Just don’t expect it to be an SUV version of a supercar.
Occasionally, car manufacturers will trickle down technology from their Formula One cars to their road cars, or they will take bits and pieces from a $300,000 super car and add them to their economy cars as a marketing exercise. This makes you feel like you’ve got a piece of the good stuff in your everyday commuter. Generally it doesn’t amount to anything shocking, but when I heard that Acura was going to drop a version of their Hybrid NSX super-car powertrain into their family SUV, the MDX, I’ll admit that I got caught up in it.
I was aching to give this new hybrid luxury family hauler a go. I wanted it to have performance that would set it apart from other big SUVs out there and maybe make it a bit more electrifying than your standard people hauler. After a week in it, I found myself very, very impressed with some parts of it, and quite dissapointed with others.
Our tester was the 2018 Acura MDX Sport-Hybrid with SH-AWD. With several add-ons including 20” wheels, this vehicle sits above $75,000. That is a hefty sum, but you are getting some very serious value for money. I want to start with the ride and suspension, because this was by far and away, the number one highlight for me. The MDX (reviewed here) sits on independent multi-link rear suspension, and has Acura’s Active Damper System, which is only available on the MDX Sport-Hybrid. This system reacts almost instantaneously in all of the four dampers, and will change fluid pressure to soften or stiffen the damper depending on the road surface or the driver inputs.
The result is bordering on witchcraft; there is essentially no body lean in fast corners, and the MDX turns into the bends quicker than many lightweight hatchbacks like Honda’s own Civic (reviewed here). Just cruise down a back road, and the ride is supple and quiet. This continued to impress me throughout the week. Sadly though, the steering left some to be desired, as it was electrically assisted, and communicated very little from the roads surface. Comfort mode was too light, and ‘Sport’ / ‘Sport+’ modes added pointless weight, and no feel.
In terms of overall comfort the MDX does a very good job of delivering the goods. This is a fantastic family car. Three rows of seats, with a one touch button to fold down the middle row for access to the back, will keep even an active family content. There is a fold down flat screen in the back with wireless headphones to keep the kids occupied. It will even split screen so that the kids don’t have to agree on what to watch. There is enough room in the back that Dad can take a break from driving and watch ‘Game of Thrones’ on one half, while the kids watch ‘Despicable Me’ on the other. (I think I see a flaw in that plan, but don’t ask me, I don’t have kids).
Here is where we start to go downhill a bit. The rest of the interior, particularly for the driver, is an ergonomic disaster. There are more than 50 different buttons on the dash and steering wheel, and many of them have dual or triple functions. The steering wheel is a mess of roll dials and switches, and the dual screen infotainment is dated. I’m not sure I’ve ever come across a car where when I decided to change the radio station, I looked down, and genuinely didn’t know what to do. This set up, which is the same in some of Acura’s other cars, needs a refresh. Thankfully, the screens are put to good use when you are backing up in the soccer field parking lot, as the Surround View Camera keeps you from running over the cooler with the little orange slices in it.
The drivetrain in this MDX is inspired by the Acura NSX, apparently. With three hybrid electric motors, and Acura’s (very good) Super-Handling AWD, the MDX delivers power to the ground through the Integrated Dynamic System driving modes. It hustles, but it’s not going to astonish you. With a hybrid 3.0L i-VTEC V6, it delivers 321 horsepower at 6300 RPM and sadly only 289 lb-ft. of torque at 5000 RPM. With a gross vehicle weight of up to 6000 pounds, I’m not sure they should be comparing it to a super car. What it does do though is deliver power very smoothly and quickly from a standstill.
The transfer from all electric mode to hybrid is literally seamless, and I didn’t even realize that it was driving in electric mode, when I was putting around parking lots or slow traffic. The other bonus is the fuel economy. In mostly city driving I averaged 10.2 L/100km. Acura says that it can manage up to 9.0 L/100km combined and 9.1 in the city, and I’m sure it’s possible if you are conservative with driving habits. The Sport and Sport+ modes change the shift pattern of the seven-speed dual clutch transmission to make it sportier. The difference isn’t remarkable, nor is the way the car responds when you use the paddle shifters. I was denied most of the shifts that I asked for, and the MDX retained the majority of the control over the transmission.
After a week with the 2018 Acura MDX Sport-Hybrid, I did find myself respecting its technology, and enjoyed how comfortable of a car it is to use. Just don’t expect it to be an SUV version of a supercar. Leave it in Comfort or Economy mode, roll around and enjoy the ride. When Acura updates the interior of their flagship cars, I’ll be in line to try them out because with a few issues ironed out, the MDX will present formidable competition in the luxury SUV market.