The Acura MDX is the best-selling luxury 3-row SUV of all time, and it has undergone a substantial refresh for the 2017 model year. A tweaked beak, optional 2nd-row captain’s chairs, 20-inch wheels, and an upgraded interior with wood trim and leathers headline the most significant changes.
Acura keeps things simple by offering only 2 main flavors of MDX. The volume seller is powered by a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated, direct-injection V-6 that makes 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. A ZF-sourced 9-speed transmission is the only transmission available in this MDX. In entry-level models, it routes power to the front wheels. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, which sends power to all 4 wheels, is also available.
A hybrid MDX is propelled by combinations of 1 traditional internal combustion engine and 3 electric motors in a system called Hybrid Sport Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (HS-SHAWD), but we have yet to test it.We did have a chance to strap data acquisition to an Acura MDX SH-AWD with the Advance package, as well as 2 rivals in its competitive set, at our 2017 SUV of the Year program. But before we did that, our staff had to weigh in on the new styling.
Read more on the Acura MDX from 2017 SUV of the Year testingHERE.
“This is the look Acura’s wanted and needed to have for years now,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said when he first laid eyes on the new Acura Precision Concept design language. “Acura needs more like this,” he continued, referencing the MDX’s new nose. The sharp metallic chevron has been replaced with what Acura calls “a diamond precision pentagon grille.” Others were not so sure the new look is an improvement.
“The exterior has lost some of the wackier design elements and is now best described as unremarkable,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said. “The new grille is an improvement but still not elegant, with a mesh design that looks cheap and cheesy.”
At our test track, our 4,222-pound MDX sprinted to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds on its way to a 14.7-second quarter-mile time at 94.6 mph. Braking from 60 mph took 121 feet. The MDX needed 27 seconds flat to complete our figure-8 racetrack-in-a-bottle test, holding an average of 0.65 g of lateral acceleration.
Context for these numbers comes from the MDX’s chief rival, the all-new, thoroughly redesigned Audi Q7. Like the MDX, the Q7 is a luxury 3-row all-wheel-drive SUV with seating for up to 8 passengers. The Q7’s 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6 is half a liter smaller than the MDX’s, but it uses a supercharger to more than make up the displacement difference to the tune of 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. The Q7’s 8 -speed transmission has 1 less cog than the MDX but clearly isn’t lacking for it.
Despite being 772 pounds heavier, the Premium Plus Q7 we tested hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. This lead held through the quarter mile, which came in 14.0 seconds at 100.2 mph. That’s speedy. Equally impressive is that despite the portliness, the Q7 equals the MDX in braking (121 feet) and just nips it through our figure eight (26.4 seconds at 0.68 g).
Although it is significantly smaller and only has five seats in two rows, the Lexus RX is frequently cross-shopped against the MDX. Like the MDX, the RX comes in hybrid trim, and with a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 in the volume seller. Engine output is similar, as well, at 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Also similar to the Q7, the Lexus only has 8 forward speeds in its transmissions. Despite smaller physical dimensions and the lack of a 3rd-row seat, the 2016 RX 350 F-Sport we tested is more than 300 pounds heavier than our MDX. The additional weight shows up in acceleration, as the RX 350 F-Sport hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds on the way to a quarter-mile time of 15.1 seconds at 92.7 mph. A 60–0 mph braking distance of 123 feet is essentially a tie, and the Lexus posts figure-8 numbers just a touch behind the MDX: 27.1 seconds with an average of 0.63 g.
In fuel economy tests, the MDX really shines. Its city/highway/combined EPA rating of 19/26/22 mpg is the same as the smaller Lexus RX 350 F-Sport and betters that of the Audi Q7 (19/25/21 mpg). In the real world, the numbers are even more favorable. On our exclusive Real MPG cycle, the MDX far surpassed its EPA rating in each category, logging 20/32/24 mpg. The other 2 were not able to match the MDX, let alone their own ratings; the best the Lexus RX 350 F-sport and Audi Q7 could manage was 16/27/19 mpg and 17/26/21 mpg, respectively.
We had the luxury of having several editors test-drive the MDX, and the consensus was that the MDX’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system generally lived up to it’s name and made the vehicle “drive smaller than it is.”
“It has a surprisingly nice chassis on winding roads and one of the better FWD-architecture platforms in terms of steering, balance, and grip,” MacKenzie said. “Good power and response from the engine. It has a nicely measured demeanor when driven hard.”
Technical director Frank Markus was more measured in his praise. “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive can certainly be felt pulling the car out of the tightest turns—especially decreasing ones,” he said. “I still think that driving the vehicle with extra throttle to provoke yaw is a strange way of driving, so I am not totally sold on SH-AWD.”
It was even harder to find an editor sold on the performance of the 9-speed transmission; that isn’t surprising given the difficulties we have had with the same ZF unit in our long-term Honda Pilot.
“This powertrain is coarse, and it suffers from so much herky-jerky lash at low speeds that I wouldn’t be surprised to find a trio of broken engine mounts,” senior features editor Jason Cammisa said. “The 9-speed automatic is, as usual, irritatingly slow to respond.”
Drivetrain lash, or the propensity for the transmission to feel like it’s accelerating out of gear before engaging abruptly, also bothered associate editor Scott Evans. Road test editor Chris Walton had similar observations. “The transmission, even in Sport mode, was utterly baffled and held gears too long, upshifted too soon, and downshifted too late,” he said.
To be fair, spirited driving seemed to exacerbate some of the transmission issues; smoothly rolling on and off the throttle would usually but not always deliver the most seamless gear changes.
In terms of ride comfort, the MDX delivered a smooth ride, on-road or off-. “It’s very quiet, and the suspension sops up irregularities,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said. “AWD handles the dirt course easily.” Markus also noted the MDX’s implacability at highway speeds. “It has a very quiet cabin and little or no wind noise at 75 mph,” he said. “On the recreation of the California Highway 110, the MDX is much more comfortable than the Q7 was. I sense no gut jiggle.”
The 2017 Acura starts at $44,890 for the entry-level front-wheel-drive MDX. Our $57,340 tester was a MDX with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and Acura’s Advance package, which adds LED foglights, real interior wood trim, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera system, and the optional captain’s chairs for the 2nd row. The 2017 MDX scored the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s highest rating, Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+), for the 4th year in a row and is on sale now.
Just like that 1 friend on Facebook who keeps shuffling through myriad profile pictures, luxury-car companies are always introducing new front grilles. Acura, a brand that struggles with identity issues, is the latest to do so, just as we were starting to get used its previous design, an inelegant shield most commonly referred to as a beak. The 3-row MDX crossover is the 1st recipient of Acura’s new, so-called “diamond pentagon” grille, part of its mid-cycle refresh for 2017.
Will the nose job help give Acura more character? We’re not so sure: The new front end looks cleaner and less bizarre, sure, but it’s also slightly cartoonish and less distinctive than the beak (for whatever that’s worth). Final judgment will have to wait until the diamond pentagon face makes its way onto other Acuras within the next few years.
Other than the new schnoz, not much else changes for the most popular Acura, and that’s a good thing. The MDX remains one of the most entertaining 3-row luxury crossovers to drive, which might sound like saying that Kim is the most intellectually stimulating of the Kardashians. But Acura’s sophisticated SH-AWD system, which incorporates a torque-vectoring rear differential, imbues the MDX with surprising athleticism. Push it into a corner hard and stand on the throttle, and the differential goes to work apportioning torque to the outside-rear wheel, quelling understeer and motoring you on your way with little drama. The MDX’s accurate steering rack and well-damped suspension also contribute to its dynamic poise. The ride is satisfyingly firm but not harsh, and overall responses are deft.Bantamweight Competitor
The Acura’s curb weight of 4222 pounds also deserves plenty of credit for its lively performance. It’s several hundred pounds lighter than its closest 3-row competitor, the Infiniti QX60, which goes some way toward explaining how the 290-hp MDX nips the 295-hp Infiniti by more than a second in 0-to-60-mph acceleration. The MDX’s sprint of 6.0 seconds and its 14.7-second quarter-mile time are nearly quick enough to keep up with the field of more powerful and significantly more expensive 3-row luxury SUVs we tested recently, including the Volvo XC90, BMW X5, and Audi Q7. The 9-speed automatic added for 2016 also helps acceleration and fuel economy—the MDX is rated at 26 mpg highway, but we saw 28 mpg during our real-world test run at a steady 75 mph—but brings with it some quirks. It is frequently reluctant to downshift, has a console-mounted push-button shifter that takes some getting used to, and, on Advance models, includes a clunky engine stop/start system that’s not particularly smooth.
Where the Acura can’t measure up to more prestigious crossovers is on the inside. Although touches such as open-pore wood and contrasting piping for the leather seats are welcome, the MDX simply doesn’t feel as special as the plush Audi or the gorgeously trimmed Volvo. Fit and finish is good, but the MDX’s dashboard has a mostly plain design and uses plenty of utilitarian-looking materials. The dual-screen setup for controlling the radio, navigation, and climate settings is dated at best and infuriating at worst. Tasks that should be simple, such as turning on the heated seats or changing radio stations, require using the lower touchscreen, which has a complex menu structure and is slow to respond to inputs. We hope Acura’s new infotainment system will be much better.
Passengers will be happier in back, where they’ll find a comfortable second-row bench seat (captain’s chairs also are available) with its own easy-to-use, button-operated climate controls. The 3rd row is predictably cramped, but at least the 2nd row slides forward to give kiddos back there a bit more room.MDX in the Middle
It may be a bit unfair to compare the MDX’s interior with those posh European competitors, since the Acura does cost quite a bit less than the Audi and the Volvo. Our fully loaded MDX SH-AWD Advance model rang up a bill of $59,340, a significant sum to be sure, but considerably less expensive than versions of the Q7 and XC90, which can easily push past $70,000. Choose fewer option packages and the MDX can be had for less than $50,000, at which point the Acura starts to look like even more of a bargain among its peers.
The MDX, like Acura as a whole, continues to occupy a sort of middle ground, a bit below true luxury but certainly above mainstream brands. It also remains competent, practical, and surprisingly lithe for a seven-passenger crossover, all attributes that make it a smart buy for well-heeled families. Although the MDX’s interior is starting to show its age, Acura hasn’t messed with success here, whatever you think of the nose job.
ENGINE TYPE: SOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection
Displacement: 212 cu in, 3471 cc Power: 290 hp @ 6200 rpm Torque: 267 lb-ft @ 4700 rpm
TRANSMISSION: 9-speed automatic with manual shifting mode
DIMENSIONS: Wheelbase: 111.0 in Length: 196.2 in Width: 77.2 in Height: 67.4 in Passenger volume: 133 cu ft Cargo volume: 15 cu ft Curb weight: 4222 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS:
Zero to 60 mph: 6.0 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 16.5 sec
Zero to 110 mph: 20.9 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.4 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.6 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.7 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.7 sec @ 95 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 113 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 188 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad*: 0.83 g
The 3-row Acura MDX is the right size for slinging through urban streets in rewarding fashion. Now, how about a little pizazz in the cabin?By TOM VOELK on Publish Date December 29, 2016. Photo by Martin Campbell. Watch in Times Video »
Automotive product planners have a tough job. They wrestle with what to put in or leave out in order to deliver a profitable vehicle that appeals to the masses.
It seems those at Acura have mastered that art with the MDX. The company crows that it’s the best-selling premium 3-row crossover in history. It helps that S.U.V.s have become the dominant segment in the United States. Apparently, our poor roads mean all-wheel drive is becoming a necessity.
To better battle the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti QX60 and Volvo XC90, the Acura folks have freshened the 2017 MDX with the usual new wheels, a different rear fascia and shiny trim along the doorsills.
But the headline in the spotter’s guide is Acura’s new face. The controversial bionic beak is gone, replaced with a less polarizing pentagonal grille flanked by redesigned LED headlamps. Call it simple or call it generic, it will call to those repulsed by the Darth Vader face found on the Lexus RX. And compared with the RX, the MDX provides an extra row of seating. Good planning there. There’s value, too.
A front-wheel-drive version can be had for $44,890. The high-zoot AWD Advance copy I drove retails for $57,340 lacking only the $2,000 rear-seat entertainment package. (Hey, children have iPads.) Consider that a base, rear-wheel-drive BMW X5 starts at $56,495. For 2017, those in charge at Acura wisely equipped all MDXs with lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, auto braking with pedestrian detection, and road departure mitigation. On top of adding safety, it’s wildly marketable.
The 3.5-liter V6 remains with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. A push-button controller for the 9-speed transmission takes time getting used to. Its manual mode is controlled by steering wheel paddles. Drive modes adjust throttle response, steering weight, gearbox mapping and the amount of engine growl allowed into the cabin.
Driving briskly, I saw 19 miles per gallon against the E.P.A.’s rating of 19 city, 26 highway on premium fuel.
A Sport Hybrid version is supposed to arrive midyear. Projected to deliver an additional 7 miles per gallon in city driving, it will also have 35 more horsepower. The classic win-win situation. The hybrid will also come with an adaptive suspension.
The MDX is already satisfyingly quick and doesn’t really need active dampers. Its road manners are excellent, both comfortable and sporty in the same hard turn. Handshakes and backslaps to the engineers who tuned the chassis. Also, the MDX is a reasonable size, adding to its nimbleness, especially in parking lots.
Super Handling All-Wheel Drive — or SH-AWD, as Acura abbreviates it — offers up a palpable edge in brisk maneuvers. Instead of pulsing the inside rear brake pad to sharpen handing, SH-AWD vectors additional torque to the outside rear tire, pushing it around the bend in a more natural fashion.
The MDX’s upgrade does not include much in the cabin, and this is where I find the Acura execs too budget-minded. Cut-and-sewn dashboards, dramatic LED light piping, and panoramic glass roofs have become the norm in premium vehicles. Even though it uses quality materials, the MDX lacks all that spiff.
Its dual-display interface (the lower portion being a haptic touch-screen unit) isn’t nearly as elegant as Volvo’s system. Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are not supported, though Siri Eyes Free is.
On the plus side, supportive heated and vented seats are your friends on long road trips. Rich open-pore wood trim is clearly from real trees. And some might buy the MDX for the terrific ELS sound system alone.
Top Advance models swap the 2nd row’s bench seat for captain’s chairs, dropping the seating capacity to 6. Row 2 pampers with a separate climate zone and heated seating that slides fore and aft.
There’s no shortage of generous storage cubbies, USB jacks and power ports throughout the vehicle, either.
A button push slides the middle row forward so youngsters can scamper back to Row 3. But leave that space to children; adults will be happy there only if it means not having to take an Uber.
Let’s not overuse the phrase “1st-world problems,” but the MDX has no kick-to-open tailgate feature. And like all triple-row S.U.V.s, it has minimal cargo room in maximum passenger configuration. Row 3 is not powered, but drops and raises easily. And once the seats are flattened, the MDX holds an average amount of kit for the class. (This is where I remind you that minivans are far more spacious.)
Playing armchair product planner, I’d throw a modest amount of money at the dashboard and door panels for some stitching and lighting. It would elevate the MDX experience a full level, perhaps even distract buyers from the tiny sunroof and marginal user interface.
But I wouldn’t change the overall goodness of the MDX. No wonder it’s so popular.
2017 Acura MDX SH-AWD review: Smooth, powerful and quiet
A concerning glimpse of our autonomous future
January 16, 2017
This thing is stylish -- probably overstyled, if I’m being honest. I do like how it looks though. It’s way better than the previous generation. Look at the front end. The jewel-eye headlights sit at the corners, the Superman-shaped grille has little pieces drawing your eye to the logo. Then we move lower, the fog lights are now jewel eye too, the wind-cheating fins angle air into the intakes and even the lower bar has alternating chrome pieces that reflect the light. It’s busy. It’ll probably be polarizing.
Inside, like the TLX we just had, the MDX has super-soft seats; they’re almost Lexus comfy. I had to take Mrs. Road Test Editor, the new kid and Aunt Miriam to dinner last night, and we all had plenty of space. The radio/infotainment system is a little confusing, but once you get the dual screen usage down, it wasn’t that bad. I’d still like a normal knob for tuning. I hate flipping through the radio by jabbing at a screen.
Power is adequate from the V6, and I didn’t notice the 9-speed until I was braking. It sort of surges then dips, then surges, then dips as you’re braking towards a stop. It’s worse in S mode. It’s hard to modulate without concentrating every time you hit the left pedal.
I don’t know if there’s any car I truly like in the 7-passenger segment. The Durango is OK. I don’t like the Traverse. The GMCAcadia is nice, and that’s probably the one I’d pick. If I didn’t need a 3rd row, which I don’t at the moment, I’d still take the Grand Cherokee ... it just feels right for midsize SUVs.
-- Jake Lingeman, road test editor
I got a glimpse of our autonomous future in the Acura MDX over the weekend. Equipped, as it is, with "collision mitigation," which is an automatic braking system that can completely stop the vehicle when a collision is perceived to be imminent (emphasis added by me), our MDX just about threw me through the windshield for no apparent reason on a sunny Friday afternoon. I had slowed for a right-turning vehicle ahead of me; the car turned and I began to accelerate again when the Acura suddenly applied full lock for no apparent reason. There wasn't a car within 100 yards of the front of me, and thank God there wasn't someone behind me. I could visualize a nasty rear-ender taking place, possibly followed by a shooting if some 2nd-amendment enthusiast behind me thinks I brake-checked him.
Yes, it can be turned off via a button beneath the steering wheel, but it has to be done on every vehicle restart and this combination lifesaving/life-ending feature (roll the dice!) is unfortunately standard across the MDX range.
It's unfortunate, because the rest of the MDX is a nice package -- a bit pricey, but with a smooth, powerful driveline and very quiet interior, along with excellent fuel economy. Still, there's no way I can recommend a vehicle, especially a family utility, that may, without warning, lock the brakes for no apparent reason.-- Andrew Stoy, digital editor
If the recently launched Mazda CX-9 didn’t exist and wasn’t so damned good, this would probably be my favorite 3-row crossover. It’s arguably Acura’s best offering.
The V6’s power is plenty and comes on smoothly (so 1 would expect from Honda) and the 9-speed, new last year, is smooth, too. The drivetrain would be even more fluid, except the stop-start system isn’t the smoothest around. It's a bit abrupt.
Road manners are generally good. It rides firmer than a lot of crossovers out there but nothing over the top -- it hustles on down the road just fine (confession, I had it in comfort mode). It’s quiet going too, and the stereo kicks out the jams nicely.
Thankfully, I didn’t experience the sudden slam on the brakes digital guru Stoy dealt with and, also thankfully, I didn’t read this file before hopping in the MDX. I would have spent my drive time paranoid it was gonna happen to me.
The interior is good quality and intuitive. I’m of two minds on the push-button shift: Part of me thinks it’s a bit gimmicky, but it does indeed free up space and give the cabin a cleaner look and more airy feel. The seats are terrific.
Back to my beloved CX-9. The last 1 I drove was a loaded-to-the-hilt Signature with a $14,425-cheaper sticker than this MDX. The Mazda is the way to go if you want to inject some driving fun (relatively speaking) into daily duties. Especially for the price.
SEATTLE – Acura positions its forthcoming MDX Sport Hybrid as the lowest-price entrant in the U.S. large-luxury hybrid CUV segment, confident it can achieve the incremental volume it wants from the CUV.
Acura expects the new hybrid to account for 5% of overall MDX sales. In recent years it has sold 55,000-60,000 units of the CUV annually in the U.S.
The 3-row MDX will start at $51,960 when it reaches U.S. Acura dealers next month, below the $53,035 and $53,500 starting prices of the Lexus RX 450h and Infiniti QX60 hybrid CUVs and well south of the plug-in hybrid trio of the BMW X5 Xdrive 40e, Mercedes GLE 550e and Volvo XC90 T8.
“We think we’ve established a strong winning position (with specifications and by undercutting the competition),”Gary Robinson, manager-Acura product planning, tells attendees here at an ’18 MDX Hybrid media event.
Acura calculates its advantage is $1,075 against the RX and up to $15,840 with the GLE. The three European PHEVs start in the $60,000 range, but often transact above $70,000, Robinson says.
MDX Sport Hybrid fuel economy comes in at 26/27 mpg (9.0-8.7 L/100 km) city/highway, falling shy of the 2-row Lexus RX’s 31/28 mpg (7.6-8.4 L/100 km) city/highway rating. However, Acura officials here emphasize the MDX provides more total horsepower with the MDX than the RX, 321 hp vs. 308 hp.
“This is our unique way to express our performance,” Jon Ikeda, vice president and general manager-Acuram says of using the NSX supercar’s 3-motor hybrid system under the hood of the MDX.
The 3-motor system has 2 36-hp motors, separated by a 1-way clutch to vector torque side-to-side between rear wheels, and a 47-hp front motor integrated to a 7-speed DCT powering the front wheels. The engine in the MDX hybrid is a 257-hp 3.0L SOHC V-6.
The variant wears many of the same styling cues as Acura’s non-hybrid MDX, which was refreshed last year for ’17 with the brand’s new diamond pentagon grille and higher-quality interior materials such as open-pore wood. The slight styling differences for the hybrid include a lower aero kit, body-color side sills and stainless-steel pedals.
Acura claims the MDX is the No.1 premium 3-row CUV purchased by those under 35 years old and it sees a similarly young buyer for the MDX hybrid, noting those buying large luxury hybrid CUVs tend to be younger than large luxury non-hybrid CUV buyers due to the need for seating for young families. They also have a keen interest in technology and eco-friendly attributes.
The brand sees the typical MDX hybrid buyer as a Millennial or on the younger end of Generation X and making $250,000 or more in annual household income. “It sounds like kind a little bit of a unicorn, but those people are out there and interested in this type of vehicle,” Robinson says.
The MDX Sport Hybrid will be assembled at the MDX’s new home in East Liberty, OH. Some MDX production is continuing Honda’s Lincoln, AL, plant as East Liberty ramps up.
This week, the Japanese automaker announced it was investing $85 million in Lincoln, also home to 3 Honda-brand models (Odyssey minivan, Pilot large CUV, Ridgeline midsize pickup) to increase the plant’s flexibility. Phase 1 of the project calls for an expansion of vehicle-assembly Line 1, slated for completion in 2018.[email protected]
There's a lot to unpack when trying to understand the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid. Acura is billing it as a three-row crossover infused with NSX technology via a sport-oriented hybrid drivetrain. So it's a hybrid crossover, sure. But it doesn't comport itself like a traditional crossover, nor is it a conventional hybrid. What it is, underneath, is an intentionally subtle blend of impressive technologies doing their best to appear transparent – and it's too subtle, I fear, to be appreciated by those who'd like it the most.
This is a lot of foreshadowing, but if you're not familiar with the MDX Sport Hybrid's powertrain, let's fill you in. The MDX Sport Hybrid uses the same basic system as the 2014 RLX Sport Hybrid, with some newer NSX battery tech sprinkled in, packaged neatly into the refreshed third-generation MDX platform. The system improves handling and efficiency – but more important, it smoothes out the harshness of shifts and engine stop-starts.
We do need to examine the system in some detail to understand how all this affects the MDX as a whole, so let's go toe to tail. Up front is a transversely-mounted 3.0-liter V6 making 257 horsepower and 218 pound-feet of torque, as well as featuring i-VTEC and cylinder deactivation. It's slightly smaller than the 3.5-liter V6 found in the conventional MDX and many other Honda and Acura products. Attached alongside is a Honda-produced 7-speed dual-clutch transmission that has a 47 hp, 109 lb-ft electric motor-generator stuffed inside. Amidships are the battery pack and the electronics to control it, and stretching aft from there are large cables feeding power to a pair of electric motors that reside in single housing, one for each wheel. Together, they produce electron witchcraft and torque-delivery wizardry – and add 72 hp and 108 lb-ft of torque to the mix. The total system output is 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque – a gain of 31 hp and 22 lb-ft over the conventional MDX SH-AWD.
Beyond the raw numbers, there's the remarkable subjective benefit of the Sport Hybrid's drivetrain. Engine start-stop events are quiet and smooth, nearly imperceptible when under way – in stark contrast to the too-perceptible shudder of competing engines kicking on. The electric motors (mainly the one residing in the transmission) add in power to make up for the lull during a shift, making shifts up or down seamless, as well as providing regenerative capacity. And from a dead stop the MDX will use the rear motors to move off, which overcomes a major limitation in most DCTs: low-speed lurchiness. While there's some fuel economy benefit (the city rating jumps 45 percent to 26 mpg in EPA testing), the 1.3 kWh pack isn't big enough to provide an EV-only mode, so it's best to think of it as an elaborate assist system for the gas motor that adds more power and smooths out some rough spots. Sure, it provides some green benefits on the side, but that's not the modus operandi of this equipment.
When I use the terms "smooth" and "near-seamless," I'm not exaggerating. To be fair, it performs just as well in the RLX Sport Hybrid, and has for a few years now, so it's a shame that vehicle is so criminally overlooked. This is just the first time the hardware's found its way into the MDX, and, as Acura hopes, more garages than the RLX.
In the interim between the RLX Sport Hybrid and the MDX Sport Hybrid, Acura produced a new sportscar. You might have heard of it; it wears a classic name but differs drastically in concept from its predecessor. The NSX uses some of this hardware in a slightly different way, but basically the rear twin-motor unit and the battery cells are shared between the NSX and the MDX Sport Hybrid.
The smaller, more energy-dense cells developed for the NSX result in a similar capacity to the RLX at a smaller size. Instead of eating up a lot of trunk real estate, as it does on the RLX Sport Hybrid, the MDX Sport Hybrid's battery unit fits under the front seats and doesn't intrude on the passenger compartment at all. It just takes a peek inside to discover there's no space-robbing hump or cargo area intrusion to give away the hybrid's game.
That's because the third-generation MDX was designed from the outset to swallow this powertrain. While there's some additional weight, about 220 lbs, all the MDX Sport Hybrid needs are some light-weight crossmembers to support the battery pack and tweaked rear subframe to handle the additional weight. That means the vast majority of increased mass is due to the powertrain rather than structural reinforcements. And this is not offset by the use of lots of expensive exotic alloys or composites. It's mostly regular MDX save those crossmembers, said Ken Lantz, an Acura engineer who patiently took every question I had about structural differences. He explained that the company takes a lot of pride in packaging efficiency. That's an engineer's boast if I've ever heard one.
The Sport Hybrid gains body-colored lower side sills and little fender badges, about all there is to distinguish it from a conventional MDX, but behind the A-pillars the body is also mostly pre-facelift MDX. Like its conventional sibling, it's been debeaked: That large chrome strip in the grille has been replaced by the "Diamond Pentagon" grille treatment. The multi-element headlights also grow in size, and gain some company in similar-looking foglights nestled in a more complex lower fascia. Compared to the 2016 models, it's more handsome – but considered as a whole, it's distinctive at the expense of attractive. These hawkish, angular family styling tropes really hold the MDX back, although neither of its main Japanese competitors – the Lexus RX450h or the Infiniti QX60h – are anything to shake a stick at.
Inside, the '17 MDXs gain a comfortable, roomy second row of captains chairs as an option, and unless you desperately need the extra seat I'd suggest equipping them. The third row seat is tight, but not overly so for the class – and it'll be fine for the kids. Most of us reading this review won't have to be back there much, so out of sight, out of mind, right? Opting for the Advance Package nets the captains chairs as well as an attractive open-pore wood trim – the wood type is dependent on which interior color theme you choose. May I recommend the Espresso? It's a lovely brown that warms up the interior a bit.
And the interior needs it. The unfortunate bi-level infotainment system remains, and with it comes weedy response time and a graphic interface that looks more appropriate to an older Playstation console than a near-luxury vehicle. In fact, look around and you see a lot of Honda lightly overlaid with nicer Acura materials, which is not unexpected – but even so, a few more dollars spent to elevate it beyond its Honda Pilot sibling would be appreciated inside. Tidbits like the Sport Hybrid-exclusive aluminum sport pedals, which are exactly the little splash of special that buyers in this segment crave.
The MDX Sport Hybrid's real uniqueness comes into play once in motion. As I described above, that's partially due to how smooth it is in all operating modes. This is also a performance-oriented system, so the MDX Sport Hybrid is quick enough in the real-world measure of passing a weaving, wheezing jalopy on a two-lane road. Plant your foot in the throttle and there's instant pull without much of a wait for a downshift or three. And roadholding on the wet, sinuous roads winding along the foothills of the Cascade Mountains east of Seattle was tenacious.
Dialing up the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS – Acura-speak for drive modes) also ratchets up the drama. Sport increases the damping rate, provides more steering feedback, and increases the amount of torque vectoring. Sport+, which is exclusive to the Sport Hybrid, allows for first-gear starts, changes the shift points, provides a more aggressive throttle map, and allows for maximum battery assist from a standing start.
What no mode enables is a feeling of increased confidence. For one, the uncommunicative steering means that placing the MDX Sport Hybrid accurately in a freeway lane takes some attention. And while the SH-AWD's connection to the road might be excellent, and the way it moves torque across the rear axle to improve handling is technically impressive, the connection to the driver is lacking. Sure, this is a crossover, so expectations are low. But the strange thing about the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system is that system might keep you from sliding into a wet ditch under the moss-bearded trees, but it won't provide you with reassuring signals that the grip is, indeed, there. It's doing it for you rather than with you – and it's unsettling. The uncanny valley of good handling, you might call it.
So if you consider the MDX Sport Hybrid's grip a safety net, you won't mind. But if you want to derive enjoyment from taking a corner crisply, look elsewhere. And that's even considering the continuously variable dampers, developed by ZF and an upgrade over the passively adaptive dampers in the conventional MDX. Even the MDX Sport Hybrid's lower center of gravity isn't enough to help some bucking and tossing as the big lug transfers weight through an aggressive corner. Your third-row occupants might mutiny if you try it. What did you expect from a vehicle that weighs 4,484 lbs?
Back to reality. Acura is going to market the MDX Sport Hybrid to tech-savvy young families, and with a solid dose of NSX in the messaging. I don't think these consumers really and truly want a three-row NSX, and that's not what they're going to get. Instead, they'll get an especially smooth and powerful MDX with the kind of tech under the skin you'd like to brag to your neighbor about. The three-motor setup is neat, doesn't require a PhD to understand, and provides some real-world benefit to the driver on a wet onramp or on the pass headed to the ski slopes, if maybe less so on a back-road romp.
The smoothness really comes to the fore when driving the RX450h or QX60h, both of which Acura had on hand and both of which compare poorly to the MDX – especially the Prius-writ-large RX450h, saddled with a CVT and which transmits its green(er) cred through measured lurches, futuristic droning, and a not-insignificant amount of whining. And the QX60h might have one of the best CVTs in the business, but it's a milquetoast loaf next to the MDX Sport Hybrid's superior DCT/motor combo.
There are other areas that the Lexus and Infiniti shine, but the MDX Sport Hybrid's suaveness is paramount in this company. But note what Acura benchmarked the MDX against but didn't bring along: the BMW X5 xDrive 40e, Mercedes-Benz GLE550e, or Volvo XC90 T8 – all plug-in hybrids, all sophisticated to drive, and all offering some EV-only range.
The X5 40e, to single one of those competitors out, embodies a considerably different philosophy regarding driver involvement. You can jockey the drive mode to Sport for max regen and drive it with one pedal, or lock it in EV-mode to glide around (or get a quick jolt of instant torque). Not all the choices are optimal, but the driver's largely in charge. That's a far cry from the MDX Sport Hybrid, which likes to make the final call about which of the vehicle's drivetrain components do what task at any given time.
So the MDX Sport Hybrid stands a bit apart from the crowd. Its innovative and phenomenally capable drivetrain is perfectly engineered to provide an exquisite but subtle experience that takes some concentration to appreciate. If you consider the contemporary zeitgeist, attention spans aren't really our strong suit right now. If you can sit still long enough to savor what the MDX Sport Hybrid has to offer, you'll probably enjoy it immensely.
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In a time when crossovers and SUVs are selling hot, Acura is launching its first hybrid SUV. By incorporating part of the hybrid technology from the NSX, the luxury brand not only wanted to improve fuel economy but also sought to increase the performance of its best-selling model. The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid arrives with more power than the regular MDX, and with standard all-wheel drive it delivers a confident drive with no compromise.
When the 3rd generation of the MDX was shown at the 2013 New York auto show, the engineers had already designed the chassis to support a hybrid system without sacrificing interior space or cargo volume. But it wasn’t until a year after the three-row luxury SUV received its mid-cycle refresh that Acura showed the hybrid version. The MDX Sport Hybrid’s powertrain is composed of a 3.0-liter V-6 coupled to a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with a built-in electric motor. A twin motor unit in the back provides torque to the rear wheels for a more responsive driving experience. There’s also a power control unit and an intelligent power control unit with a 1.3-kW-hr lithium-ion battery pack located beneath the driver’s seat. Both units come straight from the NSX. A regenerative brake system provides energy to the battery in a hardly noticeable way. The result is a total output of 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. That’s 31 hp and 22 lb-ft of torque more than the regular MDX. However, fuel economy is up 45 percent in city driving according to the EPA, delivering 26/27/27 mpg in city/highway/combined. (The regular MDX is rated at 18/26/21.)
By placing the hybrid powertrain in the center of the underbody, Acura lowered the center of gravity by 26mm, giving the MDX Sport Hybrid less body roll. This was noticeable during our drive in the windy roads outside of Seattle, where the three-row SUV handled the curves with confidence. The Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system lived up to its name, and even when experiencing wet roads and big puddles, the MDX hardly lost any traction. Although most of the time we drove in Sport mode, the MDX Sport Hybrid also shined in Normal mode—it demonstrated a quick acceleration, thanks to instant torque delivery from the hybrid powertrain. Comfort and Sport+ modes are also available. When driving in Sport and Sport+, drivers will feel a stiffer steering and suspension. (Sport+ adds more throttle mapping and higher rpms.) Acura said that when driving only in Sport+, fuel economy numbers will decrease. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission performs smoothly, and drivers can manually shift using the paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
The 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid is offered with Technology and Advance packages. The 1st offers room for up to 7 passengers and is equipped with wood accents, stainless steel pedals, and exclusive interior trim. However, we spent all of our time driving the model with the Advance package, which has room for six passengers, ditching the middle seat in the second row in favor of a center console and captain’s chairs. This package also adds goodies such as a heated steering wheel, premium Milano leather with contrast stitching, heated and ventilated front seats and 2nd-row heated seats, a surround-view camera system, and LED foglights. There are 7 USB ports throughout the cabin, and even those traveling on the 3rd row can charge their device while using it. That 3rd row is easy to access, but once I sat in it, this 6-foot journalist had trouble with the head- and legroom. If parents are picking up kids from soccer practice, the 3rd row should be fine for that.
Inside, the ride was serene with minimal road noise and comfortable seats. The wood accents provide a nice touch in the cabin, but we weren’t so excited about the all-black interior. Three other interior colors are also available, though (Graystone, Parchment, and Espresso). Like the regular MDX, the Sport Hybrid offers a dual-screen infotainment system, and we can see how the hybrid powertrain works in real time, thanks to a graphic you can display on the top screen.
All 2017 MDX hybrids are equipped with AcuraWatch, a suite of safety and driver-assistance technologies that includes a collision mitigation breaking system, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and road departure mitigation, auto high-beams, and blind-spot warning with rear cross-traffic alert. Like for the non-hybrid MDX, Acura expects the Sport Hybrid to get Top Safety Pick+ in IIHS tests and a 5-star overall rating from NHTSA.
Once the MDX Sport Hybrid rolls into showrooms later this month, it will compete against a range of models including the Lexus RX 450h and the Infiniti QX60 Hybrid. If we bring the luxury plug-in hybrid SUVs to the field, you could consider the BMW X5 xDrive40e, Mercedes-Benz GLE550e, and Volvo XC90 T8 to be competitors, too. Acura’s pricing strategy involves undercutting the all-wheel-drive version of the QX60 hybrid and all-wheel-drive-only RX 450h by about $1,000.
Acura sold more than 55,000 MDXs in the U.S. last year. With the addition of the new 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, the luxury brand is stepping up its game and trying to attract a younger generation looking for a capable and confident vehicle. The MDX hybrid’s quick torque delivery, good handling, and decent packaging set it apart without compromising any space.
SEATTLE, Washington — The wet, winding roads of the Pacific Northwest are no match for the all-new 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD. Apparently for the folks at Honda’s upscale brand, neither are mouthful names.
The hybrid MDX offers more power and better handling thanks to its Sport Hybrid SH-AWD powertrain technology, which helps inspire more confidence behind the wheel — especially in the rain, which Seattle is famous for getting plenty of. The AWD helped us stay us glued to the asphalt as we splashed through a partially flooded country road with barely a wiggle.
It’s the top 3-row SUV among under 35-years olds says Acura. Its updated tech was previously introduced in the RLX sedan and NSX supercar, both of which we also get a chance to sample.
Comparisons to the NSX are sprinkled throughout the morning presentation and while Acura’s SUV and supercar are miles apart in many departments, they share quite a bit of hybrid chicanery.Both feature three high-powered electric motors — the MDX hybrid has one up front and a twin motor in the rear, while the NSX has them in reverse order (front versus rear V-6 engine too) — that provide electric torque vectoring capability and substantially improve fuel economy. And like the NSX, the MDX hybrid offers plenty of torque on demand.
The hybrid MDX’s front-mounted V-6 engine is 3.0-liter unit that offers 257 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque. Its mated to a smooth 7-speed dual-clutch transmission, which includes the front motor.
That motor provides 47 hp while the rear Twin Motor Unit (TMU) adds makes 72 hp for a combined system output of a healthy 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. The compact, high-output motors provide instant, precise torque sent exactly to the wheels that need it as you tap your foot on the SUV’s stainless steel sport pedal.
Thanks to that setup, the MDX hybrid can hit 60 mph in an estimated 6.1 seconds. Not bad considering the SUV weighs in at healthy 4,471 pounds, which you don’t necessarily feel thanks to the extra power and torque.
Tackling the hilly streets of Seattle, where we kept the SUV mostly in its comfort and normal modes (there are four driving mode in all; the other two sport, and sport+) was a breeze. Power delivery is immediate and the steering felt relaxed, tighting up a bit when switching to sport mode for the associated more responsive ride. The rainy weather kept us from pushing MDX, but we didn’t lose any traction during the day’s mostly sedate ride.
Compared to the conventional MDX, which is powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, the hybrid version offers an extra 31 hp and 22 lb ft of torque for a mere $1,500.
The hybrid version seems like an easy choice for small families that will be mostly shuttling the kids, dog, and groceries around town. It’s not a bad deal, unless you want to use the SUV for towing, as Acura does not recommend using the hybrid for pulling work; in that case, you’re better off buying the gas-version, which can tow up to 5,000 pounds.
Acura says the third-generation MDX was designed with the hybrid variant in mind. It offers the same interior cabin and ground clearance as its non-hybrid counterpart. The hybrid system’s Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) resides underneath the driver’s seat, Power Control Unit (PCU) under the 2nd row seats, and the TMU is located below the third set of seats. Aside from the badging, you can’t tell it apart from its sibling.
The extra weight is distributed evenly along the bottom of the SUV, providing the side benefit of a lower center of gravity and reducing body roll. This gives the hybrid a more car-like driving experience. This is especially noticeable as we drove the SUV outside of the city along Washington’s picturesque farm roads surrounded by the snow-capped Tiger Mountains.
Handling is further improved by the MDX hybrid’s active front and rear dampers, and torque vectoring capability. The SH-AWD system sends torque left and right to create a yaw moment that allows power to shift to any wheel. It’s hardly noticeable as you drive around town, but out on the highway it helps reduces understeer and is especially noticeable in the twisty turns of the slick roads we encountered along Washington’s Snoqualmie River. Depending on the turn, it can feel like a gentle push and pull from front to the back wheels or wheel
nearest to the inside of the turn.
Styling follows the most recent design direction that was inspired by the sporty Precision concept we saw last fall at the 2016 Los Angeles auto show. It sports the new diamond pentagon grille that we’re expecting to see on the refreshed 2018 TLX sedan.
Up front, there’s plenty of legroom for the driver and front passenger to stretch out in. The elegant dash is angled toward the driver and easy to read. The second row is nearly as good for space, and the third row is cozy enough for 2 6-foot tall passengers to reside.
The MDX SH SH-AWD’s super quiet cabin can seat 6 or 7 passengers, depending on the trim level chosen. We tested the advance version with second row captain’s chairs that seats 6 versus the base model that can seat 7. The latter offers more space between second row passengers and offers better rear window visibility for the driver.
Inside, there’s plenty of dark, wood trim, cup holders, and USB chargers for the whole family. We counted two power ports, an auxiliary charger, and a USB port up front, plus two more for the second row, and another two for the third row.
Sadly, the small sunroof seems more like an afterthought, but we appreciate that it at least opens for some fresh air. Acura claims that the hybrid averages about 26/27 mpg city/highway. We averaged around 25 mpg during spirited testing of its four driving modes.
A base MDX Sport Hybrid with the technology package starts at $52,935 and the advance version we drove starts at $58,975. It’s priced slightly below its main competitors — the Infiniti QX60 hybrid, Lexus RX450h, and BMW X5 xDrive 40e. Having the opportunity to test the QX-60 hybrid and Lexus RX450h the same day, the MDX SH seemed to offer a peppier ride and more torque feel during our initial driving impressions.
The tech package seats 7 and includes the active damper system, AcuraWatch safety technology, navigation system, blind spot with cross traffic mitigation, leather seats, 20-inch wheels, remote start, and power folding windows.
Acura’s advance package gets all of the above while seating only six passengers because of the second row, heated captain chairs with a center console. It also gets fancier leather options, open-pore wood accents, front seats with heat and ventilation, surround view camera, sunshades, LED fog lights, and welcome lights. The heated seats and steering wheel are a must for colder climates and recommended highly — especially if you live in the Seattle area.
Acura’s MDX SH SH-AWD SUV is available in seven flavors with four interior options. We tested a Crystal Black Pearl model with an Ebony interior. While we love to own a NSX as our daily driver, the MDX hybrid is much more practical alternative for families.2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD Specifications
ON SALENowPRICE$52,935/$58,975 (base/as-tested)ENGINE3.0L SOHC 24-valve V-6 engine/257 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 218 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm; front electric motor/47 hp, 109 lb-ft; twin rear electric motor/72 hp, 108 lb-ft; combined/321 hp, 289 lb-ftTRANSMISSION7-speed dual-clutch automaticLAYOUT4-door, 6-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUVEPA MILEAGE26/27 mpg (city/highway)L X W X H196.2 x 77.8 x 67.6 inWHEELBASE111.0 inWEIGHT4,471 lbs0-60 MPH6.1 sec (est)TOP SPEEDN/A
Acura has been on the electrification bandwagon since the slow-selling, current-generation RLX sedan was introduced in 2013, but with this latest effort – the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid – people are actually going to take notice. Sure, the battery-assisted NSX supercar has gotten more than its fair share of attention, but the loyal folks who drive the premium brand’s sales are far more interested in SUVs and MPGs than they are in lap times and turbochargers.
The 7-passenger MDX has long been a volume leader for Acura, which made it the next natural recipient for the performance-oriented hybrid powertrain that the brand is excited to present as its new identity. It couldn’t have come at a better time, as Acura is facing the most concentrated competitive onslaught it has ever witnessed, with not even its mighty MDX / RDX one-two punch immune to the slings and arrows of an SUV-crazed product push.
The good news for Acura is that the MDX is already standing on solid ground thanks to a recent refresh of the gas-only model. Still, it’s important to consider the standard version of the sport-utility vehicle as a mere starting point for the Sport Hybrid, which is quicker, more nimble, and somehow less thirsty than its platform-mate.
At the crux of it all is the Sport Hybrid system itself, which marries a 3.0-liter V6 engine with a single electric motor integrated into the vehicle’s 7-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission as well as and a pair of independent electric motors attached to the rear axle. Altogether the setup is good for 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, easily besting the larger engine in the gasoline MDX by 31 ponies. Intriguingly, the ability of the vehicle’s all-wheel drive system (SH-AWD in Acura parlance) to selectively call into action the electric motors riding out back offers the SUV a quicker take on torque vectoring. The versatile design not allows for electric-only pull-away from a stop, but also selective braking (or ‘negative torque’) application to the inside wheel while cornering, sending the electricity generated in the process directly to its opposite number, overspeeding the motor, and pirouetting the vehicle that much more effectively.
Sound complicated? It is, and the number of different operating modes made possible by the Sport Hybrid system can sometimes feel overwhelming. There’s limited EV-only operation for hypermilers, a Sport+ setting that keeps the gas engine operating at all times in order to accentuate acceleration (which is surprisingly rapid), and several other discrete states intended to tackle specific driving conditions.
For the most part, the Acura MDX does all of the thinking for you and presents the results as transparently as possible. It’s quite difficult to detect the transition from electric-only to gas-assisted driving, and even on the twisting Washington state roads where I had the opportunity to test out the Sport Hybrid, I couldn’t sense the torque vectoring’s invisible ballet routine, nor the ministrations of its adaptive shock absorbers (also unique to the model). What I could do was observe the results: the MDX Sport Hybrid handles curves in the road with a confidence and poise rarely found for a vehicle its size, gracefully leaping over the low bar presented by other 2 and 3-row hybrids.
Does that mean I felt compelled to drive the Acura in anger and wrest every scrap of grippy performance out of the experience? Not at all. The MDX Sport Hybrid is still intended to serve best as a plush people mover, and everything else – including the 40 percent or so improvement in combined fuel economy that its 27-mpg rating represents – is merely a bonus for those willing to kick in the $1,500 premium above a comparably-equipped MDX SH-AWD Advance package.
Sandwiching the 1.3-kWh battery pack between the floor and the SUV’s belly pan means no sacrifices when it comes to moving cargo, human or otherwise. There’s ample second row room, especially with the handsome (and optional) captain’s chairs installed in place of the standard bench, and the third row is adequate for both children and adults who still occasionally shop in the children’s section at H&M. The MDX Sport Hybrid also happnes to be pleasingly quiet at speed, and can be had with an impressive array of active safety technologies.
The decision to start the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid at $58,000 keeps it accessible to current MDX owners interested in upgrading on the power and efficiency front. In effect, there’s little reason to not snag the battery-assist if you’re already shopping for a well-equipped gas model, and it’s easy to imagine that parent company Honda is keeping the Sport Hybrid’s sticker so low in a bid to boost the profile its gung-ho embrace of EV technology. It’s hard to ague with the end result: a competitive, and versatile 7-passenger option for curious premium customers and Acura faithful alike.
You might look at the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid and think, “Hmm … maybe it’s just me, but that looks a lot like the normal 2017 MDX.”
But don’t be fooled. This seven-passenger midsize SUV is just an incognito NSX; a tiger in Montessori parking lot camouflage. Hey, sometimes you have to ferry around the kids — and, holy God, have you ever tried hauling groceries in a two-seater? Those multiple trips eat into “you time.”
Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but that’s what Acura wants you to think. Honda’s luxury division is in the midst of overhauling its image, and it’s doing so by injecting a little NSX into its products — both spiritually and mechanically. While that supercar, reborn as a hybrid last year following a decade’s absence, might seem totally removed from Acura’s popular — and tastefully refreshed — MDX, some familiar DNA appears beneath the new Sport Hybrid’s sheetmetal. (It also appears in the RLX sedan, if you weren’t aware.)
Oh, you’ll get better fuel economy with the MDX Sport Hybrid, but don’t talk to your friends about that. You bought it for the power. Capisce?
When it shows up on dealer lots later this month, Acura expects the MDX Sport Hybrid to woo a small but not insignificant number of buyers with the promise of guilt-free performance. Rather than following the tried-and-true route — shoehorn in a larger engine, or maybe strap on a turbocharger — Acura went a different direction. Why not use technology you already have on the shelf?
More specifically, why not use glitzy hybrid technology borrowed from a highly marketable mid-engine supercar?
That’s more or less what Acura has done here, only with the drivetrain configuration reversed. Instead of a gasoline engine and electric motor powering the rear wheels, with dual electric motors providing power to the front, it’s the opposite. The setup quickly sends torque to all four wheels, while boosting the power quotient well above a stock MDX. Combined fuel economy grows 28 percent over the gasoline-only all-wheel-drive model. Again, the all-but-invisible RLX Sport Hybrid boasts the same setup, albeit with a larger gas engine.
The question you might be thinking is, “Why bother?” All this hardware adds cost, and the MDX remains an exceptionally stable sales performer. Hybrids aren’t the easiest sell, either. Meaningful styling updates, on the other hand — like swapping out the much-loathed “shield” grille for a newly corporate “diamond pentagon” mouth for 2017 — seem like an easy way to save a seven-passenger SUV from wallflower status.
For the most part, yes. But the Sport Hybrid’s role is twofold. Foisting go-faster electrical bits aboard existing models might help Acura craft (or rekindle) a high-tech, high-performance image, but it also gives it an entry in a fledgling segment. One simply can’t leave the higher-end hybrid SUV field to Lexus, Infiniti, Volvo and zee Germans.
“In the premium segment, especially family SUVs, this is an emerging segment,” explained Gary Robinson, Acura’s product planning chief. “In one year, the size of the market has effectively doubled.”
Robinson’s referring to the likes of Lexus’ RX450h, Infiniti’s QX60, BMW’s X5 Xdrive 40e, Mercedes-Benz’s GLE 550e, and Volvo’s top-rung XC90 T8.
The automaker’s marketing eggheads are pretty sure they know exactly who’ll shell out for a MDX Sport Hybrid — affluent, young folks (in the premium SUV sense of the term) with 1 or 2 precocious offspring; the type who demand the kind of prestige that’s only delivered by technology, with those extra miles per gallon serving a lifestyle image first, and bank accounts a distant second. The added grunt serves any driver’s ego, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
“It’s not so much about puppies coming out of the third row seats,” said Jon Ikeda, Acura vice president and general manager, about the ads lined up to tout the Sport Hybrid’s performance prowess.
Even premium buyers aren’t immune to nickel and diming. Putting on its Hyundai hat, Acura figured a lowest-in-segment price might sweeten the pot — hopefully making the Sport Hybrid “the vehicle people think of,” said Robinson.
More importantly, this ute rings in at more than one-thousand clams below its Japanese competition, and 5 figures below its European rivals. Young Brayden and Brittany’s college fund applauds.
So, after flying us out to Seattle, Acura allowed us to stretch the MDX Sport Hybrid’s legs in the highly variable topography of the Pacific Northwest. First, we played spot the difference, drinks in hand, at a rave-like dining venue (you’re so trendy, Seattle). Minus the new grille, the meaner, creased face, the elegantly integrated tailpipes and interior wood — “crafted” wood, we were informed — there’s little to give away the hybrid system’s presence save for slightly more aggressive side sills, sport pedals, and small “Hybrid” badges borrowed from the RLX.
I suggested to Ikeda and Robinson that if the performance angle of the new powertrain is what Acura wants to flaunt, perhaps the model’s full name should appear on the fender — instead of the eco-weenie label of “Hybrid.” (I’m sure industry types just love this kind of advice.)
There may have been murmurings of what seemed like agreement from both men — for whatever reason, the badge was kept off the NSX after the RLX Sport Hybrid bowed — before a helpful PR manager quickly intervened to avoid any juicy quotes.
“We want the whole brand to be about performance,” said Acura’s PR head Matt Sloustcher. “The hybrid just brings things to a new level.”
The drive up to a Snoqualmie Ridge country club provided ample opportunities to test the vehicle’s electrically bestowed torque vectoring, or so it should have, had slow-moving farm vehicles and torrential rain not turned the twisty roads into opportunities lost. Oh well, Washington State remains a charming place.
That’s not to say the triple-motor hybrid system didn’t do its job. It did, but it did so with a seamlessness that made it go unnoticed to the driver, which is what all engineers hope for.
Crawling away from a stop up an Everest-like incline in downtown Seattle, the twin motor unit driving the rear wheels brought us up the grade under oh-so-gentle throttle pressure; its combined 72 horsepower and 108 lb-ft of torque providing a gentle push. You could expect greater distance on flat ground, with the twin motors (connected via a one-way clutch) drawing as much range as throttle input will allow from the 1.3 kWh battery pack — “Intelligent Power Unit” in Acura parlance — located under the front seats.
While cruising down the I-90 back to the city, we noticed the tach needle suddenly fall to zero at speeds below 55 mph, with no impact on forward momentum. It’s small interventions like these where the Sport Hybrid makes its economy gains. Rated at 26 miles per gallon city, 27 highway and 27 combined, the hybrid MDX tops its gas-guzzling sibling by 8 mpg in the city, 1 mpg in the city, and 5 mpg combined. We hit 26 mpg for the trip.
If you’re curious to see where all that juice is flowing in real-time, simply bring up the power delivery schematic on the SUV’s upper media screen.
Strap on a lead boot (like when passing slow-moving farm vehicles), and everything joins the party. The 47 hp electric motor built into the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission — which works as the starter — comes online, along with a 3.0-liter V6 that’s smaller and lighter than the stock MDX’s 3.5-liter unit. Gas-only power equals 257 hp and 218 lb-ft.
In an all-motor dance, the Sport Hybrid taps a combined 321 hp and 289 lb-ft. Compare that to the stock rig’s 290 hp and 267 lb-ft, saddled with all the power delivery delays inherent with gasoline engines and automatic transmissions (in this case, a nine-speed).
There is one significant drawback to this vehicle, though it’s easily solved by purchasing a stock all-wheel-drive MDX. The Sport Hybrid won’t tow. Sorry, ecologically sensitive, power-hungry boaters. (Acura claims less than 8 percent of buyers in this segment ever bother to hitch up, so it’s not likely to break many deals.)
Throughout the drive, power and responsiveness felt natural and substantial, and the cross members straddling the vehicle’s battery and power control unit (PCU) lend extra stiffness to an already well-composed structure. It’s just a pleasant-riding vehicle. Road craters and fissures, while harder to find in this temperate region, didn’t overtax the Sport Hybrid’s active damping system, which Acura claims boosts ride comfort to the tune of 25 percent. Having an extra 220 lbs of gear below the floorboards also lowers the vehicle’s center of gravity, improving balance and handling.
Make no mistake — you’re not likely to see a 39-year-old family man drifting this rig through the Bed Bath and Beyond parking lot anytime soon. Still, there are 4 soft-through-sporty driving modes to choose from, including Sport+, should that father of two (or one) feel like stiffer steering, more damping and maximum power delivery. In Sport+, the engine stays on continuously to feed the battery. As Ikeda told me, sometimes your wife is driving, and sometimes you’re driving.
Age and responsibility has a way of taming the urge to cut loose, but that button remains just aft of the push-button shifter should those rebellious feelings arise. Meanwhile, you’re just riding in a top-rated premium midsize SUV with plenty of comfort, extra power, and greater fuel economy. Even if that fender badge doesn’t scream it, you’ve reached a good spot in your life.
According to the fine folks at Acura, its MDX family hauler is the best-selling 3-row luxury SUV of all time.
Supporting this claim, drivers have snapped up some 50,000 examples annually for 5 consecutive years. This is obviously a hugely important product for the Japanese brand.
To keep the MDX fresh, the company’s design and engineering teams refreshed it for 2017, adding more features and technology while increasing luxury. But the biggest change they made is the addition of a gasoline-electric model, which offers greater performance and significantly enhanced efficiency.
Don’t believe me? Well, here’s proof: The new MDX Sport Hybrid variant is rated at 26 miles per gallon in urban driving and 27 on the highway (9.1 L/100 km city, 9.0 highway); that’s practically compact-car efficiency from just a few years ago, all with an engine that whips up 321 horsepower.
3 Motors, 2 Clutches, 1 Surprising Parts Car
How did they deliver these impressive figures in an SUV that weighs some two and a quarter tons? Acura engineers drew on their considerable experience building hybrids, borrowing a bunch of components and technology from the NSX.
That’s right, this utility vehicle shares several significant parts with the brand’s revered supercar. For instance, these 2 models use the exact same motors, battery cells, and power-control unit.
The heart of the MDX’s hybrid drivetrain is a 3.0-liter gasoline V6 that delivers 257 horsepower and 218 lb-ft of torque on its own. Bolstering those figures is a trio of electric motors. One is buried inside the transmission while the other 2 are found at the rear axle where they provide torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The rear wheels are only driven by these motors; no mechanical prop-shaft sprouts from the transmission. Storing and releasing electrons as needed is a small 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack.
With 6 cylinders burning and 3 motors turning, total system output peaks at 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft of torque, 31 more horses than in a non-hybrid MDX, with, as mentioned, up to 45 percent better city fuel economy.Welcome Enhancements
The MDX range has been refreshed for 2017, with the most obvious visual change being the addition of Acura’s “Diamond Pentagon Grille.” Helping integrate this new styling motif is a reworked hood and new front fenders. Rounding things out, the sills have been tweaked, as has the rear fascia, which now gains dual-exhaust outlets.
Sport Hybrids feature standard 20-inch wheels, but other additions for the new model year include things like LED headlamps with automatic high beams, an electronic parking brake, and convenient capless fuel filler. Seven exterior colors are available, while the interior can be had in four different hues.
Pausing for a little inward reflection, the Sport Hybrid’s cabin is appropriately premium with bountiful soft plastics and beautiful open-pore wood trim in models equipped with the top-level Advance Package. It’s just a shame the vehicle’s 2-screen infotainment system is so clunky and confusing. This is one aspect that definitely needs work.
Increasing versatility, the MDX’s cushy (and optional) 2nd-row bucket seats fold and slide at the push of a button, making access to the way-back as easy as possible. Unfortunately, its rear-most accommodations are best reserved for small children, though that’s no surprise.
But what is rather shocking is this vehicle’s versatility. Since all its hybrid bits are basically mounted underneath the floor, there’s no loss in cargo space, which maxes out at more than 68 cubic feet when all the seats are folded flat.
Punch it, and the Sport Hybrid is unexpectedly quick for an SUV, with the engine pulling vigorously, especially as it approaches redline. This trait seems especially noticeable in the Sport+ setting, one of four different drive modes provided by the vehicle’s Integrated Dynamics System, which allows you to tailor the suspension, steering, and powertrain-performance feel to your preference.
This electrified MDX features an Acura-designed seven-speed automatic transmission. Surprisingly, it seems to be very well behaved. Initially, I was worried it might shudder or jerk like other dual-clutch models on the market but that was not the case. In fact, my only complaint with this gearbox centers on its odd electronic shifter. I don’t know how many times I put it in reverse when I wanted to go forward.
Aside from this small user-interface complaint, the powertrain is pretty seamless. While driving, the engine will shut off at times, allowing the Sport Hybrid to sail along on battery power for short periods. When internal combustion resumes once more, there’s scarcely any indication that hydrocarbons are being oxidized; the only real tell is that the tachometer needle starts moving.
Enhancing safety and convenience, the AcuraWatch suite of advanced driver-assistance technology is standard in every new MDX. This includes features like adaptive cruise control, road-departure mitigation, and forward collision warning. But perhaps the best thing is lane-keep assist, which is damn good. If there are decent lines on the road, you can take your hands off the steering wheel for an uncomfortably long time, though this is by no means recommended. During testing, I kept my paws hovering just an inch or two away from the wheel’s rim so I could resume control in a split second if necessary, though I never needed to. I eventually got tired of holding my arms out in front of me and resumed steering normally.
The Sport Hybrid’s ride is quiet and composed, even on coarse, rain-battered roads, which can cause quite a commotion in less-insulated vehicles. Curiously, I didn’t notice much of a difference between Comfort, the softest setting offered by the Integrated Dynamics System and Sport+, the most aggressive. The vehicle’s ride seems to be universally smooth, though my opinion might be different had I had tested it on more bomb-cratered surfaces, such as the ones found in my home state of Michigan.
This electrified model is positioned as the most luxurious and performance-oriented offering in the MDX range. Compared to a standard all-wheel-drive version with the uplevel Advance Package, Sport Hybrid models seem to perform comparably despite being some 227 pounds porkier (they tip the scale at a claimed 4,484 pounds). Of course, this is at least partially offset by an additional 31 peak horsepower (combustion-powered variants have 290 ponies on tap). The tit-for-tat continues, as hybridized versions feature a quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic, but the combustion variant has 2 more gears in its ratio stack. Which one has the edge? Truth be told, their acceleration is probably strikingly similar. With a full battery, the Sport Hybrid ought to hit 60 miles an hour in the neighborhood of six seconds.When it comes to cornering, the MDX exhibits remarkable body control, staying flat through tight turns at speeds that are enough to make its tires squeal. In theory, the Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system should help it change direction with greater enthusiasm; in practice, it seems rather pointless as nobody should be pushing an SUV hard enough on the street to worry about getting the body to rotate.
Complaints about the way this vehicle drives are minor. I find the steering to be a touch too light and I’d like more aggressive regenerative braking from the powertrain. When I take my foot off the accelerator this vehicle keeps on rolling; I would prefer it to start slowing down, putting energy back into the battery pack.
Unlike other hybrids, the brake pedal feels pretty natural underfoot, though, again, more regen would be appreciated. At initial application not much seems to happen, the vehicle doesn’t slow down very much, a heftier stab of the decelerator is required to really slow things down, which is probably dissipating all your forward momentum as heat. I’d rather have it go into the battery, though with a capacity less than 1.5 kWh it’s probably full after just a handful of brake applications so it really doesn’t matter.TheVerdict: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Review
Aside from being an all-around solid product – offering a comfortable and luxurious cabin, engaging dynamics and stellar fuel efficiency – competitive pricing won’t hurt the Sport Hybrid’s showroom performance, either. In fact, the addition of this electrified model will probably only increase the MDX’s longstanding sales lead over rival models. It starts at right around $53,000 in the U.S. including delivery fees, just $1,500 more than an all-wheel-drive gasoline-powered model. If you’re interested in driving one of these electrified Acuras home, examples should be arriving at dealerships as you read this.Discuss this story on our Acura MDX Forum
The promise of hybrid technology is that it can make vehicles better—more efficient, superior in performance, and more satisfying to drive. But that hybrid halo often is held on by bobby pins and duct tape. In many luxury hybrids, off-the-rack gasoline-electric technology can make for an underwhelming, slow-witted driving experience, even if they sometimes are objectively quicker than their less expensive nonhybrid counterparts.
The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD is a rare exception, as it lives up to its potential, at least upon our first exposure. Part of the reason likely is the years of intense development behind its key hybrid components. Core items from the NSX supercar (and the forgotten—and forgettable—RLX Sport Hybrid sedan) have been transplanted into what is the brand’s best-selling vehicle. The technology that makes the NSX so ferocious in the corners and so drama-free in general adds confidence, a sharper driving experience, and more miles per gallon to this high-riding, 7-passenger family wagon.
The nonhybrid MDX SH-AWD is a tough act to follow; it’s among the best-handling 3-row crossovers, with quick, well-weighted steering and well-controlled body motions. Both MDX models feature an all-wheel-drive system—optional in the regular 1, standard in the hybrid—that sends more torque to the outside rear wheel during hard cornering, but the Sport Hybrid goes a step further with the ability to apply resistance (and recover energy) at one rear wheel while it’s delivering forward momentum to the other. It thus achieves a sophisticated and more nuanced form of torque vectoring. The hybrid system also does away with a mechanical connection between the engine and the rear axle. Instead, a Twin Motor Unit (TMU) packages 2 36-hp motors together at the rear. They fill gaps in the engine’s torque curve to sharpen accelerator response in the hybrid compared with the conventional model, and Acura engineers boast that the system takes just 90 milliseconds to fully adjust the torque distribution among the wheels versus about 0.2 second in the regular MDX. In front, a third, 47-hp electric motor spins with the input shaft of the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission and has 3 roles: delivering supplemental torque, helping smooth out shifts, and acting as a generator.
As for the transmission, it’s a partner in this system’s quick reaction times. By losing the ZF nine-speed automatic, which can bumble over its bounty of ratio choices (and sometimes fumbles the shifts themselves with a shudder), the seven-speed and hybrid motor system are all business, ripping through the gears with quickness and grace. You hear them work more than feel them, and, because of the hybrid system, the rush of passing power starts even before the transmission has downshifted.
The gasoline engine steps aside as the headliner of the show, even though it remains the essential piece. In place of the direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 in other MDX models, the hybrid has a 3.0-liter V-6 with port injection, the smaller displacement enabling it to skirt a China-market tax on larger engines. The entire system makes 321 horsepower and 289 lb-ft, or 31 hp and 22 lb-ft more than the nonhybrid models.
Moving along with city traffic, it’s clear that Acura’s hybrid know-how extends to more than carving up mountain-road esses. The hybrid system brings the V-6 seamlessly into the mix with a wet multiplate clutch, finessing the low-speed drivability issues that can plague such a setup. Accelerate gently and the MDX hybrid launches silently, as a rear-wheel-drive electric vehicle. The V-6 comes on shortly thereafter, although it often switches off when coasting (at speeds up to 56 mph). We also saw it cycle off in steady 40-mph cruising.
The fine MDX driving experience hasn’t been adulterated in any other way. It includes well-blended brakes and precise, nicely weighted steering. There’s a fair amount of body lean, as expected in an SUV like this, but the adaptive dampers do a great job filtering out road harshness. Push hard into tight corners and you might find yourself dialing in too much steering input, as the outside rear motor nudges the vehicle’s rotation, preempting understeer. A quick loop in a Lexus RX450h—the top seller among the MDX hybrid’s U.S.-market rivals—showed a sharp contrast with the way Acura’s hybrid system doesn’t change accelerator response as the power sources swap in and out, thus reinforcing the idea that the system works as one cohesive unit.Aiming to Blend In
Compared with the NSX or even the RLX, there was a greater effort to make the hybrid technologies invisible in the MDX, according to product planning manager Gary Robinson. The priorities here were simply strong acceleration and balanced performance, and outside of knowing when the engine switches off and on, it’s hard to discern what the hybrid system is doing and where torque is being delivered.
There nevertheless are 4 driving modes in the Sport Hybrid, up from three in other versions of the MDX. They vary throttle response, steering effort, and damper behavior. The one that’s hybrid-exclusive and takes advantage of this model’s added performance is Sport+, which keeps the engine running all the time, freeing up the front motor to maximize acceleration and to assist with shift quickness.
Acura says the hybrid kit adds 227 pounds to the curb weight of the MDX versus the standard AWD model—which is already roughly 200 pounds heavier than an equivalent front-drive version. But because much of the hybrid hardware is mounted low in the chassis, the Sport Hybrid has a center of mass that’s about an inch lower. The fitment of all this extra hardware has no effect on packaging. Ground clearance is the same as that of the standard MDX. Seating is still comfortable for 5 in the 1st 2 rows (or four, if you get the Advance model and its 2nd-row captain’s chairs) and good enough for kids in the third row; the seats fold neat and flat; and cargo space is uncompromised.
If the motor systems around the axles are the muscle of the hybrid system, the Intelligent Power Unit (IPU) and Power Control Unit (PCU) are its brain and nerve center. Both have benefited from NSX development, and they’re mounted on additional structures (with crossmembers to help protect them) that span the width of the MDX’s underbody—essentially where the driveshaft otherwise would go. The PCU is liquid cooled, while the IPU, where the 72-cell, 1.3-kWh lithium-ion battery pack lives, is located under the center console and cooled with air from the cabin.
There are 2 ways to get the Sport Hybrid. The Technology package versions include 20-inch wheels, remote start, blind-spot monitoring, and navigation. The Advance package adds features such as heated and ventilated front seats, upgraded Milano leather with contrast piping, open-pore wood trim, heated second-row captain’s chairs with a center console, sunshades for the 2nd row, and LED fog lamps. All MDXs now come with crash-mitigation braking, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, and other active-safety features.
Given the hybrid’s boost of 8 mpg in the city and 1 mpg on the highway versus the standard all-wheel-drive MDX at an extra cost of just $1500, it’s hard to conceive of a reason not to get the Sport Hybrid over the standard MDX—even for those who tend to do more highway driving.
There are a couple of drawbacks, however. For all the NSX-derived wizardry, the system in the MDX Sport Hybrid isn’t really meant for high-speed driving. At 84 mph, just short of the rear motors’ 11,000-rpm redline, a one-way clutch decouples them from drive duty. Beyond that speed, the nonhybrid models, with their larger 3.5-liter V-6 and less weight, likely would start pulling away from the hybrid. The more significant issue is towing. Whereas the standard all-wheel-drive MDX is rated to tow up to 5000 pounds, pulling a trailer is not recommended at all for the hybrid, according to powertrain development leader Ken Lantz, who claims that the majority of MDX owners don’t tow anyway.
Other than badging, there’s not much to visibly distinguish the hybrid from other versions. All MDXs received a light refresh for 2017, one that’s most noteworthy in front, where Acura shed the last remnants of the former model’s awkward metallic beak, subbing in a more conventionally styled grille. The hood gets some corresponding new character lines, there are new wheels, and the return of dual exhausts sum the exterior changes for the 2017 MDX lineup. Inside Acura has introduced 2nd-row captain’s chairs and revamped some of the trim and surfaces. The company expects the MDX hybrid’s target buyer to be both significantly younger and more affluent than those who go for the nonhybrid models. Considering that, the hybrid’s interior feels conservative—if a bit drab—for the mission. And years after its introduction, Acura’s dual-screen infotainment system still confounds and infuriates.
Acura expects to sell only 5 to 10 percent of all MDXs in hybrid form, but perhaps that will prove to be an underestimate. For all the complexity, the hybrid gear makes the MDX better to drive and less thirsty. Here, the halo seems real.