The MDX Elite offers just about every creature comfort to keep your passengers travelling in the lap of luxury.
We are now firmly in the middle of winter here in Toronto, and this time of year always represents the lowest point of automotive excitement for me. Even though this season has been a fairly pleasant winter, the streets are still much too salty for me to want to drive anything that I love, and aside from being downright frigid the weather conditions tend to be rather unpredictable. It is however this time of year that I really start to appreciate the merits of a nicely sorted modern SUV. The Acura MDX fits that bill perfectly, and has been sort of a guilty pleasure of mine since it was launched. I had myself booked into a brand-new 2016 Acura MDX Elite and set out for a week to enjoy the occasion.
The biggest news for the MDX in 2016 is the new 9-speed Sequential Sportshift automatic transmission. I immediately noticed upon entering the vehicle that the traditional gear selector has been replaced with an interesting looking push-button style gear selector. To me, the design is a definite throwback to the system seen in 1950s-1960s Chrysler products; but I didn’t really warm up to it in the MDX. It doesn’t save space over the old shifter and it’s not any easier to use, so I am not quite sure what the logic is. The new transmission is mated up to the same 290 horsepower 3.5L i-VTEC V6 from the previous model year and power is transferred to the wheels through the very well-regarded Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system.
From a driver’s perspective I have mixed feelings on the new nine-speed transmission, sourced from ZF. I found the shift from first to second particularly delayed, especially when cold. Beyond that nuisance though the new transmission does seem to perform fairly well. It’s lightning quick to downshift when asked and does a fairly good job in the commute. The paddle shifters are some of the better units I’ve used, and best of all the extra gears helped to keep the RPMs right where they need to be for maximum efficiency and better utilization of power. This alone made this 2016 model feel a little peppier than the last MDX I drove. The extra efficiency is welcome as well, and at the end of my week with the MDX my average fuel economy was sitting at 11.3L/100km in rush hour commuting. The MDX does consume premium fuel, but keep in mind that we’re talking about a seven passenger in the bitter cold temperatures.
Mechanical updates aside, the MDX still represents one of the best well-rounded SUVs out there. Finished in Crystal Black Pearl and sitting on the tasteful 19” rims standard on the Elite trim package, my tester carried forth a very subtle elegance that I really like. It’s not flashy or eye catching, but if you do happen to look at it you can’t help but notice how neatly the lines flow, how well-proportioned everything is and how well finished the exterior looks. Even the signature Acura “beak” looks agreeable and appropriate on the front of the MDX. I also wish more cars on Canadian media fleets were ordered in black – a clean black SUV is just so striking against the salt encrusted traffic and roads this time of year.
Dynamically I’d consider the MDX one of the better driving and handling SUVs out there. The Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) allows you to select between three distinct drive modes; Comfort, Normal and Sport, which alter the steering, throttle response, transmission shift points, and engine mapping to suit your preferences. I kept the MDX in “Normal” most of the time as I found it the best fit for my commute driving style. I do wish that the steering provided a little more feedback, but it does track extremely well and on-center feel is very nice. The MDX is actually pretty impressive through corners and remaining very composed with minimal body roll, while the nine-speed and SH-AWD ensure that you’ve got the power under your right foot to quickly pull through the corner with authority.
That’s not what I like about the MDX though – sure it’s nice to have some sportiness in your SUV, but for me this vehicle is all about getting around in complete comfort. This thing absolutely glides on the highway and the cabin is silent no matter what’s going on outside. It’s the perfect companion for a wintery family road trip. The MDX Elite offers just about every creature comfort to keep your passengers travelling in the lap of luxury. Noteworthy features in my tester, which retails for $64,999, include a 16.2 inch DVD entertainment system, ventilated and heated seats, heated steering wheel, radar guided cruise control, and a 360-degree camera. The 546-watt sound system is also a nice addition, and it’s all controlled from the AcuraLink touchscreen infotainment system, which is due for a refresh.
As expected in an SUV of this caliber, the interior isn’t only packed with features; it’s also a very enjoyable place to spend your time. The Elite comes with real Olive Ash wood trim and perforated Milano leather seating. The dash uses an upscale matte finish rubberized plastic, as do the door panels, and the overall fit and finish inside the SUV is superb. The seats are very comfortable, and with 10-way power adjustment on the driver’s seat it’s not hard to find the ideal position. The second row seats slide forward and back to optimize space as required between the second and third rows.
I did find the third row in the MDX to be on the tight side, especially with regards to headroom, but it’s fine for younger children and access is great. With the push of a single button the second row seat folds down and slides forward so third row passengers can easily step in. Rear cargo space is definitely a scarce commodity with the split third row up, but with it folded flat there is loads of space available. Even up front, the centre console is designed with a massive covered storage bin which easily held my D-SLR camera and the mandatory January tissue box.
The 2016 Acura MDX Elite stands out to me as one of my favorite SUVs for its overall level of perfection. It’s not necessarily the greatest at any one thing, but it does everything very well, and there’s a lot to be said for that kind of versatility without any sacrifice to comfort. Leaving home for work every day before dawn in the dead of winter isn’t a pleasant experience; but climbing into the pre-heated soft leather seat of the MDX and letting its impressive Jewel Eye LED headlights guide my way, knowing that it’ll have the capability to comfortably get me into the city regardless of what obstacles we may face is actually a great way to start the day.