2022 Acura MDX Type S First Drive: The NSX Spirit Lives On

3/9/22: Updated to correct where the NSX Type S is built

What were you doing over 20 years ago? Perhaps you were raking in the big bucks at the height of the dot-com bubble. Maybe you were rolling down the sidewalk on your Razor scooter. Of course, there's also the possibility you weren't around then. If you were Acura, though, the start of the new millennium represented the start of a rebirth for Honda's luxury brand after the Japanese economy entered its first Lost Decade.

While the first-generation NSX kept the fire of performance alive, Acura shook up its staid lineup of sedans and SUVs with a quartet of fresh rides perfect for the first decade of the second millennium of the Common Era. One of the new models took the place of the SLX, an Isuzu Trooper with not much done to it beyond a new badge that failed to make a big impact with its target demographic. The replacement, based on the Honda Pilot and Odyssey, was a "multi-dimensional" luxury SUV dubbed the MDX. 

MDX leads millennium revival

The first-generation MDX proved to be a breath of fresh air after the SLX. The three-row, seven-seat midsize SUV helped Acura get out of the Nineties slump, while also offering its fans a more luxurious way to cruise along the highway to the ski slopes and country clubs. The MDX arrived at the right time, too, as the 2000s ushered in a gold rush among manufacturers already riding the SUV/crossover boom begun in the previous decade. While small cars lost money for various brands, models like the MDX and its contemporaries brought in all the profit.

Two subsequent generations and over two decades later, the MDX is not only Acura's best-selling SUV – the brand says they've sold over 1 million units, surpassing 50,000 units in 15 of the past 22 years – but is one of the top-selling three-row SUVs around. All except in 2021, that is, as Acura opted to skip the model year as it prepared to introduce the fourth-generation MDX for the 2022 model year.

Adapting to the (track) times

Back when the Acura MDX first landed in showrooms, high-performance was not a part of the deal for most trucks and (especially) SUVs. While the Dodge Durango R/T and Ford F-150 Lightning fought Corvettes and Mustangs on the street, the rest of the market preferred to simply work hard on the farm or enjoy running errands around town. The MDX was no exception then, smoothly cruising to the high-street shops and wineries on weekend getaways, then ferrying the family to and from school and work on the weekdays.

In the New '20s, though, things have changed. Now, there's an SUV and crossover for every aspect of motoring, from the aforementioned A-to-B lifestyle, to total domination on the street and track. Of the latter, there are plenty of heavy hitters (in every sense of the term), from the Ford Explorer ST and Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat to the Lamborghini Urus and Bentley Bentayga Speed. Not to mention Acura's fellow competitors jumping into the high-performance game, like Lexus with its first-ever LX 600 F Sport Handling packing 409 horsepower from its twin-turbo V6.

Thus, in light of the changing SUV landscape, there was only one thing Acura could do to kick-off of the fourth version of its most popular SUV: introduce it to the NSX.

A little bit of NSX Type S lives in the MDX Type S

Say hello to the 2022 Acura MDX Type S, the third member of the Acura Type S family, which already includes the NSX Type S (which our own Victoria Scott drove) and TLX Type S. Unlike the hyper-limited (and already all-spoken-for) NSX Type S, the MDX Type S is available to anyone and everyone who checks off the box while ordering the high-performance SUV at their nearest Acura dealership.

And what does one get in exchange? For starters, an MDX Type S-exclusive 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 with a single twin-scroll turbo pumping 15.1 psi into the engine's front and rear cylinders (via separate pathways in the turbo itself). The resulting output of 355 horses and 354 lb-ft of torque meets the road via a beefed-up and retuned 10-speed automatic, distributing the power to Acura's rear-biased Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, itself in its fourth generation. 

There's also a new, super-rigid SUV body structure with cast aluminum shock towers for improved ride and handling, an all-new air suspension with front double wishbone and rear multilink plus adaptive dampers to provide whatever type of ride is needed in a given situation, and tunable braking via the NSX-derived electro servo brake controller.

And those brakes? The front pair are four-piston Brembo fixed caliper units mounted over larger discs (14.3 inches vs. the regular 2022 MDX's 13.8 inches) for more stopping power. All corners come with 21-inch Shark Gray wheels wearing low-profile, self-sealing high-performance Continental tires. In short, the 2022 MDX Type S is ready to hustle around any track it comes across.

A perfect day for a drive

That said, though it would've been fun to take the MDX Type S out on the track (like I did the day before at Sonoma Raceway in the NSX Type S; there's nothing more for me to add onto what Victoria already penned re: driving the supercar), the Acura team instead planned a special route through the heart of California's Wine Country in Napa County for my group to take the MDX Type S fleet through, beginning and ending at The Estate Yountville in Yountville.

While it was a fine day for the NSX Type S run through Sonoma (a track I've only driven a few times before in the virtual plaza of "iRacing," including once – so far – in the 24 Hours of Lemons iRacing League), the media drive for the MDX Type S would be beset by cloudy skies, temps in the 50s (10 to 14 Celsius, for our metric fans), and – as the photos will show going forward – light rain.

Some would say that's also the perfect environment to see what all this high-performance luxury SUV from Ohio (that's right: the MDX Type S is built in the same factory as the TLX Type S and the upcoming fifth-generation Integra) can do. After all, high-performance Acuras are no stranger to the wet, especially those competing in IMSA's Grand Touring Daytona and Daytona Prototype International categories, where rain can occur during an hours-long endurance event; the MDX Type S should be fine.

Non-intuitive trackpad infotainment a tiny ding

But first, I had to figure out the Acura True Touchpad infotainment system. Housed within the 12.3-inch center display, I instinctively tried to access it by touching the screen (it was my first time in an Acura since driving my friend's RSX; thus, I didn't know anything about how the brand handles infotainment). Once I noticed the trackpad on the center console, I found it wasn't as intuitive to use as it could have been.

Whether I wanted to choose Apple CarPlay in order to use Google Maps, or change the SiriusXM station to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, the highlight on a given icon would disappear as soon as I lifted my finger off the trackpad. That instinctively made me think my selection didn't stick. Yet, it did. It took me a few uses to figure this out, though I'd rather would see my selection remain highlighted until I used the trackpad to move to another choice on the menu; the highlight should function more like the cursor on my laptop, to say the least.

The Acura MDX Type S Advance Package also includes a HUD, and a neat trick with its 360-degree camera view. All the driver needs to do is push the button on the end of the windshield wiper stalk to activate the camera, then push the button again until the front pair of wheels are on screen. From there, the driver can keep an eye on the wheels while pulling out of spots where expensive scuffing could happen.

Taking a lap in the lap of luxury

The Acura MDX Type S fleet came in three colors: Tiger Eye (a stunning metallic burnt yellow), Lunar Silver, and, as with my MDX Type S, Apex Blue. The interior wears Orchid leather with black wood and silver accents, with the front buckets featuring nine-way massaging along the seat backs and cushions. Though I didn't turn that feature on – was too focused on the drive to think about it – I'm sure the onboard masseuse will be a welcome feature for the driver and lucky passenger on long trips.

Alas, that feature is exclusive to the front; the second row will need to make do with access to its own HVAC controls, USB ports, and a fold-down center console for holding water bottles. And speaking of folding, the third-row seating folds down to add plenty of cargo room for all the bags, flat-pack furniture, groceries, and sporting gear anyone could ever carry. All in a package designed to carve corners as if it were respecting the bumps of Sebring or climbing up and down the hills of Sonoma Raceway.

Neither rain nor user error can stop this driver from making their rounds

Instead of the hills of Sonoma, though, a 59.4-mile, four-segment route awaited the 2022 Acura MDX Type S media fleet. The first segment was a short, 10.9-mile straight-shot southeast before turning left onto the second and longest segment. That segment consisted of 27.3 miles of several turns through the countryside vineyards at various speeds, with a few spots to pull off for a brief photo op.

Prior to turning onto the long segment, I had managed to drag a pin onto my virtual map at the transition point between the two segments, though I didn't realize it at the time. It wasn't until the map pulled me into a route going through a closed gate that I realized something was up, and a little while longer until I pulled over next to a call box to finally solve the issue (by removing the pin from the map). That issue did take away a bit from the drive, as I would have liked to have total focus on experiencing what the Acura MDX Type S had to offer.

Floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee

What did it have to offer? Plenty. The MDX Type S provides six driving modes through its integrated dynamics system, including two brand new modes: Lift and Sport+. The former is meant for traversing over obstacles (of course), the latter turns up the performance to 11. I didn't need to lift above anything during my drive, and I only cranked it to 10 in Sport mode a few times along the third and fourth segments of the loop. Thus, Normal mode was the name of the game, which Acura says offers a "direct, sport-tuned" drive.

Indeed, it was. I could feel how well the MDX Type S handled each turn along the long, second segment. Not once did I feel scared winding through the turns, turns similar to those I drove in a different, not-as-capable car on a trek from my home in Virginia to Martinsville Speedway in Martinsville, Virginia a few years ago. At no point did I feel I would go skidding off into a guardrail, over a cliff, or into Lake Hennessey while piloting this SUV.

Tons of potential (may it not go to waste)

On the third and (especially) the fourth segments of the loop, there was more opportunity to open up the 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 by selecting Sport mode, a setting Acura describes as "spirited" and "emotional." One push on the loud pedal, and I knew their description was dead-on. Hearing the V6 briefly open up through the exhaust tips filled my heart with joy, as did watching the TFT instrument cluster go from its chill state to Type S Red. If only I could have had a chance to drive the MDX Type S up to Sonoma Raceway's quarter-mile, where I would have turned on Sport+, then sent it until breaking the beams on the other side.

That said, the loop more or less reflects where most MDX Type S owners will drive their high-performance luxury SUV. After all, its main purpose in life is to haul the family around town, along with the occasional trek through the woods to Grandmother's house.

A rightful heir to the Type S legacy

Still, it would be a shame not to let this high-performance Acura SUV exercise its abilities on the track. After all, one is paying anywhere from $66,700 to $72,060 (the latter pricing for the MDX Type S Advance Package) for a turbocharged luxury SUV with more capability than its competitors, including the Genesis GV80, Audi Q7 55, and BMW X5 xDrive40i. Plus, it's only one of two Acura Type S models anyone can still buy, since all 350 2022 NSX Type S models are already tucked away in their climate-controlled garages.

It is true, high-performance SUVs aren't for everyone (one of my fellow VTubers said as much in a tweet to me, before conceding that such things "ain't bad"), and the 2022 Acura MDX Type S is no exception to this feeling. For those who do buy this SUV, though, they will have something few others will ever possess in their garage. In short: the 2022 Acura MDX Type S has earned the right to wear the coveted, legendary Type S badge.