None of us wants to believe we’d fall for a marketing pitch or an advertising line. We’re all sophisticated, modern consumers who’ve seen it all. We’re jaded, and too smart to be sold, anyway. But there’s a reason you remember commercial jingles years or even decades later. There’s a reason you prefer one brand over the other, even if you can’t really explain why. None of this is by accident; it’s the work of teams of professional marketers with untold budgets saturating the world with carefully crafted messaging based on decades of psychological and behavioral research. It’s also the reason you should keep being jaded and skeptical of the messages you’re bombarded with, because they’re designed to sell you something, not convey an irrefutable truth. Automotive advertising is no exception, and the 2022 Acura MDX SH-AWD isn’t delivering what the marketing is promising.
Looking Beyond The Advertising
Go to Acura’s website right now and look up the MDX. “Performance” is the overriding message. It’s listed as a “premium performance SUV,” performance is the first of three categories presented for further information, and an additional section on performance is directly below. It’s consistent with all of Acura’s messaging about the MDX, and the direction of the greater Acura brand, both of which center on “precision crafted performance.”
The issue is, the MDX doesn’t deliver. Not on that message, anyway.
But no one buys a three-row premium SUV because it kicks ass on the racetrack. That’s not what these vehicles are made for. Comfort, convenience, technology, space – those are the things that really matter. And those are the places where the MDX largely succeeds.
More Space For Activities
This big SUV has grown in every dimension, opening up useful space throughout. There’s more cargo space behind every row and even space under the rear cargo floor (without giving up the spare tire like some automakers do). There’s a bit more passenger space in the first two rows as well, and significantly more space in the third row where an average height adult can now fit. After all, those kids in the third row are going to get a lot bigger in the 10 years you’re statistically likely to keep this vehicle.
More space in the back rows is welcome, but passengers are going to be underwhelmed by the seats. A hard, flat, unsupportive third row may be industry standard, but it’s disappointing in the second row. At least those second-row seats fold and slide forward with the touch of a button to allow third-row access. That may be less elegant and luxurious than power actuation but is magnitudes faster. How Acura engineers came up with that time and effort saver but awkwardly placed the handles that release the folded third-row seats where you have to climb into the back of the car to reach them is beyond us.
Similarly, being able to remove the middle seating section in the second row is a nice trick, but actually lifting it out of the vehicle is awkward and cumbersome, and the resulting exposed mounts in the floor make it look like something is missing. Nothing about this says “luxury.”
The front row is where Acura really delivered. There’s a bit more space, seat heaters are standard, and the Advance Package features 16-way heated and cooled seats that remain comfortable at the end of a seven-hour road trip and still offer good lateral support in corners.
Hi-Tech, High Atop The Learning Curve
Acura promises the most tech it has ever put in a vehicle, and it delivered. The execution, though, is a mixed bag.
The optional ELS Studio 3D stereo is fantastic, providing the kind of clarity and range you usually have to pay a lot more money for on a much more expensive car. You have to operate it, though, through Acura’s controversial True Touchpad Interface. It’s a powerful system and highly customizable, but the learning curve is extremely steep. Every little feature can be made a favorite, so once you’ve got it set up the way you want and get used to the way the trackpad works, it’s very convenient. But getting there is a struggle.
The infotainment setup has all the right add-ons, though. Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are included, and Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant is integrated into the system. Unfortunately, Alexa responds to a lot of words that sound vaguely like Alexa, making it more annoying than helpful.
It’s a similar situation with the new digital instrument cluster. You’ll want to dig through the menu and switch it to the “Crafted” layout, which looks like traditional round gauges. The “Advanced” layout tries to take advantage of the design freedom offered by a screen but ends up looking like someone put all kinds of information and graphics in a bucket and threw it at a chalkboard. There’s too much information competing for your attention, and half of it isn’t useful.
We’re also of two minds on the advanced driver aids. We’re happy to see all the latest features included and things like traffic jam assist are very helpful, but the lane-centering system is so hyperactive with its near-constant steering corrections that you’ll probably just want to switch it off.
Promised Performance Mostly Undelivered
All the right technology is present under the skin, but in this case, it really doesn’t deliver. A new and considerably more rigid platform, a new control arm front suspension and revised multi-link rear suspension, next-generation torque-vectoring all-wheel drive that can send more power rearward and do so more quickly, bigger brakes, variable-ratio electric power steering, a new transmission with more aggressive gearing and faster shifting; this thing has it all.
Put it on our test track, though, and the only metric by which it outperforms the old MDX is acceleration. A lower first gear gets the new model off the line quicker, cutting the 0-60-mph time by 0.6 second to 5.7 seconds. It’s all the launch, though, because the new MDX is actually slower in our 45-65-mph passing test by 0.1 second.
Stopping from 60 mph is also slightly worse. Despite the bigger brakes, the new MDX needs 118 feet to stop from that speed, 2 feet more than the 2019 MDX SH-AWD A-Spec we tested. No doubt a contributing factor is the additional mass, with the 2022 model carrying 269 more pounds than the 2019 as a result of growing slightly in every external dimension.
The thrust of Acura’s pitch, though, is really about handling. All that suspension and all-wheel-drive work should pay some real dividends, but it doesn’t. The new MDX pulls 0.84 g on the skidpad, versus the previous model’s 0.85, but that’s a paltry difference compared to the figure-eight result. That test measures acceleration, braking, handling, and the transitions between them, and the new MDX was way slower than before. With a 28.6-second lap at 0.60 average g, it can’t hold a candle to the old model’s 27.1-second lap at 0.65 average g.
Performance Isn’t Just About The Numbers, Is It?
Here at MT, we believe the way a vehicle feels to the driver matters as much or more than the numbers it generates on the test track, and the test driver’s notes do say the MDX felt sporty and even power oversteered off the corners. Maybe there’s something there, after all? Only if you drive it like you’re at a racetrack.
On the road, the overwhelming impression is one of adequacy. The 2022 MDX gets the job done, and that’s about it. There’s nothing about the way it drives on real-world roads, straight or curvy, that’s sporty or even memorable. It’s extremely competent, sure, but it has no soul. The steering is numb, and the way the body moves is controlled to the point of feeling robotic. It never gets into a groove. The torque-vectoring works, making the handling more precise, but not more exciting.
In fact, the wrong things make the drive exciting. Like the smaller RDX, the MDX features a brake pedal tuned for perfect limousine stops that don’t disturb your passengers in the slightest. An admirable goal, but in practice it makes the brake pedal feel like stepping on a wet sponge. Nothing happens until the pedal is halfway to the floor. Stopping from higher speeds the first few times means hitting the brakes then stomping on them to get the stopping power you wanted the first time. Hardly elegant.
It’s a similar feeling under acceleration. As the testing shows, the MDX gets off the line, but it’s soggy in the middle. Acura’s 3.5-liter V-6 is old and feels overwhelmed by the weight of this vehicle. The new 10-speed automatic transmission does its best, but all the power and torque are at the top of the rev range, and worse, there’s a plateau in the torque delivery between 2,500 and 3,500 rpm. It’s a good thing the transmission can drop four gears at once when you put your foot down, because that’s the only way this thing really gets moving. Otherwise, you’re always giving it a lot more gas than you think you should to get the response you want. (Thankfully, an MDX Type S with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 is on the way.)
But Is It Luxurious?
Being a “premium” brand rather than a traditional “luxury” brand cuts both ways. It allows Acura to sell its vehicles for significantly less money than the old-school luxury brands, but it means costs have to be saved somewhere. Acura mostly has the balance right, keeping the interior very quiet, offering a bangin’ sound system, and loading up on the latest tech.
There are misses, though, in the little details. Acura’s “Milano” leather looks and feels less rich than the leather in luxury competitors, and the textured plastic trim between the bits of real wood and metal looks like something from a Honda Civic. The center console layout is odd, with the wireless phone charger underneath a wrist rest that makes it awkward to get your phone in and out. Then there’s all the empty space around the protruding pushbutton shifter, and the maddening inelegance of going to all the trouble to house the USB charging ports in a pop-up module only to paste a giant battery logo on it and ruin the effect.
Should You Buy One, Then?
As much as the MDX is hit or miss on the tech, the luxury, and the driving experience, it’s really good at what it needs to be: a nicer mainstream SUV. Compare it to a Honda Pilot and you see a lot of style and tech advantages for not a lot of extra money. Compare it to an Audi Q7 and you understand why the true luxury brands are so much more expensive than the premium ones. The 2022 MDX gets the job done fine, but a forgettable driving experience, frustrating tech, and uncomfortable rear seats mean “fine” is as good as it gets.
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