There’s a good reason why there are more than a dozen enticing choices in the mid-sized luxury SUV market. Canadian buyers have flocked en masse from luxury sedans to SUVs in the past three to four years, drawn by all-wheel-drive traction, higher seating position and very car-like comfort.
The market share of premium SUVs in Canada has remained largely stable at about 13.4-13.5 per cent through the COVID-19 pandemic, says John Bardwell, automotive-product specialist with marketing-research company Bond Brand Loyalty. And as buyers cope with the isolation associated with the pandemic, those sales are expected to stay strong, he says.
“People feel hard done by. They’re pampering themselves,” said Bardwell. Since people aren’t going out for dinner or to watch a show, “They’re letting themselves be talked into a trim level up or a brand up.”
All major luxury brands have seized on this trend, offering hot-selling mid-sized SUVs. Yet they owe a nod of thanks to Acura, Honda’s upmarket brand, which introduced the mid-sized three-row luxury SUV segment to North America 20 years ago with the original Acura MDX.
Emile Korkor, assistant vice-president of sales and marketing at Acura Canada, said when he saw the first MDX protype 20 years ago, he thought few buyers would want such a “compromise” product.
“If you asked me in 1999 if I thought this would be our top selling product, I would’ve said, ‘No way,’” Korkor said in an interview.
That early – and prescient – entry gives the company the right to brag it has the most cumulative sales of mid-sized luxury SUVs in Canada and the U.S. (about a million). Yet as competitors have upped the excitement, the third-generation MDX has slipped to No. 5 in the Canadian segment behind Lexus, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Cadillac. Acura now hopes its heavily remade and sportier new flagship will move the MDX back up the ladder when it arrives in 2021.
Acura lifted the veil on the fourth-generation prototype on Oct. 14, with a major overhaul to appearance, features and promised performance. Korkor said there is a very deliberate effort to re-establish Acura as a performance brand.
“We’d done a lot to try to stake our claim in the luxury segment,” he said. “Now it’s time to emphasize our performance roots.”
The prototype sits on an all-new platform with a lower and wider stance, longer hood and a cabin set further back to allow a more raked windshield. To enhance performance, the body has been stiffened, and Acura has added double-wishbone front suspension that sets the stage for a Type S performance package.
The standard engine is Acura’s 3.5-litre DOHC V6, connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission which drives power to the 21-inch alloy wheels. The sportier Type S will feature a 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 producing an estimated 355 horsepower and 354 lb.-ft. of torque. (The turbo-V6 and double-wishbone suspension are also to be featured in the 2021 TLX sedan.)
Korkor would not comment on plans for an electric version of the MDX, but noted parent company Honda has committed to having two-thirds of its fleet battery-electric by 2030.
The exterior look is strikingly sportier, with an emboldened three-dimensional diamond pentagon grille. The four-element LED headlights are underscored by LED daytime running lights. The front fascia has been sculpted to highlight the wide grille, and fog light housings are tucked in under side vents.
Acura, however, says the real beauty is inside – a premium interior with improved materials and technology, including all-digital instrumentation. Korkor said the company focused on the inside because “we really wanted to elevate the status of the MDX.”
Trim details include open-pore wood with infused metallic flake, polished aluminum, soft-touch leather and mood lighting. The instrument panel is trimmed with ebony and orchid-coloured leather, and the steering wheel has French-stitched detailing. Acura says the sport seats include a nine-mode integrated massage feature and are sculpted with curvilinear quilting in all three rows, gradient perforation, and high-contrast stitching and piping.
A panoramic moonroof provides natural light to all three rows, and – thanks to a 76-mm-longer wheelbase – that third row is truly comfortable for an adult, Korkor says. Headroom has also been improved for front and third-row occupants.
The Precision Cockpit all-digital instrumentation replaces physical gauges with a 31-cm display that a driver can customize. In the centre of the dash, the True Touchpad Interface controls the infotainment and comfort settings via another 31-cm high-definition display. The ELS Studio sound system has also been upgraded with more than 1,000 watts of power, 22 discreet channels and 25 speakers.
The fourth-generation MDX will be built at the company’s East Liberty, Ohio, auto plant, while both the 3.5-litre V6 and new 3.0-litre turbo will be made in Anna, Ohio. The 10-speed automatic transmission is also made in the United States, at the company’s Tallapoosa, Ga., transmission plant.
The MDX is to arrive at dealers in early 2021, with the Type S to follow by summer. Prices have not been announced.
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