Road tested: 2016 Acura MDX SH-AWD

The MDX is the star in Acura’s sales results.

2016 Acura MDX

DALLAS, August 25, 2015 — If you are frazzled by the weight of adult responsibility, yet yearn for a vehicle to give you a reason to get out of bed and stick a grin on your face then you need to check out the 2016 Acura MDX first. While you may be tempted by some hot rod coupe, the reality of inconvenience and a less professional air will hit shortly after that sort of purchase.

2016 Acura MDX
2016 Acura MDX

The MDX is the star in Acura’s sales results. Acura gave us a full-on replacement in 2014, sending sales further into the stratosphere. It seems to have a great combination of sport, utility, and luxury that causes minivan avoiding adults to open up their wallets. That is why for 2016, some may be surprised that they are providing significant improvements.

For 2016, Acura has put the MDX on the treadmill to shed a few pounds. Leading the svelte changes are a lighter 6 speed transmission in lower models. The new nine-speed transmission moves from a shift lever to a button based system. The buttons take a little bit of getting used to, but are easy to pick out and free up room on the console. The MDX’s engine is unchanged for 2016, using the same 3.5 liter V-6 released in 2014, piping out 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque.

2016 Acura MDX Engine

The interior of the 2016 MDX is similar to the 2015 model. Acura goes for the understated luxury design ethos, which is very German in effect. It is not going to keep up with the latest higher end interiors from Germany, but materials are soft to the touch in the right places, and nicely trimmed with shiny bits of aluminum and decent, if unexciting wood. The steering wheel is thick enough to convey sport and feels like human hands were designed to wrap around it, instead of the other way around.  The red anodized aluminum start/stop button was a nice touch that brought a wicked smile to this car guy’s face. It definitely stands out from what most manufacturers place in their new vehicles, this side of Lamborghini.

2016 Acura MDX front interior

The elephant in the car is the dual-screened infotainment setup — Why can the audio not be integrated into a single larger screen? Why does the HVAC display need to be on the audio screen? Would love to get the insight from the designers on that choice.

The main infotainment screen with navigation is not too convoluted, but it’s easy to be looking in multiple places for settings to configure, instead of just one.  There would be derelict in my duties if I did not mention that in the 2016 Pilot, Honda has a single screened unit.

2016 Acura MDX rear seats

One nice touch was the up/down toggle for the temperature settings on the HVAC. The only drawback was a slight lag in the update on the infotainment screen immediately above that.

The beauty of the MDX is the SH-AWD and suspension tuning have the effect of shrinking the vehicle around the driver. That is something BMW has mastered and Acura clearly has learned how to make the same magic happen.  The suspension of the IDS (Integrated Drive System) can be set between Comfort, Normal, and Sport.  The IDS changes not only the suspension, but throttle actuation, transmission shifts, and steering feel.  The closest to ideal is definitely the Sport setting. By ideal, I mean

all the changes are in harmony and what one would expect for seamless driving. Putting the transmission into sport mode and using the paddle shifters upped the sport quotient even more, but let’s be honest; the only time the paddle shifters would be used is if the navigation mistakenly took the driver to a track.  The transmission is just a bit too much cheetah like for battling on a commute, making the MDX a bit jumpy at every flinch of the throttle.

The normal setting is not bad for everyday use, but the lag at throttle tip-in was noticeable and irritating. That slight annoyance was further exacerbated in the comfort mode and the transmission thinks a bit longer before shifting. While the suspension was compliant enough for a Sunday cruise with the family, I took the least pleasure from that setting.

Its SH-AWD system has been re-engineered to be more sport oriented and is able to provide extra torque to the outside wheels which aid in handling. It also shaves 19 pounds off the weight, which is a win-win. In relatable terms, it means a permanent smile, especially in rainy conditions such as that in Dallas the week I drove it.

Electric power steering is here to stay, but it has yet to be perfected. There was a slight but perceptible lag to the feel of subtle steering inputs as I drove down the highway. It was almost as if a Stegosaurus was telling its tail to move.

Tech Gadgets
This MDX is loaded with all the safety and tech gadgets one could imagine. Features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring are ubiquitous in this segment.  Acura’s lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation will nudge the vehicle back in line in a gentle manner, unlike the nuns back in Catholic school.  A favorite feature is the Low Speed Follow (LSF) that accompanied the Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC). After sitting in the exact traffic jammed highway from the movie Office Space, LSF saved me from wanting to take a bat to a printer later in the day.

2016 Acura MDX rear cargo area

This feature offers hand feet free driving up to 25mph, including coming to a complete stop. It lessens the stress during commutes but would love to see it work at a bit higher speeds for manic traffic that rotates between heavy and fast over mere football fields of asphalt.  The auto idle shutoff in the higher level trims should be illuminated altogether. Its implantation is horrible – for those not familiar, this shuts off the engine when stopped for more than a few seconds. This increases city mileage by 1mpg. During certain circumstances, it will come back on while still stopped, or when releasing the brake and pressing the accelerator. The issues are two fold; large gaps between the car ahead of me while the vehicle started back up and moved, and shutting off just as I was about to dart across traffic at traffic islands, necessitating waiting even longer to make a turn.

Final Thoughts
If getting in a roomy, comfortable vehicle and pulling away in sport mode in all weather conditions is your definition of a good day. Aside from the split screen infotainment system and transmission in need of tuning in certain modes, this SUV is nearly perfect.  The utility, comfort, and performance had me looking forward to getting behind the wheel every day. In inclement conditions, it raises the level of fun in a way that will make one salivate at the rumble of a storm.  Acura showed me why the MDX is their best seller. Its performance is on par with much more expensive German offerings, such as the BMW X5, which is no small feat.

The best part is it cost less than its German rivals. The base MDX goes a bit lighter on the luxury owner’s wallet at $42,865, before $920 destination and handling charge. Adding SH-AWD, which I highly recommend, will cost exactly $2,000 more. Writing the check for the fully tech loaded model I drove, will make one wince a bit at $58,000 including the destination charge. To put that in perspective, the BMW X5 starts just below that and the price climbs faster than a Cirque Du Soleil performer. If you seek German-like driving spirit and the serenity that comes from a reliable vehicle, look no further than your local Acura dealer.

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Sean Martin
Sean has a degree in Management Information Systems from Texas A&M University, where he was a member of the Texas A&M Sports Car Club. He lives in Dallas, where he is married, has a 5 year old daughter, a turtle, and a large mutt. He has been in love with cars since late elementary school, having devoured car magazines since he was 12. He has owned a variety of cars from American, German, and Japanese. Sean has a preference for manual transmissions, but appreciates a good automatic in city traffic. He got his start in journalism, working as Editor-In-Chief at a video game and PC hardware website. In his spare time, which is rare with a 5 year old, Sean enjoys autocrossing with various local car clubs, and playing video games.