2023 Acura MDX Type S Review and Test Drive
Maybe Acura should call it the Type $.
Acura says the MDX Type S is for people who love to drive. That's appealing to someone like me, a car enthusiast with a partner, kids, a dog, and road trips to take. And in the interest of full disclosure, my family owns a 2020 MDX Sport Hybrid that is reasonably rewarding to drive while delivering decent gas mileage, providing excellent reliability, and doing all the stuff we need a family-sized SUV to do.
You can imagine how eager I was to drive the 2023 Acura MDX Type S.
To create this performance-tuned example of the fourth-generation MDX, Acura swaps the standard 3.5-liter V6 engine for a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6, adds 21-inch wheels and an adaptive-damping air suspension, installs bigger brakes, and adds a couple of exclusive driving modes. The approach is similar to how Audi crafts its S models, BMW builds M Sport variants, and Lexus creates F Sport Performance versions.
Unfortunately, my experience driving the new Type S convinced me to go ahead and buy our previous-generation MDX at the end of the lease. Why? The Type S model's price is too high, the real-world fuel economy is too low, and the infotainment system is almost as aggravating as the old-school technology in our Sport Hybrid. The performance improvement simply isn't worth the added cost, and when you see my test vehicle's price, you'll understand why we made our decision.
The 2023 Acura MDX Type S comes in standard and Advanced trim levels, and pricing starts in the high $60,000s, including the destination charge to ship the SUV from its East Liberty, Ohio, factory.
For this 2023 MDX review, I test-drove the Type S Advance in Southern California. It came with extra-cost Apex Blue Pearl paint, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $74,995, including the $1,195 destination charge. Acura provided the vehicle for this MDX Type S review.
2023 Acura MDX Type S Review: The Design
The fourth-generation Acura MDX looks good, and in Type S specification, it looks better. The Type S rides on slightly larger 21-inch wheels, and the red brake calipers match the accents on the badges and the available red interior. Still, the visual differences between the MDX A-Spec and MDX Type S are too subtle to justify the price difference.
The MDX Type S comes loaded with many goodies. Highlights include a thick-rimmed sport steering wheel, a dark headliner, stainless-steel pedal covers, heated and ventilated front seats, as well as red contrast stitching throughout. To help ensure comfort, Acura equips the MDX Type S with a humidity-sensing, GPS-linked, triple-zone automatic climate-control system.
Exclusives to the Advance trim include open-pore wood trim, a heated steering wheel, full premium leather upholstery, 16-way power-adjustable front seats with massage, and heated outboard second-row seats. This model also boasts a hands-free version of the power liftgate.
Every Acura MDX has three rows of seats and a seven-occupant capacity. In front, sport-design seats await. However, despite the test vehicle's adjustable thigh and side bolsters, they don't envelop you in soothing support, and they can't hold your body in place to the same degree the tires hold their grip on the road. That isn't to say they're uncomfortable. With heating, ventilation, massage, and a premium grade of leather, you'll like them. But you expect something more in a vehicle engineered for enthusiastic driving.
You can remove the center section of the second-row seat to create a pass-through to the third-row seat, or you can fold the center section down to create individual chairs with cupholders and storage between them. Passengers assigned to the second row will be satisfied with their accommodations.
Acura equips the MDX Type S with a power-operated second-row seat release and slide mechanisms on both sides of the SUV to improve access to the third row. That helps, but the reality is that adults will have a hard time squeezing past the roof pillar and seatbacks to get there. And once they're seated in the third row, they'll regret making the effort. I recommend using the third row only for kids or pets.
Acura has improved the fourth-generation MDX's interior. The design, displays, and layout inject a sense of excitement, and the quality of the materials is impressive. However, finding and using common features and functions is unnecessarily complicated, and the automaker's emphasis on style over practicality limits storage space.
Open the MDX's rear liftgate, and you'll find 16.3 cubic-feet of cargo space behind the third-row seat and ample hidden storage under the load floor. Fold the 50/50-split third-row seats down, and the MDX holds 39.1 cu-ft of cargo. Maximum volume measures 71.4 cu-ft behind the front seats.
2023 Acura MDX Type S Review: The Technology
Acura equips the MDX with two 12.3-inch display screens. One is the Precision Cockpit digital instrumentation panel, operated using controls on the steering wheel. The other is a 12.3-inch infotainment screen without a touch-sensing function.
That is unusual. After all, most infotainment screens are touch-sensing, just like your smartphone, tablet computer, the self-checkout at the store, the ATM, and nearly every other interactive technology in your life. So, why doesn't Acura include one in the MDX?
Years ago, Acura introduced its True Touchpad Interface (TTI) technology in the current-generation RDX SUV. With its absolute positioning touchpad, handwriting recognition capability, and natural voice recognition, Acura expected the TTI to result in "a more intuitive and driver-friendly digital experience." But I've never been a fan, for several reasons.
- I fail to see the point of Acura's attempt to re-think the touchscreen. Even half a decade ago when TTI debuted, people were used to using touchscreen displays. Why throw everybody a curveball?
- TTI is just as distracting to use as a touchscreen. You must coordinate what you see on the screen with where you're touching on the pad because the location of your fingertip corresponds to the identical place on the screen. In other words, the technology doesn't operate like a laptop touchpad.
- It is just as easy to mistakenly press the wrong spot on the pad as it is to press the wrong spot on a touchscreen. Hit a bump, and you might select a menu path you didn't want. Then you need to figure out how to return to where you were and try again.
- If you resort to looking down at the center console to orient yourself, the road ahead disappears entirely from your peripheral vision. With a high-mounted touchscreen, that doesn't happen.
- To comfortably use the TTI, Acura adds a wrist rest that reminds me of those automatic transmission shifter handles Chevy installed in the late 1960s and early 1970s Camaros. That's kind of cool, but it takes up even more precious space on the center console than the TTI setup already does.
It's not all bad. You can sidestep much of the frustration associated with TTI by parking the MDX, going through the menus, selecting all your settings, and leaving them alone. Then, pair your smartphone to the wireless Apple CarPlay or Android Auto connection and use their respective digital voice assistants. Alternatively, use the Amazon Alexa Built-in voice recognition technology.
My MDX Type S Advance tester also included a 10.5-inch head-up display and an exclusive 1,000-watt, 25-speaker premium audio system. The speakers delivered terrific sound quality using an Acura-provided USB stick containing uncompressed music files. Listening to satellite radio was less satisfying.
Switching to safety features, the 2023 Acura MDX Type S comes with standard AcuraWatch technology. This collection of features includes the advanced driving assistance and collision avoidance technologies you expect to find on a modern luxury SUV. Still, unlike several rivals, Acura does not go above and beyond a minimum standard.
For example, the MDX does not offer active blind-spot monitoring that tries to prevent an unsafe lane change. Similarly, you can't get front cross-traffic alert, intersection assist, or evasive steering assist on this SUV. The MDX doesn't have an automatic emergency-assist stopping feature, which in some competitors can bring a vehicle to a safe stop if the driver suffers a medical problem. In addition, the only way you can get a surround-view camera system is by choosing the Advance trim.
Overall, I observe improvement in the latest AcuraWatch driving technologies compared with previous iterations. However, they're not as accurate or refined as what you can find in some rivals, and I'm not a fan of the steering wheel wobble that accompanies the lane-departure warning system.
Unfortunately, in this test vehicle, AcuraWatch identified the sun glare from an overhead freeway sign as an obstacle, issued a collision warning, and activated the emergency braking system momentarily. I took swift action to override, but this could have sparked a chain-reaction collision in denser traffic.
At least the MDX excels in crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). That organization gives the SUV a Top Safety Pick+ rating. Unfortunately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is yet to publish complete test results for the MDX with AWD. However, front-drive models earn a five-star overall rating.
2023 Acura MDX Type S Review: The Drive
Performance is the promise the MDX Type S makes. So, Acura fortifies it with a turbocharged 3.0-liter V6 engine generating 355 horsepower at 5,500 rpm and 354 pound-feet of torque from 1,400 rpm to 5,000 rpm. These figures amount to 65 more horsepower 700 rpm sooner and 87 lb-ft more arriving at a substantial 3,300 rpm sooner than the MDX's standard 3.5-liter V6 engine.
A 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters channels engine power through Acura's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. Acura says up to 70% of the engine's power can flow to the rear axle. From there, 100% of that portion can go to a single rear wheel.
Ironically, the version of the MDX you're least likely to drive in the dirt offers the most ground clearance. Thanks to the Type S's standard adaptive damping air suspension and Lift mode, the SUV provides 9.4 inches of maximum ground clearance. But the 275/40R-21 self-sealing Continental ContiSeal tires aren't the best choice for off-roading. Besides, you wouldn't want to scratch those pricey 21-inch wheels.
Like other MDXs, the Type S features variable-ratio steering that firms up when you choose Sport mode. However, it gets an exclusive electric brake-by-wire system with larger front discs and red four-piston Brembo front calipers. Acura says the NSX supercar inspired the electro-servo brake-by-wire technology it uses in the MDX Type S.
The list of hardware improvements is better on paper than in practice. Yes, the MDX Type S feels faster than other versions of the SUV, but it averaged just 16.8 mpg on my evaluation loop, falling well short of the official EPA fuel economy rating of 17/21/19 mpg city/highway/combined. I'd say the tradeoff isn't worthwhile.
In addition, the new self-sealing Continental tires should be called self-squealing tires. Around every corner or sharp curve taken with enthusiasm, they emit noise to tell everyone within earshot that someone is driving fast. I prefer my performance vehicles to exhibit stealthiness.
Put the MDX Type S into Sport or Sport+ mode, and the suspension feels too firm when driving in a straight line and allows too much roll in the kinks and bends of a fun road. That is the opposite of what you want.
But the worst driving trait relates to the MDX Type S's brakes. When I drive for fun, I trail brake into corners, which means I keep pushing the brake pedal as I enter a turn. That can improve grip, reduce understeer (the tendency for the car's front wheels to push wide), and help to rotate the vehicle around the curve. To execute this driving style consistently and confidently, the brakes must behave consistently and confidently. That's a problem with the MDX Type S's electro-servo system.
While zooming down Mulholland Highway in the Santa Monica Mountains near Malibu, California, I discovered my pedal inputs and corresponding expectations of the electronic braking system frequently misaligned with actual braking action and behavior. On several occasions, when I slowly released the brakes as the SUV approached the curve's apex, the braking system's response was sudden instead of a gradual cessation of braking. That left me carrying more speed than was wise, causing momentary fits of panic. Ultimately, I couldn't trust the brakes because I couldn't predict what they would do.
Add that issue to the squealing tires, the funky suspension behavior, and the thirsty engine, and the MDX Type S just doesn't present itself as a cohesive whole. The best driver's cars and SUVs do not draw attention to their behavior. Instead, the engineering works in the background, delivering predictable, consistent, and trustworthy responses to a driver's inputs. These are the most fun-to-drive vehicles because you can concentrate on the road, the driving, and the hustle instead of mentally troubleshooting and reacting to unexpected, inconsistent, and distracting vehicle behavior.
I couldn't trust the MDX Type S when driving it in the manner Acura intends. So, in my view, it fails in its mission.
Is the 2023 Acura MDX Type S a Good SUV?
Unfortunately, I need to say no, the 2023 Acura MDX Type S is not a good performance-oriented luxury SUV. And because it doesn't fully deliver on its promise and the driver's expectations, there is no reason to buy one instead of a standard MDX.
Try the sporty-looking MDX A-Spec and put your roughly $8,000 in savings toward a family vacation. The memories you make with your partner, kids, and dog on a road trip will likely be more rewarding and memorable than driving the Type S.