More Americans are choosing Acura’s MDX mid-size, luxury sport utility vehicle this year than the competing crossover SUVs from BMW, Mercedes and Audi.
The 2016 MDX is a bargain, with a base price at least $5,440 less than the German brands. Plus, unlike the 2015 BMW X5 and 2015 Mercedes ML350, the base MDX comes standard with leather-covered seats.
Neither the X5 nor ML350 has three rows of seats — they top out at five-passenger seating — but the MDX comes standard with seven seats. The base MDX has a standard rearview camera to help a driver see what’s behind when backing up, while Audi’s 2015 Q7 does not; that’s part of a $3,500 option package.
And that’s not all: The MDX is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where reliability is listed as average. The 2016 MDX also earned overall five out of five stars in federal government frontal and side crash testing, and holds the top spot in fuel economy among non-hybrid, luxury, mid-size SUVs with 20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on highways.
Still, the most eye-catching numbers make up the base price, which rose only $100 from the 2015 predecessor. Starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $43,785 for a base 2016 MDX with front-wheel drive, 290-horsepower V-6 and new, nine-speed, automatic transmission. The lowest starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a 2016 MDX with all-wheel drive is $45,785.
Also for 2016, Acura broadened the MDX offerings to give buyers a wider selection of versions and packages at different price points. Notably, AcuraWatch, which uses radar and cameras to alert drivers to what’s going on around the vehicle, is a stand-alone package.
In comparison to the MDX base pricing, the starting retail price, including destination charge, for a 2015 BMW X5 sDrive35i with two-wheel drive, 300-horsepower, turbocharged six-cylinder and eight-speed, automatic transmission is $53,900. An all-wheel drive X5 xDrive35i starts at $57,150.
Meantime, the 2015 Mercedes-Benz ML350 and the 2015 Audi Q7 start at $49,225. The two-wheel drive ML350 has a 302-horsepower V-6 mated to a seven-speed, automatic transmission, while the base Q7 3.0T has all-wheel drive and a 280-horsepower V-6 mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The MDX, with 19,407 sales in the first four months of this year, isn’t just beating the Germans in calendar 2015. Acura says the MDX, which began production in 2000, is the best-selling three-row luxury SUV in history.
The 2016 MDX, which is already arriving at dealerships as an early model-year introduction, looks quite similar to its predecessor — tasteful inside and out and well proportioned. But the looks don’t convey how sprightly and easily the MDX handles, and how far it has come.
Indeed, the MDX drives smaller than it is; a driver doesn’t notice this 16-foot-long vehicle is wider and longer, from bumper to bumper, than the ML350 and X5.
The 3.5-liter, single overhead cam, direct injection V-6 includes automatic Variable Cylinder Management to help conserve gasoline when all six cylinders aren’t needed to power the MDX. In the test MDX, with top-of-the-line features, the driver couldn’t notice when the cylinders would deactivate. But driver and passengers noticed the new Idle Stop, where the engine turned off when the vehicle came to a complete stop. This is another feature to save fuel.
The Idle Stop also meant the 2016 MDX doesn’t step off the line as quickly as it used to, because it took an instant for the engine to automatically start up again once the driver’s foot began to lift from the brake pedal. No matter, in Sport Mode in particular, the MDX tester moved eagerly forward and felt decidedly light on its feet.
Acura said it worked to reduce weight in the MDX, with the nine-speed automatic 66 pounds lighter than the six speed it replaces. The improved all-wheel drive system, which adjusts torque not only between the front and rear axles but also from side to side, weighs 19 pounds less the previous version and includes a dual-clutch mechanism. Its torque peaks at 267 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm.
The test MDX, mostly driven in city traffic, averaged only 18.5 mpg, which was below government estimates and translates into a disappointing range of 360 miles. Filling up the 19.5-gallon tank with the recommended premium gasoline cost $60.
Inside, there’s a generous 41.5 inches of front-seat legroom, which is more than in the three German competitors. Second-row headroom of 38.3 inches is competitive, and the 27.4 inches of legroom in the two rearmost seats is acceptable for children and for when extra seats are needed. Otherwise, the third-row seats fold easily down, providing a flat cargo floor and a spacious 45.1 cubic feet.
Views out of the MDX are good for scanning the traffic ahead, but when making left turns, just be sure to look around the sizable metal pillars that frame the windshield.
The nine-speed automatic has no shift lever. Instead, the driver pushes buttons in the center console to move the vehicle from park to neutral and drive and back into park. Putting the MDX into reverse gear requires pulling on a dedicated switch in the console, otherwise, shifting is normal and can be quite smooth and quick.
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