2016 Acura MDX AWD ADV review: The new is underneath

2016 Acura MDX

2016 Acura MDX

Mid-generational model updates typically include a new face, new taillights and a reshuffling of interior features. Not so the 2016 Acura MDX. Looking at the MDX doesn’t reveal a lot of changes. It’s still a two-box crossover with chiseled styling and the Acura beak, unchanged from the third generation MDX introduced in 2014. It’s the technology operating behind—or in some cases below—the scenes that’s changed.

For example, the neighbors won’t notice the new nine-speed automatic transmission that has a lower first gear for easier takeoff, and a higher overdrive on top for a lower engine speed and better fuel mileage on the highway. In fact, all ratios sixth-gear and higher are overdrives. The internals of the transmission were upgraded for a 25 percent faster shift time for a smoother shift, and the gearbox is 66 pounds lighter than last year’s six speed. That’s a boon to fuel economy, of course, and Acura notes that removing that weight from the front of the vehicle improved front-to-rear balance. Not that it’s tangible on a day to day basis, but every little bit helps.

2016 Acura MDX shift controller

The shift lever of the Acura MDX has been replaced for 2016 by a mini-console of buttons. Acura photo (click to enlarge)

Further back on the drivetrain is a new generation of Acura’s SH-AWD—code for Honda’s “super handling—all-wheel drive.” Now, in addition to meting out torque front-to-rear to balance the vehicle’s handling, the new SH-AWD has a twin-clutch rear differential that can send torque to either rear wheel. This torque vectoring helps push the vehicle around a curve, adding to the rotational force to get Acura MDX to turn. Again, it’s not one of those things you feel in day to day driving, which is probably a sign that it is in fact working.

Acura didn’t change the engine in the 2016 Acura MDX. It continues with the 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. That latter comes at a relatively high 4500 rpm. All the better then that nine-speed transmission to get the engine revs up sooner for faster acceleration. That said, the MDX isn’t the quickest off the line but it’s strong enough for stress-free merging and relaxed cruising.

Like other makers have for various models, Acura reinvented shifter for the automatic transmission. The big clunky lever that occupied a large tract of the center console’s real estate was replaced by a line of buttons that have to be pressed for park, neutral, drive and sport—the MDX has paddle shifters on the steering wheel—and pulled up for reverse. It’s odd at first, but the space it saves on the center console is worth the effort.

2016 Acura MDX

2016 Acura MDX (click to enlarge)

The Acura MDX competes in the mid-size luxury crossover segment and the MDX is clearly situated on the comfort end of that spectrum, from the wide well-cushioned front seats, tuned for a long haul. New for 2016 is an “easy access” driver’s seat that moves 35 mm—a little less than an inch and a half—rearward when the driver’s door is opened.

The second row isn’t as plush as the first, and the third row should be reserved for munchkins. The seatbacks for the second and third row fold forward to expand cargo room, which is good because with the third row in use, the MDX only has about 14 cubic feet of stuff space, about that of a good midsize sedan. There is a cargo bin under the rear cargo floor, but it’s a secret. Don’t tell anyone and I won’t either.

With all the seatbacks folded, cargo capacity rises to 68 cubic feet, about the volume of the average crossover but well short of a minivan, the Honda Odyssey having a maximum of 145 cubic feet, more than double. Unlike most SUVs and crossovers, however, the MDX, however, has a flat cargo floor—although it slants upwards a little—and cargo tie down hooks, which every van/crossover should have but many don’t.

Aiding in ride comfort are the three-mode suspension settings. Called Integrated System Dynamics, the suspension can be set at Sport and Normal—both are satisfactory—but Comfort should be called “Rough Road.” It’s floaty on the highway but really softens up the ride over a rocky dirt road.

The 2016 Acura MDX runs from the standard $42,865 model with front drive. The equivalent model with SH-AWD lists for $44,865.

2016 Acura MDX

2016 Acura MDX (click to enlarge)

The Acura MDX can be had with AcuraWatch, which includes a variety of driver assist features including the first application of Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) and Rear Cross Traffic Monitor to the MDX. Road Departure Mitigation uses a camera to rear lane markers steering the vehicle back into the lane should it start to drift out. Start to cross a dotted line and the MDX will steer the car back, but start crossing a solid line and the MDX will steer and apply the brakes. Other features of AcuraWatch include adaptive cruise control with low speed follow, forward collision warning, car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian, plus collision mitigating braking system, car-to-car and car-to-pedestrian

The Technology Package, available with or without AcuraWatch, includes adaptive Cruise Control with low speed follow, forward collision warning, and collision mitigating braking system.