Which modifier is more important in your next three-row luxury crossover SUV–the three-row part, or the luxury part?
Before safety scores even factor into the equation, we think the Buick Enclave's the winner in this face-off. The MDX scores a 7.5 on our scale with excellent room and safety scores, while its conservative looks leave it hidden in plain sight. The Enclave? It earns a 7.8 with its lovely styling, its very capable handling, and exceptional third-row space, even before it's crash-tested. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
2018 Buick Enclave AvenirEnlarge Photo
With the MDX, Acura avoids the flashy overtures of its NSX sports car. It's cleaned up the shape considerable since it was new in 2014, and the recently restyled grille and LED headlights finally give it the presence it deserves. The cockpit has wood trim, sweeping curves, and big touchscreen displays–but the Enclave does all that in a more radical, sensuous way. Even shy of the Enclave Avenir's lush brown leather dash trim, its sculpted interior reaches for drama, and nails it. The sheet metal could hardly be more attractive. The prior Enclave wore a handsome shape with durable appeal. This one puts its parent SUV away in a home.
The Enclave powers along with a 310-hp V-6, its power channeled through a 9-speed automatic and front- or all-wheel drive. It's the equivalent to the MDX's 290-hp V-6 and 9-speed, but the Buick feels gutsier and its transmission shifts more sweetly. Both have semi-manual shift action through a set of shift paddles. Buick extracts more maximum tow from its combination: 5,000 pounds versus 3,500 pounds for the Acura.
Acura's philosophy is to smother road bumps with lots of shock travel, big 20-inch wheels, and a bit of body lean. Buick takes a fresh approach: it cruises with more finesse and a much stiffer set of springs. Neither crossover has much in the way of steering feel, but the Enclave imparts more information from the road, and responds with more zest to it.
What the Enclave doesn't have is the Acura's Sport Hybrid all-wheel-drive system. It lets the MDX split torque between the rear wheels, as does the Enclave's optional AWD system. The Acura also sandwiches in batteries and motors that lift fuel economy to 27 mpg combined, far above the Enclave's best 22-mpg rating.
With the Enclave, Buick coddles passengers in the first two rows, so long as they're not in the base cloth-seat model. Acura's base seats give way to better sport seats with optional packages, too. The second-row chairs in the Enclave surround adults with ample space, feed their smartphones with easily reached USB ports, and slide out of the way to open up access to the third row. Adults can fit there, too, with more space and comfort and accoutrements than they can in the MDX third row. Both crossovers have plenty of space, but the bigger Enclave does more inside its footprint; there's even a bin under the cargo floor that's perfect for dirty boots or sandy beach chairs.
The Enclave hasn't been crash-tested yet, but the MDX has earned stellar ratings across the board. Buick only offers adaptive cruise control on the most expensive Avenir trim level, which lifts the price to the mid-$50,000 range.
At the same price Acura sells an MDX Sport Hybrid with surround-view cameras, cooled front seats, lots of USB ports, and premium audio. The similar Enclave Avenir has wireless smartphone charging, adaptive shocks, a power-fold third-row seat, and a rear camera mirror. The smart money equips either SUV closer to $50,000 including all the advanced safety gear.
In its favor, the Acura MDX has very good hybrid fuel economy, and can be significantly less expensive than the Enclave. But the Buick has real luxury-car presence, and handles the road with more aplomb than its crossover rival. Before all the safety ballots are in, we're calling the 2018 Buick Enclave the winner here.