By Barbara & Bill Schaffer
We get lots of people asking us to recommend a car and our suggestions tend to be conservative, because that’s what people generally want – a good, dependable, safe vehicle or perhaps an outstanding value.
Over the years we found that one of the safest recommendations, for someone wanting something a bit more luxurious than the standard fare, was an Acura. As the upscale brand of Honda, they offer the quality features Honda is known for with a dash more luxury.
What the Acura did lack, however, was the performance and personality that would set them apart from the competition, or sometimes even take them to the same level as other luxury models. The engines and performance were good, but Acura was not quick to add performance features like turbocharging, supercharging, or even the seven-, eight- or nine-speed transmissions. As a result, they tended to be on the lower rungs of the performance ladder and performance seems to have a high correlation with luxury.
Recently Acura is showing much more of a performance persona in their advertising and we’ve notice some changes in the cars we’ve driven. We’re still not seeing the big horsepower that many of the competitors are offering, but the Acuras we’ve driven are more fun to drive thanks to a new emphasis on vehicle dynamics. Plus, we’ve heard rumors of a turbo V-6.
Much of the performance paraphernalia comes from an enhanced racing presence and much of the credit goes new generation Acura NSX. Many of the brands new performance features are derived from that state-of-the-art sports car.
A Strong Heritage
We drove the 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid recently. As one of the earlier SUVs built on a unibody platform, we’ve always appreciated this sophisticated, mild off-roader. It’s great on the highway, comfortable and one of the most civilized SUVs on the market. And the four-wheel independent suspension made it less susceptible to rollovers than vehicles with solid axles. The hybridization of the MDX occurred last year with the 2017 model, and it is in a typical Acura style being quite seamless in its application plus it’s a good example of Acura’s new performance levels.
A Sporty SUV
The idea of a “Sporty” three row SUV is something of an oxymoron in the industry, but the 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid fits the description well. The MDX carries seven people in three rows or six when equipped with the Advance Package. The six-passenger version comes with comfy captain’s seats and a center console. Row three in either case is best used for agile, wee people. With the third row in place, cargo area is 15 cubic feet, or the space can be expanded up to 68 cubic feet when the both second and third rows are folded. This three row SUV, unlike competitors, is sporty and properly labeled.
Many of the MDX Hybrid components were developed for the new NSX supercar. The gasoline-only powered MDX now employs a 290-hp 3.5-liter SOHC i-VTEC® V-6 with nine-speed automatic transmission. The Hybrid has a 257-hp 3.0-liter version of the same engine and a seven-speed double clutch automatic (7DCT). The double clutch transmission produces ultra-quick gear changes and operates without a torque converter, making it more efficient. The 7DCT can operate in fully automatic mode, or it can be shifted manually via steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
In addition, the Hybrid has three electric motors which combined produce 321-hp and 22-ft.lbs. more torque than the gasoline only. One of the three electric motors is mounted in the transmission and the other two (the Twin Motor Unit) are mounted at the rear wheels to produce more instant torque and acceleration to enhance the driving experience. The motors are powered by a 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack which is recharged by regenerative braking. We found the braking to be strong, smooth and unobtrusive. If you accelerate slowly, the electric-only mode will go up to 35 or 40 mph.
The gasoline only version of the MDX is quick making a benchmark 0 to 60 mph acceleration time of 6.2 seconds. The Hybrid MDX is a half second quicker at 5.7 seconds. The AWD fuel economy of the gasoline-only version gets an EPA fuel economy estimate of 18 mpg city, 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined. The Hybrid is rated at 26/27/27 mpg. We averaged 25.7 mpg during our week of mostly local driving.
Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD)
Acura was one of the first vehicles to use a torque vectoring all-wheel drive system capable of distributing force from side to side not only between the front and rear axles. There is no rear axle between the wheels, only an electric motor operating independently on each wheel. The torque vectoring produces better vehicle control and stability. The SH-AWD makes a difference and provides the three-row hybrid with very good handling characteristics. The Hybrid is equipped with electronically controlled variable dampers which manage body and wheel motion. The lack of an axle under the rear also allowed designers to keep the cargo area large.
We appreciate how Acura (and Honda) don’t nickel and dime shoppers with copious lists of options, rather they equip all the models very well and then add one or two reasonably priced packages that add upscale luxury features and techy extras like navigation, parking sensors, heated seats and steering wheel. We especially like the standard Jewel Eye® LED headlights with the five LED elements stretched out on both sides of the good-looking new grille. Some of our favorite safety technology is found in the option packages. For the MDX, that means Blind Spot Information, Rear Cross Traffic Monitor, Rain Sensing Wipers and Acura Link (a connectivity group).
The 2018 MDX Sport Hybrid pricing starts at $53,095, including the destination charge. The available Technology and Advance Packages bump the price up to $61,545, or a little more if you want some aftermarket accessories.
We think the Acura MDX Sport is a gem in the large group of the luxury three-row SUVS (or Crossovers). It’s well designed with intuitive controls and the handling has a strong resemblance to sport sedans.
The MDX has lots of new features for 2018, but we think the most important is the great redesign of the front end, which makes a major improvement in looks. We hope it’s the design we’ll see on all the future Acura models.
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