UPDATE 2/23/21: This review has been updated with test results.
Acura's driver-focused brand reboot is off to a strong start with the compelling 2021 TLX sports sedan that it introduced late last year. But to be successful in today's market, the brand's recipe for handling prowess also has to work on a hulking, three-row utility vehicle. Fortunately for the redesigned 2022 MDX—whose predecessor outsold the TLX roughly two to one in recent years—it does.
The fourth-generation model's athleticism is surprising considering it's about two inches longer and wider than before and has a wheelbase that's 2.8 inches longer. Partially compensating for the larger footprint is a new platform, which is stiffer and features a switch from a strut front suspension to a control-arm setup that sharpens its manners and handling. Combined with direct but not overly quick variable-assist steering, the result is a reassuringly positive feel from its front end when turning into corners, regardless of the selected drive mode.
A revised multilink rear suspension and adaptive dampers add to its nimble composure, as does a torque-vectoring rear differential on versions equipped with the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. Base models get 19-inch wheels, but most trims wear 20s shod with 255/50R-20 Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S all-season tires. Ride quality on the big rollers is taut but never harsh. While road isolation is not as comprehensive as that of, say, an Audi Q7 or a Volvo XC90, the MDX's responsiveness is unexpected for a seven-seat vehicle nearly 200 inches long. A blanket of snow prevented us from learning if the new version improves upon the 0.83 g of lateral grip posted by an all-wheel-drive 2017 MDX we last tested. But our new SH-AWD A-spec test vehicle did stop from 70 mph in 170 feet, which is about par for this segment and a solid 15 feet shorter than its predecessor.
Power comes from Acura's familiar, throaty-sounding 3.5-liter V-6 that's good for 290 horses, which now mates to an automatic transmission with 10 speeds, up from the previous nine. Gear swaps are smooth and well-coordinated. But given the MDX's sportier character, we'd like quicker responses from the 10-speed's paddles on the steering wheel. At 4514 pounds, our test vehicle weighed just shy of 300 pounds more than its predecessor, with that bloat contributing about a half-second to its acceleration times. The run to 60 mph now takes 6.4 seconds and the quarter-mile passes in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph, which feels wholly adequate for a family hauler and is quicker than many workaday three-row SUVs, such as the Kia Telluride and Mazda CX-9. Both of those vehicles need around seven seconds to hit 60 and a few more tenths to complete a quarter-mile.
Despite the MDX's weight gain, its EPA fuel-economy estimates—21 mpg combined, 19 city, and 25 highway for SH-AWD models—are essentially the same as those of the outgoing model. However, that picture is less rosy in the real world: Our test vehicle averaged a full-size-SUV-like 16 mpg overall, and it only managed 22 mpg on our 75-mph highway test versus 28 mpg for its 2017 model-year counterpart.
A longer hood helps the MDX's handsomely creased bodywork more closely mimic rear-wheel-drive proportions, despite its engine still being mounted transversely. Inside, drivers will appreciate the standard front sport seats and smaller diameter, thicker-rimmed steering wheel. Technophiles will dig the bright 12.3-inch gauge-cluster and infotainment displays, although we maintain that, despite some updates, Acura's touchpad interface is no replacement for a well-executed touchscreen. Aluminum accents and open-pore wood trim combine with ambient lighting to give the MDX's cabin a rich, high-tech vibe that's commensurate with the $61,675 ask of the top Advance SH-AWD model. Prices start at $47,925, a $2400 increase over the outgoing model.
Additional highlights include an available head-up display, 16-speaker ELS audio system with 710 watts, and a removable second-row center console/seat that can convert the central bench to captain's chairs. Comfort levels are high in the middle row, although six-footers may wish for a bit more legroom when front-seat occupants aren’t feeling generous. Rearmost riders benefit from easier access to a more spacious third row that sits higher off the floor, but adults still won't want to sit back there for long. On the utility front, the MDX tows up to 5000 pounds, and its cargo hold swallows 16 cubic feet of stuff behind the third row, 39 with the third row folded, and 71 with both rows folded.
That the MDX's driver-centric evolution has brought any uptick in versatility is impressive. As it did with the TLX, Acura will offer a Type S version of the MDX later this year, which should be far more interesting with its 355-hp twin-turbo V-6 and larger brakes, wheels, and tires. But even in standard 290-hp form, the MDX reinforces Acura's new direction via its heightened connection with the road.
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