Acura’s flagship SUV is now a genuine threat to the established luxury crossovers.
Acura is rightly proud that the MDX is the world’s best-selling three-row luxury SUV, but in spite of the company’s marketing, it hasn’t cultivated the sporty panache of some of its competitors. That’s going to change when the 2022 Acura MDX hits showrooms, its snappy new duds hiding a wonderful, brand-specific SUV platform that brings the luxury-SUV fight to Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz.
The MDX’s metamorphosis into a bona fide luxury crossover starts with a planted stance that’s a dramatic departure from the outgoing model’s slightly squat appearance. Meanwhile, a more spacious interior brings the MDX firmly into the modern era with a new infotainment system and advanced safety features. Finally, under the skin is a double-wishbone front suspension and stiffer platform that makes it feel simultaneously sportier and more stable. Bottom line – you no longer have to qualify your MDX purchase with some marketing-speak about value or reliability.
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One Look Is All It Takes
The 2022 MDX immediately asserts its Acura-ness with a distinctive “diamond pentagon” grille and chicane LED headlight accents (inspired by the company’s ARX-05 race car), as well as taillights that are seemingly ripped from the TLX. Step back from those details and you’ll also notice that Acura increased its dash-to-axle ratio by over 4 inches, giving the MDX a longer hood that looks much more graceful. The company’s flagship rides on a 113.8-inch wheelbase (an increase of 2.8 inches), and its track goes up 1.4 inches to 67.7, giving it a wheels-at-the-corners stance that’s crucial to imparting a dynamic first impression.
The cabin is much improved thanks to a design that takes a cue from the Precision Cockpit concept. A low dash recalls Acuras of old, reducing claustrophobia and improving visibility, while its split-cowl lower dashboard design provides the intimacy that’s appropriate in a vehicle with sporting pretensions. Gone is the confusing dual-screen infotainment system – sitting up high in the driver’s line of sight is a 12.3-inch display, with more vehicle and driving information coming via a standard digital instrument cluster that measures the same 12.3 inches.
Helping Acura earn points is a well-crafted interior that boasts genuine leather and aluminum (Advance models add matte wood trim, while our A-Spec got faux suede seat inserts). Materials are gorgeous except for the hard-plastic knee bolsters on either side of the center console. And even the base MDX gets a digital instrument cluster, as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless charging pad, three-zone climate control, and a sliding panoramic moonroof, which affects headroom only a tiny bit compared to the old MDX. That’s a small price to pay for how airy the interior is with the shade retracted.
save over $3,400 on average off MSRP* on a new Acura MDX
Built For The Boulevard
For now, all 2022 Acura MDX models receive a carryover 3.5-liter V6, with figures that are identical to that of the outgoing SUV: 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet (don't worry, a sportier Type S is coming). A 10-speed automatic gearbox is now standard, replacing a nine-speed in the 2020 MDX.
Modest output notwithstanding, the MDX is reasonably responsive in either the city or the highway, and the transmission selects gears very well – paddle shifters are standard for control freaks. As before, the base and Technology trims get front-wheel drive; Acura’s torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is an option that’s standard on the A-Spec and Advance.
So equipped, the MDX can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear axle, portioning up to 100 percent of that to the right or left rear wheels. The clutch-based system virtually erases understeer when accelerating through a corner, but the technological trick only works when applying throttle. Under braking or coasting, the MDX’s 58/42 weight distribution (out of 4,534 pounds total) is on full display. The racing adage, “Enter slow and exit fast,” means everything here.
The clutch-based SH-AWD system virtually erases understeer when accelerating through a corner.
Body control is also a very slight issue. The MDX feels nervous on undulating pavement and exhibits some body roll in corners, understandable for the class but a bit disappointing given Acura’s sporty posturing. Active anti-roll bars, such as those on the Audi SQ7, BMW X5, and Mercedes-Benz GLE, would help. That said, the MDX pays huge dividends on the highway, with a quiet ride that’s isolated from pavement imperfections and sonic disturbances.
And the MDX is still a genuinely enjoyable SUV to hustle up a canyon road. By keeping the speed somewhat in check at the beginning of a corner, the driver can squeeze onto the throttle early and work that SH-AWD magic, the corner line tightening up as the SUV sends power to the outside rear wheel in a confidence-inspiring arc. And the sweetly tuned 3.5-liter V6 engine is a joy to rip from idle to redline, offering the smoothness you’d normally associate with something Bavarian, with an unusual exhaust bark to set it apart.
In Style And Comfort
A longer wheelbase and wider track yield more interior room – total passenger volume is 139.1 cubic feet, up 6.4 cubes over the outgoing MDX. Comfort and support for the driver and passenger are competitive, thanks to standard 12-way heated power seats – the MDX A-Spec brings ventilation to the mix, to which the Advance adds adjustable thigh support and seat bolsters. The seats themselves are shaped for the average American, with somewhat less lateral support compared to a BMW X5 or Audi Q7. The payoff is more wiggle room for those with wide shoulders and hips.
Unfortunately, the larger second row isn’t quite as comfortable as it was on the 2020 MDX. The 40/20/40 bench’s center seatback folds down to serve as an armrest for the outboard positions, but it’s not tall enough for adult elbows, with no storage aside from a pair of cupholders. The old layout, a 60/40 split seat and a deployable armrest with cupholders, was cushier and more supportive than its somewhat flat replacement. And the outgoing MDX Advance’s luxury bucket seats and center console are gone. To Acura’s credit, the center seating position is removable, which makes third-row access easier when child seats are installed.
Unfortunately, the larger second row isn’t quite as comfortable as it was on the 2020 MDX.
Speaking of, the third row wins some points back for the 2022 MDX. Passengers will appreciate a seating position that’s further off the floor than before, as well as noticeably more headroom and legroom. It’s still a bit tight for adults, but your friends won’t protest sitting back there for short jaunts, and pre-teens have enough room for long trips. The top-spec MDX Advance even includes USB charging for both third-row passengers.
Luggage space behind the third row is 16.3 cubic feet, up 1.5 over the old MDX, and dropping the cargo floor to its lowest position makes room for 18.1 cubes. With the third row folded, the Acura gets 39.1 cubic feet, and with all seats stowed, there’s 71.4 cubes of space.
Acura’s polarizing True Touchpad Interface shows up in the 2022 MDX, and it’s better here than in any other product from the automaker. As on the RDX and TLX, the infotainment screen is mounted just out of reach from the driver, near the base of the windshield. A touch-sensitive rectangle on the center console corresponds to the display in that pressing down on one corner of the touchpad activates the same area on the screen. After some familiarization, it’s pretty easy to use Acura’s embedded apps and functions.
However, when CarPlay is active, the touchpad must instead be used like the trackpad of a notebook computer, making it much less intuitive and requiring more attention and fine adjustments than we’d like. For what it’s worth, that’s due to Apple’s software limitations, but it doesn’t change the fact that a touchscreen would be more convenient than Acura’s solution. CarPlay also precludes the use of the system’s embedded navigation (standard on Technology, A-Spec, and Advance trims) and USB audio. That meant we had to disconnect our phones to appreciate the stellar ELS Studio 3D sound system that comes standard on the A-Spec and Advance.
Uncompressed audio files on a USB stick reveal how wonderful the audio package really is. “Three-dimensional” sound comes via four speakers in the MDX’s headliner, and the processor will even send specific stereo tones to a particular speaker. For example, the beginning of Dire Straits’ “Money For Nothing” plays from every interior speaker until the signature guitar riff silences the growing cacophony, sound emanating primarily from the front speakers until the rest of the band rejoins. Streaming audio, such as Spotify or Pandora, sounds pretty good too, though there’s some compression hiss.
Making Cents Of It All
The 2022 Acura MDX is a huge improvement over the old one, so one might expect Acura to demand a premium for its efforts. To wit: the front-wheel-drive Acura MDX now starts at $46,900, up $2,400 over its predecessor. That price hike seems reasonable given how much nicer the new MDX is, although it must be said that leatherette is now the standard upholstery – the 2020 MDX gets leather right from the get-go. An MDX A-Spec like we tested costs $57,100 to start, with an as-tested price of $58,625 after adding its deep, steely Liquid Carbon Metallic paint ($500) and a $1,025 destination charge.
If you’re hellbent on saving cash, a loaded Lexus RX 350L costs about $57,000 (up from $48,000 to start), though you’ll have to sacrifice interior room and driving dynamics in the cramped, sterile Lexus. A rear-drive BMW X5 sDrive40i offers lots more power and slightly better handling than the MDX, but it starts $59,400 – a price that doesn’t include leather, advanced driver-assist features, or premium audio. The Audi Q7 45 TFSI starts at $54,950 in turbocharged, four-cylinder form; ditto the rear-drive $57,250 Mercedes-Benz GLE 350. Predictably, a well-optioned Acura is about the same price as a base-model European SUV.
Of course, price is only one element of value. The Acura MDX SH-AWD achieves 19 miles per gallon city, 25 highway, and 21 combined (add a tick to combined and highway numbers if you’re going with front-wheel drive). That equals the Audi and Lexus’ combined numbers when comparing all-wheel-drivers, but it lags behind the GLE 350 4Matic’s combined rank of 22 mpg. Surprisingly, the torquey, turbocharged BMW inline-six beats all, at 23 mpg.
Still, if the MDX’s appetite for gas is palatable, it’s a very competitive, comfortable, and premium-feeling SUV. Although its engine’s output is a bit underwhelming and it rolls in corners more than we’d like (we expect the forthcoming turbocharged Type S model to eliminate both complaints), the Acura is still nimble, spacious, easy to live with, and lots of fun to drive. The logical reasons for buying an MDX continue into the new generation – reliability, quality construction, and passenger room – but finally, Acura has built a bona fide luxury crossover that makes an emotional appeal for itself, too. No disclaimers needed.
MDX Competitor Reviews:
2022 Acura MDX A-Spec