2016 Acura MDX

Test Drive: 2016 Acura MDX

Sitting at a stoplight on a typical summer day in Southern Ontario, I can’t help but notice how many people are driving an Acura MDX. Maybe it is one of those situations where you notice it more because you also happen to be driving one, in this case a 2016 model. But the truth is recent sales figures support my theory. Acura states, the MDX is Canada’s top-selling 3-row Sport Utility Vehicle.

The 2016 Acura MDX is everything you could reasonably hope for in a luxury SUV and a few things you might not expect. When parent company Honda launched Acura in 1987 as a brand in Canada, their goal was to provide luxury transportation to compete with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, but do so with the understanding Acura vehicles would never be the most powerful or sporty-sounding vehicles in the market.

Instead, technology would play a key role, as engineering excellence is at the core of every Honda and Acura automobile. The newest MDX follows this path by offering solid performance, reliability and fuel economy that for the most part works the plan flawlessly.

Power comes in the form of a 3.5-liter 24-valve i-VTEC direct-injected V-6 engine. Matched to a 9-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel mounted paddle-shifters, it delivers 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm.

Keeping to the idea that technology rules the day, the new 9-speed transmission is 30 kg lighter than the 6-speed automatic it replaces. Gear ratios are closer and shift times are improved by 25% according to the Japanese automaker. The slimmed-down version also helps to improve handling as the front-to-rear weight ratio is reduced.

If I have one criticism, I am less than impressed with the get-up-and-go power of the MDX from a standing start. On several occasions, I find myself at a stop sign, hoping the engine and transmission combination will get me across the road in good time. The V6 engine seems ponderous at times, as if waiting for a new set of instructions rather than just speeding forward. I appreciate smaller cylinder technology and have long respected Acura for its willingness to be different, but when I step on the accelerator I want action and this didn’t always happen during my test drive.

One of the first things you notice when sitting behind the wheel of the 2016 Acura MDX is the lack of a gear shift lever. This has been replaced by a new shift-by-wire button activation gear selector. Park, Neutral and Drive are triggered by pushing a button. Engaging reverse requires you to pull back on a toggle in the direction of the center armrest. The whole process is easy, but requires a significant shift in thinking. I can’t count the number of times in a week I reached for a gear lever, only to stop and pause for a moment as my brain kicked into gear and engaged R or D. It seems old habits die hard.

The benefit to this design change is improved storage space and console accessibility. I would be hard pressed to find a more engaging, comfortable or spacious luxury SUV. The 2016 Acura MDX lacks for nothing. The center console holds an extensive amount of gear, with the armrest well positioned and two large cupholders ready for anything. Gauges are easy to read both day and night; the 3-spoke steering wheel is speed-sensitive and provides responsive feedback with each turn. Super Handling AWD (SH-AWD) has been improved for 2016 with a 25% lighter twin-clutch rear differential. Traction in all circumstances is exceptional. The Acura MDX feels like a sedan, something that is obviously not lost on the public given its popularity on Canadian roads.

Seating is spacious for up to 8 people. It won’t stop the family feud as to who sits in the 3rd row, but even the back is surprisingly roomy. Of course, with so many ways to fold down the seats, you can carry just about anything inside from a large dog crate, two tents, sleep bags, suitcases and four people plus the family pet from my personal experience.

Traveling at highway speeds on the way to Muskoka cottage country, I realize once again why the Acura MDX is so admired. It is here, at speeds between 80-120 km/h where it really shines. At night, every button, and there are a ton, is accessible and well displayed. I still reach for a gear selector, but do like the fact my large coffee cup offers unrestricted access when I need it most.

As popularity contests go in the luxury SUV market, the 2016 Acura MDX tops the list. I see no reason to assume things will change in model year 2017, especially as Acura has been careful to maintain the price. Watch for that review coming in November. For now, just remember to step on it when crossing a busy intersection and leave the lid on your coffee cup when you do.

2016 Acura MDX
Trim level: Elite Package
Price as tested (before taxes): $67,468.75
Configuration: front-engine, all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder/ 9-speed automatic
Power/torque: 290 hp/ 267 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): regular (73.8L)
Fuel economy ratings (L/100 km): city: 12.2, hwy: 9.1 L/100 Km
Observed fuel economy (L/100 km): 10.8 L/100 km
Warranties: 5-years/100,000 km (basic)
Competitors: Audi Q7, GMC Yukon, Lexus GX, Infiniti QX80, Volvo XC90

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