2022 Acura MDX Review: An SUV Staple Fights Off a Mid-Life Crisis With Great Tech and Performance
The latest MDX gets its best upgrades yet, without losing what made it such a hit in the first place.
The Acura MDX needs no introduction. You see them all over the place. It's a staple of the luxury crossover market, it makes up a significant chunk of Acura's sales, and it's generally well-regarded by its buyers and critics alike. What it's not, however, is sexy, flashy or inspiring; at least, not the way competitors from BMW or Mercedes-Benz tend to be. That hasn't stopped the MDX from being the best-selling three-row SUV of all time, but it's achieved that milestone in kind of a quiet and circumspect way, without overwhelming horsepower or a badge that screams "I'm rich and you're not."
So after 20 years on sale now, you can't blame the reliable MDX—or more specifically, the engineers at Honda—for feeling like a mid-life crisis was on the horizon. Though it basically helped invent the segment it's in, the MDX is a bit staid. Boring. Not really an attention-grabber. Perhaps some hot young thing came along (maybe it was the Honda Civic Type R or the reborn NSX) to capture everyone's hearts and minds, putting the respectable MDX in need of some reinvention. Just not the embarrassing kind, like the dad who gets an earring or starts a Pearl Jam cover band with the other dads he knows from soccer practice.
I am pleased to report that with an all-new Acura-specific platform, a host of impressive technology and a turbocharged Type S version on the way, Acura has largely delivered on its promise to turn this MDX into its new mass-market flagship, replacing the old RLX sedan, which nobody was buying anyway.
And it's pretty fun to drive, too, for a three-row crossover.
2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance, By The Numbers
- Base Price (As Tested): $46,900 starting | $65,000 (est.)
- Powertrain: 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 | 10-speed automatic transmission | all-wheel-drive
- Horsepower: 290 horsepower at 6,200 RPM
- Torque: 267 pound-feet at 4,700 rpm
- EPA Fuel Economy: 19 mpg city | 26 highway | 21 combined
- Curb Weight: 4,503 pounds (with SH-AWD)
- Seating Capacity: 7
- Cargo Space: 16.3 cubic feet behind the third row; 95 cubic feet max
- Quick Take: Acura's big SUV is better than ever and worthy of the flagship title.
What's New and Improved (A Lot)
I'll preface this by saying that with traditional press launches still suspended over COVID-19 and in-demand new models like this one only getting short loans to automotive writers, my time in the new MDX was limited to a couple of days. But it's clear that these changes have caused quite a transformation.
The new, Ohio-built MDX no longer shares a platform with cars like the Honda Accord and Odyssey. It's on an all-new light truck platform, exclusive to Acura, and a real emphasis has been placed on performance this time around. Acura's been trying to get its groove back lately after a decade and change of being unable to meet tougher challengers from all sides with various whatever re-badged Hondas. That effort started with the second-gen NSX, and the brand says it's trickling down to the rest of the lineup.
Though it may not look obviously or radically different from the last one, the new MDX gets a 32 percent stiffer body structure; larger and more powerful brakes; a new multi-link rear suspension and a new double-wishbone front suspension; revamped electric steering; 10mm wider tires; and more distinct differences between the various drive modes, like Comfort and Sport. It's also several inches longer and wider than before and does much better in the way of standard equipment.
The standard 3.5-liter V6 is a carryover from the last MDX with a few new bits to reduce emissions and noise, and it's rated as before at 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. As with all of Honda's V6 engines, I'm generally a fan, though I am more excited to try the upcoming turbo MDX Type S that amps power up to 355 hp and 354 pound-feet of torque.
Front-wheel drive is standard on the two base MDX and Technology trims. Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is a $2,000 option on those two, and it comes standard on the two upper A-Spec and Advance trims.
On the outside, our metaphorical mid-life crisis dad may not have gotten an earring, but he did decide to hit the gym a bit and dump the baggy polo shirts for some classier standards from ASOS and Bonobos. The grille is wider and more aggressive, the headlamps are narrower, the side creases are more pronounced and there's just less of a dumpy minivan profile overall.
I can't say it looks tremendously more distinctive or different than before, and it still just doesn't have the visual flash of a Benz (or even a Genesis, now) but it does present a bit more aggressively and confidently this time around.
Tech and Interior
But it's inside, and in the technology suite, where this MDX finally gets a real upgrade from "slightly nicer Honda" to "actual luxury car that seems worth its price tag." My tester came with some really nice interior flourishes, like a rich "espresso" leather interior, full leather under-dash, piano black dashboard and ash "open pore" wood accents.
It's a nice, comfortable, modern place to spend time; the seats especially are great, with just the right amount of slightly aggressive bolstering on what's supposed to be a reasonably sporty driving experience.
There are a few other clever touches here, too, like a little box that pops out to expose the USB ports. Fun! Other highlights for me included wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, plus wireless charging for compatible devices. Every luxury car should have those features in 2021 and beyond; I don't think I'd want a new car that can't do those things.
Of particular note was the ELS 3D Studio sound system on my top-level Advance tester. It's a 16-speaker affair and it's excellent, providing rich, sparkling sound on the road at any speed. I'm not enough of an audio expert to be really authoritative here, so I'll just say it sounded great, and good enough I had to point it out to you here, on this website.
Also standard across all trims is Acura's new, sweeping digital gauge cluster and a 12.3-inch infotainment control screen. The former, I had no problems with; it looks and works extremely well, with the ability to customize quite a bit of displayed data. The latter is... well, it's actually a lot less frustrating than I remember. Acura, you see, operates its screen through a trackpad below the gear selection buttons. You slide your finger along the pad to select various menus, then click what you want.
Normally these systems are infuriating to use. The ones Lexus used until recently were infamously bad, leading the automaker to adopt touch screens across the board as a mea culpa. And I've had a few eye-roll moments with this same system in the new RDX and TLX sedan. But in the MDX's case, some apparent fine-tuning to the trackpad, larger menus and a bit more experience on my end made for an interface that didn't come with too many headaches. It works fine, and it's relatively easy to use, even if you're in motion (though that's not advisable for long.)
I still wish Acura had a touch screen as a redundant-ish backup because that's what everyone is used to now, but beyond entering addresses into the nav, which is still annoying with a pad, I don't have terribly many complaints.
I didn't either when I clambered into the back seats, as your passengers often will if you're in the market for a car like the MDX. The second row has ample room for a skinny guy a hair under six feet tall like me, and in the middle, you get a "multi-function removable middle seat" that folds all the way up into a captain's chair, flips down to reveal cupholders, or can be taken out entirely. It's very minivan-y, in a useful way; that tracks since, when we get down to it, crossovers have filled the niche minivans once had a tight grip on.
As for the third row, it probably won't shock you to learn it's for little kids only or adults in a pinch. You won't want to spend a long amount of time back there, and you'll likely want to keep it down just for the extra cargo area in the hatch.
On the Road
So now that this dadmobile has racked up miles on the Peloton, traded his cargo shorts for some Indochino suits and got a new iPhone 12 that, thankfully, he isn't wearing on a belt clip, can he deliver the goods? The answer's yes, for the most part.
No one's ever going to write epic poems about the driving dynamics of a three-row crossover. These things are built for hauling kids and their gear, without projecting the image of total resignation you get from driving a minivan. (It's true, you can't beat a minivan for a good many things, but the stigma remains.) But as far as these go, the new MDX isn't bad at all. More than that, it's decently athletic for this class and price tag.
It's a surprisingly deft handler with a quick turn-in and accurate electric steering. I kept the MDX in Sport mode most of the time and I was impressed with how it could tackle a corner for its height and 4,500-pound curb weight. If you owned an Integra Type R before the kids dropped, you won't be having flashbacks to your glory days at the autocross course, but the MDX can take care of itself. The wider tires and more rigid structure have paid off nicely here when roads start winding.
The tradeoff is a ride quality that's a touch on the harsh side—more so than in the cushy Toyota Highlander Hybrid, another three-row crossover I was in a week prior—but not in any truly unsettling way. My biggest complaint was that the too-soft brake pedal doesn't match the vigorous character the rest of the car is going for.
The sole gearbox option for all 2022 MDXs is a 10-speed in-house Acura automatic with paddle shifters. Around town, I found it to be plenty smooth but downshifts felt a bit slow in Normal mode—an issue I did not have in Sport mode. I'd like more time in the MDX to render a final verdict on that. The 3.5-liter V6, however, is more of a known commodity. It's got more than adequate power that never left me wanting for aggressive passes and gives off a great sound to boot.
Naturally, I'm more intrigued by the Type S when it's ready to deploy. That gets a different engine entirely, a 3.0-liter twin-scroll turbo V6, putting Acura finally more in line with competitors who have fully embraced forced induction. (It's going into the TLX Type S, too, which sounds even more fun, if only for the weight savings.) In the meantime, the standard MDX strikes a good balance between comfort, usability and driving joy, and the third one is not something you could say about its predecessors.
The new base MDX starts at $46,900, and a top-of-the-line Advance model like mine starts at $60,650. Exact pricing details weren't available for this loaded example, as they sometimes aren't for early testers, but my educated guess is somewhere around $65,000 with options. Either way, you're getting a lot here at a price that undercuts a lot of German competitors and finally moves Acura into some higher territory.
It's for you if you need three rows of seats but can't fathom life with a minivan, want that legendary (pun very much intended) Acura reliability and tons of tech, and want to still engage in some moderate thrills behind the wheel. It's not for you if you're a badge snob, demand yet more performance, or don't need the extra size. I think for a lot of families, the mid-size RDX will do just fine.
Overall, I quite like what Acura's done with the MDX. It's become vastly more enjoyable than it ever was without compromising on the recipe that's made it a success with hundreds of thousands of families. And if this is how the standard one drives, the Type S should be put any concerns about a mid-life crisis to bed.
If you're gonna age, age gracefully, and adding a turbocharger is a great way to do that.
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Correction: An earlier version of this story indicated the MDX Type S is twin-turbocharged; it has a single,twin-scroll turbocharger. We regret the error.