It is rather unlikely that Acura knew or aptly projected the impact their MDX would have on their bottom line when they launched it back in 2000 as a 2001 model year luxury SUV. It quickly rose to become to best or second best-selling product in the line-up, outselling even the affordable ILX (the EL’s and CSX’ latest name) by a margin of nearly 3 to 1. And this despite being one of the most expensive Acura vehicles.
The MDX strikes an ideal balance between affordability, capability, luxury and good driving manners. For the first time, Acura’s added a hybrid version to the MDX’s already busy portfolio. Branded simply as the Sport Hybrid, it sits on top of the trim pyramid and on paper it deserves to be there. Thankfully, in reality, this remains true. But is it more Sport or Hybrid?
Styling inside and out
The fresh for 2017 facelift is welcomed one. This 3rd generation MDX, introduced for the 2014 model year, suffered from “nasty front fascia” but Acura’s remedied this with the grafting of their recent corporate diamond pentagon grille and LED headlights.
There’s not much to say about the remainder of the MDX’s styling other than its lines are conservative, clean yet the final result is a handsome truck. Higher trims get larger or more attractive wheels and a few tasteful accents.
The cabin is lovely as a whole with fine craftsmanship, nice materials and a decent design. This dashboard design however, is already dated. I’m referring to the dual-screen setup which is excessive. Navigating the menus is not so complicated but all that screen is in stark contrast with the miniscule display among the gauges that doesn’t include a digital speedometer.
Comfort and space
The MDX shines brightly here. Every row features a better than decent amount of comfort and accessibility. The one-touch walk-in button is a nice touch when headed to the third row.
The trunk is more than workable with the 3rd row up, and becomes cavernous when it is stowed. The stowage area under the load floor is a nice additional touch.
The seats are Acura-spec, or supportive and comfortable. Most trims provide heated spots all around, and heated steering wheel. Ventilated front perches are included with the Sport Hybrid. There are plenty of spots for phones, wallets and whatnots thanks to the large and adjustable central bin.
Value and equipment
Nearly $54k will get you a base AWD MDX in Canada. My tested Sport Hybrid retails for $69,990 and turns out to be the better option of the lot. If you are considering a Tech or Elite, I would strongly suggest the extra $5k to $9k.
There are plenty of good reasons to do so starting with the powertrain. The 10% maybe 15% in fuel economy will help pay off the difference for starters. Then, there are the adaptive dampers to go along with the totality of the kit you get with an Elite.
Of the offered equipment, you’ll find navigation, adaptive cruise control (and all associated active safety equipment), surround view camera, ELS audio system, satellite radio, remote starter, AcuraLink, Apple CarPlay and loads more.
For comparison sakes, an equally well appointed 2018 Audi Q7 Technik retails for nearly $9,000 more. Here, it comes down to perceived brand value. Here, Acura might lose out a little…
Performance and handling
Looks aside, Acura’s have always good to better than average drivers. I’m happy to report that the MDX Sport Hybrid fully adheres to the brand’s reputation.
The ride quality is just shy of excellent, if only not perfect because of the noisier than I would like. All MDX’s feature active noise and sound control but they don’t seem like enough to truly insulate the interior from the exterior. Otherwise, the adaptive dampers, independent suspension and smartly tuned chassis deliver equal parts comfort and handling.
On the highway, and on the road, the MDX’s size is barely noticeable thanks to the SUV’s stability and agility. This impression is further enhanced by the powertrain’s eagerness to please. Honda hybrids have generally turned out to the performers of their line-ups and this Sport Hybrid is no different.
The powertrain consists of a 3.0-litre V6 mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission – quite different form the “regular” 3.5-litre V6 and 9-speed autobox. The front direct drive motor, integrated in the 7 DCT, and the rear twin motor unit bring output up to a combined 321 horsepower and 289 lb.-ft. of torque. Despite maximum power numbers coming in at higher engine speeds than the 3.5-litre, the boost in torque from the electric motors makes all the difference.
When accelerating to pass on the freeway, the moment the transmission pick sits gear, a punch akin to turbo boost can be felt for a moment. It’s actually quite amusing. The DCT is extremely efficient and plays ball when the IDS (Integrated Dynamics System, aka Drive mode selector) is set in Sport or, unique to the Sport Hybrid, Sport+. Shifts are swift and seamless, even in Comfort mode. Oddly, there is no “eco” mode, something that’s become very common on many Honda products.
Limitations or shortcomings for the Sport Hybrid are the fact that towing is not recommended and that fuel economy numbers are not stellar. Acura’s specs say that the Hybrid should average 9L/100 while the Elite 3.5-litre, 10.7L/100 km. I averaged 9.5L/100 km but was hoping for a slightly better result. Although the electric motors and battery provide some full EV driving, no matter how gentle I was with the throttle, I could never manage more than 400-500 electric meters even with a fully charged battery.
The MDX Sport Hybrid is more Sport than Hybrid so depending what you’re shopping for, it’s performance and ride quality will please more than displease potential buyers. I for one think it’s a great product but I’m not 100% convinced I’d opt for one over an $80,000 Q7.