Two decades ago it would have been comical. In today's automotive world, it's standard operating procedure: the flagship car of a performance-oriented luxury brand isn't a car.
Acura is American Honda's luxury-performance division. Acura's new "flagship of the brand" -- Acura's words -- is more than two tons of three-row, seven-passenger SUV. Oh, how the automotive world has changed.
Fortunately for this fourth-generation MDX, automotive technology has evolved to the point that two tons of luxury family hauler can be made reasonably athletic.
Although the all-new 2022 Acura MDX is 2.2 inches longer and 1.5 inches wider than its predecessor, all riding a wheelbase that covers nearly 3 inches of additional real estate, it compensates for the added girth with a stiffer platform and rethought suspension -- control arms replacing front struts and multi-link rear suspenders that are significantly revised.
The result is a big, three-row wagon, available with front- or all-wheel drive, that reins in body lean, managing to feel both big and wide and, yet, light on its feet.
MDX is available in trims of Base, Technology, A-Spec and Advance. The first two are front-drivers with all-wheel drive optional; A-Spec and Advance get AWD standard -- a system Acura modestly dubs "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive."
Not an unreasonable boast, we found, after a week with an MDX Advance.
Add our SH-AWD model's driver-selectable chassis modes of Sport, Normal, Comfort, Snow and Personal, and this big guy is engaging to the mom or dad with both family responsibilities and a yen for driving.
Power to all four trims is provided by Honda's familiar 3.5-liter V-6, which mates to a smooth-shifting 10-speed automatic, replacing MDX's former nine-speed.
Despite its athleticism, MDX is a lot of SUV for that six-pack to haul around, and it exhibits a healthy appetite as it gets it done.
It took us about 7 seconds to greet 60 mph in our Advance, with the V-6 slurping Premium. In 145 miles, we realized just 19 mpg in combined city/hwy driving -- 2 less than the EPA thought we'd get from our all-wheel drive model.
On the other hand, the mechanicals are wrapped in eye-popping styling that makes a grand entrance at the gas station.
Up front, MDX handsomely wears Acura's five-point grille, showing a huge Acura logo surrounded by a stylistic black burst. The profile, with its long, clamshell hood, 20-inch wheels on our Advance, and sloping rearward roof, actually looks pretty sleek considering this is a three-row SUV. And, going away, the wide-hipped rump proudly says, "Hey, I'm ahead of you."
It's all very handsome.
The interior decor in our Advance was elegantly techy, with its dash and door wood trim complemented by piano black accents.
Alas, the infotainment stuff is more complicated than radar. The screen is not "touch." Instead, the 12.3-inch display's selector mechanism is a dual finger-slide pad on the floor console. Yep, one finger-slider wasn't enough for all the tech in this new ute. MDX's console houses two -- a square one and a vertically rectangular one.
Plan some owner's-manual sessions.
The radio, with its Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Alexa capability, at least, offers a volume knob, but no tuning knob.
Room up front is wonderful in buckets bolstered out to there. Very sporty -- more so than one might expect from a family SUV.
Second-row head room is good, and leg room is fine in the fore/aft adjustable, 40/20/40-split middle bench. Alas, the 50/50-split third row requires the flexibility of a 14-year-old gymnast to access -- and then available room is strictly kid stuff.
Bottom line: the all-new MDX manages to blend the unlikely characteristics of family-friendly wagon, bad-weather traction and driver-pleasing handling.