• 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Road Test: 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

Acura’s Most Powerful and Efficient SUV

Acura proudly, and rightfully so, will tell anyone listening that the MDX, over its lifetime, is the #1 selling three-row luxury vehicle of all time. It may be parsing categories a bit, but there is no doubt car buyers looking for a premium SUV that can hold up to seven people have taken to the MDX. Now in its third generation, what could make the MDX even more appealing? How about offering a hybrid version that really is sporty.

2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Coming at you with a new grill

When shopping for a three-row SUV, the top-of-the-list must haves are usually not the ability to whip around corners and have zippy acceleration—or have fuel-saving hybrid technology. Those may be desired, but play a secondary role to being able to haul extra people and their gear. So, for shoppers looking for a premium family midsize crossover, the 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid gives them an option to be just a bit different from the crowd. And maybe have some fun at the same time.

MDX Sport Hybrid Drivetrain: Most Powerful, Most Efficient

The 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD is powered by a non-turbo V6  and twin, rear electric motors, plus an electric motor in the seven-speed DCT (dual clutch) transmission. What this combination delivers is 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque, along with 0-60 times under six seconds.

The Integrated Dynamics System includes four driving modes: Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport+. Managed by a button on the center console, selecting one of the modes instantly results in specific driving dynamics that affect the throttle response, steering, suspension dampers and the exhaust note. The biggest swing is from Comfort to Sport+, where the feel is noticeable during acceleration and ride dynamics. Comfort was the place to be when on the open road cruising the highway, while Sport and Sport+ were where you needed to be on the twisties. Select Sport+ when coming off the line and you get the full advantage of the battery assist for a quick launch.

2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Handling sets the MDX Sport Hybrid apart from its compeittors

The EPA fuel economy numbers are 26 city/27 highway/27 combined. However, Clean Fleet Report is always up for a challenge and knew we could surpass the EPA numbers by driving smooth and calm. We also knew that fuel economy would be increased by making sure the 1 kW lithium-ion battery was recharged through the regenerative braking.

In 335 miles of driving throughout Southern California we averaged 29.6 mpg. So far, so good. But in two, 100-mile highway runs with the adaptive cruise control set at 65 mph, we averaged an impressive 31.5 mpg. So, if you drive implementing the sage advice from my high school driver’s education instructor to “accelerate like there is a raw egg between your foot and the pedal,” you could reasonably get 550 miles down the road before needing to refill the 19.4 gallon fuel tank with 91 octane.

Fuel economy numbers reported by Clean Fleet Report are non-scientific and represent the reviewer’s driving experience. If you live in cold weather, high in the mountains, spend time in the city or stuck in rush hour traffic, then your numbers may differ.

SH-AWD = Super Handling All Wheel Drive

The “SH” stands for Super Handling, a big promise from a 4,400 lb. SUV.

2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Fuel economy comes from Honda’s unique hybrid system

Engineered with an electronic intelligent power unit and a power control unit, excellent handling characteristics are delivered through the electrified torque vectoring that instantly applies traction to the wheel most in need of grip. Torque vectoring is most effective during accelerating and turning, where the engine torque is split right-to-left and front-to-rear.

Whether it be on high-speed freeway onramps or mountain corners, the driver doesn’t sense these torque transitions, except in the positive and predictable handling being delivered. Understeer was non-existent, so it was possible to get back on the gas quickly when hitting the mountain curves hard. The Brits call this “point and squirt cornering,” where you take aim, then using positive braking and a slow entry with quick steering, you can accelerate out of the corner hard and never lose grip or confidence. This describes the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD with torque vectoring perfectly.

The mechanical part of the handling includes front MacPherson struts, rear multi-link, stabilizer bars and an active damper suspension system. The 20-inch aluminum alloy wheels were shod with 245/50 R20 high-performance all-season tires. The grip was sure and confident, with the MDX Sport Hybrid feeling planted at highways speeds or aggressive cornering. One can only imagine the grip and handling if the all-season tires were replaced with summer tires.

Stopping comes from an electro-server system that seamlessly integrates the regenerative braking with the four-wheel, ABS disc brakes and electronic brake force distribution and brake assist. The stops were straight and consistent, but the brakes, when first starting-out in the morning, were a bit touchy and grabby. After a few miles, the system worked great with smooth and consistent stops.

Driving Experience: Exterior

Significantly redesigned for the 2017 model year, the 2018 MDX Sport Hybrid is a carryover, featuring its much-improved Diamond Pentagon Grill. This replaces the clunky, rather blunt nose on the previous models and gets Acura one step closer to the luxury category for the MDX.

2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

We think it’s got the looks to back up its performance

That new grill, centered with a very large emblem, has jewel-eye LED headlights on the outer corners, wrapping-around the smooth fenders. LED fog lights sit on the lower, outer edges of the front fascia. The sides are smooth with an architectural sculpturing on the doors. The roofline, with chrome rails, is near-flat and had a panoramic power moonroof. It ends with a shark fin antenna and a spoiler over the rear hatch window. The few chrome bits and pieces are found on the front grille, accenting the side windows and rocker panels, on the rear lower fascia, the twin exhaust tips and an eyebrow strip below the rear window wiper on the power tailgate. Be sure to look for the blue, subtle “SH” on the rear hatch logo badge, which signifies this MDX is electrified.

From the sideview our MDX Sport Hybrid, painted in Modern Steel Metallic and with the Shark Gray machine-finished 20-inch wheels, had a low-slung look. Maybe a lighter body color and brighter wheels will give a different look. Don’t know, but we do know we liked the stance and look of our test vehicle even when sitting still.

Driving Experience: Interior

Clean Fleet Report was driving the MDX Sport Hybrid with the optional Tech and Advance Packages. The interior, with wood trim, had black, heated, ventilated and perforated, Milano Premium leather-trimmed sport seats with white top stitching. The driver seat had 10-way power and the passenger eight-way power. Both seats had much-appreciated lumbar adjustments.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Missing a knob or two, but still highly functional

As part of the Advance Package, our MDX had second row heated Captain chairs, that were separated by a center console with cup holders and a deep storage area. Access to the third row 50/50 split seats was through Acura’s one touch Smart Slide Walk-in system. With the second row seat slid to its most forward position, it was tight getting into the third row seat. Once in the rear row, even at 5-foot-9, it was tight. Most likely the small of stature will be riding in the outback, probably for short distances. With the rear two rows in the upright position, the headrests tended to obstruct the rearward vision. The simple solution was to lower the third-row seats and remove the second-row headrests. Viola—instant great visibility!

The cockpit design is driver-friendly with the gauges in easy-to-read black with white numbers. The usual type of gear shifter was replaced with push buttons, which actually worked quite well. All controls are easy reach, including those for the tri-zone automatic climate system. The heated, leather-wrapped steering wheel contains audio telephone and voice controls. The slide-top center console has a lower area that is huge and can swallow-up smaller items you want to store out of sight.

As part of the Tech Package, the MDX Sport Hybrid infotainment system (information and entertainment) was equipped with the 10-speaker ELS Studio Premium audio system that included FM/CD/HDAM with MP3 playback capability. SiriusXM service is included for 90 days. There is an auxiliary audio jack, USB port with iPod connectivity, music streaming via Bluetooth wireless technology and hands-free phone capability. The system also has the cool Song By Voice feature and Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and Siri Eyes Free.

2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The letters stand for something real!

The infotainment system is spread between two screens, which can be a bit confusing. The top, 8.0-inch, the larger of the two, handles the navigation and vehicle system graphics. Navigation with a 3D view is found in the upper screen and is part of the AcuraLink Real-Time system that offered street and freeway conditions, turn-by-turn and traffic rerouting.

The lower touch screen at 7.0-inches is for the radio. It’s too small for our liking and it only had a volume knob. It all seemed a bit outdated compared to other systems we have experienced; adding the channel knob would make the system much easier to use.


Convenience features on our MDX Sport Hybrid included idle stop/start, a power lift gate with a rear wiper and cargo-area cargo tie-down hooks. The front power windows had auto up and down and were accompanied by rear door sunshades, power door locks, USB ports, 12V power outlets, including a 2.5 amp in the storage area, rain sensing wipers, folding heated power side mirrors with LED puddle lamps, multiple cup holders and an auto-dimming Homelink rearview mirror.

2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

With seats down, the MDX can swallow a lot of stuff

Becoming more common and appreciated, was the handy Surround View Camera that gives a downward 360º look at anything that may be in the MDX Sport Hybrid’s surrounding area. You will come to rely on this nifty feature.


The MDX Sport Hybrid is well equipped with active and passive safety features including seven air bags, a tire pressure monitoring system, collapsible steering column, anti-theft alarm, hill start assist, engine immobilizer and rear view camera. Once on the road, safety systems include lane departure warning, blind spot and rear cross traffic monitor, forward collision and mitigation warning, and road departure mitigation and lane keeping assist.

The 2018 MDX has earned a US Government National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) 5-Star Overall Vehicle Score, where 5 Stars is their highest safety rating. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the MDX its top safety pick, for overall crash protection.

Pricing and Warranties

Clean Fleet Report’s test 2018 MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD Advance did not have any options, so the MSRP was $58,150. Pricing excludes the $995 destination and handling and fee.

The 2018 MDX Sport Hybrid comes with these warranties:

  • New Vehicle                  Four years/50,000 miles
  • Powertrain                     Six years/70,000 miles
  • Hybrid Components    Eight years/100,000 miles
  • Roadside Assistance    Four years/50,000 miles
  • Corrosion Perforation Five years/Unlimited miles

Observations: 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

The 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD is an attractive SUV with a nicely outfitted interior. It is among the most fuel efficient in its class and has the full array of advanced driver safety technology. Configured as either a six- or seven-passenger, the MDX can serve your family well.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Three rows; small fries in back

The redesign that took place in 2017 carries-over to 2018, making the MDX more contemporary and helping it compete well in its class. The interior is comfortable, especially for long trips and outings, and has an optional second row entertainment system to keep the back seaters happy and quiet. The MDX Sport Hybrid is a viable option compared to a larger, non-hybrid SUV, as it offers more performance and far better fuel economy.

If your family has grown to the point where it needs the space and you don’t want to compromise performance, then by all means visit your Acura dealership and take the MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD for a lengthy test drive. Make sure to ask for an Acura factory trained specialist that will explain the hybrid technology in detail. This is the only way to truly get a feel if going a little bit green is right for you.

Whatever you end up buying, Happy Driving!

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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.

Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class, which leads us to emphasize electric cars, plug-in hybrids, hybrids and diesels. We also feature those efficient gas-powered vehicles that are among the top mpg vehicles in their class. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

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About Author: John Faulkner

John Faulkner is an automotive marketing professional with more than 30 years experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He has worked with General Motors (all Divisions), Chrysler (Dodge, Jeep, Eagle), Ford and Lincoln-Mercury, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan and Toyota on consumer events and sales training programs. His interest in automobiles is broad and deep, beginning as a child riding in the back seat of his parent's 1950 Studebaker. He has a keen appreciation of Art Deco design, no bias for domestic versus foreign makes and loves competition - whether that be F1, IndyCar, Sports Cars, NASCAR or participating in Track Days at places such as Laguna Seca, Thunderhill or Willow Springs. John lives in Dana Point, CA, and enjoys a top-down drive on PCH on an early Sunday morning.

4 thoughts on “Road Test: 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

  1. Jacob Cyriac
    March 16, 2019 at 4:31 am

    Sir, the mdx sport hybrid unlike the regular mdx, cannot be hooked up to a trailer hitch for towing. This is the only drawback of this vehicle.

    • March 17, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      @Jacob Cyriac,
      You’ve got a sharp eye. It’s a shame not letting that 289 pounds-feet of torque go to work. We’ll ask our Honda/Acura contacts for more on that story and get back to you. –ed.

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