2022 Acura MDX A-Spec: The Sportiest-Looking Family-Friendly SUV On The Market Today

Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock
Illustration for article titled 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec: The Sportiest-Looking Family-Friendly SUV On The Market Today
Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

When my boss over at A Girls Guide to Cars told me that there were quite a few people talking trash about the 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec, I was genuinely surprised. This machine has its flaws, sure, but it’s also the most fun I’ve had behind the wheel of an SUV in quite a while—and it’s packed with features that are traditionally designed for minivans but that would make this MDX an incredibly fun road trip vehicle for adults, not just kids. There’s room for improvement (I’m looking at you, touchpad), but there are a lot more positives than negatives in this bad boy.

(Full disclosure: Acura provided the MDX for test-driving purposes at the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Spring Roundup. All opinions are my own.)

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What Is It?

The Acura MDX has been a mainstay in the three-row luxury crossover/SUV market since its introduction in 2000. It has repeatedly been awarded high praise and has frequently been named the best luxury SUV of the year. Which means expectations are high when it comes to a redesign.

With the 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec, you’re getting a whole host of upgrades: a new platform, body, chassis, and suspension architecture, plus the addition of a ton of great family-friendly tech features you’d normally expect from a minivan. Except, with its double-wishbone suspension in front and multi-link configuration in the rear, you’re going to have a hell of a lot more fun driving this than you’d ever get driving a minivan. Seriously. It’s no sports car, but it’s about as close as you’re going to get from a family machine. Even the red-and-black interior is going to get you feeling ready to race.

That is, in part, because you have multiple drive mode selections: sport, normal, comfort, snow, or individually customized options. On the higher trims, changing the mode also changes the interior color. On the standard trim, it’ll still change shades on the digital instrument cluster.

And you’ll benefit from a little larger body, which translates to a bit more space inside the MDX. We’re not talking massive upgrades, but just enough to make life more comfortable for those in the rear. That third row can be really cramped for anyone over four feet tall, but it’s designed for occasional use.

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

Specs To Know

  • Base price for the Acura MDX: $46,900
  • Starting price for the Acura MDX A-Spec: $57,100
  • All-wheel drive
  • 3.5-liter V6 engine
  • 290 horsepower, 267 lb-ft of torque
  • 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters
  • 5,000-lb towing capacity
  • Drive-by-wire throttle
  • 19 mpg city / 25 mpg highway / 21 mpg combined
  • Panoramic moonroof
  • Heated and ventilated front seats
  • Multi-functional second row with removable middle seat
  • Built-in Amazon Alexa
  • Bluetooth capable, wireless Apple CarPlay/Android Auto
  • Wireless charging pad
  • Safety and driver assistance features standard on all trims
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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What’s Great

This is going to sound weird, but the best part of the 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec is that it has all the best parts of a minivan without actually being a minivan. Rear-seat passengers have access to sunroof settings, music, navigation, and rear climate control through the CabinControl phone app, which is a godsend for anyone who has ever been at the mercy of toggling settings for children or—even worse—picky teens.

Those passengers can also have access to something called the Social Playlist, which is a feature that allows everyone to contribute songs to the playlist everyone is listening to. It’s kind of like a jukebox, but you’re probably not going to have to wait an hour for your song to pop up. As someone who likes building collaborative road trip playlists with friends, I love this feature. Everyone can add music as they see fit, and they also don’t have to touch my phone to do it.

To make that listening experience even better, you’ll have the Acura/ELS 3-D premium audio system with 16 speakers. You may not think you’re at a proper concert, but you’re also not going to want to get out of the car when your jam comes on.

Some of the other great features are CabinTalk, which gives drivers the ability to communicate to the rear seat passengers without having to raise their voice—always a nice option, and the wireless charging pad next to the cup holders. The pad doesn’t take up any space on the center stack, and it’s also covered by a leather-wrapped armrest, so you’re not going to get any obnoxious glare from the sun shining back in your face. That is much appreciated after a recent drive in a Silverado where, no matter what direction I was driving, the sun always bounced off my phone on the charging pad and pointed directly into my eyeballs.

But if I can be shallow for a moment, one of the best things about this machine is just how good it looks. It has an aggressive, angular exterior that makes my inner race car child all warm and fuzzy. The exhaust tips are, honestly, kind of hilariously large, and I love it. Give me all the angles—I’m tired of bulbous SUVs plaguing the road, so anything that gives me a little visual relief is welcome indeed.

And yes, I’m going to bring it back to the gorgeous interior. I’ll always be sold on anything made of red leather, but Acura’s well-placed stitching, chrome accents, and sharp angles make you feel like you’re behind the wheel of something a hell of a lot sportier. I also loved the wide, black center stack that was framed on both sides by red leather. It’s an SUV I never wanted to get out of.

The looks are also complemented by the driving capabilities. The Acura MDX A-Spec feels lower than it is, and it hugs the ground, even on curvier back roads. I only had a few hours with the SUV, so I couldn’t tell you how it holds up on a road trip, but I’ve heard from other reputable sources that it does very well.

That being said, the stiffer new platform makes for sharper handling, even if there is the slightest delay between your steering input and the result (although it’s not enough to be off-putting, and it’s easy to get used to). The variable-assist power steering is incredibly solid and lends a really confident feel to the front end when you’re taking a turn. And the revised suspension makes the MDX feel far nimbler than it should. You’re talking about one hell of a long vehicle that can, at times, feel like a sedan half its size. My main qualm was the fact that there was a bit of a delay in response from the paddle shifters on the steering wheel; it’s your biggest reminder that you’re not actually driving something sporty. The throttle response, too, is a little delayed—but that bothered me a lot less than it has other folks, likely because my daily is now a ‘96 Suburban that lumbers around like a tired elephant.

Acura makes a big deal about performance on the MDX’s page on its website, but it’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t a car designed for the race track. It is, at the end of the day, a three-row SUV. You’ll have a lot more fun behind the wheel than you might in a budget base-model kid hauler, but it’s still an SUV. Its less about traditional performance specs like acceleration and braking at speed (example: the 0-60 time is seven seconds) than it is about the handling at speed. And on both highways and Texas backroads, it’s marvelous.

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock
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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

What’s Weak

The biggest weakness here is the touchpad infotainment system, which a lot of other journalists have noted. There’s a touchpad interface where taps to the pad correspond with that same on-screen space. So, if you tap the top right of the touchpad, you’ll access the top right of the infotainment screen.

In some ways, that makes sense; other manufacturers who have implemented a touchpad have done so in a way that mimics your laptop touchpad, where you can scroll around but which takes an unfortunate amount of thinking and looking at the screen to use. Implementing a one-to-one correspondence seems like it should be more intuitive. Touch the middle of the pad, and you access the middle option on the screen.

But it’s hard to use, in part because the screen is rectangular and the touchpad is square, and it only corresponds to about three quarters of the overall infotainment screen. There’s another thin, vertical touchpad that adjusts the other quarter of the screen by swapping between audio and time displays, among other options. It can be tough to describe, which is why the system requires video explanations.

It’s also super sensitive. Like, distractingly so. I struggled to use this feature while immobile, and it was almost impossible to use while actually driving. Which sucks, because there are a lot of cool features hiding away in the infotainment system.

Fuel economy and third-row space are also tight. It wasn’t comfortable for my 5'3" self in the third row, which is not a good sign for most other folks who might be using it. And with an EPA-rated 19 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, you’d be forgiven for checking out a different segment of the SUV market that can give you more space and better fuel economy for a smaller price tag.

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Photo: Elizabeth Blackstock

The Verdict

I’ll be honest—even with its drawbacks, I really liked the 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec. The quality of the drive was enjoyable enough to make you forget about the fact that you’ll be making more frequent stops at the gas station, but if you’re opting for a luxury SUV, you’re probably not all that pressed about money anyway. The great tech features puts this SUV on par with minivans in terms of family friendliness, but the sporty red interior will make you feel like an absolute badass. If you have a family, some money to throw around, and a preference for anything but a minivan’s looks, then the Acura MDX A-Spec will be right up your alley.

If you’re anyone else, I’d go ahead and wait until some of the big issues are addressed before you put this one on your “must have” list. It’s a great machine, but it’s no longer the best in its class, largely thanks to that touchpad.

Weekends at Jalopnik. Managing editor at A Girl's Guide to Cars. Lead IndyCar writer and assistant editor at Frontstretch. Novelist. Motorsport fanatic.

DISCUSSION

adamfragoules
Gtferrari

$57 large and doesn't even have 300hp?