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.
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.
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.
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.
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.