TORRANCE, California—Acura gave us a first look at the fourth generation of its best-selling MDX luxury SUV in the design courtyard at the marque’s American headquarters in Torrance, just minutes south of our office in El Segundo. As the wraps came off, we got a first look at the new MDX prototype wearing crisp, angular bodywork covered in metallic Liquid Carbon matte grey paint, flanked by every previous iteration of the three-row SUV as well as the rest of the current Acura lineup. First impression? The Acura MDX Prototype looks like a proper flagship model while also having the features necessary to be a competitive, modern family hauler.
Big Upgrades for Acura’s Biggest Offering
Acura made the MDX Prototype lower, wider, and longer, a tried and true design technique for bringing forth a new version of a beloved model line. The wheelbase is a whopping 3 inches longer than the outgoing model. The MDX is more rigid than ever before due to new reinforcements to the body and chassis. All models receive standard double wishbone suspension up front, a first for the MDX.
The regular version will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 making about 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque but Acura isn’t holding anything back; the Type S version has already been announced and will feature a twin-turbo V-6 engine that will be identical in potency to that of the TLX Type S—figure 355 hp and 354 lb-ft of torque sent through a 10-speed automatic transmission. Other notable performance equipment includes Brembo four-piston brake calipers all around and customizable driving modes via Acura’s Intelligent Drive System. Drivers can fiddle with the ride, handling, steering, suspension, and powertrain settings with a knob similar to the one in the NSX supercar.
Those looking for the MDX to follow in the NSX’s electrified footsteps should look elsewhere, however. Vice President and Acura Brand Officer Jon Ikeda told us, “There’s definitely an electrification strategy that’s going to occur with this brand. We’re setting the tone as a performance brand right now. But you know we made the NSX a hybrid. So we’re learning a lot of things about what we can do with electrics.”
From a pure cosmetics standpoint, this prototype has a lot of accents that we really like. The brake calipers are painted ivory to match the interior, and the 21-inch wheels have gorgeous copper accents to give them a bit more depth. The MDX Prototype dons one of the most restrained and (arguably) one of the most attractive grilles on the market, the Diamond Pentagon, which ties together the entire Acura lineup. The Japanese automaker has also stepped up its light design with the MDX Prototype, which wears the brand’s four-element JewelEye LED headlights and new LED tail lamps with Acura’s Chicane motif.
It also has large exhaust finishers that are molded around the exhaust tips rather than being gaping holes with tiny pipes poking through. The powered trunk opens to reveal a huge piece of satin chrome trim, a material that can be found throughout the MDX prototype’s exterior. This includes a quirky piece highlighting the elongated dash-to-axle ratio, which is 6-inches longer than the outgoing model according to Acura. Executive Creative Design Director Dave Marek says these proportions visually move “that [front] wheel forward so that the body side feels longer, but the overhangs feel shorter.” We agree with this assessment; the MDX Prototype looks more like a tall wagon than it ever has before.
We asked Acura if it had any plans to follow the industry trend of adding a variant with a swooping, coupe-like roofline to the lineup, a niche Acura joined early on when it brought the now-deceased ZDX into the world. As of now, it seems as though there’s no current plan to introduce such a model to the lineup, but Jon Ikeda said Acura has the capability to do something in this vein once again, telling us, “I’m sure if we wanted to come up with a derivative, we could make something extremely stylish and sporty.”
Interior Improvements Abound in New MDX
The interior also gets a tech upgrade in the form of Acura’s first-ever all-digital dashboard and a new widescreen HD infotainment display; both are 12.3-inch screens. We were never fans of the finicky touchpad inside the Acura RDX compact crossover, but Acura assures us that the MDX will receive an improved unit.
The seats deserve special attention in their own right. Acura calls the swooping stitch pattern found on all three rows of chairs a curvilinear quilting design. The 16-way adjustable driver and passenger seats are also heated, ventilated, and have massage capabilities—in other words the holy trinity of seat functionality.
We’re also excited to take a crack at the new 1,000-watt 25-speaker “Signature Edition” ELS Studio 3D audio system. Acura has fit the speakers behind gorgeous drilled metal housings akin to those used by its European competitors. The designers hid integrated LEDs inside the units, which tie into the car’s 27-way customizable lighting package, which consists of illuminated accents throughout the rest of the cabin.
Acura is using leather-wrapped surfaces for the first time in its nearly 35-year history in the new 2022 Acura MDX, a welcome upgrade over the previous molded dashes which just felt too Honda given what consumers pay for these products. Other cool elements include open-pore wood paneling on the doors, complete with a dusting of metallic paint to give the materials extra visual depth.
What to Expect From the Next MDX
We also spoke with Acura Vice President and Business Unit Head Art St. Cyr about what features will specifically appear on different trims of the production version of the MDX. In short, we’ll have to wait and see. However, he also gave us some strong hints about which MDX Prototype features will appear on the different production models. “If there’s something that looks sporty on this one, then it’s probably going to be in the production model. If something looks luxurious, it’s probably going to be in the production model. So, those types of things are intended to be telegraphed with this prototype.” We’re going to guess, then, that the Type-S model will be the recipient of the big four-pot Brembos and the luxury-oriented models will receive the most elaborate versions of the heated, ventilated, and massaging seats.
While there’s no word on pricing just yet, we expect that information to come early next year ahead of the production MDX’s market launch. The MDX prototype shows that Acura is looking to stay relevant in one of the market’s most competitive segments. With properly sporty offerings and a genuinely world class interior, it may just have what it takes to make that happen when the production version of the 2022 Acura MDX makes its arrival next spring, followed by the MDX Type-S next summer.
Acura MDX Prototype Highlights
- Interior with proper appointments for a modern flagship
- Potent Type-S powertrain option
- Cool matte paint
- Big Brembo brakes that will probably make it to production
- Stunning 21-inch wheels with bronze accents