Honda doesn’t really do big cars.
Luxury arm Acura, for example, is one of the only players in its space to not offer a limo-like executive sedan. There are exceptions, of course, such as the old Acura Legend and the perpetually good Accord, but historically the company best-known for the Civic compact has arguably done its best work when the cars are small instead of large.
OK, maybe that doesn’t seem so crazy when you realize that in this top Ultra trim, it costs nearly $90,000; but it’s something of a surprising conclusion not only because it’s a big Honda, but also because it’s a performance SUV.
To create it, Acura gave the MDX its new 355-hp V6 out of the TLX Type S, adjustable air suspension, 21-inch wheels, Brembo front brakes, four exhaust tips, and, of course, a slightly angrier look throughout. Instead of yet another lumbering family hauler with a misguidedly rough ride, the MDX Type S actually succeeds in what every SUV like it sets out to do: give buyers the best of both worlds. Supremely practical and sporting every luxury feature in Acura’s existing arsenal and then some, it’s also a proper driving machine wrapped up in an intriguingly attractive and comfortable package.
When it comes to aesthetics, the MDX works because – ironically enough – Acura’s sharp, modern design language lends best to large proportions. It also happens to be one of those SUVs that’s visually wider than it is tall, sort of making it look like a lifted wagon and, to my eye, it’s better in person than pictures portray. For the Type S, Acura added a body-colour grille frame with gloss-black mesh, as well as gloss-black fender flares, mirror caps, window frames, and rear diffuser, darker taillights, and a set of 21-inch wheels that apparently make for the biggest wheel and tire package ever fitted to an Acura.
Big, brawny, and able to ride low with its air suspension (you can, in fact, choose how tall it sits when parked), the MDX Type S looks more athletic and youthful than the more classically fancy-looking Genesis GV80 and, to me, is more unique than the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class or BMW X5, which both sort of blend into the crowd.
Inside, red stitching, brushed-yet-glossy metals, open-pore wood, and configurable ambient lighting make the space feel sufficiently swanky, but its overall design could be considered plainer and more utilitarian than some of its competition. Build quality is commendably solid all around, with no creaks or rattles of note. No, it isn’t quite as granite-like as a Porsche or even a BMW, but it’s not too far off.
Just like the TLX Type S, Acura’s performance SUV is powered by a 3.0L turbocharged V6 making 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque. Having to haul 2,169 kg (4,782 lb) of SUV around is no small feat, though, and the MDX Type S is quick enough for most spirited driving situations but isn’t what you’d call neck-breakingly speedy. While that may sound like a dig, I actually think the amount of pace on tap here is well-judged. Acura has seemingly done the Kia Stinger thing of calibrating horsepower and torque not to one-up any arbitrary competitors or to frighten passengers as much as this car’s production budget will allow, but to maximize comfortable, real-life enjoyment for the average driver.
A 10-speed automatic transmission likes to use higher gears to keep the revs low, even in the most aggressive drive mode, but it’s OK, as this engine’s low-end turbocharged torque (all 354 lb-ft is available starting at just 1,400 rpm) is enough to get the MDX going at a proper pace. When you do rev it out, though, Acura’s turbo V6 sounds better than I remember it sounding in that TLX Type S. It’s smooth and burly and vaguely V8-ish, although I have a feeling some of this is synthetically pumped in through speakers.
Driving Feel: 9/10
A lot like that TLX, the MDX Type S’s true performance prowess arguably does not lie under the hood but rather in the way it corners. Rear-biased all-wheel drive, double-wishbone front suspension, sticky summer tires, and a chassis that feels like it was made for Type S duty from the get-go means this MDX is one of the better-driving performance SUVs out there. There’s an inherent balance and smoothness with the way it changes direction that’s genuinely very satisfying. Grip levels, meanwhile, are high, allowing for confident cornering.
I think the SUVs from Genesis still have the edge on this in terms of steering feel, but the MDX Type S’s rack is fun and athletic to use in its own way, doing a good imitation of a sport sedan. Despite only being electrically attached to a set of certifiably strong Brembos front calipers that can stop this two-tonne family hauler in a pinch, the brake pedal feels forgivingly normal and progressive. Overall, the MDX Type S isn’t as brutally effective (or numb) as something like a BMW X6 M Competition, or as chuckable and light as Hyundai’s Kona N, but it splits the difference between those two ends of the performance SUV spectrum very nicely.
It’s a luxuriously pleasant driver in regular situations as well, smooth on the highway, and easy to navigate through the city – especially for its size.
That admirable twisty-road handling has not come at the expense of comfort either, and in an Acura-first, the MDX Type S features air suspension with adaptive dampers and four height settings. In normal or comfort modes, the MDX feels, uh, very normal and comfortable. Granted, this isn’t a completely direct comparison, but it’s also notably more comfortable than the performance-lite BMW X3 M40i.
In another Acura-first, this Ultra trim exclusively comes with nine-program three-stage massagers for the front seats. The pressure is strong and the different programs feel expertly, deliberately chosen and also distinct. No, it won’t replace the work of an RMT, but it’s actually quite nice for what it is.
Even with the massage function off, though, the seats themselves are plush. The front row gets three-stage heating and cooling with an auto setting, while the outboard second-row seats are heated, as is the steering wheel. Front seat lumbar, bolsters, and thigh supports are all adjustable, while the core ergonomics are well done.
This being the three-row big boi Acura SUV, it’ll fit up to seven in a 2–3-2 configuration. The second row is quite spacious but, par for the three-row unibody SUV course, that third row is quite tight and clearly meant for small children – a point that’s hammered home by the fact that Acura did not bother to trim this part of the cabin any differently than the cargo area. The seats are still leather, but the place where you put your arms is made of the same material that lines the floor and cargo area. (I mean, why make this part look or feel very nice if it’s just going to get covered in Cheeto dust and melted fruit snacks, anyway?)
In contrast, the Genesis GV80’s third row is still very leather-lined, even has speakers with the knurled grille surrounds, and generally feels less like a cargo area the automaker simply bolted seats into as an afterthought. With all seven seats up, cargo capacity remains quite good at 462 L. Start folding chairs down and the space naturally goes from quite good to respectfully massive.
All MDXs (even non-Type S ones) come standard with adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane-keep assist, and a blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. The semi-autonomous highway driving here does the job but its movements feel a tad more nervous to me than others – namely the ones used by the Hyundai Group, Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and General Motors (GM). All MDXs also come with Acura’s new-gen airbags that are said to cradle and protect heads better.
Per the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2022 MDX scored practically straight “Good” marks all around when it comes to crashworthiness, crash avoidance, headlights, seatbelts, and child restraints, scoring a Top Safety Pick+ award as a result. The one and only fly in the ointment throughout this vehicle’s entire safety report was down to the second-row middle-seat child seat anchors that are apparently hard to find.
This being the priciest non-supercar Acura, there isn’t a whole lot the MDX Type S Ultra is missing when it comes to bells and whistles. All Type S MDXes are equipped with that auto-levelling air suspension, 21-inch wheels, a 12.3-inch infotainment system with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, a wireless phone charger, a 16-speaker, 710-watt sound system, aluminum interior trim, ambient lighting, a 360-degree camera system, and a hands-free tailgate.
Shelling out an extra $4,000 for the Ultra adds different 21-inch wheels, a head-up display, a 25-speaker, 1,000-watt sound system, those massaging front seats, acoustic laminated glass for the rear doors, thicker carpets and floor mats, and swaps the aluminum trim for black open-pore wood.
After living with this SUV for a few days, some features that warrant special recognition in addition to those massaging seats include the more than two-dozen speakers which sound stellarly clear and powerful, and the digital instrument cluster that I highly suspect is running at a higher refresh rate than other vehicles judging by how smooth its animations are. That screen’s even got a weirdly amusing tiny MDX in the middle with working lights and signals, a lot like what you get in higher trims of the new Honda Civic.
User Friendliness: 8/10
As mentioned when I drove this SUV’s smaller sibling, the RDX, I’ve driven enough Acuras now to no longer despise the touchpad infotainment controller as much as I did before. Most broad-gesture inputs aren’t actually that hard, but moves that require more intricacy remain problematic, and the absolute-positioning control scheme is ditched entirely when using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. To be fair, you can absolutely get used to it, though.
The MDX’s overall interior design may be quite different to the RDX’s, but the actual controls are very similar and similarly easy to use. The low placement of the volume knob, the big drive mode selector, the HVAC switches, and even the button-based gear selector all work fuss-free at getting the MDX to do what you want.
Fuel Economy: 8/10
To save fuel, this vehicle features an auto stop-start function that turns the engine off when stationary, and it may just be the smoothest of its kind this side of a mild-hybrid implementation. If you aren’t listening for it, the shutoff and subsequent restarts are barely perceptible.
As of this writing, Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) doesn’t appear to have data on the MDX Type S, but according to Acura itself, its performance SUV is rated for 13.8 L/100 km in the city, 11.2 on the highway, and 12.4 combined. After almost 450 km of testing, the trip computer showed 12.9 L/100 km – a little thirstier than expected but not outrageously so, and certainly not out of the ordinary given this vehicle’s size and abilities. Like most performance-oriented Honda/Acura products, 91 octane is recommended but it can take 87 as a minimum.
In base, non-Type S form, the Acura MDX starts at $57,900, while the sportier, more powerful Type S starts at $79,000. Require the added luxury features of the Type S Ultra tested here, however, and the starting price bumps up to $83,000. Add a $500 colour charge associated with all paint choices except for silver, A/C tax, and $2,375 of non-negotiable destination, and this tester costs $85,975 before sales tax.
Excluding the NSX supercar, the MDX Type S is the most expensive vehicle in Acura’s portfolio by a decent margin, but it actually feels appropriately priced considering what you get and what’s out there. It slightly undercuts the $88,500 Genesis GV80 3.5T Prestige. The plug-in hybrid (PHEV) Volvo XC90 R-Design also costs about $88,000 before options, while the BMW X5 xDrive40i with the M Sport package pretty much matches this MDX on price but quickly leapfrogs it once you equip the Bimmer with any of the other options packages most buyers would want. However, $86,000 for an MDX is objectively a lot of cash and I’m wary of how much its admittedly small price advantages over its rivals actually matter.
Stylish, comfortable, full-featured, and feeling like it’s got a proper sport sedan lurking underneath its three-row SUV sheet metal, the 2022 Acura MDX Type S is the best vehicle Acura makes right now, and it has more than two doors. It somehow feels more cohesive than the TLX Type S sedan, less redundant than the Integra, and, naturally, several magnitudes more special than the RDX.
Not only do I think the 2022 MDX Type S is the best non-supercar product Acura currently sells but – and I may be forced to turn in my AutoTrader Awards juror card for typing this – I think it’s better than the Best Luxury 3-Row award-winning Genesis GV80, which is arguably this Acura’s closest competitor in terms of price, power, size, and general quietly-sporty attitude. The MDX looks and handles…younger than the GV80.
At the very same time, and despite it rocking a people’s-choice bodystyle, the MDX Type S is not for everyone. It’s too expensive for the luxury buyer looking for typical Acura value, not quite powerful enough for the spec-sheet fanatics who simply want the quickest, most powerful SUV on the block, and probably a hard-pass who those who buy this sort of vehicle purely to park a fancy badge on the driveway for the neighbours to see, no matter how many Gs it can pull on an on-ramp.
Living with it and sitting in the MDX Type S’s driver’s seat (with stage-two Shiatsu running and all 25 speakers blasting Lady Gaga in crystal clear quality, of course), I find myself wanting one even though I have exactly zero children, live alone, and rarely even fill the trunk of my own car with more than three bags of groceries. I really like how it looks, I really like how it drives, and it is extremely well equipped with luxury features that actually work and work well. If you’ve got the means and are looking for a luxury family SUV with a sport sedan attitude, this Acura deserves to be among the top of your shortlist.
|Engine Cylinders||Turbo V6|
|Peak Horsepower||355 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|Peak Torque||354 lb-ft @ 1,400–5,000 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.8 / 11.2 / 12.4 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||462 / 1,107 / 2,022 L behind 3rd/2nd/1st row|
|Model Tested||2022 Acura MDX Type S Ultra|
|Price as Tested||$85,975|
$500 – Performance Red Pearl paint, $500