I loved driving the regular version of the new Acura MDX when it first came out. The three-row midsize SUV from Honda's luxury arm looks sportier and more athletic than its predecessor. And it drives more crisply and dynamically with a new platform, Acura's outstanding rear-biased and torque-vectoring SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system and a new 10-speed automatic transmission. The only real letdown was the engine.
Acura carried over the naturally-aspirated 3.0-liter V6 from the previous MDX with 297 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque. That V6 is fine. It's on par with the middling powertrains offered by competitors. But the engine felt discordant with the elevated performance, the sexy new looks and the lusty engine noises the MDX emitted through the speakers. The new high-performance Acura MDX Type S version arrives to resolve that issue.
The MDX Type S swaps in a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine, bumping the outputs to 355 hp and 354 lb-ft respectively. It tacks on some sportier features like an adaptive air suspension, a Sport+ mode and Brembo front brakes. The whole package pushes the Acura MDX to a new level of performance, perception and price. After driving one around with my family for a week in Michigan, the MDX Type S more than proved its worth.
Car enthusiasts have a soft sport for sporty Hondas. But you need to be in a particular life place to own a Civic Si or a Type R. The MDX Type S tries to bring some of that vibe to the luxury three-row family hauler segment, and it succeeds, mostly.
I don't have canyon roads to play in flat Southeastern Michigan. But the SH-AWD gives the MDX a ton of grip entering corners I could access. And the difference with the Type S is you can make use of it. The car is quick for a three-row crossover when you lay the power down — 5.5 seconds from 0-60 mph in Car and Driver testing.
If the Kia Telluride is comfortable for the driving you need to do, the MDX Type S is tuned for the fun driving you want to do — with your family hopefully not getting car sick in the back.
The brilliance of the MDX Type S is that — unlike the Civic Si or Type R — the sportiness does not cost you in normal driving. The MDX Type S settles down well, avoiding pitfalls like overly heavy steering and delivering solid ride quality, even with 21-inch rims on bumpy Michigan roads.
My only annoyance with the MDX Type S was the aggressive lane keep assist. It can be tetchy if you drift for an instant and errs on the side of overcorrection. A major road near my house merges from two lanes to one. I drive on it multiple times per day. I never once made it through without getting a jolt for purportedly being in the wrong part of the lane.
The EPA rates the MDX Type S for 17 mpg city and 21 mpg highway, which is worse than a Ford Expedition and about on par with a V8-powered BMW X5. I could not achieve even those numbers, earning just 16.8 mpg combined over 125 miles with a fair bit of highway mileage.
Will that mileage break the deal for everyone? No. But it will do so for some, especially when one of the main alternatives to this car will be the XC90 plug-in hybrid, which now offers more than 30 miles of EV-only range.
Touchscreens are distracting. To paraphrase Churchill, they're the worst form of manipulating information on a screen while driving...except for all those that have been tried from time to time. Acura uses a touchpad rather than a touchscreen in the MDX Type S.
As touchpads go, Acura's is not as clunky as the ones found in older Lexus models. I grew somewhat accustomed to it over a week. But manipulating a pad while looking at a screen and keeping half an eye on the road still requires more mental effort than moving your arm.
The best features of the MDX Type S's touchpad are found around the touchpad. There's a substantial, cushy palm rest. There is also a tactile knob to adjust the volume and a physical button to change the radio.
The MDX Type S moves Acura upmarket. NSX sports car aside, it's the most expensive vehicle Acura has sold. Base MSRP is $67,350 — really $68,545 with the destination charge — which is well north of the $49,000 base price.
My tester did not have it. But you can level up to the MDX Type S Advance trim for $72,700. This trim slathers on the cabin luxury with quilted leather seats, open-pore wood paneling, nine-way massaging seats and the premium ELS Studio sound system.
The closest rival for the base Acura MDX would be three-row (or potentially three-row) SUVs like the Volvo XC90, Lexus RXL or Genesis GV80. The MDX Type S aims more at unabashed luxury crossovers like the Audi Q7, BMW X5 and Mercedes GLE.
The MDX Type S does not have the badge those cars offer. But you can make a compelling case for the performance and features it provides at the price point compared to those cars.
The MDX Type S is impressive and fun to drive. If you live on a California canyon road, it will make the school run more invigorating. But if you live on a California canyon road, you'll also be well aware of extreme heat and wildfires exacerbated by climate change and strongly consider at least getting a hybrid. And there are options available for a similar price that offer more power.
Powertrain: Turbocharged 3.0-liter V6; 10-speed automatic, AWD
Torque: 354 lb-ft
EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 21 mpg highway
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