Behind the Wheel

2022 Acura MDX Review: Evolution turns this flagship into a performance-focused win

Acura has completely redesigned the MDX for the 2022 model year.

Photo courtesy of Acura

Acura has a fresh flagship. The redesigned 2022 Acura MDX is a three-row SUV that crams comfort, convenience, performance, and style into one not-very-cramped package. It's truly a job well done, but for more reasons than it looks good and drives well.

The luxury arm of Honda has turned toward a more premium design for the MDX and it shows, starting with the face where the SUV's long hood and elongated dash-to-axle ratio give the MDX a sophisticated look when paired with the vehicle's athletic stance. The look is bolder and more upright, but also more sculpted than the previous generation model, accented with slick LED light signatures on either side of the grille.

2022 Acura MDX A-Spec The rear of the car is stylish and in keeping with the design hallmarks of the RDX and TLX.Photo courtesy of Acura

2022 Acura MDX A-Spec

Powering the MDX is an enhanced version of the company's 3.5-liter V6 engine. It produces 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. Despite being a carryover, the engine is now quieter than before thanks to some engineering improvements. Honda's 10-speed automatic transmission seamlessly works up and down to complete the powertrain.

Standard with two-wheel drive but tested with all-wheel drive, the SUV's fuel economy numbers were more expected than impressive with the Comfort drive mode yielding the highest fuel economy while Sport proved the least efficient option.

Acura has built the 2022 MDX on its new light truck platform. It's developed for sporty Type S performance (an Acura MDX Type S is planned for later this year) but also does the job of making this version of the MDX a more pleasurable drive, with its rigidity combined with the new double wishbone front suspension and improved multi-link rear suspension.

Body lean and sway has been significantly cut down in the new model. The MDX is agile, but drives the same size as its footprint. Putting it into a parking space is significantly easier than it is with some competition set SUVs.

There are four standard drive modes in the Acura MDX with all-wheel drive. Individual customization is available.Photo courtesy of Acura

The SUV's electric power steering delivers connected results with even its Comfort drive mode acting more in tune with the driver's on-road responsibilities than any modern BMW Comfort setting has ever allowed. Switch to Sport mode and the accelerator is eager to deliver as smooth acceleration as is possible while removing stop/start engine idling without having to press any other button.

Normal mode puts the drive dynamics halfway between Comfort and Sport while Snow mode aims to boost the driving confidence of customers in the top half of the U.S. A customizable Individual mode allows drivers to customize their engine, steering, suspension, idle stop, lighting, and gauge cluster experiences.

Braking is smooth and connected, without the issues that have been the thorn in the side of the Acura RDX since its current generation debuted.

Wider tires (Bridgestone Alenzas) and wheels (20-inch on most models) help make the cabin of the MDX a serene place to be.

The dashboard area of the Acura MDX is very similar to what is in the fresh TLX sedan.Photo courtesy of Acura

If the interior of the MDX looks familiar to you, that's because it should. It's basically an adapted version of the TLX's interior, at least up front. This means that the design allows for a feeling of spaciousness and organization. There's plenty of buttons and knobs yet the space doesn't feel dated.

The 12.3-inch high-definition infotainment screen is set back into the dashboard so that it's easier to see while driving. Nearly every function of conducting day-to-day life in the vehicle is made easier by this sight line. But, because of its distance, the screen isn't easily reached.

Enter: touch pad control. If you have the Lexus track pad in your mind, forget about it. Acura has done a marvelous job engineering the touch pad to be more like an iPad and less like a typical mouse. In that way, selecting things on the screen is a one-touch, one-selection choice rather than dragging and scrolling. Once you get the feel for it, the pad is easily able to be used.

The true test of how how well laid out a center console and head unit are is to attempt to control a vehicle's key infotainment, climate, and charging functionality on the go, in the dark, with as little in-cabin light as is possible to achieve. The MDX setup passes this test with flying colors, even with only an hour or so behind the wheel prior to conducting this test.

Access to the third row is easy either via a space between the seats or the one-button press fold and slide operation of the captain's chairs.Photo courtesy of Acura

The materials inside the MDX also pass the test. Real aluminum accents, Milano leather, contrast stitching, and real open-pore wood make the SUV seem far more luxurious than its price point would allow you to believe it is.

This goes for the fully digital instrument display as well. It's easy to read at all times of the day and puts the information you don't use very often, like the odometer, current music selection, and compass, off to the side in a crisp and easy-to-read area, but in small sized characters.

The previous generation MDX was comfortable and the new MDX takes that comfort up a notch. Its front row seats are better than anything its German rivals offer and the one-touch multi-function second row seats easily flip forward to make room for incoming third-row passengers. There's more space in the third row in this generation but adults likely won't want to spend much time back there.

Acura has also improved the cargo capacity for the new generation. The two tier floor offers 80 percent more usable under-floor cargo space. This means that a typical grocery run, sans a high quantity of toilet paper and paper towels, is able to fit without having to utilize above-floor cargo space. A power tailgate with hands-free capability is available.

The MDX makes wireless Apple CarPlay available. Switching between the CarPlay screen and traditional Acura infotainment system is quick and painless.Photo courtesy of Acura

Over-the-air infotainment system updates are possible in this new model thanks to its standard Wi-Fi hot spot. Amazon Alexia is built in and the system is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible. Using the wireless Apple CarPlay system proved challenging at times as the connection would dip in and out, though the issue wasn't problematic enough to switch to using a cable. Third-row USB ports are available.

Parents will enjoy the ability to use Cabin Talk to chat with passengers in the rear of the vehicle without having to shout. This feature debuted on the Honda Odyssey and has been brought over to Acura's flagship for the new model year.

Nesting a smartphone in the wireless charger puts it out of mind, but not out of sight. There's an arm rest segment that goes over the charger serving as a spot to rest a wrist while using the touch pad and keep the phone from leaving the charger in the event of a quick stop. Win-win.

Upgraded versions of the MDX get an ELS Studio 3D Premium Audio system. The sound from it is crisp and powerful, something an audiophile can appreciate and someone who simply likes singing along to Lizzo while on the road can enjoy.

There is 80 percent more under-floor cargo room behind the MDX's third row of seats in the new generation.Photo courtesy of Acura

Acura has given the MDX gobs of safety technology, but it's all fully manageable. Unlike what you'll find in many brands, you can take the adaptive cruise control but leave the lane keeping technology if you don't want it by simply failing to press an activation button on the steering wheel. This is particularly helpful in areas with a string of potholes or highway construction zones where multiple lane lines are present.

Traffic sign recognition, a driver attention monitor, expanded pedestrian detection capability, and traffic jam assist have been added for 2022 joining the collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane keeping assist, and road departure mitigation.

Blind spot monitoring alerts are elegantly placed at the junction of the side mirror and A-pillar, inside the car, and are hard to miss when making a lane change.

There's safety improvements for those surrounding the MDX as well. The company's engineers have made the face of the vehicle better able to protect pedestrians in the event of a crash by making crash zone areas more deformable and able to take on the impact of a crash, and protecting the lower half of the body by having a flatter nose.

The SUV's touch pad takes some getting used to, but it's easy to use.Photo courtesy of Acura

Acura has also installed the latest airbag technology in the MDX, which, when deployed, is able to reduce brain tissue injury by 75 percent over the previous generation of airbags.

The 2022 Acura MDX starts at $46,900. That's a sweet spot, rivaling the starting price of the Cadillac XT6, Genesis GV80, Lexus RX-L, BMW X5, Volvo XC90, and Audi Q7. Acura tops out the MDX just over $60,000, which doesn't seem unreasonable given the cost of the competition.

If I wanted a premium three-row crossover, would I buy the Acura MDX? In. A. Heartbeat. It drives better and has a nicer interior than the Cadillac XT6 and Lexus RX-L. It drives better than the BMW X5, has a better infotainment system than the Volvo XC90, and is more attractive than the Audi Q7. Plus, it's priced right.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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The 2021 BMW 4 Series has the drive dynamics BMW enthusiasts will love.

Photo courtesy of BMW

A lot has been said about the looks of the 2021 BMW 4 Series. At its absolute worst, the car is a sleek-bodied rabbit. At its best, it's a dynamic driver that doesn't look as bad if you choose colors and packages that make the grille blend in with the body a bit. Either way, the 2021 BMW M440i is a good drive.

With a starting price of $58,500, the all-wheel drive version of the M440i is solidly in the luxury category. It has more generous proportions than its predecessor but as a coupe, the parts that truly matter are the cargo space and the head- and legroom for front seat passengers. Both are excellent.

The M440i is the upgraded version of the 4 Series that slots between the traditional 430i and 430i xDrive. As such, it has BMW's twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter six-cylinder under the hood that's capable of reaching 382 horsepower and 369 pound-feet of torque. The car can get from zero to 60 is a zippy 4.3 seconds in a smooth fashion, which handy when you're working your way between highway lanes trying to get around snowbirds that don't use turn signals on Florida's highways.

2021 BMW 4 Series The car delivers pointed handling on highways, back roads, and city streets.Photo courtesy of BMW

The car has mild-hybrid technology, an engineering achievement that puts connects a 48-volt battery with the rest of the powertrain to give drivers immediate access to power off the line while saving on fuel. BMW traditionally does a great job seamlessly implementing this tech and the M440i is no exception.

BMW loaded up the model used for the test run with nearly $13,000 in extras - the paint job alone was near an additional $2,000. That numbers includes a few packages. The Drivers Assistance Professional Package ($1,700) gets a buyer traffic jam assist and Driving Assistant Pro technology. The $3,700 Executive Package adds a lot of the things you'd think would already come standard on a $50,000+ vehicle like heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient lighting, a head-up display, and upgraded headlights.

The M Adaptive Suspension ($700) nicely balanced the car's on-road prowess, agility, and bump absorption. The upgraded disc brakes worked steadily without feeling grabby allowing the accelerator to be put close to the floor with confidence. Steering was, as BMW so often executes in its sedans, pointed and connected, a formula that aids in the enjoyment of time behind the wheel.

2021 BMW 4 Series This model features BMW's signature cognac leather interior.Photo courtesy of BMW

BMW is really good at designing one-size-fits-all solutions for the cabins of their vehicles and the M440i is no exception. While it creates an annoying feeling of sameness, it does allow the car's buttons, dials, switches, and knobs to nearly always be found in the same place. It's a little like coming home from vacation and standing in your own kitchen and knowing where all the dishes are without having to open multiple cabinets.

At the center of the dash is a 10.25-inch touch screen while a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster sits in front of the driver. The BMW infotainment system is pretty responsive. Whether or not you like the rotary controller is a personal preference thing, but putting biases aside, it's hard to complain about how much easier it is to use than the Lexus touch pad. There is a downside, however. The font and layout choices on the instrument panel look like they were chosen by elementary school children. Huge numbers and sweeping black space take some getting used to. After about 300 miles, I still wasn't used to it.

The sameness factor carries over to the M440i's safety systems where the adaptive cruise control tech's insistence that a passing road sign is the correct speed you should be going is enough to cause frustration at best, and at the worst, a rapid slow down that could endanger those around you and yourself.

2021 BMW 4 Series The 2021 BMW 4 Series carries over typical BMW design into the cabin.Photo courtesy of BMW

The 2021 BMW M440i xDrive Coupe is a good car, with plenty of caveats that keep it from being great car. It's a vehicle for people who really want to drive it and don't mind the way it looks because they don't see that angle on a regular basis.

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