The 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid represents the top range of the mid-size luxury crossover sport utility vehicle from Honda’s luxury marque. The three-row family runabout has been a popular premium choice amongst Canadians since its inception in 2001. It carries the dependability and reliability typically associated with Honda and Acura products, yet still boasts a price tag considerably lower than many of its European competitors. At an as-tested price of $70,190, the hybrid version, added last year, slots above the top Elite trim and only comes fully loaded.
For your money, there’s supple leather seating, fantastic Jewel Eye LED headlights, real wood trim throughout the interior, tri-zone climate control, a surround view camera system, rear seat DVD entertainment, a power moonroof, and the AcuraWatch safety suite. Among the system’s features include forward collision warning with autonomous braking, blind spot monitoring with lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, and a rear cross traffic monitor.
New for 2018, Acura has added Android Auto and Apple CarPlay to the MDX lineup, which is a welcome, if not somewhat overdue addition. Having been in place in other Honda and Acura products since 2016, it’s a powerful smartphone connectivity suite that’s become an almost-universal standard across the automotive industry. Interestingly enough, Acura still makes use of the somewhat cumbersome dual infotainment screens as they have in the past, with only the lower screen getting touch sensitive function. The Android Auto and Apple CarPlay resides in the upper screen and unlike other cars, is controlled via rotary dial. It does seem to be less intuitive right off the bat, but with a bit of time to get used to it, it may end up being better for less distracted operation when on the road.
Under the hood, the hybrid system uses a 3.0-litre V6 for the gasoline portion of things. With less displacement compared to the 3.5-litre unit used in non-hybrid models, the 3.0 combines with two electric motors – one at each rear wheel – to put out 321 horsepower at 6,300RPM and 289 lb-ft at 5,000RPM. It’s an increase of 31 horsepower and 22 lb-ft respectively, and serves to give the MDX a little more spring in its step. There’s also Variable Cylinder Management, which seamlessly deactivates and reactivates three cylinders under light load in order to save fuel.
Paired to the hybrid powertrain is a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Acura uses a torque converter in conjunction with the dual clutch setup, which makes for effortless and smooth launches from a stop, much like a traditional automatic. Transmissions of this type on Volkswagen or Audi products tend to lurch and be a little more sluggish when taking off.
While the regular gasoline models feature Acura’s wonderful torque vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), there’s no mechanical connection between front and rear wheels on the hybrid. V6 power is routed to the front wheels, and the electric motors outputting controlled levels of torque allow for a fine level of control when accelerating in corners. The end result is a system that feels a little more front-wheel drive than expected, but torque steer is still well-controlled and traction is still a strong suit.
Fuel economy for the MDX Sport Hybrid is rated at 9.1L/100KM in the city, and 9.0L/100KM on the highway. The electric portion really shines in the city, and using battery power in stop and go traffic might even mean better economy than the rated city numbers suggest. With a long road trip to the eastern part of New York State, the hybrid achieved an observed 9.1L/100KM with five passengers and all their cargo. Non-hybrid models get just about identical highway economy ratings, but perform at least twenty-five percent better around town. Premium fuel is required, and fuel capacity is 73.8 litres.
When driving a hybrid, taking advantage of hills and road conditions can go a long way to getting better real-world fuel economy results. It doesn’t necessarily mean driving along at ten-under the speed limit in the right lane, but it does involve being a bit smarter about driving inputs. Having the MDX’s infotainment display set to the hybrid system operation helps when it comes to knowing whether the powertrain is charging or consuming power, letting you make driving decisions that put the balance towards charging more often.
Using the brake pedal to provide regenerative braking allows the battery to recharge on steeper downhills, and this energy can be used later on for hill climbs or lighter-load driving. Coasting up to red lights and full stops is also another good idea, which slowly recharges the battery and doesn’t waste energy maintaining speed that doesn’t need to be maintained. It’s almost like driving as if there’s a full glass of water on the dashboard – smooth and steady inputs are rewarded. It’s an approach that takes some patience to hone, but once mastered, it becomes almost like a video game where the object is to optimize energy use.
On the open road, the 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is a great handler relative to other sport utility vehicles. Turn-in response is reasonably sharp, and the 245-section width tires on 20-inch allow wheels do a good job at keeping everything planted. The cabin is whisper quiet at all speeds, seats are comfortable, features are aplenty, and fuel economy with the hybrid is more than respectable. The slightly frustrating infotainment takes it down a notch, but impeccable interior build quality, good fuel economy, and great value for money in its class make it more than worthy of being considered in the midsize luxury crossover segment.