We take a fresh look at Acura's luxury sport crossover.
Having driven the Acura MDX Type S a few times now beyond our first drive earlier in the year, we realize it's being overlooked. That's understandable, as the premium segment is stuffed full of hot offerings right now. However, the MDX S Type S is a genuine heavy hitter when it comes to the performance crossover segment with its lavish interior, premium features, ride comfort, and build quality. For the loaded Type S version, you're looking at $66,700 versus $61,600 to get into a base model BMW X5. That makes the MDX Type S a value proposition as well.
In our initial review, we described the MDX S Type S as being "Champagne Taste On A Pinot Noir Budget," and we stand by that despite the analogy not quite holding up. We'll take a good Pinot Noir over Champagne as a general rule.
Type S is generally Acura's sportiest trim and comes with plenty of premium touches. That makes it a premium sport trim, but Acura doesn't tend to go nuts on power. Instead, Acura's engineers focus on balancing dynamics and agility with ride comfort. In modern times, the result is typically something that won't blow you away from the traffic lights but is deeply entertaining on a back road. That doesn't mean the MDX Type S is slow, though. It features a turbocharged direct-injection 3.0-liter V6 producing 355 horsepower and 354 lb-ft of torque coming in at just 1,400 rpm. That's plenty, even for a weighty three-row crossover full of premium features.
Those premium features include a 12.3-inch center touchscreen unit, a 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and running an infotainment system that contains all the modern connectivity anyone wants or needs. A panoramic sunroof, 16-way heated and cooled seats, and tri-zone climate control is also standard, as is a suite of safety features and driver aids that include Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist. When it comes to keeping the cabin quiet, the MDX Type S has Acura's Active Noise Cancellation system and, like all MDX models now, an acoustic laminate windshield and front door windows.
Going back to the BMW X5 as a comparison, you'll have to spend some money on options to get an equivalent interior to the one in the MDX Type S. Acura packs in Milano leather seats accented with black Ultrasuede inserts and a genuinely premium sound system as standard. Acura sprinkles in metal pedals, a flat-bottom steering wheel, and Type S badging and contrast stitching on the dash for sporty flavoring to go with the chassis and power upgrades. The front seats are comfortable for a full day on the road without needing to keep stopping and stretching out aching back muscles. There's plenty of room in the middle row for a couple of large adults or three kids. In the third row, it's par for the course, and adults won't be happy back there.
Most automakers don't seem to get sound systems in cars, and most upgrades aren't worth the money. The amount of times we've got into a premium car with a Bose "upgrade" and ended up giving up listening to music and switched to podcasts instead is, frankly, annoying. Acura is one of the brands that does get it, though, and the ELS Studio System is a choice cut that comes standard with the MDX Type S. The system is baked into the design and not tossed in as an afterthought, and it shows. The bass is tight and fast, the mids are full and reflect texture, while the top end is detailed without being shrill. It's the kind of care we expect to go into a premium sound system, but it isn't as common as it should be.
Acura's SH-AWD System is standard on the Type S model, and it's a great system. In slippery conditions, it's intelligent and reacts quickly to shift power from front to back and left to right as needed. When it comes to driving at pace with the SH-AWD system, the office is split between those that wish Acura would put the Type S models on better tires and those that enjoy being able to explore the limits without risking life and limb on the road. When the tires do loosen up, it's never with a snap. A reasonably experienced, enthusiastic driver can get a lot of entertainment on the tire's limits while the chassis dances through bends. We bring this up because the MDX Type S isn't a performance SUV all about maximum grip and speed. If that's what you want, look elsewhere. If you want your crossover to be playful on the back road, then the MDX Type S is a hoot.
Something Acura does well is making sure you feel the changes in the drive modes. Out of Normal mode and into Comfort brings a sedate, soft, comfortable ride to the cabin and takes full advantage of the lack of road noise. It's pleasant and serene until you poke the Sport button, and the MDX Type S tenses up, raring to go. The throttle response tightens, the suspension reduces the ride height, the steering reduces its power assist, and Active Sound Control settings increase the engine sound. Sport+ mode kicks things up another notch with up to 30 percent faster gear changes and adds a boost gauge and G meter to the digital display. The final mode is Lift for bad weather like deep snow and sand or emergency road hazards.
To get to a comparable level of interior comfort in a BMW X5, you're looking at spending over $72,000 on an X5 xDrive40i, and that doesn't include the performance upgrades and exterior treatments. For that, you'll need a turbocharged V8-powered X5 M50i at over $87,350 - and with a choice of costly packages still to add on. For performance, the BMW will be the faster and sharper vehicle, but it had better be for the $20,000+ premium over the MDX Type S.
If you just want to enjoy back roads in a premium vehicle and are willing to spend more money, the MDX Type S Advance comes in at $72,700. That cranks up the luxury with extra features like full Milano leather 9-Way Massage Function Front Seats, the Signature Edition ELS Studio Premium Audio system, and metallic wood accents created by adding a liquid metallic flake by hand and then gently wiping the excess off.
Spending a full week with the MDX Type S gave us plenty of food for thought. Of the premium performance SUVs out there, it's not the fastest but it is one of the most fun and offers so much bang for the buck in premium features it shouldn't be ignored.