2022 Acura MDX Type S First Drive Review: Fledgling Performance At A Price
If you’re an auto enthusiast, especially one with JDM predilections, you’ve already heard this song and dance: Acura is keen to shake off the previous decade’s dust of mediocrity and return to its well-engineered, fun-to-drive roots of the 1990s and early 2000s. A key element of that retromorphosis is adding a sporting variant of every vehicle it sells, and now it’s the SUV’s turn. Meet the 2022 Acura MDX Type S.
Using the same turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 as the TLX Type S, the sporty MDX variant isn’t a direct rival to hot SUVs from BMW M and Mercedes-AMG. But it’s nonetheless the most athletic SUV that Acura has ever sold, clearing that admittedly low bar with room to spare. What’s more, the MDX Type S also boasts a few Acura firsts, like a standard four-corner air suspension, available massaging seats, and a new flagship audio system. That puts the Type S in the enviable position of being the sportiest and most luxurious vehicle in the MDX lineup.
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Gallery: 2022 Acura MDX Type S First Drive
Down 0.5 liters of displacement and up one twin-scroll turbocharger compared to the base MDX’s V6, the Type S has plenty of power under the hood. Output rises from 290 to 355 horsepower, while torque goes from an unremarkable 267 pound-feet to a grunty 354 (available between 1,400 and 5,000 rpm). The engine is well-matched to Acura’s corporate 10-speed automatic transmission, retuned and strengthened for Type S duty with a new valve body and torque converter, as well as stronger gears and clutches. Turbo lag is barely noticeable, and Acura says the gearbox shifts 30 percent faster – I believe it.
In the most aggressive Sport Plus drive mode – exclusive to Type S models – the throttle is sharp and alert, and the transmission selects gears well. The Type S is reportedly a second faster to 60 miles per hour than lesser MDXs, so one could expect it to hit that benchmark in less than 5.5 seconds. Only a ho-hum exhaust note lets down the responsive, muscular powertrain; otherwise, the Type S provides the MDX family with a very useful injection of strength that finally feels equal to the turbo six-cylinder engines in BMW and Mercedes SUVs.
Straight-line performance is just one aspect of the sportfolio. As on other Acuras, the standard Super Handling all-wheel drive is able to route up to 70 percent of power to the rear axle and 100 percent of that to a single wheel, reducing understeer when accelerating out of corners. However, the sophisticated torque-vectoring rear differential only improves handling when using the throttle, so in other situations, the Type S’ firmly damped air suspension, stiffer front anti-roll bar, and Brembo four-piston front brakes step in.
The net effect of all these mechanical alterations is significant. Although contending with some rain during my time in the Type S, the SUV boasted more immediate turn-in than its slightly aloof siblings, although there’s still minor understeer when trail-braking into corners. The SH-AWD torque vectoring works as advertised, noticeably tightening up the driving line on corner exit. However, this behavior was a bit unsettling at first – I allowed the Type S to take a set on corner entry, but applying throttle near the apex resulted in far less plow than expected and required some mid-corner adjustments.
Once accustomed to the yee-haw-yaw, I felt confident pushing the MDX Type S a bit, thanks to impressive body control from the firmly damped adaptive shocks and air suspension. And yet, the MDX never resorts to harshness due to a rear anti-roll bar that’s actually smaller and less stiff than that of the regular MDX. That unconventional approach yields composed, neutral handling and good ride comfort. The front Brembo four-piston fixed calipers and unbranded rear brakes are more than up to the task of keeping the biggest Acura in check too, improving confidence further.
Still, it’s not perfect. Predictably (and despite retuned soft- and hardware), the Type S provides little feedback through the steering wheel. A trim-exclusive Sport Plus drive mode adds plenty of weight to the tiller, but it’s no more adept at providing road information than that of the standard MDX. Making matters worse is a variable-ratio steering rack – slow on-center and faster as you introduce more lock into the wheel. As a result, the driving line never feels linear or predictable, an issue that the aforementioned torque vectoring can exacerbate.
Surprisingly, the Type S demands no comfort sacrifices for a significant infusion of athleticism. Some first-timers need a generation or two to get air suspension right – the Genesis GV80 is disconcertingly floaty over undulating, broken pavement for example – but the MDX never loses composure in Comfort mode. For that matter, it’s even reasonably compliant in Sport and Sport Plus, both of which lower the car 15 millimeters. The active dampers also play a part in keeping the Type S even-keeled, ironing out small imperfections and muting large ones without any bobbing motions. Not only is this new MDX the fastest, it’s also the most cosseting.
That’s especially true of the range-topping Type S Advance trim, which ditches the base Type S’ leather/microsuede upholstery and brushed aluminum interior trim in favor of full Milano leather and metallic-finished open-pore wood. The Advance also gets Acura’s first application of massaging seats, which can actually provide some genuine pressure and comfort to a sore, tired back. All Type S models get heated and ventilated front seats, while the flagship trim also treats the outboard second-row passengers to heat.
Some minor harshness comes from the MDX Type S’ 275/40R21 tires, mounted on matte black alloys on the base model or Berlina Black and machined rollers on the Advance. It’s most evident on grainy old asphalt, which transmits some grittiness to the passenger cabin. But the Type S is undeniably the most premium-feeling Acura in a very long time – possibly ever.
Sounds Like A Winner
Ever since it debuted on the 2019 RDX, Acura’s ELS Studio 3D audio system has been near the top of the heap. That’s still true of the 16-speaker, 700-watt system that comes standard in the Type S, but now, there’s a new benchmark. The Advance is the first Acura to get ELS Studio 3D Signature audio, with a total of 25 speakers and more than 1,000 watts of power. It’s not hyperbole when I say that the Signature system is the best-sounding kit I’ve ever heard – you can crank it up to 11 and still enjoy crystal-clear high notes and bass that adds just enough rumble without rattling the car (or your eardrums) to bits.
But there is a caveat – if you want the best sound output, you also need the best sound input. It’s all but impossible to replicate my tester’s pre-loaded USB of high-definition surround-sound music using streaming services like Spotify or SiriusXM, and even Tidal and Apple’s lossless audio suffers some degradation when connected to the system wirelessly. Of course, that problem applies to other audio systems as well, and the ELS Signature setup still does a good job of making even subpar signals sound crisp and clean thanks to distortion-reducing speaker motors that eliminate extraneous vibrations.
The rest of the car’s electronics package is a bit disappointing. Yes, both the digital instrument cluster and infotainment display measure an impressive 12.3 inches, and my Advance model also boasts a useful head-up display, but managing it all is the work of Acura’s frustrating True Touchpad Interface. A touchscreen display or rotary control knob would be less distracting. At least there’s a long list of standard safety equipment – automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane centering technology all work well together to save your butt when the touchpad steals your attention.
Bait, Meet Switch
Acura is very proud to point out that the MDX is the best-selling three-row luxury crossover in history, and historically, a key component of that success is a long list of luxury and convenience features at a reasonable price. The redesigned 2021 MDX lost a bit of that luster – it’s much cheaper than the Audi Q7, for example, but its 290 horses come up far short of most competitors.
The 355-hp Type S rectifies that last point, comparing nicely with six-cylinder, non-sport versions of the Q7, Mercedes-Benz GLE, and BMW X5. But that newfound rivalry comes at a very literal price. The MDX Type S costs at least $67,745 (including $1,045 destination), and the vehicle I drove would demand $73,595 thanks to the Advance trim and a $500 coat of Tiger Eye Pearl paint. A Q7 55 TFSI, by comparison, starts at $63,695 with destination, rising to a comparably equipped price of $75,090. Less than $1,500 amounts to a few bucks a month on a four-year loan or lease, and that might not be a convincing difference.
Adding to the confusion, the Type S branding on the TLX sedan means it competes more directly with mid-tier Audi Sport, BMW M, and Mercedes-AMG products. That’s not necessarily the case with the MDX, since the Audi SQ7 has a staggering 500 hp, but also costs $89,695 to start. Shoppers will likely be perplexed by the MDX Type S’ sporty badge when in reality it competes more similarly to other automakers’ mainline SUVs – in both price and performance.
However you slice it, nearly 75 large is still a lot of money, and I’m not totally convinced the Type S feels that expensive. Numb steering and a slight propensity to plow through corners are a letdown given the badge’s performance posturing, and Acura’s True Touchpad Interface is as finicky and distracting as ever, especially when using wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. There’s no denying that the 2022 Acura MDX Type S is the most exuberant vehicle in the nameplate’s history, and the even nicer interior is a lovely surprise. But this is a competitive segment, and there’s still some room for improvement.
MDX Type S Competitor Reviews:
- Audi SQ7: Not Rated
- BMW X5 M50i: Not Rated
- Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Dynamic: Not Rated
- Mercedes-AMG GLE 53: Not Rated
- Porsche Cayenne S: Not Rated
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