Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: February 26, 2023
The Type S badge is deeply rooted in Acura’s performance history, symbolizing the sportiest variant of the vehicle it’s plastered on. One of my earliest childhood memories was my father booting it down the highway in a 2008 Acura TL Type-S, letting its V6 rev to the moon and scream until it hit the limiter. We’ve also seen the badge on the RSX and the first- and second-generation NSX.
But these days, automakers put their fancy badges on everything with four wheels without putting any thought or actual engineering to back up its supposed performance claim. Every new BMW on the road seems to have an M badge (both fake and real) despite not being performance oriented in any way, and the same goes for AMG. So it would be easy to dismiss the latest Acura MDX Type S as another victim of badge engineering. A large three-row SUV with the spirit of an NSX? Right. But the spec sheet has nevertheless captured our attention: a more powerful engine, Brembo brakes, and for the first time on an MDX, an adaptive air suspension - who wouldn’t be curious?
The Type S is a visually subtle upgrade without many giveaways to set it apart from the MDX A-Spec: unique 21-inch wheels, a bolder front bumper, an exclusive Tiger Eye Pearl paint colour, and massive quad exhaust tips out back. Inside remains the same but with added creature comforts like 9-mode massaging front seats and a 1000-watt ELS speaker system.
Gone is the naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 in place of a punchier 3.0-litre turbocharged V6 delivering 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It’s a peach of an engine that loves to rev and is subsequently more rewarding to accelerate than the Infiniti QX60 and Genesis GV80. Though not as quick as the TLX Type S or its V8 rivals like the Dodge Durango SRT, BMW X5 M50i, or Audi SQ7, the MDX does not feel handicapped by its size. That comes down to two things. First, maximum torque comes very early in the rev range at 1,400 rpm, compared to the regular MDX at just below 5,000 rpm. Second, the engine hardly exhibits any turbo lag. Matched with an adept AWD system that knows how to distribute it and you have a recipe for speed.
The Type S comes with a new Sport+ mode that is activated by turning the NSX-borrowed center knob. It puts all the drive settings on maximum and though we only found it useful for a handful of overtaking situations, it was a cool feature to have. We just wish the dial was closer to the driver or embedded into the steering wheel for quicker use. The exhaust makes a decent gruff too, howling like a naturally aspirated V6. It doesn’t sound as thrilling as it did in the TLX but that’s likely due to the further distance from the exhaust and the added cabin insulation in the MDX.
Like the TLX Type S, the steering is quick, acute, and equally muted. It is overboosted and feels like we are connected to a Playstation controller rather than real tires. And while we enjoy having to use less muscle effort to rotate the wheel, we also enjoy having some semblance of road feel seeping through to our fingertips, and the MDX is lacking it in any of the three adjustable steering modes. Also like the TLX, the 10-speed automatic is a nuisance and the weakest link in the powertrain. It enjoys shifting on its own, even in manual mode, and there’s a noticeable disconnect when rowing the gears manually with the paddle shifters.
The adaptive air suspension morphs the ride quality into a stellar one, absorbing bumps and impacts with a grace that the regular MDX does not exhibit. It provides a stable and grounded ride over long stretches of highway, and rarely ever feels unsettled when pummeled by high winds or in the aero wake of a lorry. The air suspension will also lower the vehicle at highway speeds for maximum aerodynamic efficiency, and raise it for that extra bit of ground clearance.
The MDX Type S has the bandwidth to play the role of both a road trip warrior and a canyon carver. It does not overly excel on either end but it’s still one of the most engaging Acuras we have driven in recent memory. Still, we found it to be more of a light-hearted take on a sports SUV, rather than one that sacrifices utility to shave a tenth at the Nürburgring. We just wish it was a little more hardcore. Make it lighter in weight, more visually imposing, more daring to give prospective owners something to aspire to, and give it more NSX-inspired flair. After all, what is a halo car for if not to inspire?
Model: 2022 Acura MDX Type S Ultra
Paint Type: Performance Red Pearl
Base Price: $84,900
Price as Tested: $85,400
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,039 / 1,999 / 1,724
Curb weight (kg): 2,148
Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6
Horsepower: 355 hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque: 354 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, AWD
Fuel Consumption ( City / Highway / Combined ) L/100km: 13.8 / 11.2 / 12.4
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 12.8 (mostly highway driving)
Tires: Continental ContiWinterContact