Acura is on a mission to bring performance to the masses, even in an SUV.
The three-row Acura MDX has been the premium Japanese brand's best offering for a while. Now, it has a completely new design to take it into the 2022 model year. The redesign builds on just about everything that makes the MDX a great premium-level midsize crossover, from the engine and the suspension to the interior and the infotainment system. It now has a 2.8-inch longer wheelbase and is 1.4 inches wider, while a 3.5-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque is standard, along with a ten-speed automatic transmission. A significant selling point Acura is keen to promote is its sporty handling and the fact it's concentrating on driving dynamics as much as comfort and convenience. That extra ingredient in the new MDX comes mainly from its new "light truck platform" and new double-wishbone front suspension. Acura dropped off an A-Spec-trimmed all-wheel-drive model for a couple of days so we could see for ourselves if the next-generation matches our expectations and if it can match the established elite like the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class.
While Acura's claim that the 2022 MDX is "the most emotionally styled MDX ever" is a little eye-rolling, it is clear a lot of passion and attention has gone into its bold new look. We would go as far as to say it up there with Mazda's CX-9 in sophisticated styling, but the MDX has a more aggressive look to it. The designers have enjoyed working using the Acura Precision Concept as inspiration for cues and styling for the next generation crossover. As well as new body styling, the TLX has a longer wheelbase, larger 19-inch wheels, and wider stance that gives the impression it's a purposeful machine while also improving legroom, cargo-hauling capacity, and handling. We couldn't find an angle we didn't like seeing the new MDX from, which is helped by the intricately detailed grille and lighting.
Acura's 3.5-liter V6 is a steadfast performer and delivers a sturdy 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, and that power peaks high in the rev-range. It's hooked up to a new 10-speed automatic transmission that seeks to improve on the previous nine-speed. The new transmission isn't a fast shifter, but it's smooth and doesn't waste power as it changes gear. The most noticeable feature of the new transmission comes when you push the accelerator down hard to overtake. It can drop as many as four gears in one go to give the MDX a hard shove for passing maneuvers.
An Active Shutter Grille system helps enhance aerodynamics to make the MDX slipperier through the air at a higher speed. As a result, the front-wheel-drive version is rated by the EPA at 19/26/22 mpg city/highway/combined, while the all-wheel-drive version consumes 19/25/21 mpg.
Acura has set out to create a sizeable luxurious crossover that can also be enjoyed as a sporty vehicle. Unfortunately, without proper adaptive suspension, the MDX's ride quality isn't quite luxurious under normal circumstances but compensates with the kind of driving dynamics nobody expects a large crossover to have. That doesn't mean the ride quality is bad; it's actually fine. However, it's not smooth as expected, and you're always aware of what kind of road surface is under the tires. The steering in Comfort mode is nice and light, and it's not until you glance over your shoulder that you remember just how big the MDX is. It's spritely and agile in traffic and around town and a great cruiser on the freeway. The agility from the new chassis and sense of compactness translate well on windy roads where the MDX likes to be hustled.
Then there's Sport mode. Acura is keen to make sure Sport mode makes a palpable difference in its new cars and, as in the new Acura TLX sedan, it completely changes the attitude of the vehicle. The engine tenses and the transmission finds a suitably low gear ready for the throttle pedal to be dropped.
The engine pulls nicely when your right foot goes down, although it won't be taking any passengers' breath away. The suspension keeps things flat through corners, and the steering becomes hefty and needs deliberate movements. However, the brakes don't inspire much confidence due to a lack of initial bite. They certainly work well once the anchor is dropped, however, the long pedal travel and soft feeling are better suited to use around town rather of the level of performance Acura is aspiring to.
The AWD system is a strong point for the MDX, as the SH-AWD system is so good at moving the power around each wheel to maximize grip and is capable of apportioning up to 70% of the torque to the rear axle. The rear-axle torque vectoring allows the MDX to pivot into corners exceptionally well by pushing power to the back then apportioning it left and right. That control is also exceptional in slippery conditions, and we ventured up into the mountains to experiment in the snow and ice. Snow Mode made life so easy on the all-season tires that we can see buyers getting overconfident where snow tires or chains would be the smarter move.
There's a lot of room in the 2021 Acura MDX. While you'll only want to send the kids to the confines of the third row, even the long-legged ones will be fine back there. Adults in the second row have nothing to complain about, and three large framed individuals will press elbows but not too firmly. Legroom is excellent front and middle, and there's no fear of accidentally elbowing each other. That's because the center console is large, and is a key component for the generous storage space. The seats themselves are remarkably comfortable, and we would not be afraid of a long journey in the MDX.
It's a nice place to be, and the A-Spec's contrasting leather gives it an upmarket feel to go with the general build quality and choice of materials. If you see wood or metal, it's the real thing, and Milano leather on most trim levels adds to the feeling of class and style. However, the cluttered center stack and the dash is distracting.
Then again, there's a lot of technology packed into the new MDX - they had to pack it somewhere.
A slick 12.3-inch configurable driver displays now standard, and a 10.5-inch full-color head-up display is also available. The center screen is a full-HD 12.3-inch unit that uses Acura's True Touchpad Interface. Our opinion is split on Acura's touchpad controls, but mainly, we're still trying to like it. The touchpad doesn't quite respond like a traditional laptop unit, and there are some annoyances beyond that. Because the screen isn't touch operated, it's a process to enter an address in the onboard navigation system. However, like the RDX, Acura has added a nice little wrist rest for using the touchpad. Whether you get on with the input device or not, the new system is quick to respond and feature-packed.
Android Auto and wireless Apple CarPlay are standard, as is Amazon Alexa, which is built-in and is fast to respond to voice commands. There are plenty of power points through the cabin, including USB-A and USB-C ports, 12-volt sockets, and a standard wireless charging pad. The 16-speaker, 710-watt ELS Studio 3D audio system is optional, and it's fantastic: We're currently having an argument amongst staff if it's better than Volvo's Bowers & Wilkins system, and suspect it's too close to actually call.
For safety, Acura includes its suite of AcuraWatch driving aids, including forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear-cross traffic alert, and adaptive cruise control. A new radar system recognizes solid objects at low speeds now, and Traffic Jam Assist combines low-speed adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to help with slow-and-go or stop-and-go traffic.
To pull off what Acura is trying to achieve for the MDX with a perfect score, we would need to see plusher suspension around town and a more intuitive interface for the infotainment system. As a premium family carrier, the interior hits the spot in size, convenience, and technology but lacks the finishing touches. Around town and for commuting, the 2022 Acura MDX is a pleasure to drive and a comfortable place to while away a traffic jam, particularly with the excellent ELS Studio sound system equipped.
For more spirited driving, the MDX fulfills its remit as a sporty vehicle that performs way better than a vehicle of its size should. In terms of safety, all the boxes are checked, and its fuel economy is decent. Acura's SH-AWD continues to impress and in terms of safety as well as performance. As a package, the MDX is excellent. A starting price of $47,925, including $1,025 for destination, puts it in a category where it should be cross-shopped against its European luxury brand equivalents. The MDX remains Acura's best offering, and it's only getting stronger.