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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Acura MDX

1. What’s new for 2016?

A transmission upgrade, an all-wheel-drive -system reboot, and revised equipment and safety features. Acura’s best-selling vehicle is a seven-passenger premium midsize crossover that received a clean-sheet redesign for model-year 2014. So it shows how tough competition is that Honda’s luxury division is updating just two years into its lifecycle.

The new transmission is a nine-speed automatic with gear selection via pushbuttons on the center console. It replaces a six-speed automatic that used a traditional console-mounted shift lever.

The available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system is the automaker’s next-generation Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) setup. It’s lighter and designed to respond faster for increased agility in corners. A new “AcuraWatch Plus” option package (details below) takes some features of last year’s top-of-the-line Advance Package and brings them to a more accessible price point.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Even though the ‘16 MDX is among the least costly premium midsize crossovers, discounts should be available. The base-price range casts a fairly wide net, with no less than 16 trim levels on offer. Per Honda/Acura policy, options aren’t offered in the traditional sense. Equipment is instead bundled to create separate models.

The entry-level model with front-wheel drive is priced at $43,785 (all base prices include a $920 destination fee). The top-of-the-line model is called – take a breath – the MDX SH-AWD with Advance and Entertainment Packages. It’s priced at $58,000.

Despite the updates, all that competition, combined with a slight dip in sales recently, means dealers should be willing to talk discount off manufacturer’s suggested retail. Pricing service TrueCar.com reports average transaction prices trending nearly $2,000 under base prices. And here’s a tip: fuel economy doesn’t really jump with the addition of the nine-speed automatic. You could almost certainly score an even better deal by showing interest in a 2015 MDX. It’s still a very desirable SUV and dealers should be itching to clear out older inventory.

3. When will the next big change be?

The ’16 updates to a vehicle just two years old are more than just cosmetic, and will likely be followed by freshened exterior and interior styling for the 2018 edition. Don’t expect an all-out redesign before 2020.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

That’s the $50,000 question, and with 16 trim levels, Acura is not making it easy to answer. Base MDX’s have a fairly compelling level of equipment, including leather upholstery, heated front seats, power rear liftgate, three-zone automatic climate control, and Honda’s multi-angle rearview camera.

Situated a step above the base is the new MDX with AcuraWatch Plus Package, which adds pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, and the new “Road Departure Mitigation.” The latter feature can automatically apply steering and brakes to correct the vehicle if sensors detect that a car has left its lane. The MDX with Technology Package, which will likely be the most popular version, builds off the base model, not the one with AcuraWatch Plus. The Technology Package adds a navigation system, Acura’s excellent ELS audio system, blind-spot alert, new rear cross-traffic alert, and rain-sensing windshield wipers, along with the AcuraWatch Plus model’s lane-keep assist, forward-collision, and lane-departure warning.

The MDX with Technology and AcuraWatch Plus Packages includes everything from the previous two models. Another version called Technology and Entertainment Packages adds a rear DVD entertainment system and heated second-row seats. These items can be combined with the AcuraWatch Plus package for yet another permutation. Finally, the Advance Package, which can be ordered on its own or with the Entertainment Package, includes everything in the Technology and AcuraWatch Plus packages, along with unique leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, remote engine start, engine idle stop/start, heated second-row seats, auto-dimming exterior side mirrors, front- and rear-obstacle detection, and second-row-window sunshades.

The main issue in determining the best overall model for you is the same as with Honda and Acura vehicles: the option packages and equipment contained therein are fixed, so if you want obstacle detection, you’re locked into the pricey Advance Package. It also doesn’t make much sense that the AcuraWatch Plus and Technology Packages are treated separately, especially since a valuable safety feature like blind-spot alert is only included with the Technology Package. Push come to shove, we’d recommend the Technology and AcuraWatch Plus Packages model as the best overall value in this lineup.

5. What engine do you recommend?

The sole choice is a 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. That’s a little down on output for a class that also contains more powerful, albeit more expensive, BMWs, Land Rovers, and Mercedes-Benzes. But it’s an efficient engine and well-suited to anything you’re likely to ask of this vehicle. Acura says the new transmission provides faster shift response than the six-speed automatic it replaces.

Availability of front-wheel-drive models coincided with the 2014 launch of this generation and they’re entirely appropriate if you don’t live where it snows or avoid even the light off-roading for which this crossover and most of its ilk are intended. If you do, get AWD. It’s what helps define an SUV.
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6. How is the fuel economy?

Weird. Despite addition of three gears and small reduction in curb weight, most versions of the 2016 MDX have lower fuel-economy ratings than comparable 2015 models.

We usually quote only EPA city/highway combined ratings but we’ll parse the numbers here so you

Front-drive 2016 models rate 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined. Their 2015 counterparts rated 20/28/23 mpg. AWD ‘16s fare slightly better at 18/26/21 mpg versus 18/27/21.

Unfortunately, to get the best mileage Acura requires you to shell out for the engine idle stop/start system included with the Advance Package. It can shut the engine off when the premium crossover is stopped, then instantly restart it when the driver releases their foot from the brake pedal. So equipped, ratings are 20/27/23 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/26/22 with AWD.

7. How does the it handle?

MDX strikes a nice middle ground among luxury crossovers SUVs. It’s not as razor sharp through the twisties as a BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne, but it’s absolutely more capable than a Buick Enclave or Infiniti QX60. Front-drive models can more than hold their own, but Acura’s SH-AWD is a highlight that noticeably enhances grip and response. The system has been updated for 2016 with enhanced torque vectoring. Torque vectoring dynamically alters wheel speed in order to improve handling response. Pair this with excellent steering feel, and the vehicle is quite enjoyable to drive.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Here’s an interesting study in the development and evolution of human-machine interfaces. The 2007-2013-generation version suffered an overabundance of buttons that governed the audio, climate, and navigation systems. Between the central dashboard control stack and steering wheel, some models sported upward of 50 separate controls.

Acura dialed this way back with redesigned ’14 MDX. The number of buttons is less than half and the dashboard now features two screens, one at the top for the available navigation system, and a lower touchscreen to run the audio and climate systems.

But this isn’t necessarily a huge leap forward. Some of the audio and climate functions operate in an unintuitive manner. Navigating the navigation system still relies on a clunky knob/jog dial combination that has been an Acura staple since the mid-2000s. Putting everything together into a single, large touchscreen with a few more physical buttons would simplify things.

9. Is it comfortable?

Honda and Acura engineers favor a fairly taut suspension over bump-smothering tuning. So MDX doesn’t ride as softly as and Enclave or QX60. But drivers and passengers alike will still find plenty to appreciate. The seats are cushy yet supportive, particularly with the upgraded upholstery in models equipped with the Advance Package. Unfortunately, these models are the only ones equipped with ventilated front seats. Second-row passengers have sufficient headroom and legroom. The third row is not too difficult to access thanks to a one-touch power sliding mechanism on the second row. Headroom and legroom in the third row are more suitable for children than adults, though. Buyers who will regularly use all seating rows would be better served with an Enclave or QX60.

10. What about safety?

The MDX excels in crash testing. The ‘16 was too new to be rated for occupant protection by the government or the influential, industry-backed Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). But since it’s not fundamentally different than the 2015, that model’s data is applicable.

The 2015 edition received the maximum five stars overall in the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system. And it aced IIHS testing, earning the groups highest award of Top Safety Pick+.

In addition to the usual roster of airbags and other active and passive safety features, many others are available through the AcuraWatch Plus and/or Technology package. Now of course, none of these advanced features are a substitute for vigilance on the part of the driver, but the sheer number of safety nets is most definitely reassuring.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Excellent. Consumer-research data provided by firm J.D. Power ranks the Acura brand well-above the industry average for dependability and the 2014 MDX – the last for which data is available – above average in predicted reliability. (Interestingly, owners rated the ’14 MDX below average in J.D. Power’s survey of initial quality over the first 90 days of ownership.)

As for resale, residual-tracking company ALG ranks the MDX in its top tier for long-term value, projecting it’ll retain 36-42 percent of its value after five years, depending on trim level. That’s better overall than the Infiniti QX60 (34-37 percent) and Buick Enclave (28-30 percent).

Research company Intellichoice, which projects depreciation, maintenance and other factors, ranks the 2015 MDX average when measuring expenses over a five-year period.

12. Is it better than the competition?

In many ways, yes, with the biggest knock the up-sell approach Honda’s premium brand takes to packaging and selling it. The ‘16 version is a comfortable luxury crossover packed with high-tech gadgetry and lands just the right-side of sporty for the overall driving experience. Its third-row seat is not as roomy as some rivals with longer bodies, but its relative compactness is an asset for handling, maneuverability, and parking. And audio/climate/navigation interfaces could use some more development.

With more than a dozen trim levels, however, confusion and frustration are quite possible. The AcuraWatch Plus set, for example, isn’t a comprehensive suite of safety features, despite its inclusive-sounding name. Blind-spot alert is not included, for instance, but is a part of the Technology Package. Getting such key features requires moving up another trim level entirely. Simply incorporating the AcuraWatch Plus package into the Technology Package would eliminate no fewer than six trim levels. Even maximizing fuel economy requires moving up the model price ladder to qualify for the stop/start system.

MDX merits a top spot on your shopping list. But carefully assess which amenities matter most to you to avoid spending thousands more than you expect just to get one or two features you really desire.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]