2022 Acura MDX Type S First Drive Review: An Agile SUV Worthy of the Badge
Yes, Acura has done it, too: Slapped a storied, enthusiast badge on an SUV. But in this case, the MDX Type S is good enough to deserve it.
High-performance SUVs aren't a new phenomenon. Once designed to go off the beaten path or carry lots of people in relative comfort, SUVs nowadays can be had in a variety of flavors ranging from fuel-sipping to fire-breathing. The Germans kicked off the arms race years ago with their AMG, M, and Porsche SUVs, only for the Americans to eventually catch up with SRT- and Hellcat-badged family haulers. However, the Japanese—most specifically Honda and Acura—never really got into that sort of thing, always drawing a line between their sporty offerings and their sensible and efficient family vehicles. That all changes now with the 2022 Acura MDX
Joining two existing Type S models, the TLX sports sedan and NSX supercar, the first-ever MDX Type S aims to elevate the fourth generation of Acura's best-selling vehicle. Serving as the range-topping SUV for the brand, it towers over the smaller RDX, regular MDX, and MDX A-Spec with two different trims; Type S and Type S Advanced. You might hate that an SUV now wears the storied Type S badge, but I'm here to tell you the MDX Type S is no phony.
2022 Acura MDX Type S Specs
- Base MDX price (MDX Type S as tested): $49,045 ($73,595)
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 | 10-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 355 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 1,400 to 5,000 rpm
- Seating capacity: 7
- Curb weight: 4,741 pounds
- Ground clearance: 6.7 to 9.4 inches
- Cargo volume: 16.31 with third row up
- Max towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
- EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city | 21 highway | 19 combined
- Quick take: It's charming, it's agile, and it's fun to drive. It's exactly what a Type S should be.
- Score: 8.5
To begin, the exterior design has been massaged to differentiate it from the regular MDX, with much more aggressive styling throughout. The front fascia features larger functional intakes for better cooling, and the same story goes for the larger grille, which Acura claims increases airflow by 14 percent. Out back, the lower bumper mimics a sporty diffuser, which is flanked by quad tailpipes. Unlike in the normal MDX, the Type S' plastic trim is painted to match the rest of the body, and chromed bits are replaced with gloss black pieces. The sporty look is wrapped up by the red Brembo brake calipers, and 21-inch wheels get specific designs for each of the Type S variants.
Inside the cabin, the differences are more subtle but they amount to what's likely the best-looking and best-feeling interior in any Honda or Acura product ever. The standard leather seats are replaced with Milano leather with suede in the Type S and full Milano leather in the Type S Advanced. The leather in the door panels and dashboard is hand-wrapped, and also gets contrast stitching for a first-rate look and feel. The footrest, pedals, handles, and other high-touch surfaces are also plated instead of rubber or black plastic.
Two characteristics that immediately jumped out at me were the metal speaker grilles that light up from the inside, as well as the cabin's swanky ambient lighting. These are cues borrowed directly from modern Mercedes-Benz interiors, which are currently the best in the luxury segment. It's these small details that help Acura better position the MDX Type S against the well-established Germans.
The modern cabin really comes to life when you slip into the driver's seat and glance at the center console. All radio and HVAC controls are thoughtfully laid out before you. And below, near the shifter, an actual volume knob! There are real, physical buttons for some of the most used features in the car like temperature, fan speed, volume, heated seats, ventilated seats—all within reach and ready to be pushed. A thing of beauty.
But the most stand-out feature inside the cabin is the steering wheel. You realize Acura designed a fantastic wheel as soon as you reach for it. It's nice and meaty but not overly so, the texture is delightful with just the right amount of perforation on the leather to make it slightly grippier than plain leather, and the overall size of the flat-bottom wheel is just perfect. The controls, too, are laid out in an organized manner and labeled so they're easy to understand. It's a great tactile experience.
Equipment-wise, the Type S is a drastic departure from its more pedestrian version. In addition to the features that already come on the non-Type S MDX Technology Package, the MDX Type S adds navigation, 16-way adjustable seats, ventilated front seats, power-folding mirrors, flat-bottom steering wheel, and ambient lighting. The top-trim MDX Type S Advanced adds an ELS Studio 3D Signature Edition sound system with 25 speakers, nine-way front massaging seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, lighted speaker grilles, a head-up display, and a surround-view camera.
Yet, the Acura MDX Type S' pièce de résistance lies under the hood. The SUV ditches the naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 for the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 from the TLX Type S, which produces 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. It's paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission and Acura's torque-vectoring "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" system, which can direct up to 70 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels, and up to 100 percent of that to either rear wheel.
Fire up the engine to hear the V6 come to life. It's not a loud roar, but it's enough to make you crack a little smile. Like in previous MDXes, the shifter remains the funky push-button setup and is located directly below the center console. It isn't my favorite system but I don't hate it, either. What I do enjoy is the large silver knob to select the programmable driving modes; Lift, Snow, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Sport+. It's easy to use and understand, and it serves as the focal point of the console.
On city streets and in Comfort mode, the MDX Type S is docile, as I assume an MDX would be, though perhaps this one is more comfortable thanks to the addition of air suspension and active dampers (an Acura-first). Steering is very light in this setting—almost surprisingly so. Bust a U-turn and you'll be wowed by how effortless it is to fully wind the wheel. Throttle response is very relaxed and acceleration is smooth, just as you'd expect in a family-oriented SUV.
After making my way out of the city and coming face to face with Sonoma County's windiest roads, I switched on the MDX's Sport+ mode (an MDX first), which is also available in the NSX Type S I recently drove at Daytona. The SUV's mood immediately changed, with the steering wheel gaining some heft to it, the suspension stiffening, and the revs increasing. Sport+ is essentially Combat Mode.
The pedal response, too, changed drastically, with brake and throttle response becoming considerably sharper and much more sensitive to the driver's inputs. A stab at the accelerator revealed just how torquey the turbo V6 really was, especially mid-corner when it makes the AWD system work overtime to figure out where to send the power. Regardless if you're traveling in a straight line or you're stringing along a few esses, the accelerator is always your friend. It's a light pedal that's easy to modulate.
Come out of a corner, really step on it to rev the V6, and feel the 10-speed transmission shift up a couple of gears until it's time to brake and downshift again. The transmission isn't as quick as what you'll find in a Benz, AMG or not, but I'd dare say it's got more soul. It doesn't want to do things quickly just for the hell of it. It wants you to enjoy the experience by allowing you to feel and hear the shifts, in the sense that everything goes silent for a split second while the transmission shifts gears. It's something you rarely experience nowadays due to a dual-clutch transmission's lightning-quick nature.
Steering feel in Sport+ is quintessential Acura: direct, still a little bit on the lighter side, but sends loads of feedback to the driver. It reminded me a bit of older Acuras in the sense that it's the right amount of sporty but it doesn't go full-on-heavy like in a too-serious sports car. But despite the steering, transmission, and engine really being darlings, the brakes take the cake. The four-piston Brembo brakes up front feel very strong and are very predictable. If you can count on the MDX Type S doing one thing and one thing only, it's stopping wherever the hell you want it to.
It didn't take many miles for me to realize that this SUV doesn't take itself seriously like the Germans and that it's got the finesse and balance that America's muscle SUVs could only dream of.
In terms of pricing, the MDX Type S starts at $67,745, while the Type S Advanced starts at $73,095. (The test unit was $500 higher due to the optional Apex Blue Pearl color.) Comparing the Acura MDX Type S (Advanced or otherwise) against the competition highlights that it's a value-packed proposition. Acura believes its main competitors are the Audi Q7 55, Mercedes-Benz GLE450, BMW X5 xDrive 40i, and Genesis GV80. Within that bunch, the Acura is priced the lowest but offers the same or higher level of equipment, and similar performance with nearly identical horsepower. Only the Genesis edges the Acura and others with 375 ponies.
Though my time with the new MDX Type S was brief, I wouldn't hesitate to give it a score of 8.5 out of 10 based on its initial driving experience alone. I'd be curious to see what a lengthier test drive in the future would yield; however, I suspect the SUV's tech, passenger comfort, and overall everyday usability to be perfectly adequate. It's a Honda product at heart, after all.
I'll put it this way: If the Acura MDX were ice cream, the Type S would be that same ice cream but with sprinkles and served on a waffle cone—and maybe with a dash of chocolate syrup. It's like the same thing but made so much better with excellent toppings. And by the end of my stint behind the wheel, I found it to deliver exactly what Acura has always promised: a sporty, agile, and fun driving machine—SUV be damned.
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