2022 Acura MDX First Drive - Driver's Choice Crossover

Tim Healey
by Tim Healey

One thing I’ve observed in my decade-plus covering this industry is that Honda and its luxury brand, Acura, seem to respond more quickly to criticism than most OEMs.

I note my bias here – I once owned an Accord – but I don’t think my former ownership of a used Honda is throwing me off. My observation, difficult to quantify as it admittedly is, seems correct.

Specific to Acura’s case, the luxury brand was panned earlier this decade for unflattering styling, subpar luxury accouterments for the class, and a slide in performance. Not all of this criticism was fair – a manual ILX is on my “weird cars I’d like to own but probably never will” list, because that thing was spunky – but nevertheless, Acura has seemingly addressed it, and addressed it well, in recent history.

Add the newest MDX to the “take a look at me now” list. Especially if you believe driving a three-row crossover doesn’t mean the end to fun.

We’ve written plenty on the MDX over the past few months – Acura’s PR push has been constant – but for those who need a refresher, the big changes for the fourth generation of this crossover include a digital gauge cluster, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, new platform, double-wishbone front suspension, removable second-row middle seat, and more claimed passenger space. A Type S performance trim is planned for late summer.

Other news includes the addition of a 10-speed automatic transmission and a new infotainment system touchpad.

Power comes from a 3.5-liter V6 (290 horsepower, 267 lb-ft of torque) and all-wheel drive is available. The biggest change to the engine/powertrain is the addition of a shutter grille. In certain situations, shutters in the lower part of the grille close in order to divert air around the MDX. That reduces drag. When the engine needs more cooling from the air, the shutters reopen.

My test was brief – short loan due to COVID, and I had to work around winter weather that temporarily turned some roads to slush. Once the snow was plowed, I got out for a bit and found the MDX to be delightful to drive, with little sacrifice in terms of comfort and luxury. The double-wishbone front and multilink rear suspension help put the “sport” in sport-utility. As does steering that is generally well-weighted and accurate, despite some artificial feel.

Sport is relative, of course, and the MDX handles well for a crossover, but there are limits. An aggressive push on an off-ramp induced a bit of understeer and a little body roll, and at a lower limit than I expected. To be fair, the pavement may not have been fully dry, and it was easy to keep the proceedings under control.

While the MDX handles well – and ride quality is quite pleasant, even in Sport mode – the V6 does struggle a bit with the 4,565 lb. curb weight.

The cockpit has eye-pleasing materials and neat tricks to its layout (such as a pop-up for the USB port), although the touchpad for the infotainment system has a steep learning curve that infuriates – it’s arguably worse than Lexus’ similar system. To be fair, the system probably gets easier to use over time – this may be one of those things that drive auto journalists nuts during a short loan but owners get used to.

If you want to switch drive modes, a big silver knob is right there for you. The transmission is operated by the now-familiar Honda/Acura push-button shifter, which I definitely have gotten used to over time.

The cabin isn’t perfect, thanks to some hard-plastic touch points, but most of the materials look and feel appropriate for the class.

I wasn’t able to get Alexa to talk to me, but I think that was partly because I pressed the push-to-talk button for the infotainment system, which Acura PR tells me is unnecessary. I also had my COVID mask on, so perhaps my voice was muffled.

My test unit came standard with features such as digital gauges, touchpad infotainment, satellite radio, Bluetooth, wireless Android Auto, wireless Apple CarPlay, Wi-Fi hotspot, built-in Amazon Alexa, heated front seats, tri-zone climate control, panoramic moonroof, 20-inch wheels, LED headlights and taillights, blind-spot information system, heated sideview mirrors, and keyless starting and entry. The $4,700 Tech Package added navigation, ambient lighting, ambient cabin lighting, low-speed braking control, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding sideview mirrors, second-row sunshades, and front and rear parking sensors.

This tester also came with the $7,050 Advanced Package (requires you to opt for AWD and the Tech Package) that added a 360-degree camera, power tailgate with hands-free assist, head-up display, remote start, 16-speaker premium audio system, 16-way power front seats, sport seats with perforated leather trim, cooled front seats, heated second-row seats, heated steering wheel, auto-dimming sideview mirrors, and LED fog lamps.

Buyers get the AcuraWatch suite of driver aids, which includes: Adaptive cruise control, collision-mitigation braking, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, lane-keeping assist system, road-departure mitigation, traffic-jam assist, and automatic high beams.

The base price of $60,650 balloons to $62,175 with the $500 Performance Red Pearl paint and $1,025 in destination fees.

Fuel economy, for those who ponder such things, is listed at 19 mpg city/25 mpg highway/21 mpg combined.

Acura continues to slowly return to form as a luxury brand that also offers up driving fun. The road back to success isn’t perfect – the touchpad infotainment system annoys, the sticker price pops eyes, and the MDX, like most three-row crossovers, is hampered some dynamically by weight – but the MDX shows that Acura hears the cries of the critics and at least tries to fix the flaws.

The MDX also shows that mature people with responsibilities that necessitate the ownership of a three-row crossover can still have fun behind the wheel.

Acura is making strides, and the MDX is further proof of that.

[Images © 2021 Tim Healey/TTAC, Acura]

Tim Healey
Tim Healey

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission.

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  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Feb 23, 2021

    I just can't fathom how the engine of a vehicle that can do 0-60 in six seconds is ever "struggling." Do you mean you expect it to handle driving without ever exceeding 1500 rpm or something?

  • Dal20402 Dal20402 on Feb 23, 2021

    Seriously disappointed by the lack of a hybrid this time around. I'd probably own one of the previous-gen hybrids if they had appeared a bit earlier in the product cycle; used ones were just a bit too expensive when I bought my current Highlander Hybrid.

  • Wjtinfwb Funny. When EV's were bursting onto the scene; Tesla's, Volt's, Leaf's pure EV was all the rage and Hybrids were derided because they still used a gas engine to make them, ahem; usable. Even Volt's were later derided when it was revealed that the Volt's gas engine was actually connected to the wheels, not just a generator. Now, Hybrids are warmly welcomed into the Electric fraternity by virtue of being "electrified". If a change in definition is what it takes, I'm all for it. Hybrid's make so much sense in most American's usage patterns and if needed you can drive one cross-country essentially non-stop. Glad to see Hybrid's getting the love.
  • 3-On-The-Tree We also had a 1973 IH Scout that we rebuilt the engine in and it had dual glass packs, real loud. I miss those days.
  • 3-On-The-Tree Jeff thanks. Back in 1990 we had a 1964 Dodge D100 with a slant six with a 3 on the tree. I taught myself how to drive a standard in that truck. It was my one of many journeys into Mopar land. Had a 1973 Plymouth duster with a slant six and a 1974 Dodge Dart Custom with 318 V8. Great cars and easy to work on.
  • Akear What is GM good at?You led Mary............................................What a disgrace!
  • Randy in rocklin I have a 87 bot new with 200k miles and 3 head gasket jobs and bot another 87 turbo 5 speed with 70k miles and new head gaskets. They cost around 4k to do these days.