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 Nissan Pathfinder is just at home on the trial as it is on the road.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

One of my favorite poems is Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken". The message is about making choices and, how the road taken made all the difference. Often in life and on the road, we have to make one choice. Take one road. No turning back. I thought of this poem on my recent test drive in the 2022 Nissan Pathfinder in the hinterlands of Montana, when I could take two different roads—paved and dirt—and that made all the difference!

Nissan has redesigned and retooled its fifth-generation Pathfinder instilling greater latitude for buyers who want to travel both types of roads and expand their adventure footprint. After seven decades of off-road development, 35 years in the business of selling Pathfinders, and with more than 1.8 million sold in the U.S., this Japanese automaker has moved the needle with a ground-up revision of the previous-gen model.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable off-roader.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The full-sized sport utility is available in four trims (S, SV, SL and Platinum) and two- and four-wheel drive versions; Nissan expects that nearly 60 percent of buyers will choose four-wheel drive. The Pathfinder is in a segment that has grown larger each year as more families want a vehicle for around-town, school and playdate runs and for weekend getaways with traction technology that allows travel in the backcountry and good towing capability. Direct competitors are the Toyota Highlander, Honda Pilot, and Ford Explorer.

A day-long drive of approximately 150 miles on tarmac and over a variety of dirt roads and tracks provided the opportunity to assess the Pathfinder's updates. A late-spring snowstorm added slickness to all the road surfaces in the region and allowed the Pathfinder to show off its traction capabilities at both slow and higher speeds and with lane change and emergency-braking maneuvers, when towing. I concentrated my evaluation on the augmented hardware and software designed to enhance the crossover's capabilities for backcountry travel and towing.

What I found most notable over every road surface was the comfortable ride and responsive handling that come from a collection of upgrades—and, in particular, as a result of the following: the gearing on the new nine-speed transmission, with paddle shifters for personal and more precise shifting for sport driving and slowing over rough terrain; the new terrain mode system that's engineered for different driving conditions; the four-wheel drive system that moves torque more quickly to avoid wheel slip; the improved suspension system; and new tires with a larger contact patch and more aggressive tread pattern, among other changes.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Pathfinder's drive modes are designed to inspire confidence. Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The Pathfinder provided sure-footed motoring and comfort over uneven surfaces. Its 7.1 inches of ground clearance easily maneuvered over the small obstacles on the trail and hill descent control took the reigns without hesitation for steeper and longer downhills on traction-compromised surfaces.

I was also impressed with the Pathfinder's towing competence and appreciated the standard trailer sway control onboard all trims. It offered notably strong, mannered acceleration from a standing start and excellent straight-line braking without porpoising for either exercise.

The new 2022 Pathfinder brings off-road and towing attributes that are important to families who are seeking to spend time in the backcountry for days trips and longer and for overlanding in terrain that doesn't require a true off-road vehicle with a low range. It's will appeal to buyers who want don't want to have to choose only one road.

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The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder arrives on dealer lots this summer.

Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder doesn't have to be capable of rock crawling or deep water fording. What it has to do is service the needs of families in their daily life and give them the opportunity to competently go off-roading on rocky trails should they desire. The new, fifth-generation models does just that and adds in enough nifty features to make it among the most compelling choices for three-row SUV buyers.

The 2022 Pathfinder is thoroughly modern though not the boxy off-roader it once was. The SUV's styling harkens back to that time with a tilted, darkened C-pillar and a return to a more muscular body style. That styling makes straightforward visibility good but for shorter drivers seeing what is immediately in front of the grille is a challenge that necessitates using surround view camera technology (available only in upper trim levels) when navigating challenging terrain.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can easily handle the roads less traveled.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter V6 that offers up 291 horsepower and torque - plenty to do the job without complaint. The SUV's nine-speed automatic transmission replaces the continuously variable transmission (CVT) from the previous generation and delivers smooth shifts. Though low-end torque isn't as robust as I like it to be, once up over 35 mph, the Pathfinder's powertrain delivers smooth, powerful sailing.

The redesigned architecture and components underpinning the Pathfinder make it stable on the road and don't allow it to wallow on winding roads. Even off-road, the suspension provides the right blend of stability while the drive dynamics allowing the driver to feel engaged with their surroundings whether on freshly paved roads, city streets, or muddy trails.

Nissan has given the Pathfinder a 6,000-pound towing capacity and even when maxed out the engine's functionality is strong as ever. The transmission can get held up in a gear mid-range when performing this function, however, with 5,000-6,000 rpms registering on the tachometer but a quick release of the gas pedal recalibrates the offering bringing it down to a more traditional 2,000 rpm range.

The eight-seater Pathfinder clearly has the Toyota Highlander in its sights, with good reason. It's the top-selling three-row SUV in the country. Nissan boasts that three adults can fit across the rear bench seat of the Pathfinder and, as long as they're average size or smaller, the marketing talking point holds up. There is gobs more room back there than there is in the Highlander.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder Nissan has given the Pathfinder ample cargo space.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

Getting in and out of the third row is easy thanks to one-touch buttons on the outboard side of the second-row chairs that move the SUV's captain's seats forward creating enough room to get through to the back. Smartly, Nissan's engineers have put duplicates of these buttons on the back side of the same seats allowing third-row passengers to simply press the button to move the seat up.

The third row can also be accessed via a split between the captain's chairs as well, a space traditionally occupied by a center stowage bin/cup holders/arm rest. Owners can quickly remove the center console by opening a panel on the front and pulling the release mechanism. The one-handed operation takes seconds and the console can be easily stored in the under-floor trunk space behind the third row seat for ease.

Speaking of cargo space... The Pathfinder is one of the most spacious midsize SUVs on the market today for both passengers and cargo. There is a substantial amount of room behind the third-row seat and the under-floor storage area is nearly twice the size of the one in the Highlander. Plus, it has a feature that allows the area cover to be automatically propped up when pushed up by a user. This is especially help when carrying groceries or plants home and keeps them from being crushed.

The first- and second-row seats are suitably comfortable, even for extended periods of time and standard trig-zone climate control makes finding the right in-cabin mix easy. Bottle holders in the pockets of the front doors are exceptionally large, fitting even bulky water bottles.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder's front row seats are comfortable.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

In front of the driver is a standard tachometer, speedometer, and 7.0-inch driver information display. Buyers can upgrade to a fully digital 12.3-inch instrument cluster and head-up display but they're not reason enough to upgrade to the top-tier Pathfinder Platinum on their own.

Nissan packs the new Pathfinder with a host of desirable features that make living with the Pathfinder easier including one-touch auto up/down windows, a wireless phone charger, grocery hooks in the rear cargo area, USB ports in all three rows, second-row sunshades, rear door keyless entry, wireless Apple CarPlay, and a motion-activated lift gate.

The 2022 Nissan Pathfinder is priced to start at $33,410 for the two-wheel drive S base model and $35,310 for the four-wheel drive S base model. The model tops out around $50,000 with destination and delivery included, which seems fair when comparing the Pathfinder to other vehicles in the market.

2022 Nissan Pathfinder The Pathfinder can tow up to 6,000 pounds.Photo courtesy of Nissan North America

If you're thinking of purchasing a Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Hyundai Palisade, Kia Telluride, Honda Pilot, or Highlander, do yourself a favor and schedule a test drive of the new Pathfinder when it arrives at a dealer lot near you. You may just be surprised how seamlessly it fits into your daily life compared to the competition.

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