Mounts (ACM), and while you’re at it you’ll benefit from an automatic $3,000 discount provided via “Customer Incentive Dollars,” this bringing my RDX Elite tester’s suggested retail price down from $47,390 to $44,390, plus freight and fees. If you’d rather get into something more basic, the reduced entry-level RDX price comes in at $39,390, or alternatively the mid-range RDX Tech can be had for $42,390. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
Mid-range Tech trim ups the technology ante with dual infotainment displays and more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Yes, for less than $40k a base RDX comes with the aforementioned V6 and auto on/off Jewel Eye LED headlights, plus standard LED taillights, all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, ambient cabin lighting, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, heatable eight-way powered front seats with powered lumbar support, two-position driver’s memory for the seat and side mirrors, a colour TFT multi-information display, a HomeLink garage door opener, an auto-dimming centre mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 5.0-inch infotainment display, a rearview camera with guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, SMS text message functionality, a 360-watt seven-speaker audio system, satellite radio, a powered moonroof, a powered tailgate, and more. That’s superb value, even without the $3k discount. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
Backlit gauges are easy to read, and the colour multi-info display is a nice touch. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Those who prioritize safety over creature comforts will notice I haven’t even delved into the subject yet, the RDX loaded with all of the segment’s expected active and passive safety features as well as an impressive array of standard AcuraWatch driver-assist systems that would cost thousands more with some competitors, these including adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, autonomous collision mitigation braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assist. This gives the Canadian-spec base model IIHS Top Safety Pick status (these systems are optional in the U.S.) and a best possible five stars from the NHTSA. Are you starting to understand why the RDX is so popular? 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
A large 8.0-inch display provides clear, accurate navigation mapping and much more. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Mid-range Tech trim increases the RDX’ safety net with blindspot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert, as well as a plethora of convenience and luxury items like remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, a larger 8.0-inch LED backlit display with navigation and voice recognition, dynamic guidelines for the backup camera, a separate On-Demand Multi-Use touchscreen display, advanced AcuraLink smartphone connectivity, Siri Eyes Free, a 10-speaker 410-watt ELS Studio audio upgrade, a more advanced GPS-linked, solar-sensing system for the climate control, leather upholstery, heatable second-row outboard seats, and more for a mere $3,000 added to the bottom line. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The lower touchscreen allows quick access to audio, HVAC, and other functions. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Lastly, my RDX Elite benefited from sportier looking 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, auto-dimming side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and ventilated front seats, all for only $2,000 extra. 

This is where I should remind you about the top-line RDX Elite model’s $44,390 asking price (less discount), which despite its full load of features is still less expensive than most of its rivals’ base prices. Seriously! The Q5 starts at $44,950, GLC at $45,900, Volvo XC60 also at $45,900, BMW X3 at $46,700, Jaguar F-Pace at $50,250, Porsche Macan at $54,100, and Range Rover Velar at $62,000. Now I’m not going to say that an RDX competes directly with that Range Rover or Porsche other than for size, but I’m sure you get my point, while some others in the class are priced a bit lower albeit, other than that previously noted Infiniti, not by much. Plus, this comparison doesn’t factor in any competitor discounts. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
All switchgear is high in quality, while some is beautifully finished with knurled metal detailing. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

If the RDX were an uncompetitive rolling anachronism undeserving of your time and attention its supposed value proposition wouldn’t be an issue, but it remains a good-looking SUV with a nicely finished interior and strong performance. Starting inside, a generous supply of leather-like padded soft-touch surfaces can be found in all the appropriate places, as can de rigueur fabric-wrapped roof pillars and high-quality, tight fitting, well-damped switchgear throughout. All of the aforementioned features work well, its navigation particularly accurate, while its seats are comfortable and supportive front to back, with rear seat roominess especially good. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
The 8-way powered seats are very comfortable, while also providing standard 3-way heat and, in Elite trim, forced ventilation. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Likewise, the RDX can haul more cargo than most competitors thanks to 739 litres (26.1 cubic feet) of capacity behind its rear row and 2,178 litres (76.9 cubic feet) when its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded down, and that’s one of the easiest procedures in the class due to standard cargo wall-mounted levers that drop each side automatically. It’s not the flattest loading floor, with a fairly steep rise in the middle, but it’s something most owners learn to live with. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
No one should complain about rear seat roominess as there’s plenty, while mid-range Tech trim adds rear seat heaters. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

As for performance, the V6 provides more off the line jump than the majority of base challengers, and while its six-speed automatic might be down a couple of gears by modern-day standards, the torquey engine hardly needs as many shift points to optimize performance. In fact, most won’t notice this shortcoming at all, as it swaps cogs almost unperceivably unless getting hard on the throttle, at which point it does so with nice positive engagements, enhanced by standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for more hands-on command, plus Grade Logic Control that regulates throttle and braking on steep hills. This is joined by standard hill start assist, which locks the brakes so you won’t roll backward before applying the throttle. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
These standard levers fold the 60/40-split rear seatbacks down automatically. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

Pulling back on those paddle shifters is especially enjoyable when the road starts to wind, allowing more engine control for powering out of corners and then setting up the next turn. The RDX’ well-engineered independent suspension helps most in this respect, mind you, thanks to a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear setup that’s kept in check via amplitude reactive dampers that minimize fore and aft jounce as well as transitional roll while maintaining a smooth, comfortable ride at all times. Plenty of sound deadening materials along with active sound control aid in refinement too, giving the RDX the kind of upscale experience premium buyers gravitate toward. 

2018 Acura RDX Elite
Lower the rear seatbacks and you’ve got more cargo space than most rivals. (Photo: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press)

So now you know why the RDX still sells so well in spite of its age, and hopefully can appreciate that it remains an impressive luxury SUV despite its low price point. No doubt the upcoming 2019 RDX will be a wholly better compact luxury utility, but there’s no reason to put off buying the current version if you need to pull the trigger now. The standard V6 is definitely a performance and refinement bonus with little if any negative hit to fuel economy, and the model’s marketplace longevity has got to aid long-term reliability expectations. Topping it all off, the RDX’ standard suite of advanced safety features can’t be beat, making it a no-brainer purchase for smart luxury SUV shoppers. All added up, I’ve got to slot the 2018 RDX into my highly recommended category. Too bad there are so few of them left.