Review: The 2022 Acura MDX Type S Taps Heritage For Its High Performance SUV Thrills
It's always a risk to dip into the past and resurrect a once-respected automotive badge. For Acura, seeing 'Type S' on the deck lid once guaranteed a good time in one of its sedans, coupes, or hatchbacks, a promise that lasted just under a decade in the early 2000s before the brand backed off on the pursuit of all-out performance in favor of a more mellow approach to luxury.
Today, it's possible to once again walk into an Acura dealership and drive home in a Type S. The latest addition to the automaker's sportier side is the 2022 Acura MDX Type S, a model that joins the four-door TLX in reintroducing customers to the spicier side of the brand.
While it might seem odd that a large, three-row SUV was tapped to help lead the Type S charge, it speaks to the overwhelming popularity of family haulers on today's market. After driving the MDX, it's also clear that the new Type S isn't aimed at dethroning the likes of BMW M or Audi S, which means Acura fans will have to temper their expectations when it comes to the sport-utility's true capabilities.
In many ways, it makes sense that the Acura MDX Type S isn't a fire-breathing hot rod bent on total domination. After all, past models like the RSX Type S and the TL Type S provided meaningful but not overwhelming drivetrain upgrades versus the standard model, combined with more aggressive styling and a more focused suspension tune.
Taking a look at the MDX Type S' spec sheet confirms that it's following this familiar playbook. The SUV swaps its 3.5-liter V6 for a 3.0-liter turbocharged unit, graduating from 290 hp to 355 hp in the process. A bigger boost comes in the form of 87 additional lb-ft of torque, with the total figure now checking in at 354 lb-ft. Like all MDX models, the Type S maintains a 10-speed automatic transmission (programmed for quicker shifts) and comes with the company's 'Super-Handling' all-wheel drive system.
Following up on the established Type S template are the vehicle's self-leveling air springs (which provides just over 2 inches of additional ride height at its tallest setting, and drops 0.6 inches when set in one of its two Sport modes) as well as adaptive dampers, each of which are tuned to better deal with the Acura's near-4,800 pounds of curb weight. Big Brembo brakes round out its performance gear.
From a visual standpoint, it's also worth noting that the MDX Type S is by far the most handsome sibling in the SUV's family, featuring a quad exhaust, black trim on the windows, mirrors, and grille, and a palette of searing exterior colors that do well to play up the vehicle's exciting angles. It's a welcome transformation for a sport-utility vehicle that in the past has felt a little anonymous in terms of looks.
Some quick math involving the MDX's horsepower and mass indicates that it's unreasonable to expect the Type S to blow any doors off with the pedal down. From behind the wheel, the turbo engine feels up to the task of getting down the road, and its 5.5 second 0-60 mph time is respectable, but there's very little about the drivetrain that delivers what could called a truly exciting experience.
With the mode selector cranked over to 'Sport+' the vehicle turns in a commendable (and louder, due to its enhanced engine noise) amount of forward thrust, but certainly not past the level doled out by even mid-tier versions of similarly-sized SUVs from BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Handling, too, is held in check by the MDX tall stance and portly pounds, which translates into competent handling that doesn't particularly invite drivers to explore its outer reaches.
Truth be told, leaving aside an irritating infotainment interface and an interior design that doesn't quite match the expectations stirred up by its sultry sheet metal, after a week together the roomy Type S feels less like a pure performance gambit and more of a well-considered refit of what the standard MDX should be.
Paying A Premium
Evaluating the 2022 Acura MDX Type S is a matter of perspective. It's clear that this vehicle is intended to slot in alongside more modest performance fare like Audi's S line and BMW's lowercase-m trim levels rather than directly challenge more established track-ready SUV fare. This is in keeping with how Acura positioned Type S in the past's pecking order.
From a modern point of view, however, there are two problems with this approach. The first is bringing back the Type S name for a vehicle that clearly doesn't push the limits of what's possible from the MDX platform. If Type S represents the top of the line, the Acura has committed to a somewhat low ceiling in terms of overall performance from the badge, which is a curious strategy for a heritage-lead revival.
Then there's the price. The MDX Type S starts at just under $67,000, with my tester's Advance Package pushing the window sticker past the $72,000 mark. At that point a number of more scintillating sporty SUVs become available, to say nothing of more affordable options, like the Genesis GV80 3.5T, that out-muscle and out-handle the Acura.
In the Type S, Acura has built the best version of the MDX to date. Whether you're willing to pay for the privilege depends on if you're content shelling out top dollar for a vehicle that's comfortably climbed to the middle of the pack.