The Acura MDX is normally reserved for the family-friendly luxury crossover crowd. But Acura has stepped up its game. The new 2022 MDX Type S is the most powerful and best-performing MDX Acura has ever created. But I still think it needs a little more, especially if Acura wants people to take the Type S badge seriously again.
Full Disclosure: Acura’s fantastically nice product people gladly lent me the MDX Type S for a week. It was delivered spotless with a full tank of gas. The kid and I were pretty comfortable with it after over 700 miles of driving.
What Is It?
The Acura MDX has been around for a long time now. The first model debuted back in 2000 and through four generations it’s been Acura’s premier family hauler. It sells pretty well, too: Since 2002, the MDX has consistently hit sales numbers between the low-40,000 to the high-50,000 range, every single year. In 2014, Acura sold nearly 66,000 MDXes. Not bad for something that started out on the same platform as the Honda Odyssey.
The current, fourth-generation MDX is all-new for the 2022 model year. There was no 2021 MDX — Acura skipped a year, presumably, to get the new generation ready. It was previewed by a near production-ready prototype in late 2020. The MDX went on sale in February of 2021 and the Type S later that year. With the elimination of the Acura RLX, the luxury sedan that everyone forgot, the MDX takes the throne as the brand’s flagship.
Specs That Matter
Under the hood of the MDX Type S resides the same 3.0-liter single-turbo V6 found in the TLX Type S. Power numbers are exactly the same as in the TLX Type S as well: 355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque, the sole engine choice available in the Type S. The familiar 10-speed automatic is paired with Acura’s signature SH-AWD, and Brembo brakes slow everything down. Those sit behind 21-inch wheels on low-profile high-performance tires.
All the luxury goodies make for a heavy beast: The MDX Type S Advance I have here tips the scales at 4,788 pounds.
It’s a nicely sized vehicle. This new MDX has grown slightly over the previous generation, now within inches of competitors like the Audi SQ7. Cargo capacity behind the third row is 18.1 cubic feet; that grows to 48.4 cubic feet with the third-row seats folded. With both rows of rear seats stowed, you get a cavernous 95 cubic feet of cargo volume for those Costco or Home Depot runs.
With the MDX Type S now serving as the flagship of the brand, it comes with a flagship price. The MDX Type S is now the second most expensive Acura the brand has ever made. Including a $1,195 destination charge, the MDX Type S starts at $67,895. Acura gave me a Type S Advanced, total price $73,745. That’s some serious money.
How Does it Drive
I’m sure you all want to know if this thing lives up to the Type S badge. It does, sort of. The 355 hp is always on tap. Turbo lag is minimal, despite a maximum of 15.1 pounds of boost. Turn the huge metal drive-mode knob and the Type S becomes a different animal. There are six modes to choose from: Normal, Comfort, Snow, Lift (only available below 37 mph, this raises the vehicle’s air suspension by 50 mm), Sport and Sport+.
Comfort mode is actually pretty cushy. The Type S’s air suspension soaks up every bump. But you didn’t go for the Type S badge to wallow around in a pillow.
The performance-oriented drive modes are where things get interesting. While Sport is fine, you’ll want to be in Sport+. The air suspension lowers by half an inch, the engine idles at a higher speed for quicker throttle response, an active exhaust valve opens, more artificial engine noise is piped into the cabin. The instrument panel turns red, and you get a g-meter, a larger tachometer, and a turbo boost gauge. Time to rip.
Slam the throttle and 60 mph arrives in about 5.5 seconds. Throw this thing into a corner and you’ll have a moment of clarity as you realize that the SH-AWD system isn’t a gimmick. It actually works. Acura has been developing and improving this system since 2005; it’s now in its fourth generation. With the ability to send 70 percent of engine power to the rear axle, and distribute 100 percent of an axle’s torque to a single wheel, it’s wild how this system works. Between the torque vectoring and the adaptive dampers, the Type S gives you a confident feel in spirited driving. I usually feel a bit uneasy in performance SUVs and crossovers — something about a high-center-of-gravity vehicle cornering like a sport sedan is slightly unsettling to me. But the way the Acura powers out of a corner is mighty impressive.
The exterior design is really sharp. It’s handsome; Acura describes the MDX as having “athletic proportions,” and I think that fits. From the long hood with the droplet grille and huge Acura badge to the chicane taillights and bright quad exhaust tips, it all comes together as a sporty, evolutionary look that’s both familiar and new. It’s honestly a great change from the rather bubble-like past generations of MDX.
The interior is a nice place to spend time. The center screen measures 12.3 inches, with a landscape layout that’s sharp and clear and handles Apple CarPlay fantastically. The white leather upholstery is classy, and there’s a quality feel to all of the switches and buttons. Acura likes to highlight the authentic materials in this interior — the open-pore wood on the doors and dash, the real metal accents. The front seats have 16-way adjustment and nine different massage settings, plus heating and cooling. Perfect for a long trip.
The centerpiece of the interior is the huge panoramic roof. It’s one of the biggest I’ve ever encountered in any vehicle. On a hot sunny day, it almost lets in too much light. Thankfully, with the power blackout shade closed, the interior stays much cooler.
With all the ambient lighting options, you can create a whole visual experience inside the cabin. Acura offers a handful of preset lighting modes, dubbed Iconic Driver, all themed on driving locales around the world. From the red-hued Suzuka to the desert-orange Route 66, to the Vegas Strip (with purple, gold and turquoise), they’re all great. It’s a gimmick, sure, but one I enjoyed playing with. Pair that with one of the best sound systems ever put into a vehicle and you’re truly cruising in luxury. The ELS Studio 3D sound system has 25 speakers, 22 channels and over 1000 watts of power. Acura needs to sell this system for homes. It’s that good.
While you’ll appreciate the firmer suspension in Sport and Sport+, the big-inch wheels and low-profile tires can make the MDX Type S feel harsh over rough roads. On a long drive in Sport+, my girlfriend actually started to get a little queasy in the passenger seat. (That’s mostly my fault though.)
And while this is a seven-seat family vehicle, don’t expect to put anyone on the tall side in the third row. Second-row legroom is okay (Acura claims 29.1 inches), but a tall person in the front row will eat into that.
And while Acura did a great job with that HD infotainment screen, it’s wasted on an interface system most of us loathe: a damn touchpad. It’s literally the only way to operate the screen and navigate its menus — the screen is not touch-sensitive. I never fully got used to it, and trying to work it quickly, to answer a phone call or input an adress into nav, could be really annoying.
Adding to the frustration is the fact that the screen is split into two menus, the smaller of which never leaves the screen. That menu gets its own small scroll pad running along the right-hand edge of the touchpad. I’m sure if this was my daily driver, I’d eventually get used to it, but the system is a bit unwieldy to navigate, particularly while driving.
Finally, for a performance vehicle with an active exhaust, a sporty engine note is nonexistent. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing anything, I sat in a parking lot and revved the engine with my son standing behind the car to see what it sounded like from outside. He came back shrugging. “It doesn’t really sound like anything,” he said. That’s slightly disappointing, as those quad polished exhaust tips look pretty serious.
The biggest downside to the MDX Type S is that it doesn’t quite live up to the Type S badge. You’re left wanting more. While the basic specs — turbocharged V6 power, torque-vectoring all-wheel drive — are impressive on paper, the Acura lands in the middle of the pack when compared to its competitors. The Type S badge, and the price hike that comes with it, puts the top-tier MDX up against some stiff competition. The BMW X5 M50i costs $9,000 more, but offers 170 additional horsepower from a twin-turbo V8. Even the Genesis GV80 offers more horsepower, while undercutting the Type S in price.
The price is another knock against the MDX Type S. While this is a very nice effort from Acura, in my mind, this isn’t a $74,000 vehicle. To me, this would be a very nice vehicle in a mid-60s price range.
Ultimately, what Acura has done here is less an MDX Type S and more an MDX A-Spec with a performance package. Acura needs to work a little bit harder if it wants people to take the Type S badge seriously, especially in this price range. A turbo V6 is a good start; the performance-oriented all wheel drive system is impressive, and the drive modes offer a distinct range of experiences, something that’s not always true in this type of vehicle.
But a 355-hp V6 and handsome but slightly nondescript styling won’t cut it in this segment. The Type S needs at least 100 extra horses and more unique styling to be taken seriously among high-end performance crossovers. The Type S moniker has a rich history at Acura, but the MDX needs to figure out how to live up to that heritage.