Hybrids are everywhere.
And with the rare exception, while they offer improved fuel efficiency, they rarely offer the enthusiast excitement.
Now an Acura hybrid? Well that might be something. After all, the new NSX supercar qualifies as a hybrid. Then again, so does the Accord Hybrid, from Acura’s sibling Honda.
So the question is, is the MDX Hybrid a sleeper supercar, or just a snooze?
Well the looks don’t give anything away. This is the same large 3-row SUV we’ve known for some time. Acura has been honing the design for 2017, with a new “Diamond Pentagon” grille, “Jewel Eye” headlights, and chrome twin exhaust pipes.
The changes may sound subtle, but we think it moves the needle from understated over to handsome. Our tester in Modern Steel Metallic with the Hybrid’s standard 20” wheels looked especially upscale. Still stealthy, but it can certainly hold its head up with BMWs and Audis.
The interior keeps up the luxury vibe with beautiful details, like fine leather, soft touch surfaces, and real wood. Would Monsieur prefer African-sourced Black Limba, or Olive Ash Burl from Spain? Fancy.
Our tester had an extra ladle of goodness, thanks to the optional Advance Package which adds ventilated seats for the front, cushy second-row captain’s chairs and sunshades, and for those in the third row, USB ports.
Those would be good for keeping the games charged, because the 3rd row is mighty small – fine for kids, but don’t expect Grandma and Grandpa to ride back there. That said, if you drop those rear seats you have plenty of room, and with the 2nd row folded, you have a massive cargo hold.
For the driver, the setup is typical Acura, which is to say logical, with lots of individual switches. There’s also a two-tier display system that feels a little dated – it could probably be easily handled by one large display – but it does work well.
Other sporty features include an Electronic Gear Selector – like the one on the NSX, plus a little eye candy in the way of paddle shifters and sporty metal pedals.
Most of this stuff is nice, and pretty expected in a luxury SUV.
But what does the Hybrid bring to the party?
Well first of all, you lose a couple things. The 3.5-liter V6 that muscles other MDXs around is swapped for a smaller 3.0-liter, V6. And the 9-speed automatic also gets replaced with a 7-speed.
Not an auspicious start for a model that’s marketed as a Sport Hybrid.
But fear not. That smaller V6 gets two (count ‘em two!) 36 hp motors at the rear wheels and a 47 hp electric motor up front. All totaled you get 321 hp and 289 lb-ft of torque. A solid gain over the 3.5-liter’s 290/267.
And you can feel it. While the 3.5L V6 is a lovely motor, the Hybrid feels like there’s a V8 under the hood. With the instantaneous torque the electric motors kick in, it punches hard of the line, and the 7-speed dual clutch automatic shifts like the performance thoroughbred it is.
No it’s not NSX Sports Car Loud – in fact it’s quite subdued – but the Hybrid hustles like no other MDX and it will paste a wide grin on your face.
Now, you can ease into the gas and take off in pure EV mode, which is sort of fun in a stealthy way. The system will even cut the gas engine at freeway speeds to save fuel. It all works so seamlessly, that without that tach needle flopping to zero, you’d never know. It’s a beautifully engineered system.
The payback is impressive too. Even with our hybrid hooning, we still managed an average 28 mpg – 1 mpg better than the EPA average. That’s also about 5 mpg better than what non-hybrid MDXs can expect.
Power and fuel efficiency. What more could you want?
How about handling?
With the two electric motors at the rear wheels, the SH-AWD system can individually brake or add power to each rear wheel, helping it pivot into and power out of turns. Cool on an NSX – awesome on an MDX!
Add in an adaptive suspension and four dynamic settings, and you can dial up a cushy ride for the daily drive, or more importantly, turn it up for canyon carving capability. (Say that three times!) Combined with the MDX’s great steering feel, you end up tossing this big boat around like a racing sloop.
But will it eat a hybrid-sized whole in my wallet?
While many other manufacturers charge a serious premium for their hybrids – and effectively negate any savings you’d make being more fuel efficient – Acura only tacks a $1,500 premium for the Sport Hybrid over the 3.5-liter V6 all-wheel-drive model. Caveat: Some additional equipment is a mandatory extra.
Entrance into MDX-ity starts with a front wheel drive model at $44,050, and it’s pretty luxo. If you want All Wheel Drive, it jumps to $46,050.
The Sport Hybrid comes with All Wheel Drive standard, and also requires the Technology Package ($4,410 on other models) that serves up perforated leather seats, GPS Linked Climate Control (really!), 20-inch alloys, power- folding mirrors, 10-speaker ELS Studio Premium Audio System, Color Multi-information Display, Rear Door Smart Key Entry, Remote Engine Start, Navigation with 3D, Blind Spot Warning, and rear cross traffic monitor.
For the Whole Enchilada, you add the Advance Package like our tester, a princely $6,040, but includes everything the modern family can’t live without; heated & ventilated front seats, second row captain’s chairs, second row center console with sliding tray, nicer leather, natural wood accents, heated steering wheel, second row sun shades, dual 3rd row USB ports, Surround View Camera, Front and Rear Parking Sensors, auto-dimming side mirrors. And so everyone can know you’re a big spender, LED fog lights.
Out the door, our MDX carried a sticker of $58,975. A comparable Lexus RX45oh runs about $63,000 A loaded Highlander Hybrid Platinum runs about $48k. But neither will bring you the driving satisfaction of the MDX Sport Hybrid.
So noticeably improved power and handling, noticeably improved fuel economy, and a bit of star power sharing some of the tech with the NSX supercar. Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner.
This is Acura at its best. Which is very, very, good.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.