A sport motorcycle buzzed past me just as I reached my super-secret testing road in the back hills of Oakland, California. "I'll show that guy," I thought as I switched the driving mode of the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid from Normal to Sport Plus and zoomed off after him on the twisty back road.
The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission zipped the 3.0-liter engine up to 6,500 rpms while the three electric motors did their best to push me closer to Mr. Motorcycle. While I didn't quite catch him, I came close enough to see him check his mirrors, thinking, and this of course is pure speculation on my part, "Wait, that's a hybrid?"
The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is the company's first hybrid SUV. It has the same looks as the standard MDX, save for some small bits of trim and badging. It's only sold in two trims, the lower-priced Technology Package or upper Advance Package. The three-row SUV has room for seven, although the Advance Package features captain's chairs in the second row, taking the seating down to six.
Acura originally developed the hybrid system for its RLX Sport Hybrid sedan and then modified it for the super-hybrid NSX. In the MDX Sport Hybrid, there are two electric motors powering the rear wheels, while the aforementioned 3.0-liter V6 puts the power to the front. A third motor is integrated into the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission and is connected to the front driveshaft via gears. All told, the system puts out a respectable 321 horsepower and 289 pound-feet of torque, besting the 290 horses and 267 pound-feet of twist put out by the slightly larger gas engine in the standard MDX.
But more power is not all the MDX Sport Hybrid has got over its standard counterpart. Both have Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which throws positive torque to the outside rear wheel while cornering, essentially helping the car to rotate in a more controlled manner. The hybrid system, however, can work independently of the gas engine, resulting in torque-vectoring that is always on. Additionally, the SH-AWD in the hybrid can also apply regenerative brake torque to the inside rear wheel, resulting in crisp turn in.
So, what does all that torque-vectoring mumbo jumbo mean? It means this three-row hybrid SUV defies its large footprint. I could drag my left foot on the brake on corner entry, keeping the weight over the front wheels, and the MDX would turn like a sonofabitch. There's so little understeer that I found myself braking later and getting back on the gas sooner on my favorite twisty back road. If this baby had some decent summer rubber on the 20-inch wheels instead of the standard all-season tires, it just might make me forget all about my beloved Mazda CX-9, the current frontrunner here at Roadshow HQ when it comes to sporty full-size SUVs.
Performance is upped even more with different driving modes. While it's tough to tell the difference between Comfort and Normal, both make for an easy and comfortable ride. Things begin to heat up in Sport mode, with tighter steering and quicker throttle response. However, the transmission is still not as quick as I hoped, delaying downshifting just a tad while coming out of corners.
Sport Plus, however, is where its at. Off the line, Sport Plus provides maximum battery assist for quicker launches. It's not as fast as Mr. Motorcycle, of course, but it's still better than your average hybrid. The transmission downshifts easily with an exciting little burble and won't upshift until damn-near the red line. Sport, indeed.
I wish the same attention to detail had gone into the driver's aid technology. It's got all the goods, including lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control, but their implementation could be better.
I was mostly impressed with lane keeping assist, which goes a step further than many manufacturers and keeps the car in the middle of the lane, not just bouncing from one lane marker to the other. However, it only works between 45 and 90 miles per hour, so I never got any stress-relief in stop-and-go traffic. Road departure mitigation works in conjunction with lane keeping assist, again working only between 45 and 90 miles per hour.
Blind spot information works well, giving me visual and audible alerts if I tried to change lanes with someone in my blind spot. However, it only works above 20 miles per hour, again doing nothing to make it easier to deal with crowded roads.
Adaptive cruise control, something I usually enjoy in heavy San Francisco traffic, gets the job done, but it doesn't mimic a human driver very well. Throttle application isn't very smooth and the car waits until the last minute to apply the brakes, leaving me feeling a little herky-jerky. However, the system can bring the MDX to a complete stop and will pause for a three-count before it needs to be re-engaged.
Acura's dashboard tech doesn't really give me the excites, either. There is no support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto and the system itself is at least five years old, a lifetime in computer years. The MDX features an LCD upper screen, displaying navigation, phone and stereo information, all controlled by a dial and a set of buttons. Below is a larger touchscreen that also shows phone and audio information, but no navigation. Why Acura feels two screens are better is beyond me. Most other manufacturers can pack all the information on one screen, and there is no reason Acura can't do so as well. The 2018 MDX will get a tech upgrade, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but I have yet to experience it
The MDX does a good job with providing access to personal tech. There are two USB ports for all three rows plus an extra one in the front that both charges and syncs up to the audio system.
While the MDX hybrid's EPA fuel rating is much better than that of the gas-powered model, 27 mpg combined for the former versus 21 combined for the latter, I wasn't able to replicate that number. During my time with the vehicle I only saw a combined rating of 21.6.
The third row is easy to access with the sliding second row captain's chairs, but while my 5'9' frame barely grazed the headliner, my knees were definitely pushed up against the back of the second row. Cargo capacity is above average for the class, with 15.8 cubic feet behind the third row, 43.4 with those seats folded down and nearly 91 overall. That's enough for 364 12-packs of Diet Dr Pepper, almost enough for one for every day of the year.
There are plenty of luxury three-row SUVs on the market and the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid should be on your short list if aggressive performance is important to you. If more space and a swanky cabin are priorities, check out the Volvo XC90. The BMW X5 is not quite as big but also offers a more refined interior. We like the Audi Q7 for the super-cool virtual cockpit, while the Land Rover Discovery can take drivers and a whole slew of passengers far and wide.
While a non-hybrid MDX starts at $46,050 with all-wheel drive, the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid starts at $51,960 for the lower trim Technology Package and $58,000 for the Advance Package. The pricier Advance package includes stop/start technology, a 360-degree camera, parking sensors and heated and cooled front seats, along with a few appearance upgrades. It's hardly enough to justify the $6,040 premium. Regardless, there aren't any options to choose from, so add the $975 destination charge and you're behind the wheel. I recommend you find your way to a back road immediately.