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2016 Acura MDX: 9-speed transmission puts the thrill back into SUV driving

Initially we questioned why Acura opted for a 9-speed Sequential SportShift ™ automatic transmission with IDS for the best selling premium SUV in North America. A SportShift ™ transmission with electronic IDS drive mode selection for a truck-based SUV seemed to rest on the edge of “gadget overkill,” Then we drove it!


Torque News spent some serious seat time driving 2015 Acura MDX AWD Advanced, while on a recent trip to Phoenix, Arizona. We found MDX to perform well under all road and weather conditions, while being more than “reasonably comfortable” for a light truck based premium SUV.

The three main points that caught our collective attention were the premium look and feel of MDX, the astounding fuel economy, and the overall quiet and general driving comfort of MDX.

The only corrective item that came up on the wish list was a more consistent torque transfer across the transmission shift-pattern; specifically when driving at lower speeds while in city or freeway transitional traffic. In other words, we found the transmission to wander a bit in search of that “sweet spot.” For 2016 in steps Acura’s button engaged 9 speed Sequential SportShift ™ automatic transmission and (IDS) Integrated Dynamics System.

9 speed paddle shifter, drive mode selection and grade logic

2016 Acura MDX buyers will experience an SUV drive experience like no other. Acura's taken the label “Premium 3 row SUV” and changed the definition as to what an SUV driving and ownership experience can be. While limiting the engine and transmission choice to one, Acura’s taken the guess work out of MDX as to which engine or transmission may be the best combination for fuel economy and performance.

2016 MDX presents a 9 speed automatic transmission with 2 preset electronic activated shift logic, “Drive” and “Sport,” and 3 dynamic-drive-modes; Comfort, Normal and Sport. As featured in RLX and TLX, MDX now takes on a ‘transformer” like drive personality. Much like having a light truck or SUV with a sports-car-like driving characteristic, the technologically advanced MDX has put the fun back into driving while preserving refinement and fuel economy.

We found the transmission and IDS to be “second nature” after an afternoon driving MDX

As Acura states: “MDX instrument panel is an experience in itself.” we agree and will spin a future article on that subject. Like all new systems, there’s a bit of a learning curve to discovering the greatest value and drive experience from 2016 MDX. Our test mule is the top of the line( MSRP $57,080.00) 2016 MDX all-wheel-drive with Advanced technology and entertainment; there’s a lot going on in this vehicle, we actually found the transmission and IDS systems to be the easiest features in MDX to master.


EarthDreams ™ V6 engine and 9 speed transmission work together flawlessly.The transmission in MDX is operated via a center console bush button, the park and reverse selection of the transmission and IDS, Via a slide-toggle. It’s as simple as that . Once you've grown accustom to the consul location of the transmission controls, you’re off and running.

Located between the center-dash gauge cluster is a 4 inch (MID) multi information display screen, keeping the driver informed of transmission and drive mode selection, LaneKeep ™ assist and other engaged active safety systems available in MDX.

Our favorite feature of the Acura push-button 9 speed transmission is the “second tap” engagement of “Sport-Mode.” In short, much like downshifting on steroids…

When required for passing, quick lane change, highway on ramps, or accident avoidance, one has the option of pressing the drive button while engaged in comfort or normal IDS, sending Acura’s 9 speed transmission instantaneously into a closer gear ratio, higher RPM performance mode. The first time we engaged “sport” from a 50 mph rolling start, with the push of a button and the press of a peddle, we were blown away by the instantaneous acceleration transferred through SH-AWD to the pavement. looking to the speedometer, 90 mph came up in the seemingly blink of an eye.

We also discovered a very usable side to “sport mode” when driving down steep downgrades. Acura’s newest transmission emulates the attributes of a manual transmission by “engine braking.” While on a downhill or driving under 40 mph on a two lane country sweeper, we discovered a transmission that rendered Acura’s MDX brakes unnecessary; pretty cool stuff!

For Torque News, 2016 Acura MDX puts the thrill back into SUV driving. For those considering the purchase of a premium 3 row SUV, we believe that MDX offers the highest standard featured value and performance found in the segment today and merits a hard look. North American buyers have spoken by making MDX the best selling premium 3 row, several years running.

You may view Acura MDX variant price and specifications here.


Josh L (not verified)    April 14, 2015 - 10:13AM

Really? I would recommend you take one for a long-term drive and then report back.

Owners have complained about first/second gear shifting issues - and problems with the "new" SH-AWD - around the Web. Not to mention the frustrating navigation/infotainment debacle.

But I think Acura is playing with fire here. The only thing which *hasn't* required unscheduled service on my 2015 MDX is the transmission.

Parks McCants    April 14, 2015 - 12:18PM

In reply to by Josh L (not verified)

Good day Josh L. Did you note the title and content of the article? 2016 MDX 9 speed. I just spent a week and 680 miles driving one under all driving and weather conditions. So, you're happy with the transmission... What's your point? What issues have you (personally) dealt with? And, what has Acura done for you in correcting the reported problem of your MDX? Thanks.

Parks McCants    April 20, 2015 - 11:43AM

In reply to by Josh L (not verified)

Welcome Josh L. Thanks for the heads-up on the editing. You've returned multiple times with your concerns, and are welcome to do so. However, this article is written in direct review of the 2016 release, and may or may not directly pertain to glitches encountered in you personal MDX. Take care.

Josh L (not verified)    April 19, 2015 - 11:19AM

This article looks like a paid advertisement for Acura.

If you drove one 680 miles and didn't experience the "engine braking" phenomenon, 1-2 shift lag, or other related oddities, then either Acura gamed the review or you had a good duck for a car. Also if the touch screen hasn't bothered you, then you must have not used it or had a high tolerance for frustration with slow, antiquated systems.

And it's not about what Acura has done for me (I was just using my car - my seventh Acura - to prove that I've been dealing with this) - it's about impartiality in the press. As a professional writer, I take exception because this looks like a piece written based on press releases.

Also note editing/grammar issues in the first section, which shows little to no editing:
For 2016, ***In steps Acura’s button engaged, 9 speed Sequential SportShift ™*** automatic transmission and (IDS) Integrated Dynamics System.

Parks McCants    April 20, 2015 - 12:03PM

Hey Josh L. How goes it? Actually Josh L, while I do take exception to the less than seamless operation of voice recognition, I found the touch screen in my unit to work as designed. The article reflects an opinion based on an extended drive and ride review of 2015 and 2016 MDX. Is it perfect? No, but then again, I've yet to discover the perfect vehicle universally accepted by all that drive it. look through the Acura archive, I'm sure you'll discover a critical review of a component or two.

MDX16 (not verified)    May 1, 2015 - 6:37AM

Thanks for the article. I went and test drove this car and loved it. I ended up buying it. I found the transmission to be absolutely fantastic. Very smooth and seamless. The touch screen is a little laggy, but I can live with that. It is a great vehicle! There are a lot of 2016 haters. These people are mostly 2015 owners who are soured on the fact that they have a dated model. I feel the transmission is an improvement over the 6 speed which I had. Faster shifting and the engine is always in the right gear.

MDX16 (not verified)    May 1, 2015 - 6:43AM

Josh L must be a 2014 MDX owner because the 2016 has no 1-2 shift lag. He read this on the internet from another 2014 MDX owner who is upset that his car has been out dated. Does Josh expect us to believe that he bought the 2016 without test driving it? If he test drove it, did he not notice this lag he is is talking about? Would he still buy a car that had this lag that he despises? Or maybe the car worked fine during the test drive and something happened. If that is the case, stop complaining on a blog and go see your dealer.

Thomas (not verified)    July 7, 2015 - 6:42PM

I have put almost 500 miles on my MDX with sh-awd and absolutely love it! Transmission for me shifts smooth and is always in the right gear. If I need to pass it's as easy as going WOT and she just purrs. I'm coming from a Acura TL type S and I have to say I prefer the M.

Neil (not verified)    July 9, 2015 - 10:09AM

Just bought a 2016 MDX with tech. With a recent road trip, I found the initial comfort of the seats to be a royal pain, literally. I am a 6 footer, and had to either stop often or adjust my seat due to fatigue. Not noticeable at all on short trips, but perhaps I am used to my 2013 Volvo xc90 seats? Also, what have you experienced with heavy traffic? The tranny bucks a lot and feels like it should stay in a higher gear for a smoother stop-and-go experience. The "sport" mode (obviously) makes it almost unbearable in heavy traffic. Otherwise, the ride is superb, and the nav with voice is truly exceptional, offering appropriate rerouting to avoid traffic/congestion. Some background info: I have a 2003 TL-S that has been THE most comfortable and fun to drive car I have ever had. I can't seem to part with it. It has been almost flawless (yes, the tranny was replaced at 105,000 miles but my dealer really took care of me).

Parks McCants    July 9, 2015 - 1:39PM

In reply to by Neil (not verified)

Good day Neil. Yes, I did find the MDX seats to be( initially) excessively stiff, this did pass for me with seat time. As to the transmission; I've yet to experience anything negative in its operation. Your transition into the MDX from the TL-S is a measurable one, and.... will take a bit of getting used to.

I'm still scratching my head on the Volvo / MDX comparison... Take care.

Stacijeane (not verified)    July 31, 2015 - 9:56PM

I LOOOOOOOOOOOVVVVVVVVVVVVVVVEEEEEEEEEEEEEE my 2016 MDX w/tech. I've had three Acura's and love the brand. Have about 3,500 miles with no complaints.

Giselle (not verified)    February 28, 2019 - 10:20AM

In reply to by Stacijeane (not verified)


Liam (not verified)    August 8, 2015 - 2:55PM

My 2016 MDX has been a great purchase! The 9 speed transmission is so smooth!!! Josh L is a jealous 2015 owner with a 6 speed. Don't believe the hate. Go test drive the 2016 MDX if you are interested in it.

Thomas Ng (not verified)    August 10, 2015 - 12:38PM

Family took our first 450+ mile round trip in our 2016 SH-AWD MDX. Drive and ride was amazing. Tried out all 3 IDS settings and I am amazed at the difference between each selection. Cabin was super quiet, ride was smooth, transmission and engine worked together harmoniously creating plenty of power when needed or quiet and efficient on those long 100 mile stretches of road. Anyone who knocks the transmission/engine is either never test drove one and is going off what they have read or they don't know how to command their vehicle. I am very picky and my 2016 MDX exceeds all my expectations.

Ned B. (not verified)    August 14, 2015 - 10:16PM

We have had a 2016 MDX with Adv Technology. I am not that tall at all, 6ft, and our family vacation to the beach was uncomfortable with the left foot rest way too close to the seat, you ride with your left knee jammed up too close. We love all other aspects about the car especially with the near 29 MPH on the highway trips. Big issue with the engine downshifting and uneven braking. When you are driving 25-30 MPH and need to brake to turn, the engine will downshift and the car lunges and can almost be unsafe with braking. The inability to smoothly brake is really an issue.

Ned B. (not verified)    September 5, 2015 - 7:13PM

In reply to by Parks McCants

I am referring to the Driver side position. The foot rest position is much too close. The only way the seat goes far enough backward is to lower it all the way to the floor and then you are far enough away to prevent pressure being applied to your left leg which is uncomfortable on a long drive. But then you are sitting on the floor and are not in the right driving position to see the road. The seat has to move forward when you raise the seat which is again a very poor design. The braking is really an issue. After driving this car for another month, we are ready to take it into the dealership to have them inspect the brakes and clutch. I have tried all different driving modes but the main mode we drive it in is the standard D mode (normal). When you are coasting down a hill the engine is in a braking mode to keep the car from accelerating, but then when you have to actually brake....because when you apply the break there is then less resistance on the engine and the engine automatically shifts to a HIGHER gear (not downshifting) which then causes the car to actually accelerate and lunge forward at precisely the time you are braking and wanting the car to slow down. This is extremely unsafe and a very uncomfortable driving situation. The end result is that you CANNOT brake smoothly and evenly and I didnt buy a $50,000 car to lunge back and forth when braking. It is either a terrible design or there is an issue with the clutch/brakes. We are taking it to the dealer soon to inspect.

Vic M (not verified)    August 17, 2015 - 12:03PM

After buying a 2016 MDX Advance in Apr., we left for an extended trip and when I returned, I forgot whether or not you can downshift from the console (as opposed to the paddle shifter on the left side of the steering wheel.) It seems to me that you could downshift from one of the switches on the console. The only place seems to be the reverse switch but for obvious reasons, I'm reluctant to try it at moving speeds.

Gary Halleen (not verified)    December 15, 2015 - 3:18AM

I'm about 1,200 miles into my new 2016 MDX. In general, I'm extremely happy with it. Driving is fun and sporty when I want it to, and comfortable the rest of the time, depending on how the IDS is set. The transmission has been perfect. No complaints about it, at all. This is my third Acura, and they've all been great cars. The only complaint I've had with the MDX is too much wind noise from the top of the driver's side door. I took it to my dealer for an adjustment, and it's much better now.

If I could change just one thing: Acura, please let us permanently disable Auto-Engine Stop!

J.C. (not verified)    March 17, 2016 - 3:56PM

Ned B.
I agree with your comments completely. I bought a 2016 MDX and when you are coasting down a hill and then put your foot on the brake the transmission Upshifts and accelerates which is extremely unsafe. The transmission is very jerky when starting from a dead stop. The engine will wind up and after a short lag it will shift with a jerk. Its my second MDX. Last one was a 2010 with no problems.