By on March 17, 2017

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid - Image: Acura

At American Honda’s upmarket division, the Acura MDX is the lifeblood; the premium crossover that keeps Acura’s trains running on time.

In 8 of the last 10 years — including each of the last 7 — the Acura MDX has been Acura’s best-selling model. Fully one-third of Acura’s U.S. volume over the last decade has been generated by the MDX.

Honda knows best of all just how important the MDX has been to Acura’s fortunes, having watched as the brand’s passenger car volume was essentially chopped in half over the last decade. Honda is removing the interference caused by the Pilot, Odyssey, and Ridgeline at the MDX’s Alabama plant by moving production of the big Acura to Ohio.

And more importantly for consumers, the first hybridized MDX — the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid — is launching now with a pricing scheme that evidently makes the hybrid the best MDX of all.

FUEL
To be fair to the conventional MDX, which is rated at 26 miles per gallon on the highway in all-wheel-drive form, the new Sport Hybrid (27 mpg on the highway) won’t produce meaningful fuel savings on a cross-country trip to Aunt Josephine’s next Thanksgiving.

But it’s in the city, where the EPA says the 26-mpg MDX Sport Hybrid AWD will travel seven or eight miles farther than the MDX AWD on a gallon of premium gasoline, where there’s real potential for financial benefit. At $2.80/gallon, 10,000 miles of urban driving will save $437 in the MDX Sport Hybrid. In approximately 34,000 city miles, the cost of upgrading to the Sport Hybrid will be negated.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid - Image: Acura

TRANSMISSION
From our review of the 2017 Acura MDX SH-AWD in December: “When dawdling along at lower revs or slower speeds, however, part-throttle inputs are met with the strong sensation of a hefty 4,292-pound MDX that’s fitted with an unresponsive transmission. The MDX knows how to go fast and it knows how to go slow — finding middle ground is not the nine-speed’s strength.”

Thank goodness, the hybrid MDX does not use the disappointing ZF nine-speed. Instead, the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid employs a cooperative seven-speed dual-clutch from the chronically forgotten RLX Sport Hybrid.

POWER
The regular MDX isn’t underpowered, even if 290 horsepower in a $45-$60,000 SUV sounds unimpressive in 2017. But the MDX Sport Hybrid earns its Sport badging thanks to 31 additional horsepower from the combination of a 3.0-liter V6 and a trio of electric motors.

Granted, the hybrid gear tacks on 209 additional pounds MDX. But the MDX Sport Hybrid’s weight-to-power ratio is still superior. Plus all that power will be sent to all four wheels via its seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Acura’s hybrid system is unconventional. One of the three electric motors is linked to the seven-speed; the other two are essentially responsible for creating a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system by powering the rear wheels.

MONEY
At $52,935, the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is $7,910 more than a basic MDX. Yet comparably equipped — the hybrid includes all-wheel drive and the Technology package — the MDX Sport Hybrid costs only $1,500 more than the conventional MDX.

The degree to which that $1,500 gap can be overcome will depend on the environments in which you drive; the time required to nullify the premium depends on where you drive and how much you drive.

But remember, paying $1,500 extra for the MDX isn’t purely about the distance travelled between fill-ups. A tolerable transmission, more power, and potentially superior handling are all winning attributes, not to mention the possibility of better resale values accompanying a hybrid badge if fuel prices spike.

Setting aside the MDX comparison, the MDX Sport Hybrid plays a value card in comparison to chief rivals, as well. The Lexus RX450h, currently America’s top-selling premium hybrid utility, is priced from $54,030. The Infiniti QX60 Hybrid is priced at $54,495 in AWD guise. Plug-ins at Mercedes-Benz and BMW, the GLE550e and X5 40e, are $67,225 and $63,095 vehicles, respectively.

If response to the MDX Sport Hybrid is deserving, we’ll likely see Acura add a less costly trim level to the lineup in the near future. Toyota recently discovered how high demand can be for hybrid SUVs with the RAV4 and drastically reduced Highlander Hybrid pricing as a result.

For the time being, with Acura’s Advanced package, the MDX Sport Hybrid can be optioned up to $58,975.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures. Follow on Twitter @goodcarbadcar and on Facebook.

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41 Comments on “Suddenly, It’s Abundantly Clear – The Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is the MDX to Have...”


  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    I have been waiting on this. Just wish Ford had the guts to do the same with the Flex.

    • 0 avatar
      Chocolatedeath

      oh…yeah forgot the RLX had a hybrid as well. Literally never seen one or seen one for sale.

      • 0 avatar
        dal20402

        They announced it for 2014 along with the regular RLX. None actually showed up at dealers until a trickle for 2016. I think the number sold is in the low triple digits, although Acura doesn’t break out the Sport Hybrid specifically.

        Just like the regular RLX, there’s nothing wrong with the Sport Hybrid that a $10k price cut couldn’t fix. The regular car is a Lexus ES/XTS competitor priced against six-cylinder 5s and GSes, and the Sport Hybrid is a competitor against six-cylinder 5s that’s priced like a V8 5.

        • 0 avatar
          tonycd

          This sounds like they pretty much simply transplanted the RLX Sport Hybrid drivetrain into their SUV body style and called it a day.

          And there’s no reason not to. It’s a great setup, and they debugged it for this car and the NSX by using RLX Sport Hybrid buyers as their beta testers.

          The RLX is a sad case of wasted potential. They marketed the FWD version first because they were unable to iron out the AWD hybrid kinks fast enough. The FWD car was an underwhelming super-Accord, complete with fake leather and fake wood, at actual luxury car prices. By the time they brought the real one to market, everyone had already lost interest.

  • avatar
    ajla

    Towing capacity on the hybrid version is 0. As in nothing. The manual straight up says “attempting to do so will void your warranties”.

    It is 5000 on the normal MDX, 3500 on the RX450h, and 4400 on the GLE550e.

    • 0 avatar
      Kyree S. Williams

      That’s worth noting. And to be fair, Acura’s hybrid system is a little more advanced and nuanced than either of those competing cars.

      Similarly, I found out that I can’t tow anything in my Golf SportWagen, due to the DSG. A manual-transmission Golf SportWagen, or a non TDI / non 4MOTION version—which would have the conventional 6-speed automatic transaxle—can town, but nothing with the DSG can. It says so in the owner’s handbook.

      By the way, can manufacturers void warranties because you took a certain action? I can see them voiding the warranty *on drivetrain components* if you damage it and they determine that it’s because you were towing when they told you not to…but is it legal for them to just do a blanket ban on warranties due to activity?

      • 0 avatar
        redapple

        Kyree
        Did you dispose of your TDI ?

        How was the experience?

        What did you buy to replace?

      • 0 avatar
        Car Ramrod

        @Kyree: Honda apparently can and they have for a long time. In the first gen Pilot and the most recent gen Odyssey, the manual states that adding a tow hitch without purchasing Honda’s towing package from the dealer (including a heavy duty transmission cooler) can void your transmission’s warranty.

        I’m guessing enforcement varies by dealer, but on both vehicles we waited to install the hitch until the factory warranty was up even though we were just using it for a bike rack.

        • 0 avatar
          Firestorm 500

          My brother ran into the same thing on a Cadillac SRX.

          He ended up trading it and a CTS-V for a 1-year old used Chevrolet pickup.

        • 0 avatar
          Kyree S. Williams

          Well, they can *say* that the entire warranty is voided, sure, but it might not be enforceable. Sort of like how an employer can ask you to sign a non-compete agreement, but non-competes are actually illegal in many states, and even if you’re in a state that allows them, it might be too restrictive to hold up in court…should it get that far.

      • 0 avatar
        bumpy ii

        They can void the powertrain warranty, but they still have to fix your sunroof seals and window regulators.

      • 0 avatar
        Nick

        I believe the TDI DSG Golfs are rated for like 2000lbs of towing in Europe. For some reason not in the USA.

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      You would think setup this would be great for towing with the electric torque to get you off to a nice start. Are they nervous about the DCT part of the drivetrain?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Who knows? But German automakers are known for letting you think your vehicle is a lot more capable than it is. “We know we said this W12 Phaeton could ferry four to five people in absolute comfort no matter what, but the truth is that if you have one medium-sized person in the backseat at 4:01 in the afternoon, the entire thing self-immolates.”

        So if they’re being honest and telling you not to do it, you should take them seriously, lol.

      • 0 avatar
        brandloyalty

        As I have described here before, hybrids have an engine braking issue. What happens is that the steeper and longer a substantial descent, the sooner regenerative braking has charged the hybrid battery to capacity.

        Then almost all braking is with the mechanical brakes. There may be a bit of engine braking by downshifting, but it is slight. All competent drivers towing something know to downshift on long steep descents. Hybrids basically negate that option and the result is potential for seriously overheating the brakes.

        The manufacturers don’t like to mention this and instead place strict towing restrictions on hybrids without saying why. Auto journalists don’t know enough about hybrids to mention the issue. I wish they would educate themselves so I don’t have to explain this over and over.

        Another possible factor is that these full hybrids typically have electric drive only, in reverse. Although there seem to be no reports of this in real use, there is theoretical potential for hybrids getting stranded being unable to go forward or back up. A trailer would exacerbate this.

        • 0 avatar
          jalop1991

          “As I have described here before, hybrids have an engine braking issue. What happens is that the steeper and longer a substantial descent, the sooner regenerative braking has charged the hybrid battery to capacity.

          Then almost all braking is with the mechanical brakes.”

          Bzzzzzt. Not true.

          While it’s a fact that the regen will fill the battery up, that doesn’t mean that the regen system stops working and that the only braking force is mechanical.

          The regen system continues to work. Energy being generated stops going into the battery, and instead is all turned into heat by the inverter–which has its own, separate, cooling system.

          Mechanical brakes MAY come into play, or they may not.

          The Prius also has “B” setting on the shifter, which brings engine braking into play–and that’s designed specifically for the circumstances you describe.

          Dissipating energy by heat from the inverter is as good as by heat from the mechanical brakes–but without the physical wear items.

  • avatar
    sportyaccordy

    They should put this powertrain in the RDX instead. 7 passenger anything + sport = does not compute.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    “When dawdling along at lower revs or slower speeds, however, part-throttle inputs are met with the strong sensation of a hefty 4,292-pound MDX that’s fitted with an unresponsive transmission…”

    Why does my FWD MKS weigh more than a seven-passenger AWD crossover?

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      How did you end up in an MKS?

      FWIW, I’m planning to buy a 2012+ Genesis sedan this weekend.

      • 0 avatar
        ajla

        “I’m planning to buy a 2012+ Genesis sedan this weekend.”

        Cool. Which version? The R-Spec was my runner up back when I was shopping in 2014 and the G80 is an early front runner for my next car.

        • 0 avatar
          sportyaccordy

          I just test drove the 3.8 on my lunch break. I liked it, but there’s an R-Spec in my price range nearby. I’m thinking the $60/mo fuel penalty will be worth it… the 3.8 is solid dynamically but I’d like more straight line brutality and engagement if I can have it.

          I got the idea while I had my Civic in the shop and got a Maxima rental. Truthfully I would rather have the Maxima but the latest ones are just out of my budget. If fun-to-drive is a factor for you I’d definitely give the Maxima a look; I was blown away by how much I loved it.

          • 0 avatar
            Kyree S. Williams

            I say go for the 5.0 R-Spec. Once i decided I wanted a large sedan, I seriously considered a slightly-pre-owned 5.0-liter (2nd-gen) Genesis Ultimate, but decided that since I’ll be buying a house in the next couple of years, maybe I should instead buy something I can pay off really quickly. So, MKS it was. Well, that or a Chrysler 300…which I refuse to buy.

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        I drove it and liked it. It’s a 2014, but it wasn’t sold initially until mid-2015, so it hasn’t even been on the road for two years.

        This one has the base powertrain, so no AWD or EcoBoost, but it’s otherwise well-equipped (nav, pano sunroof, heated / AC seats, massaging seats). Mostly, I like the idea of a luxury highway cruiser with a simple powertrain, which is what this car has. Even with 4,300 lbs to contend with, I doubt ye old Duratec and 6-speed will give me too much trouble before 150K miles. Getting a 2013 MKZ loaner when they tinted my windows on Wednesday made me appreciate my MKS even more. The MKZ feels quite flimsy and disposable in comparison.

        And this one is CPO, too.

        • 0 avatar
          dal20402

          I’m finding quite a few used and CPO MKTs that were in the same situation. It’s good for me, because the four-year warranty on some of the 2014 cars doesn’t end until sometime in 2019. Lincoln dealers really had a hard time moving these cars.

          • 0 avatar
            AVT

            Ya, I picked up my MKT right before the 100k mark and was really impressed with whats still covered. However, unlike Kyree, I needed the fully loaded model for the extra towing capacity and ecoboost engine. Solid vehicle this far.

    • 0 avatar
      bumpy ii

      Soundproofing and less use of high-strength steels?

      • 0 avatar
        Kyree S. Williams

        Yeah, but for the tech features, it is very much a car that could have been built in 1998. Which I kind of like. Because it means there’s less stuff to go wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      dal20402

      Because your FWD MKS is built on a platform that was really conceived with larger AWD crossovers in mind.

      Fun fact that may make you think: the EcoBoost MKT I’m thinking about buying weighs only about 450 pounds more than your MKS.

  • avatar
    Rocket

    Avoiding the ZF 9-speed alone is worth the $1,500 premium. Of course, Acura is introducing their own 10-speed soon on upper trim levels, so hopefully that will address the transmission woes. Too bad there isn’t a 2-row option. I haul stuff, not people.

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    If I needed 6-7 plus passenger hauler for a few miles at a time I’d go with Chrysler Pacify Plug-in Hybrid. Plus it has faster figure-8 times than the MDX.

  • avatar
    Stumpaster

    And after you paid all that money and slid into those gorgeous seats, you realize that they are still using a TSX dashboard and center stack.

  • avatar
    SPPPP

    Yuck. Bring back the Acura beak. This is worse.

    • 0 avatar
      joeaverage

      Nah, I like the 2017 better. I have a 2014. Maybe I’ll swap over the grille eventually to the new design. Have to do my parts list homework first.


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