Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Hybrid

Road Test: 2017 Acura MDX Hybrid

Powerful, More Efficient Flagship SUV

Hybrid vehicles are designed to improve upon gasoline-powered cars rather than replace them. The Acura MDX, a midsize, three-row crossover SUV, is no paragon of fuel efficiency on its own, but when you add an electric component to the drivetrain, it jumps up to earning the mileage of a compact hatchback, despite its bountiful power, hauling capacity—and mass.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid adds fuel economy without sacrifice

Knowing that the current action in the personal transportation business is in the crossover segment, Acura positions the MDX Hybrid as a flagship. While the Hybrid’s engine drops from a 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 to a 257-horsepower 3.0-liter one, adding in not one but three electric motors and a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pushes the total output to a formidable 321 horsepower and 289 pounds-feet of torque, making it the brand’s mightiest SUV ever.

Acura’s engineers tucked all this extra technology underneath the car, so passenger and cargo space is unaffected, and the extra couple of hundred pounds adds to stability by lowering the center of gravity.

A Transmission Upgrade

The Sport Hybrid gets a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual mode, like the one in the RLX Sport Hybrid sedan and the nine-speed version in the NSX. You get virtually instant gear changes, as the second clutch sets up the next gear before you select it. Dropping the usual torque converter, a dual-clutch transmission is more efficient. You can use steering wheel mounted paddles to pick your own gears to add to the sportiness.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The hybrid tech is all packaged underneath

The three motors are integrated tightly into the existing powertrain. In front, a 47-horsepower motor is part of the transmission. At the rear, twin 36-horsepower motors sit where the differential for all-wheel-drive lives.

Acura’s SH-AWD all-wheel-drive technology is a proven feature. The twin rear motors in this application use torque vectoring to affect handling in positive ways. For example, during turns, the outer wheel can be given more torque. All three motors regenerate electricity while braking to fill the battery for more EV driving.

The Numbers Are Good

The Hybrid MDX gets EPA ratings of 26 mpg city/27 highway/27 combined. The regular MDX achieves 18/26/21 respectively, so the Hybrid is 24 percent more efficient. Smog and Greenhouse gas numbers are both 6’s, which is normal for 3.0-liter V6s. The 329 grams of CO2 emitted by this car is about three-fourths of what many similar-sized vehicles put out, so there’s some positive environmental impact.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The hybrid system allows for downsizing of the engine but not not the total power

Despite its size and height, electronic tuning and controls allow you to personalize the driving experience, so you can tackle interesting roads. While the standard MDX offers three preconfigured driving modes—Comfort, Normal and Sport—the MDX Hybrid gives you a Sport+ mode as well. Each setting uses the car’s electronic controls to enable more and more extreme modification to steering effort, throttle response, shock damping, shift points and the amount of torque vectoring to suit the driving conditions and the driver’s taste.

A New Face

Acuras have worn some aggressive faces in the last several years, but have toned that down recently to look less beaky. The new MDX design features the “Diamond Pentagon” grille, made up of tiny elements radiating away from the oversize Acura logo at the center. This is becoming the new face of the brand, scaled to fit each model. Knowing that they compete against models from BMW and Mercedes-Benz with long-familiar visages, Acura has struggled to create a meaningful identity that sticks. This new look is easy to take, but time will tell.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The MDX shows the new face of Acura

Interiors are plush in an upscale way, with the distinctive boldly carved dash and doors making every moment inside an Acura a stimulating experience. Materials rate above sister division Honda’s, as expected.

The MDX Sport Hybrid comes in two forms: Technology and Advance. The Advance incorporates the Technology package. Highlights of the Technology package include a navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink Communication System with Real-Time Traffic, the Acura ELS Studio Premium Audio System, a GPS-linked Tri-Zone Auto Climate System, Blind Spot Information System and rear cross traffic monitor, rain-sensing wipers and more. The Advance brings in a surround-view camera system, leather sport seats, heated second-row captain’s chairs, wood trim, rear door sunshades, and more amenities.

The Final Tally

2017 Acura MDX Hybrid

The MDX Sport Hybrid adds fuel economy to luxury

Prices start at $53,915 for the Technology Package version. My White Diamond Pearl tester, an Advance model with no additional options, listed at $58,975. The non-hybrid MDX starts at $45,025, if you want the look and utility, but not the hybrid performance.

As it has done for all its existence, Acura fights against the German luxury brands, as well as Lexus, Infiniti, Cadillac, Volvo and other. Honda can hope its customers will move upward into Acuras, part of the assignment for the founding Integra and Legend models. The MDX is an Acura perennial, and with crossovers hotter than ever, is a suitable flagship. The Sport Hybrid makes it more than a bit more fuel efficient.

In order to give you, the reader, the best perspective on the many vehicles available, Clean Fleet Report has a variety of contributors. When possible, we will offer you multiple perspectives on a given vehicle. We hope you’ll enjoy these diverse views–some are just below—and let us know what you think in comments below or at publisher@cleanfleetreport.com.

First Drive: 2017 Acura MDX (Michael’s view)

Road Test: 2016 Acura MDX (Larry’s view)

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Disclosure:

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.

First Drive: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

First Drive: 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD

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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

A new badge in town

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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The Sport Hybrid has better fuel economy without sacrificing power

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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid,front seats

The MDX is not afraid to remind you what luxury is all about

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:

  1. A Honda, with a solid reputation for engineering and reliability,
  2. A luxury Honda, with features and comforts expected in that realm, and
  3. 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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

What an SUV is all about–space

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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

No shifter–just buttons

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.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

The look of luxury

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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Disclosure:

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.