Mountain Wheels: Acura’s stylish MDX Sport Hybrid blends high-tech with good looks (column) | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Acura’s stylish MDX Sport Hybrid blends high-tech with good looks (column)

Andy Stonehouse
Mountain Wheels

I went home to Alberta, Canada, before the official holiday weekend and had a lot of chats with folks about the many cars I've been fortunate enough to drive in recent years.

Up there, where gas is nearly $5 U.S. a gallon, people have a little more incentive to get into the hybrid game, but since they often live in -40 degree temperatures and cities are often four or more hours apart, the whole electric automobile thing seems even more far-fetched to them.

They might however embrace the very impressive new Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, a full-sized, three-row, all-wheel-drive, upscale import that adds the three-motor hybrid system found in the NSX supercar.

The vehicle is up to a net total of 321 horsepower for the combined forces of its 3.0-liter V6 and two electric motors, producing a vehicle which gets about 27 MPG on the highway (and a nearly equal 26 in the city). The standard MDX, with a 3.5-liter V6, is good for about 21-22 MPG on the highway, by comparison; 27 ain't so bad for a substantial (4,471 pound) three-row machine.

I had initially heard that the Sport Hybrid was aiming at close to 400 horsepower, but that is not quite the case. The extra boost does make it a relatively speedy machine and 80 mph seems to be the SUV's cruising sweet spot, but it is not exactly a rocket ship.

The car's very futuristic looks might make you think twice, however. MDX has long been the more stylish alternative to the dowdy Lexus RX and now gives even Infiniti's ever-expanding variety of SUVs a run for the money.

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MDX Sport Hybrid's lines are succinct and in the advanced model I got to drive — which crams pretty much all the options available into a $58,000 base price — the 20-inch alloy wheels, that black hole-styled grille and the Jewel Eye multiple-lens headlamps all make it a pretty sweet ride.

The hybrid system is kinda funny, to be honest. Unless I missed it, Sport Hybrid doesn't even pretend to go all-electric for the usually pathetic 30-mile range most newfangled hybrid SUVs offer.

Here, the emphasis is on supplemental power to offset the gas motor during regular driving, with the MDX's V6 occasionally switching off during neutral cruising. A seven-speed direct-clutch transmission, something of a rarity in a hybrid, does produce occasionally burpy switches between the power sources, though those familiar with the direct clutch systems in Volkswagen are aware of that jerky motion.

Flat out, uphill, the power is impressive but not overwhelming, which is good as the big SUV tended to get a little squirrelly in those deep ruts on I70 when proceeding at higher speeds. Electric steering is also a little heavy-handed, with strong inputs required; a leisurely cruise down Clear Creek Canyon to Golden indicated the overall feeling of the auto industry's most bodacious system name (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) is nicely balanced at regular speeds.

Active dampers (four modes) can soften or stiffen the ride experience, but not to a neck-numbing extent like one of those German super-SUVs.

My MDX got captain's chairs in the second row for a slightly more executive feel; finishings everywhere are leather and it is indeed a beautifully rendered automobile inside and out.

Space is also pretty generous with 68.4 cubic feet of space behind the first row, and a fully usable 38.4 cubic feet behind the second row.

The included Tech Package on my trim level added all of the many screens Acura and Honda now feel necessary to your motoring experience (a mid-instrument display and top and bottom screens in the center stack), with some limited information available about the power flow between the electric motors, engine and battery.

2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD Advanced

MSRP: $58,000; as tested: $58,975

Powertrain: 321-HP combo 3.0-liter engine/electric motors with seven-speed transmission

EPA figures: 27 combined (26 city/27 highway)

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