Now must be an interesting time—in the Pratchettian sense—to be a car maker. All you want to do is sell vehicles, but there are economic downturns and the occasional pandemic to factor in. Around the world, climate change policies are heavily favoring electric-powered machines, at least in Europe and China, and a Californian upstart has embarrassed all the usual players in the process. And on top of that, all your customers are bored with the cars they used to buy—everything has to be a crossover or SUV, preferably with WiFi.
In Acura’s case, the company has had to deal with all of the above while going through something like a midlife crisis. After decades competing for sales with Lexus and Infiniti, Honda’s North American spinoff decided to engage in some soul-searching to see whether that’s really where its effort should be spent. And Acura decided that, instead of focusing on luxury, it needed to return to its roots as a performance brand.
In the past, the Japanese luxury brands were seen as a rung below their German competitors, particularly in terms of driving dynamics, mostly due to the preponderance of front-wheel-drive platforms. But if Acura’s plan was to dislodge BMW as the driver’s choice, the MDX is the SUV to do it. Particularly the version it sent us for 48 hours—a $57,100 2022 MDX A-Spec. A-Spec, in addition to being something to do with Gran Turismo, is also Acura-code for “this is the one that handles really well,” a bit like those BMWs you see with M Sport badges.
This redesign makes the 2022 the fourth generation of SUV to wear the MDX badge, and our test example looked resplendent in its Performance Red Pearl paint. (It’s a similar shade to Mazda’s Soul Red, but maybe a little deeper.) Head-on, the new MDX is a less fussy shape than the model it replaces, with the front dominated by a larger Acura grille and badge that conceals some of the SUV’s forward-looking sensors. However, those black intakes either side of the grille are actually blanked off, even on this variant—apparently the wind tunnel showed it was better if those vents were permanently closed rather than have them supplying air to wherever it was they supplied air. (The main grille also has active shutters that close to reduce drag when needed.)
A staff car for an up-and-coming Imperial officer?
A return to performance for Acura doesn’t mean trading away a luxurious interior for something spartan. Darth Vader would probably be a fan of the MDX A-Spec’s interior, with its black-on-black ultrasuede and leather, red stitching, and glossy black panels. Acura says that 30 percent of the polyester that is turned into ultrasuede comes from molasses that’s produced as a byproduct from sugar refining, which is the kind of nerdy fact that one day might come in handy.
Behind Acura’s latest multifunction steering wheel, a 12.3-inch digital display replaces the physical dials you might find in a TLX sedan. It changes appearance depending on upon drive mode, and in the middle of the display is an informative graphical representation of what the sensors are seeing around the MDX.
The infotainment system is the latest iteration of Acura’s True Touchpad Interface, first seen on the RDX crossover. This uses a touchpad on the center console that has a 1:1 relationship with the screen—if (for example) an icon or UI element is at the top right of the screen, you tap the top right of the touchpad to touch it. There’s a little more of a learning curve than a normal touchscreen- or trackpad-based UI, but with a few hours familiarity, you quickly appreciate how easy it is to operate without taking your eyes off the road.
There are plenty of USB ports (five, or seven if you opt instead for the MDX Advance, which also gets a full-color 10.2-inch heads-up display) and a wireless charging pad, and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both work wirelessly (although as ever you might find using a cable to a more bug-free experience).
The middle row of seats slides by 5.9 inches (150 mm) front and back, and it comes with a party trick—you can remove the middle seat. This means you can only carry six onboard, and you’ll want to leave the middle seat at home. But it does make entry to the third row a lot more practical.
Stay on target
The new MDX has gained a great degree of chassis stiffness in search of better handling, mostly through the use of high-strength steels in strategic locations. The double-wishbone front suspension is new, and suggests this SUV means business; there’s also a new multilink rear suspension design at the back. And I must say, the engineers have succeeded—this is a fine-handling SUV, which bodes well for the more powerful MDX Type-S that’s in the pipeline.
Its curb weight of 4,534 lbs (2,056 kg) is standard for the class, but MDX’s poise and body control marks it as one of the clever kids, sitting up front. There’s none of the lag between input and reaction that afflicts many SUVs (or even the Acura TLX sedan I tested recently), and the SH-AWD system vectors torque effectively from front to rear and, at the rear axle, from side to side, all of which helps you change direction more quickly.
Sadly, there is but a single choice of powertrain for the new MDX, a 290 hp (217 kW), 267 lb-ft (362 Nm) variant of the company’s 3.5 L 60-degree V6, coupled to a 10-speed automatic transmission. It’s rated at 21 mpg (11.2 l/100km) combined, which it slightly exceeded (I got 21.8), but it is nonetheless disappointing to report that there’s no hybrid MDX for this generation. When I double-checked this omission with Acura, the company said it still loved electrification, which is not only good for the planet but also performance, and referred me to the very competent NSX supercar as proof of that.
Listing image by Acura