Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: May 9, 2021
We have been eagerly anticipating the fourth-generation 2022 Acura MDX, and it’s finally here. The last MDX aged like a fine wine but was getting long in the tooth, wrinkled and lacking in modern features when compared to the updated BMW X5 and Mercedes-Benz GLE. There is only so much a new beak and A-Spec trim could do to mask up the dark spots. Even worse was the clumsy infotainment unit.
The 2022 MDX aims to remedy these issues and then some. Sitting on a brand new platform with sheetmetal that brings it in line with the revitalized RDX and TLX, Acura’s flagship SUV carries some proper road presence. The MDX is 35 mm wider, 8 mm lower, and its wheelbase is 70 mm longer than before. Though the pentagon grill with diamond mesh remains the same general shape, the wider hood and front shoulders are broader and more imposing, reminding us of the Buick Enclave. A tapered rear end with slimmer LED tail lights complete the aesthetics. It looks even better with the A-Spec trim that adds darkened head- and tail-lights, a more aggressive front and rear bumper, unique wheels, a flat-bottomed steering wheel, suede cabin inserts, and a choice of exclusive red and blue paints.
The interior has been thoroughly revamped. What was once the weakest link of the MDX, is now its highlight, meticulously crafted with a center console design borrowed heavily from the NSX. And we have to give it to Acura for designing one of the best looking and most functional steering wheels in the business. Boasting a thick leather wrap with thumb grips that feel like they were specially molded to your hand, a flat-bottom shape so your knees aren’t getting in the way of rotation, and positive feedback buttons and dials, it offers a comfortable and ergonomic connection to the vehicle.
Forgoing any overreliance on digital real estate for user connectivity, the MDX harbours an army of real buttons and dials. For us, that’s a good thing, but we know a lot of people that prefer a touchscreen that handles all the functions instead. As expected of a 2022 model year vehicle, the MDX is loaded with every feature in the book, and many of them are standard fare, from wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, wireless charging, built-in Amazon Alexa, panoramic sunroof, and the brand new 10.3-inch all-digital instrument display that sits in front of the driver. Catching up with Volkswagen and Audi, it offers various information outputs and crisp graphics. While we do miss Acura’s analog speedo and tach that looked like an expensive watch face, the amount of information readily available here in the digital screen makes the transition easier.
What we don’t miss is the infotainment unit. The old dual screen setup was clunky, limited in functions, and downright frustrating. This new widescreen display is mated to a touchpad that works a lot like the one in Lexus models, adding a great deal of connectivity options. That being said, the learning curve is quite steep, especially when compared to BMW’s rotary dial or Audi’s strong haptic-feedback touchscreens. The more time we spend with it though, the easier it gets, but it’s still not ideal - training your solo finger to conquer the job while both eyes are on the road is no easy task. The trackpad is also positioned on the driver’s side of the center console, meaning if the passenger wants to tinker around with the navigation or car settings, they have to awkwardly reach over. Those wishing for a more familiar interface can just plug in their Apple or Android smartphone instead.
The cabin is roomy, effectively packaged, and appears quite upscale with a heavy use of leather and nicely dressed up plastics. The A-Spec leather and suede seats are similar to the outgoing MDX’s. They’re very soft and supportive, with headrests that can adjust fore and aft, and not just up and down. This is also the first time we’ve seen a removable center seat in the second row, giving owners the option of having a three-row bench, a captain’s chair setup with armrests, or two chairs with a wide pass-through to easier access to the third row. Speaking of which, the third row seats are more spacious than before thanks to the new platform. While still not as roomy as a dedicated 7-seater SUV like the Lexus LX 570, my six-foot figure can contort my way back there without too many complaints. The standard and quite expansive panoramic sunroof aids in that airy feeling, and cargo space has swelled up from the outgoing model. Acura has finally updated the key fob as well, using the same button layout but with a sharper and sleeker shape.
The powertrain has been carried over from the last MDX. Under the hood is the same naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 that produces an unchanged 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, but it ditches the 9-speed unit and now uses a 10-speed automatic transmission driving all four wheels via its Super Handling All-wheel Drive System (SH-AWD). Acceleration remains lacklustre when compared to its turbocharged rivals, but like other naturally aspirated engines, once you wring it past 4,000 rpm, the adrenaline really begins to pick up. That, and the linear and predictable power delivery more than makes up for the power deficit. Generates a decent ruckus from the exhaust too.
The new 10-speed doesn’t feel that different from the 9-speed and remains well-mannered, shifting behind the scenes without being intrusive. Manual gear shifts, like most modern Acuras unfortunately, aren’t as crispy as we’d like, and doesn’t make use of the V6’s peak torque in the upper RPM registers. Those seeking more propulsion will be happy to know that the MDX Type S is coming out later this year, and will be powered by a new 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 with 355 hp and 354 lb-ft. It will also include performance-oriented upgrades such as 21-inch wheels, larger Brembo brakes, and a new body kit with quad exhausts. I still think it’s a missed opportunity that Acura hasn’t implemented more NSX technology into their mainstream vehicles, bringing a more cohesive connection between their halo sports car and their volume-driven models.
The front brake rotors are thicker and larger than before to effectively pull the MDX back into legal speeds, and are now operated by brake-by-wire technology with an electric brake booster. A shame that the brake pedal feels like you are stomping on an overboosted springboard and carries a tricky learning curve. Like a hybrid’s regenerative brakes, you have to train your right foot to delicately navigate past the initial bite, and use as little force as possible lest you fling your passengers forward in an ill-planned braking maneuver.
The MDX harbours a few tricks up its sleeve to try and live up to its sporty looks. First is the new double-wishbone front suspension and multilink rear suspension, augmenting the MDX’s stiffer and more rigid chassis, and elevates its overall sense of body control and road comfort. The difference is palpable. While not as supple as a BMW X5 loaded with air springs, the MDX gladly floats along and absorbs most bumps and harsh road impacts without disturbing occupants.
Second is the new electric power steering system that features a variable gear ratio system. That means the steering effort and the amount of rotation required changes depending on the speed. At low speeds, less rotation is needed. At higher speeds, more rotation is needed, adding to its perceived road stability. The steering is light without feeling overly devoid of feedback, but it’s easy to place the front wheels where you want and get the sizable MDX around quick corners without much drama.
Lastly, there is SH-AWD, which is not your run of the mill AWD system. Using a twin-clutch rear differential, it allows for active torque vectoring. That means the MDX is capable of shuffling power between the front and rear axles, as well as between the two rear wheels. This means more responsive handling characteristics, and you can feel its cornering stability. The MDX also offers five distinct driving modes - Sport, Comfort, Normal, Snow, and Individual - all controlled via the crisp aluminum dial that sits front and center. We love the upscale feedback the dial provides, and the sound effects and Japanese-inspired graphics that emerge, but the modes do little to sharpen its dynamic acuity, and the MDX ultimately lacks the crispy handling and high-speed sure-footedness of its German counterparts. Don’t let that take away from its excellent street manners and road-trip appeal, though.
Loaded to the brim with modern tech and creature comforts, the new Acura MDX has clearly acclimated to what buyers now expect from a luxury vehicle in 2021. Connectivity isn’t lacking, but the carried over powertrain does leave some performance on the table. The upcoming Type S should remedy that concern. Road comfort is excellent, and even though its handling isn’t BMW-grade, its target audience shouldn’t have any concerns. Add to that its handsome new sheetmetal and chic new interior, and the MDX warrants itself as a top choice in the heated luxury SUV segment.
Model: 2022 Acura MDX A-Spec
Paint Type: Performance Red Pearl
Base Price: $63,405
Price as Tested: $63,905
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,039 / 1,999 (mirrors folded) / 1,724
Curb weight (kg): 2,059
Engine: 3.5-litre V6
Horsepower: 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 12.6 / 9.4 / 11.2
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.9