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2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Road Test & Review

Acura’s luxurious MDX SUV, now in its third generation, is available as a hybrid. This Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, as it’s called, boasts a hybrid gas/electric powertrain like that of the NSX, but unlike in that supercar it’s the rear wheels that are being driven electrically. Improved fuel economy is one goal, but Acura, eager to establish itself as a performance brand, is more focused on the improved driver control provided by the MDX Hybrid’s torque-vectoring electric motors. Let’s take a close look at the new 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD.

The MPG Question

The standard 2017 Acura MDX, powered by a 290-hp 3.5-liter V6 mated to a 9-speed automatic transmission, is rated by the EPA at 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway/22 mpg combined. Not bad for a luxurious three-row SUV, but not great. The new Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, with a 3.0-liter V6, three electric motors and a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission, does better, rated at 26 mpg city/27 mpg highway/27 mpg combined.

While on the surface that may not look like a huge improvement in economy, the new 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is 45 percent more fuel efficient in town, where many of us do most of our driving. What’s more, the new MDX Hybrid has 321 combined horsepower (31 more than the standard MDX), so it’s the quickest MDX you can buy.

The Powertrain

A direct-injected 257-hp 3.0-liter V6 mounts transversely up front, mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox with an integral 47-hp electric motor that assists EV launches, helps smooth shifts, and serves as the MDX Hybrid’s starter motor.  In back, right where you’d expect a traditional differential, are two 36-hp electric motors, one for each wheel. Contained in a Twin Motor Unit, each motor is precisely controlled to propel the MDX Hybrid and provide stability-enhancing torque vectoring. Via automatic and super quick applications of positive or negative torque to individual rear wheels, the MDX Sport Hybrid is much better to follow the driver’s intended line in cornering. Total output of the system: 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque.

What’s It Like to Drive?

The 2017 Acura MDX Hybrid is a refined ride: Quiet, comfortable and plenty quick. Moreover, the torque-vectoring system gives this MDX an eerie composure when the vehicle is powering out of corners. If you’re able to watch the Power Distribution Monitor on the MDX Hybrid’s information screen while the vehicle is cornering, you’ll see that positive torque is supplied to the outside rear wheel and negative to the inside. The resulting yaw force helps the MDX Hybrid get around corners, aided further by active dampers and a center of gravity that’s lowered by about an inch.

In daily driving, you’ll have to monitor the tachometer to see if the gasoline engine has switched off. You can drive at freeway speeds on electricity alone, but the gas engine will start the moment you’re less than delicate with the accelerator. All told, the new MDX Hybrid is faster and more fuel-efficient than a standard MDX, and it’s remarkably composed on a twisty road.

Pricing

Base price of the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid is $51,960. This model is well equipped and has the Technology Package, which includes active dampers, AcuraWatch Safety, navigation, blind-spot information, 20-inch wheels, power-folding mirrors, and more.

Interestingly, a non-hybrid MDX fitted with the Advance Package has an MSRP of $56,500. If you order a 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid with the popular Advance Package, it costs $58,000, only a $1,500 premium. The Advance Package, with premium leather and wood, plus niceties such as a heated steering wheel, second-row captain’s chairs and a surround-view camera, is expected to be the most popular package on the MDX Sport Hybrid.

The Competition

Acura says the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD has five direct competitors: The Lexus RX450h ($53,035), the Infiniti QX60 hybrid ($53,500), the BMW X5 Xdrive 40e ($62,100), the Mercedes-Benz GLE 550e ($66,300) and the Volvo XC90 T8 ($67,800).

The MDX Sport Hybrid, at $51,960, undercuts all these competitors by at least $1,000. The Lexus has better EPA Combined fuel economy (30 mpg), but it’s only a five-seater. The Q60 seats seven, but this 4-cylinder hybrid powertrain is grumblier than Acura’s V6. As for the three competitors above $60,000, they are all plug-in hybrid vehicles so they are not really in the same class. And only one of them, the Volvo, seats seven.

Nice Style

From all angles, the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD looks good, with low and wide styling that somehow makes this three-row SUV look more compact than it really is.  The new MDX, in general, is a big improvement over the 2016 version, with new styling from the A-pillars forward that is highlighted by an aggressive new “Diamond Pentagon” grille with a huge Acura logo. Visual details that set the Sport Hybrid apart from the standard MDX model include body-color lower side sills (as opposed to black), hybrid markers on the front fenders, and an SH-AWD badge on the power-operated tailgate.

Complaints? A Few.

Actually, four pesky complaints come to mind:

  1. Unlike the standard MDX, which is rated to tow 3,500 pounds, the MDX Hybrid is not rated to tow anything. Forget about that tent trailer.
  2. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available.
  3. The pedal for the MDX’s electro-servo regenerative brakes (as in the NSX) is a tad soft and vague.
  4. EPA fuel economy, though better than that of a standard MDX, isn’t great. An EPA city rating of 30 mpg would go far in helping Acura sell more of these MDX Hybrids.

Sport: Part of the MDX Hybrid’s name

Okay, we’d like better fuel economy, but let’s not forget: The new MDX Sport Hybrid is crafted as a driver’s SUV, a refined and fast family hauler that proves Acura is keen to establish itself as a performance brand (with the NSX as the halo car). To that end, the new MDX Sport Hybrid has an Integrated Dynamics System with four driver-selectable modes (the standard MDX has three).

In Comfort, steering effort is reduced, ride comfort is improved, and the drive-by-wire throttle response is softened. In Normal, the steering, throttle, suspension and torque-vectoring are all dialed up for better control. In Sport, there’s more shock damping for added body control, and more aggressive torque vectoring. Lastly, in Sport +, the transmission starts in first gear (and maximum battery power is available) for best launch performance. EV driving, of note, is disabled in Sport +, and the throttle and transmission settings are dialed up to their most aggressive settings.

Stellar Safety Ratings

Though sporty, the MDX Sport Hybrid first and foremost remains a seven-seat family hauler built with occupant safety in mind. Not surprisingly, the Acura MDX has earned a 5-Star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, while also garnering a Top Safety Pick + score from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. AcuraWatch, the company’s suite of safety-enhancing technologies, is standard on all MDX Sport Hybrids. Besides Collision Mitigating Braking, it provides the MDX Sport Hybrid with Lane Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Road Departure Mitigation.

Final Thoughts

Is the new 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, priced at around $52,000, worth two Honda CR-Vs? If you have a large family, it sure is. Beyond seat count, this is an impressive vehicle that’s well built and refined, and it’s just as good around town as it is on a long trip, where the quietness and excellent seat comfort are appreciated. The interaction of the MDX Hybrid’s gasoline and electric drive systems is seamless, and the torque-vectoring at the rear wheels is apparent only in the remarkable turning composure of this luxurious family hauler. We also like how this new MDX, despite its underfloor battery and hybrid controller, is just as spacious inside as a standard MDX.

In the new Acura MDX Hybrid, you’ll be wowed not only by its quickness but also by how much less often you’ll need to stop for fuel. Sure, it’s not posting Prius-like fuel-economy numbers, what 7-seat SUV (that’s fun to drive) does?