A value-laden proposition, this luxury offering from Acura does lots well, but rarely anything amazing
Acura's MDX has remained a stalwart favorite for those wanting a luxury three-row SUV at an attractive price. Crazily, it's already been on sale for some 20 years, with many older ones still on the road today and over a million sold. A friend's family has had one since new, back when Bush was in his first term. With nearly 200,000 miles on the clock, it's still a capable machine and owes glowing testament to the realized belief of Honda and Acura's renowned dependability. Continually representing a safe choice into the realm of luxury SUVs, the new 2022 MDX has been updated to inject some swagger into a model that faces more competition than ever.
If there's one attribute the MDX has strongly in its favor, it's the feasible (well, for a luxury product that is) asking price. This well-equipped example I tested carried an as-tested sticker of $62,175. Stop, because while anything that starts with a 6 now enters that Big-Money Land, this MDX significantly undercuts other 3-row rivals when similarly equipped. German rivals, like the fantastic BMW X5, will set you back an additional several quarters worth of University of California in-state tuition for your kid, with prices into the seventies for a like-minded model with all the bells and whistles. Even Genesis' value-driven and amazing GV80 luxury offering I recently tested was $5,000 more with comparable options and amenities. A Lexus RX 350L is decently priced, but more compromised on space to consider. So, while not cheap by any means, the MDX does sit at an attractive price point for those getting into the luxury game. And if you just want an MDX, you can buy a base model for under fifty-grand.
The MDX is a machine that does many, many things well, but it rarely does anything truly amazing (besides the price). This makes for a well-rounded and solid choice, but also one that lacks excitement. To be even more blunt, the low asking-price comes more deserved rather than as a truly great deal. You'll see what I mean as the review goes on. Whereas the step up into Munich's X5 40i comes with bombastic and comparatively explosive straight-line performance, or that a Genesis or a Mercedes have nearly unmatched opulence to their interiors, the MDX kinda plays it safe in the middle as the sensible choice. There's nothing wrong with being sensible, though. After all, much of the world is devoid of reason.
Starting with the strengths...
Receiving a thorough refresh to the exterior, the MDX is a seriously good looking machine. Following the trends of large grilles, the Acura has a refined and understatedly posh aesthetic. The large Acura badge up front is a little vulgar for me, but it also reminds of Mercedes' use of their own overly large three-pointed star. Actually, I see a lot of Benz' GLC-class in the new MDX, only the Japanese SUV does it all better. Handsome indeed, it's an eye catching design for those that don't need to brag, for others might find something like the GV80 too 'showy' or an XC90 boring. The dark gray paint does further favors for the shape with dark shadows creating more tension and contrast in the elegant bodywork. The surfacing could use some work, though, as I noticed reflections were often bowed and not level.
Open the doors and you're greeted by a sumptuous and also understated design inside. The leather and other materials, like aluminum and wood, are of a high quality and make a convincing case in the luxury crowd. Though, it does fails to create the same excitement when opening the door of that loaded Genesis GV80 for the first time. More importantly, the MDX is a huge step-up in refinement and quality over the last Honda Pilot I drove from Acura's parent company, so those that might be considering stepping up to the MDX from a Pilot will be impressed. Cabin space is impressively plentiful in the first and second rows as is overall comfort, with the sport seats as shown here providing support where needed.
Out back, the cargo bay will hold as much as you would hope for and there's a third-row for those with larger families or those emergencies where five seats just won't cut it. You know, that time where you tell your friend Kyle, "Sorry bro, I only got five seats. You think you can drive yourself?" Not in the MDX. The second-row chairs also come heated with this example's Advance Package to keep passengers, including your dog, warm in winter months. A gorgeous panoramic moonroof occupies most of the ceiling to let more light in and further increases perceived volume inside the MDX as well. Of course, there's every active safety system imaginable onboard this tester plus the addition of great surround view camera system and a 16-speaker stereo that's more than up to the task of pumping your favorite tunes. Amazon's Alexa is even present for those users.
Power is churned from a 3.5L V6 that is gratuitously smooth and refined. Total grunt is 290 horsepower and 267 pounds of torque, which is mostly adequate enough. If you test drive something like an X5 40i first and then the MDX, you will be sorely disappointed by the lack of punch here. However, it's more than enough for anyone in their normal life and the smooth character delivers a serene and unobtrusive experience. Ditto for the new ten-speed transmission that shuffles between ratios with literally no notice, which is a good thing; you don't want to feel a luxury car shift.
On the road, the MDX is capably competent and will satisfy all casual-goers. The steering has a light yet accurate feel to it at speed that I find gives a reassuring and confident demeanor on long freeway hauls. Interestingly enough, the suspension consists of a double wishbone arrangement upfront with a multi-link design in the rear, both of which are far more common on sports cars. On a tight and twisting backroad climbing above Oroville, CA to scenic Table Mountain, Acura's MDX showed a sporting edge to tackle corners with an aplomb that will please and appease drivers with potent direction changes and body control. But, it's never truly exciting nor does it really encourage any kind of speedy driving, but it is plenty capable when you up the pace and is happy to do so, like when the kids are going to be late to school. For a three-row SUV, it can be surprising in its prowess even if it lacks bona fide thrills. Acura's marketing mumbo-jumbo SH-AWD (literally, super-handling all-wheel drive) does great diligence in applying power to the road and will give confidence in the rain and snow. If you want more of an edge, there's the A-Spec model to consider that promises more driver engagement.
Where it's lacking...
The essential parts, like the ones that make a car a car, are all pretty good, but there are a few items that the MDX can certainly improve upon. The V6 engine might be smooth like a turbine, but the power is only just adequate. At the price of its lesser cousin, the Honda Pilot, it could be considered a real barnstormer, but we're not at Pilot pricing anymore. With other luxury offerings available with gobs more power, the MDX is simply not relevant in the power department. Does anyone need more power? No, but power is addicting and alluring and it's easy to get caught up in the marketing of horsepower wars. Along with the okay power was merely average fuel economy, with overall consumption coming in at 21 MPG and the highway run yielding 25. This is far from groundbreaking. Like, if you're build something on the slower end of the spectrum, then at least it can be expected that it would be more economical in gas mileage, but neither is the case here. The twin-turbo V6 GV80 returned dismal mileage, but at least it was fast.
As mentioned earlier, the cabin is a nice place to be, but it does lack the level of quiet and isolation that rivals now offer, like that pesky GV80. While far from loud inside, you just don't quite get that same solitude. Bumps and rougher pavement also are more noticeable in the MDX thanks to the relatively firmer ride, part of its quest for better handling. Most would have zilch to complain about, but after sampling other models that define the essence of serenity, the MDX is not up to their level. Granted, it is cheaper than most, but I would like to see some improvement there.
And now for the real crux I faced with the MDX: the infotainment system. The design and look of it might be crisp, but it's the controls that baffled me. For starters, it's not a touchscreen that most have come to like (I myself actually dislike using touchscreens in cars because of the attention and therefore distraction a touchscreen requires), but it's their solution for controlling the new display that is at fault. Near the push button PRND switches is a touchpad, strongly resembling that of a laptop. Lexus has had a similar system for years and it's the plague of car infotainment systems; Why Acura would copy something so horrid is beyond me. I've gotten used to Lexus' offerings over the years, but I could not gel with the Acura system. I found the menu systems superfluous with far too many redundant options and menu pages themselves. To control it, you move your finger on the pad just like you would a laptop. Acura will tell you that it's designed to be truly proportionate to the screen and where items are placed, but the pad is limiting in this regard because of how far you have to make your finger travel. The problem arises when trying to place the curser on a corner selection, requiring you to do it in one motion.
When I use a laptop, and my friends are the same way when I asked them, to get to edges of a screen I'll move my finger a short amount and then lift up, re-center, and then move again to avoid uncomfortable stretches. Problem is, with the Acura, if you lift and re-center your finger to get more leverage like so, you lose progress and it resets to the center again. So, the only way to move about is to never pick your finger up. Going from corner to corner felt entirely too awkward when used like this. Luckily, you can instead use Apple CarPlay which curiously forgoes this odd programming and allows you to lift-off and re-center to your heart's content, the way it should be. The reason I like spinning rotary knobs so much is that they necessitate the least distraction and are the most accurate. Maybe you'll like this design, or if you have freakishly long fingers, but I was unable to gel with it over my week together.
Furthermore, the surround view camera system is great and all, but the button to manually turn them on? The end of the windshield wiper stalk, a button that the driver actually cannot see. C'mon, Acura, there are so many better places to put that switch. It was so well hidden that I actually didn't think there was a way to manually turn them on. And trust me, when pulling into parking spots, you want to be able to use those cameras to avoid curbing one of those pretty 20" wheels. As usual, the cameras automatically engage when in reverse.
This all adds up to a convincing luxury experience in an attractive package and at a great price. The trouble is, the MDX doesn't do anything class-leading besides the equipment-per-dollar aspect. There are many things, most things in fact, that the MDX does really well, but with alternative solutions being so good, it warrants being extra critical to find the weak links. Be assured, this new 2022 MDX is a tremendous vehicle and value proposition for those searching for a three-row SUV with some real luxury, but it's by no means the best luxury SUV you can buy. For many, it's the most sensible, and that's where the MDX has always scored and continues to score big in.
2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD Advance
Price As-Tested: $62,175
Pros: Style; spacious; attractive pricing
Cons: Not exactly special; Fussy infotainment/display
Verdict: An entirely sensible but not standout luxury SUV