The new Type S version of the Acura MDX appears to be a high-performance model in the same vein as the myriad luxury SUVs wearing Mercedes-AMG, BMW M, and Audi S and RS badges. But now that we've experienced this turbocharged, 355-hp version of Acura's three-row SUV for ourselves, we think the company's real play here is simpler than that. Acura wants to move the MDX away from the pseudo-luxury space where slightly upscale family crossovers such as the Infiniti QX60 and Cadillac XT6 reside and toward the upper echelons of the luxury-SUV segment where more prestigious models such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5, and Genesis GV80 compete.
The company is quick to point out that the MDX's traditional positioning has worked well so far, as it has sold over 1 million units over four generations. So, the current MDX's standard powertrain—a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6—will continue to comprise 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 realm where the fatter profit margins and more discerning customers are. The MDX Type S thus comes armed with a more powerful engine, a sophisticated suspension setup, lots of fancy optional features, and—naturally—a significantly higher starting price.
For $67,745, you get the same turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 as the TLX Type S sports sedan, which makes 355 horsepower and 354 pound-feet of torque. That's more grunt than the Q7 55 and the X5 40i—both have 335 horsepower—but a bit behind the 375-hp GV80 3.5T. Acura's familiar torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is standard. Acura also saw fit to add adaptive dampers and an air suspension that can raise and lower the MDX: In Sport and Sport+ modes it drops down 0.6 inch, while selecting Lift mode hikes the body a full 2.1 inches above its nominal height.
The loaded MDX Type S with the Advance package is the first Acura (other than the NSX) to crest the $70,000 barrier, starting at $73,095. It's mechanically identical to the base Type S but comes with goodies such as massaging front seats, nicer upholstery, and a bumpin' 25-speaker ELS audio system. This is the kind of stuff that Audi and BMW customers expect to find in a luxury SUV. Open-pore wood, quilted leather, and an available blue color scheme help cultivate a convincingly upscale cabin vibe. The only sore spot inside is Acura's touchpad-controlled infotainment system, which we still haven't warmed up to.
On the other hand, enthusiasts like us might have expected a bit more of a performance focus from something with a Type S badge. The turbo V-6 is strong enough to move the MDX confidently but is neither as characterful nor as responsive as we'd like. Acura expects it to be around a second quicker 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 nimblest three-row SUVs on the market, and the Type S's adaptive dampers further tighten 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.
Maybe we're placing too much importance on the name. Because the MDX is one of the few Acura models that has remained sporty relative to its competition over the years, it has less ground to make up than the TLX Type S does within the sports-sedan segment. The MDX Type S has an appropriate mix of refinement and driving verve when measured against the BMW, Audi, and Genesis SUVs it's aiming for. And if luxury-SUV customers can be persuaded to shell out more than $70,000 for an Acura, they'll find that the MDX Type S has the features, the power, and the luxury quotient to live up to that price.