The Whole Package for On-Road & Off
You might think of Acura NSX supercar as the top-of-the-line car for Honda’s luxury division. I’d like to propose an alternative—the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid. As wonderful of a performance machine as the NSX might be, I doubt it could match the off-road ability of the AWD MDX, so in the automotive decathlon that is everyday life, we think an all-round performer like the MDX is going to take the gold.
This popular midsize SUV is Acura’s best-selling model, accounting for more than a third of the division’s sales. It’s easy to see why, but the addition of a hybrid model adds a new dimension of fuel efficiency to this highly functional car.
The MDX is well-established in the luxury crossover segment, trailing in sales only the Lexus RX, which has had a hybrid variant for over a decade. If this is catchup, it’s about time. The MDX doesn’t match the Lexus’ fuel economy numbers, but it does offer a third row of seating.
The Sport Part
We only had a brief drive in the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid as part of the Western Automotive Journalists’ Media Day program, but came away impressed with the vehicles’ comfort and capabilities. The 24-valve single-overhead-cam 3.0-liter port-injected V-6 puts our 257 horsepower (hp) at 6400 rpm, a typically high-revving Honda engine. With its duel rear electric motors, the whole system is rated at 321 hp. It adds 218 pounds-feet of torque, something that showed up powerfully on the ascent up the Laureles Grade in Monterey.
The descent showed off the fuel-saving capabilities of the MDX as the engine shut off several times as we coasted downhill. My fuel economy wasn’t up to the EPA’s numbers of 26 mpg city/27 highway/27 combined, but I was close. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission was flawless in finding the proper gear on the drive.
I didn’t get a chance to put Honda’s SH-AWD system to the test, but past experience tells me this sophisticated package is more than capable to making sure any wheel with traction gets the power it needs. The four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson strut front/multi-link rear (with beefier stabilizer bars at both ends from the Technology Package) does a great job keeping the MDX tracking true.
The non-hybrid MDX has a quite different powertrain package with a 290-hp 3.5L direct injection V-6 mated to a nine-speed transmission. In a two-wheel-drive configuration that system can deliver 20 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined, not far off the hybrid numbers. Its AWD numbers usually only feature a one mpg penalty.
An Easy Step-Up
Maybe because it is such a small improvement in fuel economy, Acura has made the premium pretty small. The bump up to the Sport Hybrid is only $1,500 more than the comparably equipped standard MDX. The catch is that the Sport Hybrid is only available in AWD and includes the $4,400 Technology Package, an option on the standard MDX. That pushes the premium between a base front-wheel drive MDX and the Sport Hybrid to $7,510, although noting that is an apples-to-oranges comparison.
About that Technology Package. It sounds pricey, but the content it delivers is significant. Integrated into the eight-inch color display is the Acura Navigation System with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communications System with real-time traffic information, Acura ELS Studio Premium audio system, HD radio, GPS-linked tri-zone auto climate control with an air filtration system, remote engine start, blind spot information, rain-sensing wipers, LED puddle lights and rear cross-traffic monitoring.
The model I drove also featured another package (Advance) that added a surround-view camera system, sports seats with perforated leather trim, second row captain’s chairs, ventilated front seats, wood-trimmed interior, heated steering wheel, front passenger 10-day power seat, heated second-row seats, LED fog lights, parking sensors, rear door sunshades and roof rails.
A final package of standard AcuraWatch features were the MDX’s adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation braking, rear departure mitigation, forward collision warning, lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist. This is a package of safety technology that is well on its way to becoming as common as multiple airbags on modern cars.
The SUV Part of this Story
The MDX has earned its spot in the automotive market by being three things:
- A Honda, with a solid reputation for engineering and reliability,
- A luxury Honda, with features and comforts expected in that realm, and
- Again, a Honda, with a reputation for practical innovation.
As mentioned, we didn’t really test the off-road abilities of the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, but we’ve had plenty of experience with Honda’s AWD technology. This bodes well for the MDX, particularly because of the expected “off-road” use of MDX owners. In the real world, the car’s AWD capabilities are likely to be challenged by rain, snow, ice and maybe a few unpaved forest roads.
More to the point of an SUV is the carrying capacity of the MDX. The configuration we had was six passengers in three rows of two—the front and middle captain’s chairs and the narrow back row. A seven-passenger set up is also available where the middle seat will accommodate three passengers.
Behind the seats is the real crossover story—14.9 cubic feet behind the third row, 38.4 cu. ft with the last row folded down and a whopping 68.4 cu. ft. with both rows of rear seats folded. Folding and flipping the seats is easy work, leaving you with an interior you can customize to whatever task is at hand.
The Safety and Warranty Features
We’ve already referenced the variety of optional technology that can enhance driving safety. The basic MDX comes with seven airbags, a Multi-View Rear Camera, four-wheel anti-lock braking system, electronic brake distribution, brake assist, vehicle stability assist with traction control and motion adaptive steering, trailer stability assist, land-keeping assist, collision mitigation braking system, road departure mitigation, tire pressure monitoring system, hill start assist and adaptive cruise control. As you can see, the list of standard features is pretty lengthy, a testament to the luxury status of the vehicle and Honda’s work in this area.
The MDX has received a five-star overall vehicle score from federal government testing with similar frontal and side crash tests and a four-star rating in rollover.
The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid comes with the following warranties:
- Whole vehicle – Four years/50,000 miles
- Powertrain – Six years/70,000 miles
- Outer Body Rust-through – Five years/Unlimited miles
- Acura Genuine Accessories – Four years/50,000 miles
- Acura Total Luxury Care w/Roadside Assistance – Four years/50,000 miles
The Bottom Line
So what does this all come down to at check out? As mentioned earlier, the front-wheel drive MDX starts at a quite reasonable (considering the market competition and standard features) of $44,050; the base AWD model begins at $46,050. The hybrid’s base price is $51,960. Our 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid optioned out at $58,000. All MDXs also have a $975 destination and handling charge.
The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is a formidable vehicle, rightfully occupying a spot on top of the brand’s portfolio. It has power, reasonable fuel economy for the size and heft of the SUV, and a variety of standard and optional technology that slot it squarely in the sweet spot of the market. Without resting on the laurels of the Honda brand, it can hold its own against a variety of American (and the MDX is built in Alabama with 70 percent American/Canadian content), Japanese or European competitors. We’d like to see Honda squeeze a few more mpg out of this beast, and we’re confident the engineers are already working on that. While you wait, you can confidently buy the hybrid model (as opposed to the standard one) and make back your extra expense in a couple years from fuel savings.
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle. Because of this we don’t address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology. As part of these events we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements.
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