2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid
The NSX of SUVs*
Words by: Adam Allen
OK, what’s with the asterisk?
Anytime you see an asterisk at the end of an intrepid statement, it’s meant as a disclaimer that while there’s likely elements of truth, it’s mostly hogwash. We admit that the same is true in this case except for the hogwash part, and that is because the MDX Sport Hybrid really does benefit from the same drivetrain trickery employed by the brand’s NSX supercar. While it may not share the same carbon fiber and aluminum structure or the potent twin-turbo 3.5 litre V6, the basic premise of the technology is the same in both applications.
Is Acura trying to convince us the hybrids are fun to drive?
The NSX is a hybrid that can achieve highway speeds from rest in three seconds and onto a terminal velocity of 307 km/h while returning combined fuel economy in the same range as your average family sedan. Those stats should drive home the point effectively that hybrids can be fun to drive. For those who require a little less outright speed but desire a meaningful increase in practicality, the MDX Sport Hybrid should be a good fit. Honestly, when we booked the Road Test several months prior, our expectations weren’t particularly high. As unabashed enthusiasts the idea of driving a hybrid three-row SUV doesn’t exactly raise our pulse rates, yet after flogging it for a week we were delighted to be proven wrong. The MDX Sport Hybrid is not only generally excellent to drive, it is by a huge margin the best hybrid SUV we have encountered, full stop.
How does it all work?
What Acura has pulled off with the MDX’s hybrid bits is dizzyingly complicated, yet it all works completely seamlessly- that might be its biggest achievement. If you have driven a hybrid recently you know how impressive that is. The whole deal starts under the hood with a 3.0 litre V6 that drives the front wheels through a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, which just so happens to perform gearchanges much smoother and more intuitively than the 9-speed version found on conventional MDX versions. A combination of an electric motor and generator resides under the front seats, and it serves three purposes: it provides 47 supplemental horsepower when needed, it charges the nearby lithium-ion battery pack nearby and it fires up the engine with buttery smoothness when setting off from rest. Out back you’ll find Acura’s Twin Motor Unit (TMU) which replaces a conventional differential. It’s responsible for providing electric only propulsion when the batteries have the necessary charge to do so, while also sending juice to said batteries when coasting. When the driver gives the throttle a good stomp, it will contribute 72 horsepower to the proceedings. There are two positive offshoots of this setup in the MDX; the first is that because a driveshaft to the rear axle isn’t needed, cargo and passenger space barely affected. The other nicety stems from the use of a whole whack of electronic trickery to provide torque vectoring which helps a great deal in corning and makes the MDX more fun to drive than some so called sports sedans. Trust us when we say that this system works MUCH better than braking an individual wheel like most systems out there.
Fun Fact: The MDX is the best selling three-row SUV of all time.
Impressive, isn’t it? Acura has learned a thing or two about the formula that has brought so much sales success to this model, and it shows. There’s the obvious stuff that people appreciate, like the solidity of the cabin, pleasing lack of wind and tire noise and the high-quality materials used throughout the interior. Then there are the bits of kit that don’t always get the headlines but deserve accolades nonetheless, like adaptive dampers that offer astute body control without ruining the ride (even on 20” wheels) and the choice of four distinct driving modes you can tailor to your current mood. Families who invite the MDX into their garages care less about body roll and steering accuracy than they do the safety of their precious cargo, and for them the standard AcuraWatch suite of cutting-edge safety and driver assistance technologies will resonate more deeply. So far Acura has delivered nearly three thousand MDX’s in 2017, and there’s no signs of that momentum slowing down.
What might go wrong?
We recently drove Acura’s TLX sports sedan and cautiously praised it for a welcome evolution of the maddening infotainment system fitted to the brand’s current models. The MDX Sport Hybrid did not come equipped as such, still sporting the confounding menu layers and thoroughly unimpressive resolution we’ve been complaining about for a while. It’s not a deal breaker, but it is also not befitting a vehicle with the price tag the MDX carries. Also not a deal breaker but still concerning is the lack of room for third row passengers. Kids under 12 won’t notice, but any occupants bigger than that might request frequent stops on long journeys to stretch their legs. Those who plan on towing will be disappointed to learn that Acura forbids such activities, presumably to protect all the expensive techno-wizardry of the drivetrain.
Should I buy an MDX Sport Hybrid?
Here in the Carpages Garage, we don’t shy away from making bold claims, so here’s one- right now, at this very moment, Acura just might have the most well-sorted hybrid technology in the industry. We have driven all kinds of hybrid models from compacts to pickup trucks, and none of the technology on those examples fade into invisibility the way it does in the MDX. Not only that but the MDX Sport Hybrid commands just a small premium over its conventionally powered stable mate and is also faster and more powerful, more rewarding to drive and achieves considerably better fuel economy. Perhaps we should rephrase the above question to ‘Why wouldn’t you buy an MDX Sport Hybrid?’
ra MDX Sport Hybrid – Specifications
- Price as tested: $40,890
- Body Type: 5-door, 7 passenger SUV
- Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
- Engine: 3.0-litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves
- Front AC motor: 47 horsepower/109 lbs-ft. of torque
- Rear TMU AC motors: 72 horsepower/104 lbs-ft. of torque
- Combined System Horsepower: 321 @ 6,200 rpm
- Combined System Torque (lbs-ft.): 289 @ 4,700 rpm
- Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
- Curb weight: 2,026 kg (4,466 lbs)
- Observed Fuel consumption: 11.7L/100km (20 mpg)