Better late than never, right?
Acura saw all the fun other brands were having churning out high-performance SUVs- not to mention the juicy profit margins that go along with them- and said “Enough is enough! Let’s plunk the drivetrain from the NSX into an MDX and go eat all their lunches.”
OK, so that never happened because we just made that up. But think about it! A hybrid SUV coupled with Acura’s amazing SH-AWD packing 600 horsepower? One can dream, and then be brought promptly back to Earth when the engineers and bean counters cry out in protest at the herculean effort- and cost- it would take to make that dream a reality. Acura attempted to find a nice middle ground between the regular MDX lineup and the fever dream NSX powered version found in the dark corners of our hope chest in the new Type S, which finds itself a bit late to the hot-rod SUV party.
As it turns out, Acura has a 3.0 turbocharged V6 lying around the shelves courtesy of the TLX Type S sedan that just so happens to fit nicely under the bonnet of an MDX SUV. It makes a hearty 355 horsepower and 354-foot pounds of torque which is certainly enough suds to wake things up a bit from an acceleration standpoint over the naturally aspirated bent sixes of non-Type S MDXs. Reining in the newfound urge are the familiar oversized brakes with candy apple red Brembo calipers, and the new braking hardware is proudly showcased behind huge 21” wheels shod on performance Continental rubber. It also boasts air suspension- more on that later- as well as a Sport Plus driving mode that is exclusive to the Type S.
Inside, things have been spiffed up accordingly with a few notable highlights. The first is the 25 speaker ELS sound system. It sounds magnificent whether you’re playing your tunes softly or up to cochlea crushing decibels (ask us how we know.) In the realm of ultra high-end stereos, this one ranks up there with the very best. It also has massaging seats, which normally we try once and then turn off because it causes more discomfort than bliss. Not so with the Type S- we almost felt guilty for not leaving a nice gratuity after the various programs available would conclude. Our favorite was the Zen regimen, which will leave you in a heighted state of internal harmony- and what better state to enjoy the other flourishes of the MDX’s cockpit, like incredibly comfortable yet supportive leather seats and fine red stitching across the dash.
We might as well dive right into the Achilles Heel of the MDX, and its’s not just the Type S which is affected, it’s the entire lineup- that dubious honor goes to the infernally frustrating touch pad infotainment system. We have never held back our contempt for this insipidly designed UI and it serves as a reminder of how not to do infotainment. Oh sure, the menus are intuitive and everything is slickly laid out- but having to interact with it is kind of dreadful. We’re not fans of the pushbutton transmission either, but we can live with that. Lexus, who used to employ a similar system in its lineup listened to their customers and binned it in favor of a much better realized touchscreen system. Acura- PLEASE follow suit. The only other issue that reared its head during our road test was some unbecoming lurching at step off from rest. It felt like the transmission programming and throttle mapping were by two calibrated by different engineering teams isolated from one another. It isn’t something you notice all the time, but when everything else is so buttery smooth it stands out.
Luckily, the overall driving experience is an enjoyable one. We have previously referred to the MDX as a thoroughbred amongst Clydesdales when it comes to agility and spritely handling within its segment and the Type S takes that up a notch. The aforementioned air suspension lends the Type S a newfound bandwidth in how the car feels and behaves, depending on which drive mode you’ve selected. On one hand, it is a brilliant highway cruiser, serenely melting the kilometers away without feeling floaty. On the other, when you choose to turn up the temperature it hunkers down and keeps the body flat during enthusiastic cornering, which you’ll want to do to exploit the SH-AWD’s excellent torque vectoring prowess; we wager this thing would be a hoot to drive after a good snowfall in winter. Also, it just makes the MDX Type S look cool when parked, gently hugging the oversized rolling stock.
Introduce the throttle to the firewall and the MDX shows you why you sprang for the Type S, which provides appreciably fleet acceleration. The 3.0-litre turbo six-cylinder’s might has been blunted by the higher curb weight of the SUV versus its sedan donor, but it will be more than enough juice for all but the most hopeless power fiends. There are paddle shifts on hand to let you take a further degree of control if you wish, but we didn’t love their somewhat lackadaisical responses so we just let 10-speed transmission do its thing. However you choose to drive the hottest MDX is your call, but no matter the situation it will bring a smile to your face.
We began to wonder if that smile could be bigger. You see, anything wearing a Type S badge promises an elevated driving experience of the highest order in the Acura universe, and while our MDX is without a doubt the zestiest version of the model line ever we admit to feeling somewhat underwhelmed. We’re not saying that Acura should have plucked the NSX’s hybrid drivetrain and shoehorned it into the MDX chassis and called it a day (make believe aside, we wouldn’t complain) but we do wish they would have moved the needle a little more towards Sport than where the MDX Type S ended up. Perhaps they could dial up the boost or slap a couple of bigger turbos onto the V6 to at least get the horsepower figure to begin with the number 4? Maybe this first ever MDX Type S is simply a launching point for hotter versions in the future, although how long the runway is for that to happen is anyone’s guess. Best to just crank up that lovely ELS sound system, drop the windows (which are the fastest and quietest version of power windows we’ve encountered lately because minutiae!) and just enjoy the ride.
2023 Acura MDX Type S Ultra - Specifications
- Price as tested: $88,908
- Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre turbocharged V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Horsepower: 355 @ 5,500 rpm
- Torque (lb-ft.): 354 @ 1,400 rpm
- Transmission: 10-speed automatic
- Curb weight: 2,169 kg (4,782 lbs)
- Observed Fuel Consumption: 13.8L/100 km (17 mpg)