2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

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$51,960

starting MSRP

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid
2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid

Key specs

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Overview

2 trims

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2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid review: Our expert's take

By Joe Bruzek

The verdict: The 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is more sport SUV than hybrid SUV, but it's not without its quirks.

Versus the competiton: The MDX Sport Hybrid isn’t just about boosting fuel economy, which sets it apart from many hybrid SUV competitors.

Acura’s 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid is packed with enough technology to make a techie tingle all over at the prospect of explaining its complicated innards to guests at a backyard barbecue. Three electric motors, electronic torque vectoring, a dual-clutch automatic transmission and electro-servo braking are enough to bore the pants off the neighbors, who are just there for the burgers and beer.

But if you’re into this kind of stuff, it’s pretty cool. The technology packed under the MDX Sport Hybrid is not your typical hybrid technology geared toward increasing fuel economy. Rather, it’s designed to provide a new kind of driving experience, with a single electric motor up front attached to the transmission and two motors in back. This hybrid system debuted in the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sedan and was fully realized as a performance enhancer in the Acura NSX supercar.

Surprisingly, Acura crams all the MDX’s hybrid components underneath the SUV without sacrificing cargo or passenger room. Read our review of the non-hybrid MDX here for a more comprehensive review of the updated 2017 version. For this review, I drove a 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid with the Advance Package, priced at $58,975 including destination charge; an MDX Sport Hybrid with the Technology Package starts at $52,935.

Acceleration and Braking

Under the hood of the new Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is a smaller 3.0-liter V-6 engine (the regular MDX has a 3.5-liter V-6), but there’s more total output when you factor in the hybrid’s lithium-ion battery juicing the three electric motors for a combined 321 horsepower and 289 pounds-feet of torque. That’s up 31 hp from the regular MDX’s 290-hp engine, and it’s an extra 22 pounds-feet of torque versus the MDX’s 267. Compare the Sport Hybrid’s specs with the regular MDX here.

Outright acceleration in the Sport Hybrid isn’t appreciably different from the non-hybrid, as some of the extra power is sapped by the hybrid’s additional 227 pounds over a comparable gas-only Acura MDX (4,484 versus 4,257 pounds). Accelerating from a stop and at low speeds produces a bigger difference; there’s an instant jolt of acceleration from the instantaneous electric assist. The various driving modes of Comfort, Normal, Sport and a hybrid-unique Sport Plus deliver a wide range of acceleration responsiveness, as each varies how much assist the hybrid’s electric motors provide.

In Sport Plus, full battery assist is enabled, electric-only mode is disabled and gas-pedal response is quickened for crisp and potent acceleration. Stoplight-to-stoplight city driving is more engaging with the punch that comes from Sport Plus mode. A regular MDX is no slouch, but it requires more revs to fully realize its power; the Sport Hybrid’s acceleration is on tap from the get-go.

A seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission replaces the conventional nine-speed automatic found in the regular MDX. This is a change that should have happened throughout the Acura MDX lineup; the seven-speed (which is constructed like a manual transmission) is lightning-quick, crisp and never hesitates or feels funky as the nine-speed has in our testing. Unfortunately, the wonky gear selector remains — even after a thousand miles behind the wheel, I still tried to engage Drive by pulling back on the Reverse button. Pulling back to engage Drive is a standard motion on every other automatic-transmission car with a traditional PRNDL, console-mounted gear selector, but in the Acura MDX, that motion engages Reverse. It takes a lot of conditioning to use the gear selector correctly. 

In Acura’s NSX supercar, I was blown away by how natural the electro-servo braking system’s pedal felt given it’s not a conventional braking system. In the MDX hybrid, this system is anything but a natural experience; it’s more binary in operation. The brake pedal is difficult to modulate, which makes slow-speed braking jerky. At higher speeds, it takes more brake-pedal pressure than I would have guessed to slow down, which made for some unsettling stops.

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy increases from a high of 22 mpg combined for an all-wheel-drive, non-hybrid MDX to a high of 27 mpg in the Sport Hybrid. This 5-mpg gas-mileage increase is a notable 23 percent improvement, but it’s not as substantial as the 2017 Lexus RX 450h’s 8-mpg increase — a 36 percent increase for the 30-mpg-combined RX 450h compared with the gas-only RX.

In our testing, the MDX hybrid’s 27 mpg combined rating proved perfectly achievable. In fact, we consistently measured 27-28 mpg in it regardless of city or highway driving, which jibes with its 26/27 mpg city/highway rating. Read more about our MDX Sport Hybrid fuel-economy testing here.

Though the MDX Sport Hybrid’s combined fuel-economy estimate is lower than the five-seat RX 450h’s 30 mpg combined rating, it’s slightly better than the seven-seat Infiniti QX60 Hybrid’s (26 mpg combined with all-wheel drive). Compare the MDX’s specs with the RX 450h and QX60 Hybrid here.

Handling and Ride Quality

The regular Acura MDX with all-wheel drive is already one of the better-handling three-row SUVs in its class thanks to an intelligent all-wheel-drive system — Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) — that transfers power not only between the front and back wheels, but also side-to-side between the rear wheels for improved handling. The hybrid’s all-wheel drive does the same, but there’s no mechanical link between the front and rear wheels, so the same effect is created by two electric motors at the rear wheels working independently of each other. These two motors enable torque vectoring, so more power can be sent to the outside wheel while cornering to help the MDX hybrid turn better.

The outcome is nimbler handling than the Acura MDX SH-AWD‘s size suggests. When diving into a corner, the front tires feel like they get a break from turning all that weight while the rear end rotates the car through the turn. While the outside rear wheel is doing its job, the inside wheel captures kinetic energy to recharge the battery pack. It takes a lot of hooliganism to unsettle the third-row SUV MDX hybrid — more than anyone should experience dropping off the kids at school.

The electronic goodness of the all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring systems is complemented by the hybrid-unique adaptive shock absorbers with variable firmness (the regular MDX has fixed-firmness shocks). The Sport Hybrid’s shocks have three settings — Comfort, Normal and Sport/Sport Plus — that vary ride quality from comfortable (for pleasant highway cruising) to stiff (for tighter and crisper handling). Even in its stiffest mode, the MDX hybrid’s ride isn’t overly jarring. It’s still classic MDX, with better composure on rough roads than the Lexus RX 450h.

Adaptive Cruise Control With Low-Speed Follow

Adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow is standard on every MDX, but I had a troublesome experience with it in the Sport Hybrid, which I believe was simply me finding the limits of the system. While the stop-and-go follow worked fine in a straight line, the MDX I drove had trouble following the car ahead of me in slight bends at low speeds. The owner’s manual warns that it has detection limitations, including, “When you drive on a curved or winding or undulating road that makes it difficult for the sensor to properly detect a vehicle in front of you.”

I believe it. The MDX felt like it stopped tracking the car ahead when we both entered a long, sweeping corner, and I had to panic stop a few times to avoid running into it. It happened during my normal Chicago commute on Lower Wacker Drive and then on Lake Shore Drive; our former long-term 2016 Volvo XC90 and current long-term 2017 Chrysler Pacifica with adaptive cruise control paced traffic just fine on the same roads. Even when the system was working, the MDX hybrid often accelerated too quickly, then braked abruptly, creating a jerky ride. Be sure to try this feature during a test drive; maybe your commute is more conducive to it than mine. 

Safety

Like the regular Acura MDX, the Sport Hybrid’s safety ratings are top-notch. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the Sport Hybrid five out of five stars in its overall safety rating, while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the regular MDX its highest status — Top Safety Pick Plus — that IIHS says also applies to the Sport Hybrid. 

Is the MDX Sport Hybrid Worth the Money?

An MDX Sport Hybrid is only $1,500 more than a comparable non-hybrid MDX. Even though it’s not just an economy-minded vehicle, you do stand a chance of breaking even in fuel savings within a typical five-year loan. Fueleconomy.gov estimates an MDX hybrid saves $350 a year in fuel compared with an all-wheel-drive MDX, so in a little more than four years, you could recoup the extra cost if the estimated fuel economy is achieved.

The MDX Sport Hybrid is extra fun behind the wheel, and its drivetrain’s similarity with a supercar’s — the Acura NSX’s — is something few hybrid luxury SUVs enjoy. It’s not a transformative experience, however, because the regular Acura MDX is already so good. My hesitation from giving it a full-on “buy now” endorsement is due to its wonky brake-pedal feel and inconsistent adaptive cruise control, which hurt the overall appeal of this near-$60,000 SUV.

Consumer reviews

Rating breakdown (out of 5):
  • Comfort 4.6
  • Interior design 4.6
  • Performance 5.0
  • Value for the money 4.4
  • Exterior styling 4.7
  • Reliability 4.9

Most recent consumer reviews

5.0

Glad I found it

Wanted to make the change from myAudi A6 Quattro to an SUV, My wife has the Lexus 450h. After driving several models (mostly new) of SUVs, my research lead me to Acura and the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid. I found only 5 in the entire nation and flew from CO to CA (Oakland Acura) to buy it. First off is Acura’s great CPO program. Next is the refined styling and features (I have the Advanced package). The hybrid engine is smooth and I get from 24-27 mpg in combined driving. The acceleration and shifting is very smooth (I think my wife likes my Acura better than her 450h as she is very complimentary of the vehicle when she get in). The adaptive cruise is OK but I find it a little awkward and I am OK not using for the few times I am on the open road. I find the engine shut off at stops to very responsive when I accelerate and I don’t even realize it is present (maybe that’s the benefit of the hybrid vs the non-hybrid model). The Sh-AWD works very well in the CO snow and I have no problems getting anywhere. Originally looked at other brands (Audi, BMW, Lexus) but glad I found Acura and the Sport Hybrid MDX. Would gladly buy again. One item of note is the Hybrid is NOT for towing! If you want to pull anything, might need something else.

5.0

Amazing piece of engineering

As a two time Lexus Hybrid owner, I was searching for a newer used Lexus RX450h hybrid. I came across this vehicle in my search, unaware that Acura even made an MDX in a hybrid variant. I decided to go test drive a new one locally at my Acura dealer. I was simply stunned at how Honda engineers had put this SUV package together from the NSX super car. It was amazing. I love the seemingly endless smooth power from the 3.0 V6 engine and dual clutch transmission. Having owned Lexus hybrid SUV’s they seem downright anemic compared to this car. It is definitely sporty and fun to drive this 4,500 pound SUV around town or up in the mountains. It handles much better than the Lexus on dirt and gravel roads with the super handling all wheel drive (independent electric motors at each rear wheel allow one wheel to have power while potentially braking the other in turns). I can’t wait to try it out in the snow. The best part of all of this is how the car seamlessly transitions from the gas engine to the three electric motors without even a shudder. The only indication you get is the tachometer drops to zero and the quiet ride. I handily beat the EPA estimates of 26/27 mpg and usually get 32 mpg in mixed highway and city driving, and have even attained 34 mpg on a tank. Expect about 30 mpg on a constant cruise at 75 mph. I have surpassed 500 miles on several tanks with over three gallons of gas remaining, so 600 miles is possible - take that Tesla! Your bladder will give out long before the car needs gas! All of this power and luxury with top notch safety features. I love the lane keep assist and lane departure warning paired with the radar cruise control. It’s like semi autonomous driving. I drove from St Louis to Denver by myself in about 12 1/2 hours and felt like I had an auto pilot guiding me the whole way. Simply amazing. I also like the surround view cameras and the Milano leather seats which are so comfortable. The ELS sound system is amazing, and once you get used to the two screens for NAV and the radio/climate control, you won’t even blink. Apple Play came out in 2018, and is the only thing I would like, but that a pretty minor thing compared to the great value this car offers in a used vehicle. I picked my up as a CPO car from an Acura dealer, with just 16,000 miles on it, and it feels like a new car to me. Finally, the cavernous three row seating and cargo area holds 91 cu ft of stuff. It beat the Lexus by about 15 cu ft, and is only 4 cu ft smaller than a Tahoe. That is what really sealed the deal for me. I needed extra space to be able to clean and service our VRBO rental, and this vehicle performs in every way. Do yourself a favor and test drive this car. I think you’ll be glad you did. I felt like we would never go off of Toyota/Lexus again after having owned three Lexus and three Toyota’s, but I have to say, the Honda engineers really outdid themselves with this one.

5.0

The best Acura we ever owned

best 3rd rolls SUV & great MPG ever easy to access 3rd roll with Acura reliability &style & performance our family are very please with our purchase

See all 10 consumer reviews

Warranty

New car and Certified Pre-Owned programs by Acura
Certified Pre-Owned program benefits
Maximum age/mileage
Six model years and less than 80,000 odometer miles
Basic warranty terms
Precision Certified: 24 months or up to 100,000 miles
Powertrain
7 years/100,000 miles
Dealer certification required
182-point inspection
Roadside assistance
Yes
View all cpo program details

Have questions about warranties or CPO programs?

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