CHELSEA, MI – Acura has taken criticism over the years for, excuse the idiom, being neither fish nor fowl – too expensive to compete with mainstream brands but not fancy enough to challenge established luxury brands.
This predicament has been reflected in modest sales of the recent past.
But Honda’s upscale brand continues to demonstrate its relevance with an albeit limited portfolio. A few months ago, we told you about the all-new sporty TLX sedan, which is selling well.
The two-row RDX last year achieved 52,785 U.S. deliveries in the Middle Luxury CUV segment tracked by Wards Intelligence, outselling three BMWs and every Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti, Jaguar, Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo in the sector.
But now it’s time for Acura to take a bow in a segment it truly dominates with its three-row MDX: Large Luxury CUVs.
At the end of its lifecycle, the outgoing MDX landed in 47,816 U.S. driveways in an extraordinary 2020, outselling every rival (Audi Q7, BMW X7, Cadillac XT6, Infiniti QX60, Mercedes GLS) by about 2-to-1, according to Wards Intelligence data. The No.2 Volvo XC90 achieved 34,251 deliveries last year.
This sets the stage for the fully redesigned fourth-generation ’22 MDX (interior pictured below), now on sale with its first double-wishbone front suspension, wider wheels and tires, new multi-link rear suspension, improved braking and an all-new light-truck platform that makes for Acura’s most rigid utility vehicle ever.
On road, these notable enhancements give the redone MDX excellent road manners, tracking predictably (and quietly) on the highway and surface streets and frolicking in fresh snow off-road on a cold Michigan winter day, enabled by the fourth-generation Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
Even with three rows standard, the ’22 MDX handles as if it’s smaller and lighter than its 4,534- lb. (2,056-kg) curb weight.
Here in central lower Michigan, Acura stages competitive test drives in the Audi Q7, Volvo XC90 and Lexus RXL (with V-6), and the MDX stacks up very well, particularly on the powertrain front: The Audi and Volvo use stout 2.0L turbo 4-cyl. engines, while the MDX employs the proven award-winning 3.5L SOHC V-6 that has been core to Honda and Acura vehicles for years.
With automakers investing so heavily in battery-electric vehicles and governments worldwide pushing for a zero-emissions future, it’s hard to say how much longer existing gasoline engines will remain competitive, assuming there isn’t an endless trough of R&D funds for automakers to improve them, or (in a very unlikely scenario) launch new ones.
The MDX is a case in point: Acura was thorough in redesigning nearly every aspect of its popular three-row CUV, but the engine gets only modest improvements.
The ’22 model carries over the same 290 hp and 267 lb.-ft. (362-Nm) torque rating and compression ratio of the previous MDX, although new multi-hole fuel injectors and catalytic converters give the MDX a better ULEV emissions rating.
The engineering team also redesigned the air-intake system to be constructed from polypropylene reinforced with mica and glass to help mitigate heat and to reduce noise, especially at wide-open throttle.
Between 2003 and 2014, this engine (initially displacing 3.0L, then 3.5L) won seven Wards 10 Best Engines trophies, as well as an eighth for its application in the Honda Accord Hybrid in 2005.
It still feels fresh, refined and supremely capable in any rev range, especially paired for the first time with Honda’s 10-speed automatic transmission (replacing the 9-speed in the previous MDX).
An extra forward gear helps the MDX achieve an impressive 23.5 mpg (10 L/100 km) during the 55-mile (89-km) drive back to metro Detroit. The turbo-4s in similar-size competitive vehicles might struggle to reach that level of efficiency.
Beyond the mechanical bits, the ’22 MDX is a good-looking vehicle with more crimps and seams in the sheet metal and more drama and depth at the front end below the edge of a long hood. From the back it looks more muscular and athletic, particularly with the rear bumper tucked in close for a shorter overhang.
The angular design language extends inside the MDX, reflected in the door trim, seat stitching and steering wheel. The tiered instrument panel blends matte-finish materials and piano-black plastic with a cleanly designed upper section that is hand-wrapped and top-stitched.
Authentic aluminum and open-pore wood give the cabin an upscale feel, as does the Milano premium leather-trimmed seats that are standard with Technology and Advance packages. Base MDX models come with leatherette.
Our A-Spec test model (generously optioned with SH-AWD and a $58,625 sticker price) incorporated a bold color combination of red Milano leather with black microsuede (pictured below).
Most shoppers are bound to pick the more conventional interior hues (Ebony, Graystone, beige Parchment and caramel Espresso-pictured above), but the mere availability of an interior resembling the color of a fire truck makes the MDX a contender among enthusiast shoppers who want to stand out.
The seats (both aesthetically and ergonomically) represent a significant upgrade for the new MDX, adopting the new Sport Seat architecture first introduced in the RDX.
Standard across all models is a flexible second row with a removable center seat, as well as seating for two in the third row, which is reasonably comfortable for a smallish adult. Third-row seats fold flat into the floor; they stow manually (no power folding available) and reaching the lever to redeploy the seat while standing at the rear bumper can be a challenge. A hands-free power tailgate closes automatically upon walking away.
In the front row, the push-button transmission from the previous model carries over in the center console, which now incorporates the latest generation of Acura’s groundbreaking True Touchpad Interface, connected to a high-definition 12.3-in. (31-cm) display, the largest yet to appear in an Acura, for accessing infotainment menus.
Seven USB ports are available, three in the front row and two each in the second and third rows.
New to MDX is a 10.5-in. (27-cm) head-up display and a 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D premium audio system that makes old songs sound fresh with remarkable track separation – different instruments and vocals coming from specific speakers strategically placed.
Qi wireless phone charging is standard and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, along with Cabin Talk for communicating with third-row occupants. Amazon Alexa connectivity is built-in.
The ’22 MDX comes with a broad range of standard driver-assistance features, from adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic monitor and forward-collision warning to lane-keeping, traffic-jam assist and traffic-sign recognition.
Pricing starts at $46,900 and walks up to $60,650 for an Advance model with SH-AWD. Stay tuned for pricing of the MDX Type S high-performance variant powered by a 355-hp 3.0L turbocharged V-6, set to arrive this summer.
Acura proudly touts the MDX as the best-selling three-row SUV of all time, with more than 1 million sold since the first MDX arrived in 2001.
That’s no small accomplishment, and neither is the all-new ’22 model.