The 2016 Acura MDX remains one of the best luxury three-row SUVs, but the benefits of its new nine-speed automatic are unclear.
In a crowded luxury mid- to full-size SUV class, the 2016 Acura MDX stands out--and not just because of its size. While it's one of the more spacious 3-row SUVs, that's not its only talent. Safety scores, ride quality, and lots of tech features also carry the day for the most satisfying Acura of all.
The MDX gets significant upgrades for 2016 that further improve this highly rated seven-seat SUV. A 9-speed automatic with a push-button electronic gear selector is new, and it saves space on the console. It's a very nice transmission, but it had little impact on real-world fuel economy in our testing.
The 2016 MDX also offers a new all-wheel-drive system, new safety features, Apple's Siri Eyes Free voice recognition, a revised driver's seat that moves slightly rearward when the door is opened for easier entry and exit, and a few other minor upgrades.
The Acura MDX competes with the Lexus RX, Buick Enclave, Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60, Audi Q7, Mercedes-Benz ML-Class. The Lexus offers only two rows of seating, however. The Acura offers three rows of seating for up to 7 people.
Exterior styling hasn't changed for 2016. The MDX looks more like a sport-wagon than a utilitarian SUV, with its tapered roofline, chiseled front end, and smooth rear. The chevron-like chrome strip across the top of the grille and jewel-eye LED headlights distinguish it as an Acura.
Inside, the front-end theme is echoed by the dash, with its V-shaped center stack and sloping, tiered design. The dash design complements the rest of the cabin, and the materials used for interior trim are nicely coordinated.
The MDX gets power from a 3.5-liter V-6. Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional. The V-6 benefits from direct injection to produce 290 hp, and has lots of grunt pulling away from stoplights or executing swift two-laner passes.The engine feels smooth and refined.
Compared with the previous 6-speed transmission, the new 9-speed automatic improves acceleration performance by 0.5 seconds, according to Acura. However, the transmission lacks refinement. It wasn't as smooth nor as seamless as we expected--a common thread we've found in other vehicles equipped with the latest 9-speed automatics.
The MDX is one of the better-handling luxury SUVs. The Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) lets the driver increase steering feel and quicken throttle response by pressing an IDS button next to the shift buttons. Engaging its Sport mode changes the steering from light to hefty. With all-wheel drive, the Sport mode sends more power to the outside wheels, to help the big MDX corner more deftly. It's a clever system that can move power around better than systems only capable of shifting torque from the front wheels to the rear.
The functional interior in the MDX wears a classy look and smart control placement. The space is excellent, the front seats plush and supportive, with access eased thanks to low bolsters. The driver seat moves rearward when the door opens, which makes it easier for the driver to get on board.
In the second row, a 6-inch track lets the seat slide to boost cargo or leg room. At the press of a button on the second-row seat, the spring-loaded bench slides forward, making it easier for passengers to load into the third row. It's still a place better left to smaller, younger riders, since the slim, low-mounted seat doesn't have much head or leg room.
The cabin is trimmed out nicely with high-quality, well-coordinated materials and trims. The MDX is also very quiet underway.
Safety is one of the MDX's best selling points. The MDX earned top ratings from the IIHS, including the Top Safety Pick+ accolade, as well as five-star scores from the federal government in overall, frontal and side impact. High-tech options are available, from lane-departure warnings, to rearview and surround-view cameras, to adaptive cruise control.
All MDX SUVs come with leather, power front seats, and three-zone climate control, as well as an 8-speaker audio system. More powerful 10- and 12-speaker systems come with Advance or Technology packages. Navigation is optional.
The 2016 MDX starts at $43,955 with front-wheel drive and goes up to $58,170, including destination.
Fuel economy for the 2016 MDX is an EPA-estimated 19 mpg city, 27 highway, 22 combined with front-wheel drive. The 2016 MDX SH-AWD is rated 18/26/21 mpg. Premium gasoline is required.