The new Type S version of the Acura MDX appears as a performance model in the same vein as the myriad of luxury SUVs sporting the Mercedes-AMG, BMW M and Audi S and RS badges. But now that we’ve experienced this 355-hp turbocharged version of Acura’s three-row SUV, we think the company’s real game here is simpler than that. Acura wants to move the MDX away from the pseudo-luxury space where slightly upscale family crossovers like the Infiniti QX60 and Cadillac XT6 reside and into the upper echelons of the luxury SUV segment where more high-profile models such as that the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Genesis GV80 rival.
The company is quick to point out that the traditional positioning of the MDX has worked well so far, as it has sold more than a million units over four generations. Thus, the current MDX’s standard powertrain, a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6, will continue to represent the bulk of sales thanks to its attractive base price of $49,045. But the introduction of the Type S model allows Acura to play in the higher price area where the biggest profit margins and most demanding customers are. The MDX Type S is therefore equipped with a more powerful engine, a sophisticated suspension setup, many fancy optional features and, of course, a significantly higher starting price.
For $67,745, you get the same 3.0-liter turbocharged V6 as the TLX Type S sport sedan, which produces 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. It’s beefier than the Q7 55 and X5 40i – both have 335 horsepower – but a bit behind the 375 horsepower GV80 3.5T. Acura’s well-known torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is standard. Acura also saw fit to add adaptive dampers and air suspension that can raise and lower the MDX: in Sport and Sport+ modes, it lowers 0.6 inches, while Lift mode raises the body 2.1. inches above its nominal height.
The MDX Type S loaded with the Advance package is the first Acura (other than the NSX) to break the $70,000 mark, starting at $73,095. It’s mechanically identical to the base Type S, but comes with perks like massaging front seats, nicer upholstery and a 25-speaker ELS audio system. It’s the kind of stuff Audi and BMW customers expect to find in a luxury SUV. Open-pore wood, quilted leather and an available blue color scheme help create a compelling premium cabin ambience. The only sore point inside is Acura’s touchpad-controlled infotainment system, which we still haven’t gotten used to.
On the other hand, enthusiasts like us might have expected a little more emphasis on performance from something with a Type S badge. The turbo V6 is powerful enough to move the MDX around with confidence, but it is neither as full of character nor as responsive as we would like. Acura expects it to be about a second faster to 60 mph than the standard model, which did the deed in 6.4 seconds in our testing. The MDX has long been one of the most agile three-row SUVs on the market, and the Type S’ adaptive dampers further enhance body control, especially in Sport mode. But the all-season tires limit grip, and the steering feels overboosted and artificial for something that claims to share DNA with cars we remember as fondly as the RSX Type S.
Perhaps we place too much importance on the name. Because the MDX is one of the few Acura models that has remained sporty compared to its competitors over the years, it has less ground to play than the TLX Type S in the sport sedan segment. The MDX Type S offers an appropriate blend of refinement and driving verve when compared to the BMW, Audi and Genesis SUVs it targets. And while luxury SUV customers can be persuaded to shell out over $70,000 for an Acura, they’ll find that the MDX Type S has the specs, power and luxury quotient to live up to that price.
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