One of the things we’ve always liked about the Acura MDX is its stout engine, which contributes to the athletic feel of this 3-row people hauler. The 2016 MDX continues to be powered by a 3.5-liter V6, which pushes out 290 horsepower, but in a nod to ever tightening fuel economy requirements, the vehicle is now equipped with a 9-speed automatic transmission and stop/start technology.

The use of the new ZF transmission, which was also introduced on the TLX when it bowed as an all-new model in 2015, is apparent from the moment you slide behind the wheel. Gone is the traditional shift lever and in its place is a new array of push buttons to select park, reverse and drive. The switches are different shapes and have different actions, so it’s easy to get the feel of them—you know you’re putting the vehicle in reverse, for instance, because you have to push back on that button. Drive is a simple round push button, while park is a rectangular button at the head of the array.

Multiple modes

In addition to the push buttons for the transmission, there’s also a button for the Integrated Dynamics System which has Comfort, Normal and Sport modes, along with a switch to deactivate the start/stop mechanism, which always defaults to on when the vehicle is restarted.

So, you have a 9-speed transmission coupled to three driving modes and a choice of whether to have start/stop on or off. The engine is still silky smooth and powerful, but this wide choice of driving modes perceptibly changes the dynamics of the vehicle. In everyday commuting, putting it into Economy or even Normal and having the start/stop system on takes a lot of the seamlessness out of what was a pretty smooth operator when the engine was simply teamed with a 6-speed automatic.

A good Sport

Because of the more numerous ratios, the shifts in the 2016 MDX feel a bit lazy. Couple that shift action with the time it takes to restart the engine and the slower throttle inputs, you get the impression that the vehicle isn’t quite certain what it should be doing. It’s not outright annoying, but subtle enough that if you expect a more direct feel to the proceedings, then you’re better off in Sport mode, which has quicker, more pronounced shifts and sharper throttle response regardless of the start/stop status. The settings themselves don’t seem to have a major impact on fuel economy—during a week with our MDX, I saw 21.9 mpg in mixed-use driving, almost smack dab on top of the combined 22 mpg EPA rating.

The downside in city driving of using the Sport mode, which sharpens throttle and transmission response to  address the slower shifts, is that you get less assist in the steering (it feels heavier and slower than in Comfort). Mind you, these are some pretty small nits to pick with otherwise a comfortable, spacious and good looking upscale crossover, but for a brand predicated on Precision Crafted Performance, the devil is in the details.

See past reports for our long-term 2016 Acura MDX...


Long-Term Update: Comfort

Long-Term Update: Road Trip Lite

Long-Term Update: Utility

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