The 2016 version of Acura’s bestselling model may look the same as last year’s, but there’s a lot going on behind that chiseled visage. For starters, the MDX crossover gets a new ZF nine-speed automatic transmission. Adding three more cogs creates a wider ratio spread than in the previous model’s six-speed, ostensibly helping to keep the MDX’s 290-hp 3.5-liter V-6 in the more efficient parts of its power and torque bands. Not that last year’s 290-hp/six-speed combo was a laggard, but Acura, like all automakers, is looking to improve the EPA estimates of its vehicles however it can. And apparently, Honda’s luxury arm is more comfortable offering a nine-speed than a continuously variable automatic.
First is a superlow creeper gear. The MDX storms out of the hole from rest using a 20.4:1 overall ratio (first-gear ratio times final-drive ratio, not counting help from the torque converter) and sprints to 60 mph in 5.9 seconds, half a second quicker than the 2014 model we tested with the six-speed automatic. It then continues on to a 95-mph quarter-mile trap speed in 14.6 seconds, three-tenths more rapid than the 2014. You’re into second gear before you can finish saying “Acura.” Wide-open-throttle shifts are torque-clipped and quick. Of course, having more gears doesn’t necessarily mean the transmission quickly finds the right gear—as sometimes when tipping in with part throttle at 20 to 35 mph it will lug in a too-tall gear for a while. But mostly, there’s a whole lot of shiftin’ going on.
About that shifting: driver inputs are via buttons instead of a lever, as is the case on nine-speed versions of the new TLX sedan. Although off-putting at first, like learning to play the clarinet, we eventually got the hang of it. There are some instances, perhaps when trying to do a quick three-point U-turn in front of an approaching semi, where you might yearn for the Neanderthal familiarity of a PRNDL shift lever. With the push-button setup, you need to take your eyes off the road, look down, find the desired button and push it (or pull a switch back in the case of reverse). Eliminating the console shifter does free up access to the bottom of the center stack, but the button farm takes up about the same amount of real estate on the console as did the old shifter.
Another new-for-2016 feature is “idle stop.” Like other automatic stop-start systems, Acura’s shuts down the engine at stoplights to save fuel. That’s partially responsible for a 1-mpg bump in the EPA city fuel-economy rating. There is also a bump felt as the engine abruptly restarts after an idle stop; it’s not as harsh as we’ve experienced in some BMWs and Porsches, but it’s not the silky awakening of a similarly equipped Mercedes-Benz, either. Overall, we saw an average of 21 mpg with the 2016 MDX while in our lead-footed care, a 2-mpg improvement over the six-speed MDX we tested in 2014. Complete review on www.caranddriver.com, by Michael Simari