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I think you should give it a 3rd try with the ZF, the first two where probably outliers.
 

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Daaaamn yalls so hypersensitive about this topic.

The true ZF failures mostly have been happening on the 2016 - early 2017 units (like my MDX that I get back today with a replaced ZF9). Late 2017-2018+ is either too early to tell or they fixed it finally (the latter is my guess, since there were hardware changes in the 2019+ units). The OP's case definitely sounds like some tech didn't put back the right fluid amount (grinding gears is pretty indicative of that).
 

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If you are concerned about the reliability of the 3rd gen MDX then the absolute LAST thing you should do is buy a brand new completely redesigned 4th gen that is new from the ground up. Yes it may share engine and transmission with the RDX and some Honda vehicles, but those have been having their own set of problems (read the RDX forums).

First 2 years of a new redesign regardless of brand (excluding maybe Kia, Genesis or Hyundai) is bound to experience higher rate of issues than the 7th year of an existing model.

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I vow to never have my fluid changed for fear of this!! All versions of the ZF are crap in my opinion, yes, they have improved from the previous version in 17 but it still have many issues. My 19 is now hard shifting from Park to any gear, Reverse, Drive, or Sport, I have complained about the hard shifts from Day 1, I dont know that the hard shifts ever go away once warm, they are just a little smoother and more tolerable, but for a car at this price point, and considered LUXURY, not acceptable. I have been Honda/Acura my entire life, if they dont figure it out on the next redesign I'm jumping to the YOTA ship I guess! Not sure why they use someone else's transmission, (ZF), and don't just make their own...
I can't stand it anymore!! Most of what you said is on the money. Fluid change was not the culprit. All trannys auto and manual need fluid replacement at some point. 1)The German built ZF9 is a poorly designed tranny. Honda/Acura was having problems with there early MDX trannys in 1st generation. So instead of redesigning they farmed it out instead. Must have signed a big contract because now they are trying to get rid of them. 2) They started using them in the 2016 MDXs. I had one. Didn't notice the imperfections until about 1 month of driving. To keep it simple, they use "dog clutches" in their planetary gear design, thus eliminating a couple of band clutches. All of the above characteristics you brought up were there-especially trying to downshift for a pass. I could have gotten out of the car and run faster.I took it to Acura for software adjustment before I realized the design problem. I talked with the Acura tranny expert and he agreed with me on the design flaw. After that I emailed my "displeasure" to the powers that be at Acura Client Relations. All of my complaints were noted and I think they were going to make sure their much anticipated Hybrid would not be a bummer. 3) I couldn't take it anymore so I went to my favorite dealer and traded my 2016 Tech for the 2017 Hybrid Advance that has a HONDA designed dual clutch tranny. Totally different design. Completely different vehicle! Smooth tranny, powerful, and better ride and brakes. Unbelievable!! I wouldn't trade for the world.Will problem upgrade next year to 2021 redesign.

Not trying to rain on everyone's parade. I am a Honda guy throughout (5-MDX, Civic Si, 2- Goldwing cycles). But every since the 'Ol man' died (Ichiro Honda) the company has taken some weird turns.
Just my $.02
 

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Again, if you aren't satisfied with the current gen reliability, and are planning on buying a 1st year 2021 complete redesign, you will be sorely disappointed. It's a completely new vehicle redesigned from the ground up. Acura is having their fair share of issues with reliability on all vehicles right now, including the new Rdx. What makes you think that they'll suddenly get everything figured out for the launch of the 4th gen redesign? Not going to happen. The zf in the 2019 and 2020 isn't as bad as previous years that had issues.

Also read the rdx and honda forums about the 10 speed and you'll see that tranny has its own fair share of complaints from owners.

If you are going to buy a redesign in the 1st year you should go into it expecting you will have problems to deal with (while hoping for the best). Not that you will have problems but chances are pretty good you will have some.

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Again, if you aren't satisfied with the current gen reliability, and are planning on buying a 1st year 2021 complete redesign, you will be sorely disappointed. It's a completely new vehicle redesigned from the ground up. Acura is having their fair share of issues with reliability on all vehicles right now, including the new Rdx. What makes you think that they'll suddenly get everything figured out for the launch of the 4th gen redesign? Not going to happen. The zf in the 2019 and 2020 isn't as bad as previous years that had issues.

Also read the rdx and honda forums about the 10 speed and you'll see that tranny has its own fair share of complaints from owners.

If you are going to buy a redesign in the 1st year you should go into it expecting you will have problems to deal with (while hoping for the best). Not that you will have problems but chances are pretty good you will have some.

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1) I DO like the Hybrid. And again, it does not use the same MDX drive train. I have had both. Completely different. I will definitely get another hybrid- 3.0L w/ dual clutch tranny (if that's what is offered). And I am well aware of the pitfalls of new generation vehicles. It will have been released for awhile before I have to get another (summer 2021). 2) Nowadays I lease my MDX's so it doesn't belong to me AND my warranty covers the lease period. 3) I have a summer vehicle to drive so I'm putting only 7K-9K per year on it.
 

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Our 2019 MDX SH-AWD Bangs second gear with fury especially if your rolling down hill. Dealer said they all do it, enjoy...
 

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Our 2019 MDX SH-AWD Bangs second gear with fury especially if your rolling down hill. Dealer said they all do it, enjoy...
I have a 2019 MDX with 16,000 miles on it, and it has never "banged" going into second gear whether I'm going up or down a hill, level ground, or whatever the conditions might be. I would take my car to another dealer for a second opinion. If you are still given the same crap, then I would contact Acura directly. If you still get the run-around, then it would be time to take stronger measures to protect your investment. As a matter of curiosity, what is the mileage on your MDX?
 

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Our 2019 MDX SH-AWD Bangs second gear with fury especially if your rolling down hill. Dealer said they all do it, enjoy...
That is an utter amount of BS coming from them. Take it to another dealer and don't go back to that dealership ever again.
 
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