Driving kids to soccer practice could get more fun
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 third 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 (9/8.7/8.7 L/100km) in city/highway/combined. (The regular MDX is rated at 18/26/21 (13/9/11.2L/100km).)
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 first offers room for up to seven 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 second-row heated seats, a surround-view camera system, and LED foglights. There are seven USB ports throughout the cabin, and even those traveling on the third row can charge their device while using it. That third 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 third 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 five-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 USD.
Acura sold more than 60,000 MDXs in the North America 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.