The Acura MDX has long been the flagship crossover for Honda’s premium brand of Acura, and it has been totally redesigned for the 2022 model year. Now in its fourth generation since 2000, it looks better than ever and it holds some decent performance improvement as well. That being said, it certainly has some missed opportunities for excellence.
Out of Spec Score: 73/100
The styling of the MDX never impressed me until this fourth generation. It’s not overdone and overtly sporty, but it’s also not an exceptionally boring CUV. I always felt that prior Acura products carried too much design language from their Honda underpinnings, and it finally feels like a departure from that aesthetic. The front fascia is similar to the new TLX, leaning into angular shapes, stunning LED headlights and DRL, and even the fog lights have a similar design to the headlights. The grill is not overly large, though the badge in the middle is. That being said, it houses the radar necessary for the adaptive cruise control. The only downside on the front end is the obviously fake front vents on either side below the headlights. The element itself is a great use of design lines, but the plastic inserts are visible from most angles.
Along the sides, it looks fairly slender due to the curvature at the bottom and the plastic cladding is nicely used without being overwhelming. The rear of the MDX is a bit less dramatic, but clean nonetheless. The taillights are an interesting shape leaning into a 3D chicane wave design. Lastly, the dual exhaust tips are truly part of the exhaust. They are dramatized, being overtly widened, but I’m happy to see real exhaust tips rather than false exits. Overall an impressive 8 out of 10 in styling.
The interior is a bit less impressive, though certainly not ugly. I use this term often, but a mixed bag once again defines it perfectly. The layout is well-sorted, with clear climate control operation, two beautiful 12.3 inch screens, and large center console. Paired with one of my favorite steering wheel designs and some good leather and metallic accents, I am partially impressed. The other part of that statement, however, lies in the unreasonable amount of piano gloss black and the overall feel of materials. The top of the door cards are also very rough to the touch. Gloss black can look good, especially in a show room, but day to day life will produce many scratches due to all the touch surfaces. But boy does it look good on the website.
There are multiple interior color options, black in this case, with a light tan headliner that felt quite cheap. The MDX is of course a full 3-row mid-size crossover SUV. However, mid-size, true to nature, means the back row is an afterthought for anything but small children. Materials continued through the back to have a mix of good and mediocre material feel. My interior impressions truly changed dependent on where I looked and what I touched. 7 out of 10 overall, not bad due to the impressive looks. But how does it drive?
Like the interior, performance is also mixed, with an easy remedy in mind that may come to fruition with the upcoming Type S. Acura provides the standard MDX lineup with a 3.5L V6 producing 290 hp and 267 lb-ft torque. This is then mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission with Sequential SportShift paddle shifters. The standard MDX and Technology Package have FWD as default, with SH-AWD as an option. A-Spec and Advances Packages have the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive as standard. New for the fourth generation MDX is also the double-wishbone front suspension with improved handling and amplitude reactive dampers.
The SH-AWD and suspension felt incredibly well-balanced in our road tests. It cornered well, putting power to the wheels that needed it most in order to truly dive into the corner. It can send up to 70% to the rear but it otherwise front-wheel drive based for average driving. The biggest letdown was the power from the engine. It is decent, but at any significant altitude or incline, it shows its severe limitations given the 4,500 pound curb weight. It would undoubtedly be better at sea level, but even then, it was begging for forced induction. Even the brakes held up very well, only showing fading after a significant time in aggressive canyon driving. We are very intrigued to try the Type-S, as the 3.0L turbo and Brembo brakes would, in theory, make it a true performance contender. 7 out of 10 as it stands.
A low point for the MDX is the practicality, at least comparatively speaking. For a 3-row SUV, it lies in the lower end of the pack comparing storage capacities, with 16 cubic feet in the rear, and just under 40 cubic feet behind the second row. It’s certainly usable, but a bit less than most competitors. Another facet of practicality is of course the fuel economy. EPA tested economy shows 19 city, 25 highway, with a combined of 21. Opting for a lower-trim FWD option can increase it by up to a mile per gallon, but it again falls short of most of the competition. It retains some street credit since it is objectively practical and not the worst, but for what it is, 6 out of 10.
The front seats, being Advance Package, are 16 way power seats with 3 programmable memory options. The touch-points are mostly good, with the center console being exceptionally wide. The touchpad, which I will rant about in the next section, does feature a great wrist-rest for comfortable use. The doors have a rough material that feels neither premium nor comfortable along the top below the windows.
Middle row seats are good, though the middle seat is a bit of an afterthought from a comfort perspective. In fact, it can be easily removed. The result is somewhat captain-like chairs in the second row, though without much for arm relief. The third row is definitely not adult-friendly, though I could squeeze my 6 foot frame in for a brief time. But two people my size would end up having some serious drama making it work. Even for kids, it’s not the best for comfort, and I would most likely leave this row folded. Tri-zone climate control is a good feature and standard on all MDX, so at least the air should be comfortable. 7 out of 10 all things considered.
The Achilles heel of the MDX strikes me as the technology. It’s not outright terrible, but the touchpad is a frustrating way to interact with the user interface. Once you understand the way it is mapped, reflecting the larger screen rather than true trackpad style, it does help. But swipe between screens and pages is reversed. Then in Apple CarPlay, it does suddenly become a trackpad of sorts, and not a very good one. The main screen is 12.3” inches and looks quite good, but has no touch functionality, so you have to rely on the touchpad. The right side of the main center display is its own separate part, which only has a few options to display. The entire infotainment experience is based on Android, so the surprising lack of customization is a bit frustrating. Behind the wrist-rest for the touchpad is a Qi charger that never worked for more than a minute or so. I tried multiple phones, with and without cases. Sadly unimpressive.
The 12.3” gauge cluster is also well-executed, though the lack of customization proliferates therein. Your dynamic drive mode affects the gauge cluster, and comfort especially shows very little useful information. The individual drive mode is actually a great way to properly customize both the driving experience and the gauge cluster and ambient lighting. Even the auto start/stop can be enabled or disabled. However, the dozens of options for ambient lighting in the settings are dumbed down to the 3 main red/white/blue options in individual driving mode. One fun feature is the CarTalk intercom, allowing front driver/passenger to speak and send voice to the rear third-row speakers. Though the sound quality is abysmal and hard to hear at high speeds. The premium ELS Studio 3D sound system is a huge perk, but not enough to save the tech score. 6 out of 10 for a mediocre technological experience.
Connected Services 8/10
Not much to report for connected services. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto work well, though a bit more reliably when connected via USB. AcuraLink subscriptions can be obtained as Security Package, Remote Package, and Concierge Package. The Security Package provides enhanced roadside assistance, automatic collision notifications, and emergency calling. Remote Package includes remote start, lock and unlock, finding your car, and other details. Then the Concierge Package provides the ability to talk to live concierge for travel destinations, restaurant recommendations, and even sports scores. Each MDX comes with a free trial, though most features start costing after 6 months. 8 out of 10 for what is offered, especially since I wish a bit more was fully complimentary.
Active Safety 9/10
Like most modern cars, active safety is very present and highly effective on the MDX. Included with AcuraWatch you’ll find Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow, Collision Mitigation Braking System, Lane Keeping Assist System, and Road Departure Mitigation. The adaptive cruise control does work in stop-and-go traffic, but once stopped for a couple seconds it does require driver intervention to resume. The lane keep assist and road departure mitigation work between 45-90 mph. The adaptive cruise control actually works quite well, and requires minimal torque on the wheel to remind the vehicle that you’re still in control. The sounds are also adjustable and aren’t overtly annoying. One of the higher points, active safety provides a 9 out of 10.
Priced as tested, $62,000 for the top-of-the-line Advance Package. It’s a decent value, but not great. Though this depends on what you need in a mid-size 3-row SUV. There are options with more speed, more storage, and better gas mileage. But with everything averaged out, it’s a well-performing SUV with decent comfort and capacity. With a lower, less expensive trim, I can argue you would have most of the MDX for a more reasonable price. There’s always a better deal, but this is still a machine I could recommend to some. 7 out of 10.
Editors Influence 8/10
This was one of those vehicles that truly grew on me. I found it best to cruise in my individual dynamic drive mode setting geared mostly towards comfort. It handles well even with dampers on the softest setting, and it is genuinely a decent place to be. My time with the MDX Advance just makes me more excited for the Type-S variant and the improved power and braking capability it will bring. Sure, that won’t solve my issues with the technology, but if it’s an engaging driving experience, I wouldn’t even bother looking at CarPlay. Acura is attempting to return to its premium sporty roots. Looks and handling are making strides, with hopefully more to come. 8 out of 10 for my personal taste.