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2022 Acura MDX Test Drive Review

The all-new luxury three-row crossover arrives with personality, character, and charm.

8 /10
Overall Score

Skipping the 2021 model year, the Acura MDX leaps ahead into 2022, riding on a new platform with a new exterior design, new interior look, refreshed platform, and a more assertive attitude. Now entering its fourth generation of production since its introduction as a 2001 model, the MDX rewards its loyal audience with improvements across the board—while retaining its essential nature.

Look and Feel

8/ 10

The MDX pioneered the three-row luxury crossover SUV category and has always looked smaller on the outside than it felt on the inside. Previous generations have shared a platform with the Honda Pilot, but this new generation is engineered and built on a new dedicated platform specifically for the MDX. The proportions of the vehicle have been tweaked, now with a longer wheelbase and overall length, as well as a wider body and wider track (the distance between the wheels side-to-side). The critical dash-to-axle distance, which car designers emphasize as connoting elegance, has been increased by over four inches. Acura was an early adopter of LED headlights, and it makes good use of standard Jewel Eye LED headlights on the MDX, which are underlined with expressive linear LED daytime running lights. The MDX also uses bigger wheels and tires than before—19 x 8.5 inches on the base MDX, 20 x 9 inches on Tech and above. The resulting exterior design is sportier, more assertive, and feels very modern. The MDX is built in East Liberty, Ohio, and shows off a very high level of craftsmanship and quality.

Inside, the MDX has been similarly sharpened and modernized. The layered dashboard helps emphasize the width of the cabin, and it sits lower and further away from front-seat occupants, which makes the space feel bigger. Authentic materials—natural wood, genuine aluminum, real leather—are supplemented by high-quality plastics for a rich feel. The layout of some controls is a little quirky but quickly makes sense in operation. The center console and center stack house multiple controls, including a unique gear selection at the center that looks like it was sourced from a fighter jet (in fact, it’s the same as you’ll find in the new TLX). A close array of rectangular push-buttons, a lever, and a round push-button corralled in an aluminum collar provide PRNDL function. Below that in the center console is a square touchpad to control the infotainment functions. A handrest hovers above the touchpad, flanked to the right by a volume knob for the audio system. Above the gear selector is a rotary dial to select drive mode, and HVAC controls are above that. The 12.3-inch infotainment screen is at the top of the center stack, right where it should be. It is mounted in landscape orientation and is not a touchscreen, which is a smart safety choice, as the screen is a long reach from the driver.

The front row of seats is very comfortable, with a wide range of adjustment, and sized appropriately for American bottoms. The steering wheel is beefy and houses redundant controls, including paddle shifters.

Overall, the MDX has a solid, quality feel, befitting a luxury vehicle in its price range. The exterior can be ordered in one of eight colors: two standard (Lunar Silver Metallic and Fathom Blue Pearl) and six premium (Liquid Carbon Metallic, Platinum White Pearl, Majestic Black Pearl, Performance Red Pearl, Phantom Violet Pearl, and Apex Blue Pearl). Six interior themes are available: Ebony, Graystone, Parchment, Espresso, Red/Suede, and Ebony/Suede.

Performance

8/ 10

The MDX comes with just one engine choice at the time of launch (a Type S trim level will follow later this model year). It’s the same naturally aspirated (non-turbo) 3.5-liter V6 from the past generation, with some enhancements but still putting out 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. A new-to-MDX 10-speed automatic transmission sends the power to the front wheels in base MDX and Tech trims, or to all four wheels with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which is optional on MDX and Tech, standard on all other models. SH-AWD models benefit from torque vectoring, with the ability to send up to 70% of torque to the rear wheels, and to direct up to 100% of that torque to either side during cornering maneuvers. This allows the powertrain to essentially push the MDX into a turn, greatly enhancing cornering feel and control, and reducing steering effort. The new 4th-generation SH-AWD system is now quicker to respond and has more torque available to the rear wheels at launch, improving performance off the line. Torque vectoring is a transparent effect, but one that you notice and appreciate over time—and a good enough reason to tick the SH-AWD box on the order sheet.

Another upgrade on the 2022 MDX is to the suspension. The front has been reworked to use a double-wishbone setup, widely considered to be superior for sporty handling (compared to McPherson struts, the outgoing setup), and the rear multi-link suspension has been revised to improve ride quality. Bigger, more powerful disc brakes bring things down from speed. Steering feel has been improved with a variable gear ratio to improve low- and mid-speed maneuverability.

With all of these changes, two factors really make the MDX feel like a different, better SUV for 2022. First, overall stiffness and rigidity have dramatically improved. There’s no flex or twist in the body of the MDX, and the connection points for the suspension components have also been stiffened. That means that there are no squeaks or squawks over tough pavement, no rattles or feelings of looseness, just a solid ride feel, mediated by the suspension, conveying competence and inspiring confidence. Second, the new 10-speed automatic transmission really works beautifully with the engine, smoothly keeping it in the perfect rev range. It can downshift up to four gears to activate for passing maneuvers, and it can easily be dialed in to the right style of performance using the Integrated Dynamics System controller in the center stack. Five drive modes are available (Snow, Comfort, Normal, Sport, and Individual), controlling throttle response, transmission, active sound, steering, SH-AWD, idle stop, interior lighting, and the appearance of the instrument panel.

We drove the MDX for two days around southeastern Michigan, including a few hours of comparison drives in and around Chelsea, Michigan where Acura outlined a route and provided competitive vehicles. We drove an A-Spec MDX back-to-back with a new Lexus RX L, Volvo XC90, Audi Q7, and a 2020 MDX. The new MDX impressed in this company, feeling closer to the benchmark Q7 and exposing the RX L’s flaws and XC90’s taller center of gravity. The MDX had us charging hard into corners, and enjoying cruises on the highway.

Form and Function

8/ 10

As a three-row SUV, the MDX is called upon to perform multiple functions, from family hauler to utility vehicle to elegant commuter. On the passenger-hauling side, the MDX provides comfortable seating for the first two rows, with dual bucket sport seats in the front row and an innovative second row with a removable center section. The second row can also slide fore and aft to balance the legroom for second- and third-row passengers, and it now reclines up to 12 degrees (twice as far as before). It’s easy to get into the third row, either by leaning and sliding the second-row seat forward or by leaving the center section out and slipping between the second-row seats. The third row is still a third row—meaning it’s best left to pre-teens and smaller people, who will be perfectly comfortable. Anyone much over five-and-a-half feet tall will be uncomfortable on a long ride, but school carpools will appreciate the seating capacity and the available USB connections in all three rows.

For utility, the sliding rows of seats make for flexible capacity. There’s between 16.3 and 18.1 cubic feet of luggage space behind the third row, plus 1.8 cubic feet of hidden storage underfloor. Fold down the third row, and you can fit between 39.1 and 48.4 cubic feet of stuff; fold down the second row and you’ve opened up a warehouse capable of swallowing between 71.4 and 95 cubic feet of junk.

The standard power tailgate has some new features, including “Grab ‘N Go.” With this function, you press a “Walk Away Close” button in the cargo hold, and walk away from the open tailgate within 30 seconds. Like magic, the tailgate automatically closes and locks, and you can set an automatic lock so that the MDX’s doors lock at the same time. When you return to the back of the MDX, use Hands-Free Access and kick beneath the bumper to activate the power opening function. You can program the maximum opening height to avoid hitting your garage roof (or rising beyond your reach).

Interior lighting is also trick and customizable, and it has a cool name: Iconic Drive Lighting. There are 27 total lighting themes. One each is tied to Comfort, Normal, and Sport drive modes in the Integrated Dynamics System, and the other 24 have names like Wall Street, Amalfi Coast, and Baja HWY 1. Particularly at night, these schemes and themes can change the feeling in the cabin, and why not?

Tech Level

8/ 10

There are plenty of tech highlights to hit in the new MDX, starting with the available ELS Studio 3D Premium Audio System. Named for legendary sound engineer Elliot Scheiner, the top-of-the-line system is part of the A-Spec and Advance Packages. It includes 16 speakers on 16 channels with 710 watts of amplification and uses Acoustic Motion Control to deliver transparent and natural sound with precise imaging and tone throughout the cabin. This system debuted in the 2021 TLX, and flourishes in the larger MDX cabin. Audiophiles will be enraptured with its sound and may want to stretch to the upper trim levels just to get access to it. The base MDX comes with Premium Audio with nine speakers, seven channels, and 350 watts, and the Tech Package comes with an ELS Studio system with 12 speakers, 12, channels, and 550 watts—still very good, but not the full glory of ELS Studio 3D Premium.

Navigation is standard on Tech and above trim levels. All MDX models come with the 12.3-inch landscape-oriented infotainment screen, and the great new Acura Precision Cockpit 12.3-inch HD digital instrument panel, which is configurable for look, feel, and content. Amazon Alexa is built-in with home-to-car/car-to-home functionality, so you can control your Alexa-activated appliances, lights, and speakers from your car. Imagine telling Alexa to turn on your smart lighting fixtures and raise the temperature on your Nest thermostat from your driver’s seat while approaching your home, and entering a warm, well-lit space moments later. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, along with Qi-compatible wireless device charging. A minivan-like CabinTalk feature has also been added for A-Spec and Advance trims, acting as an interior public address system for the second and third rows. A new head-up display (HUD) is standard on the Advance package with a 10.5-inch full-color display, and a new HD rearview camera system (upgradable to surround-view on Advance) is standard with a camera washer. A WiFi hotspot is standard, and the MDX’s software and firmware can be updated over the air (OTA).

Safety

8/ 10

Crash-test ratings for the 2022 Acura MDX haven’t been released yet by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The outgoing 2020 model got overall “Good” from IIHS and five-stars from NHTSA, and Acura engineers say they’ve targeted even better ratings for 2022. We don’t doubt they’ll receive them.

Toward that end, the MDX has been engineered with a higher percentage of high-strength steel than before, with an advanced safety structure for collision protection. Some of the same changes that resulted in the greater stiffness described in the Performance section above also enhance safety, so there’s a dual benefit.

The front end redesign has also been done with pedestrian safety in mind, with improved head and leg protection, an impact-absorbing bumper, and a deformable hood, fender, and hinge. A low-speed braking control system operates between one and six mph. It uses sonar to detect objects (including pedestrians) using the front and rear parking sensors, and it gives audible and visual warnings to the driver to apply brakes, and it will take over and brake autonomously if the driver doesn’t respond in time to avoid an impact. Additionally, the system includes collision mitigation throttle control, which can bypass throttle input if the driver accidentally hits the gas instead of the brakes. Not only will this low-speed braking control system enhance safe operation in heavy traffic and city driving, but it can also potentially save lives in the after-school pickup line, or at least give added peace of mind.

The AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assistance technologies is standard on all MDX models. That includes collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, traffic sign recognition, driver attention monitor, expanded pedestrian detection capability, and traffic-jam assist.

Cost-Effectiveness

8/ 10

The 2022 Acura MDX is available in a simple set of trim levels, similar to other Acura models. The base MDX starts at $46,900 with FWD/$48,900 with SH-AWD. Next up is the Tech Package, starting at $51,600 with FWD/$53,600 with SH-AWD. The A-Spec Package comes with SH-AWD only, and it starts at $57,100, and the Advance Package starts at $60,650, also with SH-AWD exclusively. All MDX models come with the same engine, transmission, AcuraWatch, and many other features. As you step up the trim ladder, luxury, convenience, and technology features get piled on. The A-Spec is the sportiest in appearance; the Advance is the height of luxury. We find the Tech Package with SH-AWD as the sweet spot in the lineup, as we find navigation to be an essential feature these days, and we love the handling enhancement from SH-AWD.

The competitive set for MDX is deep and impressive. Among the best are the Audi Q7 (starting at $54,950), the BMW X5 (starting at $59,400), and the Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class (starting at $54,750), a powerful German luxury trio. Also in contention are the Lexus RX L (starting at $48,000), the Cadillac XT6 (starting at $52,695), Volvo XC90 (starting at $49,695), and the new Genesis GV80 (starting at $48,900).

Satisfied owners of previous-generation MDX crossovers who are ready for a replacement will definitely want to drive the new MDX. If you’re looking for ultra-luxury and budget is not an issue, you might want to explore the Bentley Bentayga, Land Rover Range Rover, Rolls-Royce Cullinan, and a few others. But the 2022 Acura MDX is a complete luxury package that will deliver reliable, elegant, fun transportation for up to seven passengers at a competitive price, and with an impressive collection of features and capabilities.

Updated by Jason Fogelson

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