2016 Acura MDX SH-AWD Review
The MDX is a critically important model for Acura. It was the Japanese luxury brand’s bestselling U.S. model last year at 58,208 units, a number that made up almost 33 percent of Acura’s overall sales, while it’s also the brand’s real flagship model. Sure, Acura builds a near full-size sedan in the RLX as well as the mid-engine NSX supercar once again, but spotting either of these on the road is uncommon (impossible for the NSX as it won’t even be out until later this spring) and therefore they do little for building brand image amongst the non-auto enthusiast crowd, which is responsible for the majority of sales. The Lincoln, Alabama-made MDX, on the other hand, has been Acura’s brand-builder since it debuted way back in 2000.
At first glance the MDX appears unchanged for 2016, this third-generation version only arriving on the scene in 2013 as a 2014 model so it’s still relatively fresh. It wears Acura’s familial trapezoidal shield grille up front and center, as well as the brand’s technologically advanced multi-element LED headlamps to each side, these now showing up across the entire lineup. It’s a handsome SUV from front to back, its familiar face offering up a certain prestigious respect to those in the know, the only 2016 visual change being a mildly reworked lower fascia that replaces two straight strike-through chromed slats with curving trim in order to make way for new circular fog lamps. It’s subtle, but the change adds a little more movement to the SUV’s frontal design, this metal brightwork followed around each side by thickly chromed side window trim that highlights a sporty greenhouse effectively hiding its rather upright rear portions. The MDX’ hind end is particularly fashionable with wraparound LED taillights that look fabulous at night, plus chrome-rimmed rear fogs that match additional bright metal detailing across the hatch. My tester’s understated 19-inch seven-spoke alloys only included chrome bolts and bright Acura branding at center, but they rounded out the design nicely.
While still a fine looking CUV the nominal changes do little to inform would-be buyers about the big upgrades hidden within. You’ll need to peer through the window to see your first hint of its mechanical news, the old shift lever replaced by Acura’s new pushbutton and pull-tab actuated automatic. And it’s no slow-shifting six-speed autobox either, but rather a state-of-the-art nine-speed unit with optional auto start/stop to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions when the engine would otherwise be idling, while grippy optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) incorporates an upgraded rear differential for even better at-the-limit handling. New driver assist and active safety features have been added too, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Acura’s 24-valve, SOHC i-VTEC-enhanced3.5-liter V6 is unchanged and still only adequately energetic for a vehicle that weighs 4,268 lbs as tested, with 290 horsepower available at 6,200 rpm and just 267 lb-ft of torque from 4,500 rpm, but the nine-speed breathes new life into the old mill. Shifts are quick and often, allowing the engine to maintain its sweet spot when attempting to coax out max performance for quick takeoff or highway passing, especially enjoyable when Sport mode is engaged via the IDS controller on the same console-mounted transmission interface, with shifts easily executed via steering wheel paddles. Sport mode holds shifts longer, quickens throttle response, increases the steering “weight” and relays more torque to the outside rear wheels in corners for better turn-in, plus it even enhances the engine note, and while I chose this mode often, I went to default Comfort mode for tooling around town as it still provides good performance without all the excitement, and more importantly allows for better fuel economy, my top-line tester rated at 19 mpg city, 26 highway and 22 combined thanks to its auto stop/start upgrade; the regular MDX with SH-AWD is rated at 18 city, 26 highway and 21 combined, whereas the front-wheel drive models are estimated at 20 city, 27 highway and 23 combined with auto start/stop and 19 city, 27 highway and 22 combined without.
No matter the drive mode the MDX offers up a wonderfully comfortable ride, it’s ample suspension travel allowing my tester’s 245/55R19 Michelin Latitude all-seasons to improve adhesion without adding harshness. Truly, it just glides over road imperfections as if they’re not even there and then has the ability to carve up a canyon road with size and weight defying precision.
Acura’s torque-vectoring SH-AWD is a big part of its surprising agility, the system upgraded with a new twin-clutch rear differential design that directs torque between front and rear wheels plus side to side for quicker, smoother operation through corners plus ultimately better traction, that along with the capable yet compliant suspension results in an exhilarating driving experience that’s so smooth passengers will be lulled to sleep in comfort, other than the kids that can be entertained via optional 9.0- or 16.2-inch widescreen displays that hang off the MDX’s roof.
There are two rows of roomy seats behind the impressively comfortable and spacious front seats, the second row near limousine-like when the 60/40 split bench is set to it’s rearmost position and, after simply pressing a button to gain easy access, the third row much easier to climb into and when seated, much more accommodating than some others in the class.
No matter where you’re sitting luxury abounds, and the quality of detailing is excellent. For instance, Acura covers the glove box door in soft padded synthetic whereas Audi, a brand that often gets attributed with class-leading interior quality, has been using hard plastic for the same surface in it’s Q7 up until that model’s most recent 2016 update. The MDX’ door panels are only soft touch on top mind you, plus the padded inserts and armrests of course. Acura finishes the dash top and the entire instrument panel in the nice pliable material too, other than the beautiful strip of open pore hardwood and brushed metal that highlights both sides. Separate wood and metal strips enhance the door panels while the nicest bit of this hardwood and metal kit can be found on the lower console where a sliding lid covers a deep and useful storage bin. A comfortable sliding armrest sits just behind, whereas a row of cupholders aligns to Acura’s unorthodox gear selector. The metal used in this area and throughout the rest of the cabin is some of the best you’ll find in this class, while the switchgear is also right up at the top of the premium sector.
The MDX’ graphic interfaces aren’t the largest or most advanced, but the rearview camera is superb thanks to a full 360-degree view of the surrounding area and extremely good clarity. Putting an address into the nav system was more tedious than others, however. Rather than intuitively finding similar street names to choose from after entering a few letters, it requires a more time intensive letter-by-letter, step-by-step entry process, but once set it worked well.
Another time intensive process is setting the heated front seat controls. Rather than merely offering a simple button or dial, Acura forces you to go into the infotainment system’s climate control panel and press the heated seat graphic that opens up a separate panel at which point you need to press another heated seat button three times in order to set its hottest temperature. This is a ridiculously long process, especially when compared to some others that not only include simple non-digital buttons but also enhance their convenience with auto settings that instantly provide a favorite setting as soon as you start up.
Practicality in mind, dropping the 50/50-split third row into the cargo floor is an extremely easy process. All that’s needed is a tug on a lever that’s easy to reach on the backside of each seat, which flips forward the headrest and lays the seatback completely flat in one fluid movement. Lowering the 60/40-split second-row seats requires a walk around to either side door, after which pulling a lever on the side of the lower cushion lays one side flat; repeat the process for the other side. It should be noted that others in the class, as well as the smaller compact luxury CUV segment, offer even more convenient powered second- and third-row seatbacks. Additionally, a hidden compartment under the cargo floor is useful for quite a bit of extra storage.
Another MDX bonus is a very well finished cargo area that includes heavy-duty carpeting on the backside of each seat, the sidewalls and the floor itself. Acura has also included high quality brushed metal cargo tie-down hoops and finished off the liftgate sill with brushed metal protector plates. The only problem with such pretty detailing is that these protector plates really need protection themselves, my tester’s severely scratched up after only 4,500 miles, as was the back bumper unfortunately. Such is life with a family hauler, especially one painted black; darker colors making scrapes and scratches all the more noticeable.
Not everything mentioned so far is standard, by the way, my tester coming with the Advance package, which is Acura’s ultimate combination of features that include the aforementioned unique 19-inch alloys, auto start/stop system, and the genuine open-pore hardwood, which is olive ash, incidentally, plus this upgrade adds roof rails, power-folding auto-dimming side mirrors, adaptive cruise control, upgraded perforated Milano leather upholstery, a 10-way power-adjustable passenger’s seat including two-way powered lumbar support, ventilated front seats, heatable second-row outboard seats, front and rear parking sensors, a fabulous sounding 12-speaker 546-watt ELS surround audio system with Dolby Pro Logic II, collision mitigation braking with head-up warning and lane keeping assist, plus more, while the widescreen DVD rear entertainment system with HDMI input came as part of the Entertainment package that also adds a 110-volt household-style power outlet.
By the way, all the active safety features noted are part of the AcuraWatch suite of sensing and driver-assist technologies, which when included earn the MDX an IIHS Top Safety Pick + rating, whereas all MDX models achieved an NHTSA five-star crash test rating.
When equipped with the Advance package the MDX also includes everything from the lesser Technology package, albeit not the slightly less powerful ELS audio system and smaller nine-inch rear entertainment display when the Entertainment package is added, but otherwise adds rear side sunshades (when that Entertainment package is included), plus LED puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, navigation, a color multi-information display with turn-by-turn guidance, GPS-linked climate control, AcuraLink advanced connectivity, Song By Voice, HD Radio, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring with rear cross traffic alert, and more.
Other features pulled up from the base model include the aforementioned eight-inch infotainment system and heatable front seats I complained about before, plus some useful tech such as LED DRLs, pushbutton ignition, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a powered tilt and telescopic leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, a multi-angle rearview camera with dynamic guidelines, text message and email reading functionality, Bluetooth audio streaming, satellite radio, Aha, Pandora, Siri Eyes Free, tri-zone auto HVAC, ambient cabin lighting, a Homelink universal garage door opener, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including two-way powered lumbar support and two-position memory, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, leather upholstery, the sliding second-row seat with the “One Touch Walk-In” feature noted earlier, and third row seat for standard seven-occupant seating, a powered moonroof, a powered liftgate, hill start assist, tire pressure monitoring, all the usual airbags plus one for the driver’s knees, and much more, the base MDX SH-AWD starting at $45,015 plus freight and dealer fees, and my as-tested fully loaded model going for $57,230.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press; Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press; Copyright: American Auto Press