2022 Acura MDX first drive review: This three-row SUV packs a premium punch
Acura's new MDX is sharper, smarter and more comfortable than before.
Jon WongFormer editor for CNET Cars
Jon Wong was a reviews editor for CNET Cars. He test drove and wrote about new cars and oversaw coverage of automotive accessories and garage gear. In his spare time, he enjoys track days, caring for his fleet of old Japanese cars and searching for the next one to add to his garage.
might be the head-turner in
vehicle lineup, but the
are its true dynamic duo, accounting for more than 70% of the brand's sales. That means it's an important event whenever one of these sales stars gets a makeover. Following the RDX's freshening a few years ago, it's now the MDX's turn, and with upticks in styling, comfort, technology and performance, there's a lot to like about this updated SUV.
Sharper inside and out
Compared to the previous MDX, the new fourth-generation model is a bit more aggressive-looking on the outside. Like the new
sedan, the MDX wears styling cues from Acura's Precision Concept, and has a wider stance, more upright nose, slim headlights, longer hood, sharper body creases and broader shoulders. The A-Spec model pictured here features a little more attitude with gloss black accents, dark light housings and gray wheels. All told, it looks pretty darn good for a three-row SUV.
Great as the exterior is, it's inside the MDX where the biggest changes are found. The dash layout is lower and sleeker than before, providing excellent visibility out the front. The SUV's controls are intuitive with a gaggle of clearly marked buttons occupying the center stack. Yes, some people will possibly find this too busy, but I prefer a bunch of buttons over having too many controls integrated into a touchscreen.
2022 Acura MDX ups its luxury and performance game
The new MDX has much higher quality materials, with premium Milano leather standard on most models and stitched, soft-touch surfaces covering all major touchpoints. Depending on the trim level, the MDX offers real aluminum or open-pore wood trim mixed in with piano black bits. The seats are comfortable and provide just the right amount of side support, and the cabin stays light and airy thanks to the standard panoramic roof. The A-Spec's cabin is dressed up further with a flat-bottom steering wheel, suede seat inserts and metal pedals.
All of that is found in an interior that's more spacious than the outgoing MDX. The second- and third-row seats have more legroom thanks to a wheelbase that's nearly 3 inches longer than before. The way-back seats are a touch roomier, accommodating my 5-foot, 6-inch frame without crunching my legs up against the second-row seat backs. For people taller, the third row will certainly work in a pinch for shorter runs, but for kids probably won't be too uncomfortable back here. Accessing the third-row remains quite easy with the one-touch sliding middle seats that flip and move forward, or you can remove the new second row's middle seat for a walkway to the rear.
As for cargo space, there's more of that in the new MDX, too. With all seats upright, there's 16.3 cubic of space in the trunk area behind the rearmost bench that grows to 71.4 with both rear rows folded. That puts it nicely between competitors like the
What's a new luxury vehicle without a healthy helping of new technology? The 2022 MDX is jammed full of good stuff, starting with a new 12.3-inch configurable gauge cluster, featuring different themes for each driving mode. There's an available head-up display and Acura's latest infotainment system is housed on a 12.3-inch center screen, controlled by the True Touchpad system.
After spending some getting acclimated to this tech, utilizing the touchpad to make selections and change radio stations becomes easy, but other Roadshow staffers still aren't big fans. There are definitely some quirks here. For example, since the 12.3-inch screen doesn't respond to touch, entering navigation destinations is kind of a pain, but the infotainment system itself is rich with features including a nice-sounding ELS audio setup, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, Amazon Alexa and a Wi-Fi hotspot. There's also plenty of power points including a standard wireless charge pad, 12-volt sockets and USB-A and USB-C ports sprinkled throughout the cabin.
For safety, every MDX gets the AcuraWatch suite of driving aids, consisting of blind-spot monitoring, forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning with lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control and rear-cross traffic alert. Hands-on traffic jam assist is new for the 2022 MDX, combining low-speed adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to help drivers out during congested commutes. A new radar-based, low-speed braking system can recognize solid objects at low speeds and bring the car to a stop if needed.
The new MDX continues to be powered by a 3.5-liter V6 producing the same 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque as before. This engine works with Acura's newer 10-speed automatic transmission, paired with either front-wheel drive or the company's upgraded Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system. SH-AWD is available on base and Technology Package cars, but standard on A-Spec and Advance models. This tech can send up to 70% of the engine's torque to the rear axle, and can then route 100% of that to the right or left wheel depending on grip and driving conditions.
The MDX's drivetrain is beautifully refined -- punchy enough and super smooth throughout the rev band, while the gearbox rattles off seamless, well-timed cog swaps, and can downshift four gears at once when you really need to get up to speed. The 10-speed seems much more at home working with the V6 than it does with the turbocharged inline-four in the TLX sedan.
Interestingly, Acura says it considered putting its 2.0-liter turbo I4 in the MDX, but after speaking with customers, opted to stick with the tried-and-true V6. That's a great move if you ask me; this is one of the best six-cylinders in the business and doesn't sound half bad at wide-open-throttle with a nice, low growl. With AWD, the 2022 MDX returns an EPA-estimated 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway, and can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
The new MDX is based on a stiffer platform with a new double-wishbone front suspension, reworked multi-link rear setup, larger wheels and tires, quicker steering ratio and stronger brakes. After driving it back-to-back with a 2020 MDX, the 2022 is noticeably more agile. There's less roll at turn in, steering response is snappier with some real feedback through the wheel, and the SUV generally feels better planted through corners and confidently slows under braking. Honestly, the MDX doesn't feel like a 4,500-pound crossover most of the time. You'll get the Bridgestone tires to squeal if you push too hard through a corner, but the MDX is more than happy to tackle twisty roads with a some pep in its step.
What's another upshot of the MDX's new chassis? In addition to better handling, the ride quality is more comfortable. Quieter, too. Compared to the 2020, the latest MDX is less jiggly over bumps and cabin isolation from road and wind noise is much better.
A hotter Type S coming soon
The 2022 Acura MDX will start rolling into dealers on Feb. 2, with a starting price tag of $47,935, including $1,025 for destination. Adding SH-AWD tacks $2,000 onto the bottom line of the base and Technology Package models. The sportier-looking A-Spec tested here with standard SH-AWD begins at $58,125.
For those looking for more performance, there is a MDX Type S in the works. Arriving this summer, the Type S will pack a turbocharged V6 churning out 355 hp, and it'll have bigger wheels and Brembo brakes to better push the limits of the new chassis. I'm definitely looking forward to trying it out.
But until then, the standard MDX packs an impressive list of upgrades over its predecessor. It's better looking, has a much nicer interior, it's filled with tech and has a drive character that's both tighter and smoother than before. It's all quite good, and puts Acura in a good position to win over more luxury SUV shoppers than ever before.