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With a new nose, front fenders, hood, and refreshed interior, the 2017 Acura MDX feels in many ways like a much different vehicle than the long-term 2016 Acura MDX that departed our long-term fleet a few months ago. However, the real news for 2017 is that Acura is now offering the MDX as a hybrid. Known as the 2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, this all-wheel drive hybrid model repurposes the same technology currently in the exquisite Acura NSX supercar.

That's no exaggeration; it uses the same basic electric drive motors, battery, power control unit, and even a variation of the dual-clutch automatic transmission from the NSX, here shifting 7 gears instead of the 9 in the NSX. Obviously the NSX engine didn't make the journey. Instead, the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid gets a 3.0-liter V6, which combined with electric motors, makes for a total of 321 horsepower.

Also: Class of 2018 – New Cars Ready to Roll

Performance over Economy

With a name like Sport Hybrid, it should be obvious Acura is emphasizing performance over fuel economy. And while fuel economy does improve—city economy increases by about 45 percent to 26 mpg, better than the BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz GLE and Volvo XC90 hybrids—the real benefit is in handling. The gasoline engine and its conjoined electric motor power the front wheels exclusively, while the rear wheels get a pair of electric motors. These operate in much the same way as any electric motor in a hybrid; there's regenerative braking, additional power, and electric-only cruising at light throttle or when in a parking lot. The electric motor sandwiched between the engine and transmission usually acts as a generator, but also adds power under full throttle.

So far pretty standard hybrid stuff, but the genius of the system is that with one electric motor dedicated to each rear wheel, the MDX can use its system to assist handling in unique ways. For example, in a corner the outside wheel gets additional power, helping to both aid stability and power through the corner better, similar to the mechanical Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system on the regular MDX. However, unlike the SH-AWD system, the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (SH-SH-AWD?) uses the inside wheel as well, putting it into regeneration mode. This braking effect helps stabilize the rear end even more, keeping it planted, and further aiding cornering. In addition, the system works independently of the engine's power output, meaning it can still add power even if you're coasting when doing so will increase stability in the corner. Suffice it to say, it's pretty cool.

It's also virtually invisible. At speed, the MDX Sport Hybrid feels like any other MDX: calm, comfortable, unflappable. The 7-speed transmission shifts invisibly, the start-stop on the hybrid is much smoother than the similar system in the non-hybrid, and there's virtually no indication there's any sort of hybrid activity going on at all unless you have the energy-flow meter on, or keep a close eye on the tachometer. Put it in Sport+ mode—unique to this MDX—and hustle through corners, and the Sport Hybrid simply feels incredibly planted. The unique hybrid system works in conjunction with magnetic shocks that stiffen both according to the driving mode (Comfort, Normal and Sport in addition to Sport+), or dynamically depending on driving style and road conditions. Resolutely neutral in corners, the MDX Sport Hybrid clearly out-handles its non-hybrid counterpart, yet without looking at the energy display you'd have no idea why.

Also: Kelley Blue Book Best Buy Awards of 2017

Luxury First

And that's the point. Unlike the NSX, which puts its sport hybrid system on proud display for the driver to experience, the MDX never forgets its primary function is to be a luxury SUV, and this it accomplishes in spades. The updated interior features real open-pore trim, soft Milano leather in Advance models, and a comfortable and quiet ride in Comfort mode. Advance models also get dual captain's chairs in the second row, separated by a center console and storage bin, although there's no rear-seat entertainment system available at all, which is a little odd. Still, it's all very nice and modern, so much so that it throws the dual-screen infotainment system as well as its lack of Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, into stark relief. Somewhere between Acura's button-tastic interface from 10 years ago and this mishmash of touch-screen/scroll-and-click-knob mess there must be a better way; Acura could crib from BMW's iDrive or Audi's MMI for starters.

It's not a deal breaker though, as our long-term MDX proved that it's possible to get used to it. Prices for the MDX Sport Hybrid start at about $52,900 for the Technology Package model, or just under $59,000 for the top-line Advance Package model that adds nicer leather, captain's chairs in the second row, LED fog lights and more. Either way, that's just $1,500 higher than the non-hybrid versions, which is a pretty solid deal for the more-powerful and better handling Sport Hybrid. 


 

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