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Road Test: 2016 Acura MDX All-Wheel Drive

A Home Run in the Seven-Passenger Hauler Derby

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In its natural habitat

To understand what the 2016 Acura MDX is all about, it helps to know a couple of things. First, the MDX nomenclature stands for “Multi-Dimensional Cross Trainer” — an athlete that excels on many playing fields.

Second, the design and engineering goal for the first MDX in 2000 was “beat winter.” That was our reason for wanting to take the MDX for a drive. A fairly long drive; 800 round trip miles, from Olympia, Washington, to Bend, Oregon—in the winter.

Buyers have flocked to the seven-passenger Acura MDX crossover sport utility vehicle for years due to its reasonable price, reputation for reliability and strong resale value. The contemporary styled 2016 Acura MDX is not only the brand’s top-selling model, it’s the best-selling three-row luxury SUV in history.

At Clean Fleet Report we can’t review the MDX without commenting on the issue of fuel economy. Now that the elephant in the room—$4.00-plus a gallon gasoline—is gone for a while, a vehicle’s miles-per gallon isn’t the concern it once was to many buyers. While the MDX isn’t eligible for our AWD 30 MPG Club, a three-seat, seven-passenger sport utility that notches 27-mpg highway is pretty good (only a one mpg shade behind the eight-passenger Toyota Highlander Hybrid). Front-wheel drive is standard, all-wheel drive is optional.

For 2016, Acura upped the appeal of the MDX with several updates, including a standard nine-speed automatic transmission and a widely available package that provides cutting-edge safety technologies called AcuraWatch Plus. Add the MDX’s superb driving dynamics to the mix and Acura has another home run.

Beat The Snow

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Bring on the winter–we’re prepared

The 2016 Acura MDX’s winter-beating tactics began with an all-new chassis and unibody platform for the 2014 model year. Wide front and rear tracks, a short wheelbase, four-wheel independent suspension and a low roll center deliver excellent dynamics on wet, icy or snowy pavement.

As good as these chassis parts are in concert, it’s Acura’s slick-working all-wheel drive system, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive or SH-AWD, that verifies the engineering design. This enhanced version combines torque vectoring, stability and traction control.

The system can split torque front-to-rear, as well as side-to-side across the rear wheels. It’s a snow champ, gripping and delivering confident forward motion before any wheel slips, something some AWD systems require to trigger their performance.

Don’t dismiss this as marketing hype; it works, even on roads where ice is topped by a couple inches of snow.

Should you wake up some winter morning and find the MDX entrapped in two feet of the white stuff, as I did on my first morning in Bend, no problem. Shift the transmission into either of the two low gears or reverse, and drive slowly away.

Other “defeat winter” features include grime-busting windshield washers, heated seats and outside mirrors, a separate rear cabin heater and extra seals on door bottoms to keep mud and slush from building up so it doesn’t rub off onto long coats, pant legs or dresses.

What about the other seasons? Performance and handling have always been Acura traits and the MDX provides a superb balance of both.

What Makes The MDX Go

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Ready to take on all seasons

Underhood, performance is derived from a 3.5-liter single overhead cam V6 engine. Direct fuel injection and variable valve timing combine to produce 290 horsepower and 267 pounds-feet of torque, more than adequate to move the MDX’s 4,169 pounds.

Power is distributed to the wheels through a new nine-speed automatic transmission. Following a recent trend, the MDX forgoes the traditional center console mounted shift lever in favor of a push-button drive selector and steering wheel paddles for manual gear selection.

A button aft of the drive selector labeled IDS (for Intelligent Dynamics System) allows the driver to select from Sport, Normal or Comfort settings. Each selection affects throttle response and steering heft, while the transmission also includes a sport mode for quicker shifts.

The MDX uses several engineering ploys to improve fuel economy, such as variable cylinder management, which shuts down three of the six cylinders during cruising and deceleration. An additional fuel saver is stop-start, shutting down the engine when stopped for a red light.

On The Road

We wanted the MDX for our trip to Bend not just for the security of AWD, but needed space to stow luggage for three along with our grandson Adam’s mountain bike. Biking is something our

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The real reason we chose the MDX

youngest grandson dearly loves, and it was a major reason for our five-day trip.

Our MDX’s exterior color of Forest Mist Metallic was spot on as our day began under a pearl-gray sky and a heavy mist. With a little snow forecast for the Oregon Cascades, we chose to travel Interstate 5 south to Salem and then head east rather than taking the highway over Mt. Hood.

The weather changed back and forth from gray and mist to dark clouds and occasional eruptions of heavy rain until just north of Portland, where the sun began making occasional appearances. A bright sunny sky held until we started the climb over Santiam Pass, and then—oh no!—snow, and more than just a little.

One of the first things I noticed is acceleration is prompt, and the MDX can romp from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds when necessary. But this relatively quick time isn’t just engine power. The sophisticated SH-AWD system distributes torque to all four wheels when accelerating from a stop, giving immediate traction. A secondary benefit is virtually no torque steer.

In daily life, the 2016 MDX is rock-solid and as comfortable as flannel pj’s. The seven-seater managed our most rugged urban terrain with a dismissive sneer. Even the worst road hazards failed to produce kickback through the nicely weighted steering system, and the suspension took the worst out of every bump, pothole and railroad crossing.

Then the engine makes its presence known with a charming roar from under the hood as 290 horses kick their heels.

Visibility is excellent in all directions, and seat comfort is long-ride comfortable as we arrived in Bend with no aching backs or cramped muscles. With a driver’s 10-way power seat and a tilt-telescoping steering wheel, I can’t imagine that any driver would find it difficult to adjust to a comfortable driving position.

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It’s made a name for itself

Equipped with the Tech, Advance and Entertainment packages, our MDX had more high-tech gadgets and doodads that I have space to write about. I will comment that lane-keeping and sudden-stop features can be quite helpful, even to experienced drivers.

Can’t say the same for the adaptive cruise control. It’s indifferent about keeping the set speed, wants to slam on the brakes too quickly, and then is leisurely to speed up again.

On the Interstate and two lane highways the ride is uneventful. By that I mean, it’s quiet, smooth and the MDX responds instantly to driver inputs.

The V-6 engine may not have the strong low-rpm torque of some turbocharged competitors, but showcased its ability with a nearly effortless climb up the mountain to the pass. The nine-speed transmission applied that power smoothly without stumbling around looking for gears, unlike others of its ilk.

On the two-lane mountain road, the chassis didn’t feel as taut as, say, a BMW X5, but our MDX held itself flat in turns and used its torque vectoring all-wheel-drive to ace the apexes. I never wrestled with the vehicle; the speed-sensitive steering was accurate, responsive and always certain on center.

As we got closer to the pass and the snow and ice began to make the road dicey, the SH-AWD system never faltered. For 60-some miles we crept at 5 to 25 mph using Sport mode and paddle shifters; tense, for sure, but safe.

Meanwhile, grandson Adam relaxed in the second row watching movies on the 16.2-inch entertainment screen, pretty much oblivious to the weather.

Unfortunately, after searching for about three hours on our second day in Bend, we couldn’t find a suitable trail to bike on—two-to-three feet of snow covered everything. Adam returned home a little saddened.

However, there was a bright side. Bright if good fuel economy revs your engine a bit. EPA rated our MDX at 22 mpg combined. During our week with the luxo crossover, we averaged 24.9 mpg over 870 miles, dang good for a seven-seater.

Exterior Styling

Acura, along with parent Honda, has a reputation for playing it safe when it comes to styling their vehicles, and the 2016 Acura MDX follows the corporate dictate. The exterior styling is

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Luxury & technology up front

contemporary. This large vehicle is quite handsome with smooth bodywork befitting its premium aspirations.

Up front, corporate styling means Acura’s shield-shaped grille with a single bar that establishes familial identity across the line up. Jewel-eye LED headlights distinguish it as an Acura.

In profile the MDX looks more like a sport-wagon than a utilitarian SUV with its tapered roofline, chiseled front end, and smooth rear. It may not stand out at the athletic club or school-loading zone, but luxury doesn’t always call attention to itself.

Interior Design

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No penalty boxes inside

The 2016 Acura MDX offers third-row seating and extra cargo capacity in a midsize package, the equivalent of building a five-bedroom rancher on the footprint of a three-bedroom bungalow. It’s a nice piece of packaging designed for the needs of families, who often need extra seats so the kids can bring their friends along, but are equally inclined to load the cargo space with Costco buys, bikes and building supplies—rarely using the third row at all.

Our MDX cabin was smartly detailed and meticulously well-constructed with plenty of soft-touch materials, satin chrome accents and Milano leather. Interior storage is excellent, with big cupholders and door bins, plus a deep center bin that can easily hold a small purse or tablet.

The front-end theme is echoed by the dash, with a V-shaped center stack and sloping, tiered design that complements the rest of the cabin. Second-row seats slide fore and aft for added flexibility, providing generous legroom in their rearmost position. It also slides forward for third-row access at the press of a button.

Cargo space is plentiful with up to 68.4 cubic feet of cargo space when the second and third rows are folded. When the third row is up, there’s up to 15 cubic feet of space and 38.4 cubic feet with the second row in place.

High-tech options are available, from lane-departure warning to rearview and side view cameras to adaptive cruise control.

All the safety goodies are present and accounted for, and the MDX earned top ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), as well as five-star scores from the federal government (NHTSA) in overall, frontal and side impacts.

Bottom Line: 2016 Acura MDX

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Luxury lights=luxury price

Our 2016 Acura MDX tester will set you back a few beans; equipped with all-wheel drive and the option packages, it had a sticker price of an even $58,000, including a $920 destination charge.

But a frugal buyer can pass on the basket full of the goodies without feeling deprived. With the new automotive economies of scale, technology and creature comforts that a few years ago were available only on vehicles costing $75,000 or more are now available on even a base MDX that starts at $43,955.

What Acura has accomplished with the MDX is a great blend of sedan and sport utility. It dominates the luxury seven-seat crossover SUV market for one simple reason: it does everything well. Whether you want a luxurious family hauler, an agile and fun-driving machine, or just seek the quiet and comfort of a luxury brand, the Acura MDX has it.

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Disclosure:

Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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About Author: Larry Hall

Larry E. Hall is the Editor-At-Large at Clean Fleet Report. His interest and passion for automobiles began at age 7, cleaning engine parts for his father, a fleet manager for a regional bakery. He has written about cars and the automobile industry for more than 25 years and has focused his attention on “green” cars and advanced technology vehicles. Larry’s articles have been published by Microsoft’s MSNBC.com and MSN Autos as their alternative vehicles correspondent, and is currently the Senior Editor at HybridCars.com. His work has appeared in metro and suburban newspapers as well as business publications and trade journals. He is the founding president of the Northwest Automotive Press Association and a member of the Motor Press Guild. Larry lives and drives in Olympia Wa. with his wife, Lynne, who shares his passion for cars.

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