2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Review: Age Is Just a Number for Acura's Eco-Flagship SUV
Dated infotainment aside, if it's good enough for Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon, then it's probably good enough for you.
The 2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, By the Numbers
- Base Price (Price as Tested): $52,800 ($60,945)
- Powertrain: 3.0-liter V-6 engine aided by three electric motors (one on the front axle and two in the rear) | combined 321 horsepower, 289 pound-feet of torque | seven-speed dual-clutch transmission | all-wheel-drive
- EPA Fuel Economy: 26 mpg city | 27 mpg highway
- Seating Capacity: 6
- Cargo Space: 15.0 cubic feet behind the third row | 38.4 cubic feet behind the second row | 68.4 cubic feet behind the front row
- Quick Take: Borrowing a powertrain from the NSX supercar is just enough to offset the MDX's dated in-cabin technology—especially when you throw in its family-friendly status as an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
The 2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: The Pros
- The MDX sports a handsome exterior design that's appealing to the eye but flies under the radar with subtlety. For better or for worse, it doesn't subscribe to the same design trends of today's shouty and hard-edged SUVs. The MDX is like an understated Tumi suitcase rather than a gaudy Louis Vuitton, or an L.L Bean coat instead of a North Face jacket—you get the class but none of the flash.
- Drive it once, drive it twice, drive it thrice around town and you won't get tired of it. Most SUVs nowadays have sacrificed overall comfort in the name of sharper handling and sportier styling—but not the MDX. Even equipped with the optional 20-inch wheels, my tester puddled around pothole-ridden Indianapolis roads without inflicting uncomfortable jolts on the driver or passengers thanks to its well-balanced suspension. Electrically assisted power steering makes parking and low-speed maneuvering a breeze with added resistance at higher speeds. Engaging Sport Mode also firms up the steering nicely without turning the suspension into a board.
- It's easy to live with, and that's important when carrying, you know, other people besides yourself. The second-row captain chairs (it can also be had with a bench seat) are separated by a functional console that I highly recommend getting if you have kids, or if you can afford to reduce your seating capacity from seven to six. To me, the ability to have more cupholders and cubbies to store "kid stuff" is well worth the trade-off. Easy access to the third row adds to the MDX's livability score, with the second-row chairs moving out of the way at the touch of a single button and without having to mess with levers or straps.
- If you're able to drop $60k on a luxury SUV you're most likely not counting pennies at the pump, but it goes without saying that Acura's hybrid system not only enhances the MDX's driving dynamics but also makes the 4,486-pound SUV considerably more fuel efficient than most seven-seaters—especially when driven with, shall we say, with a spirited foot. Over the course of approximately 300 miles of mixed city and highway driving, the MDX Sport Hybrid delivered its EPA estimate bang-on: 26.7 miles per gallon.
- The 1.3 kWh high-voltage lithium-ion battery pack is strategically located under the driver and passenger seats, which helps with keeping seating position and legroom decent in the rear. My 12- and 15-year-old passengers in the third row had no complaints regarding comfort or legroom, and they actually praised the availability of USB power outlets in the third row. (There are two more in both the front and second rows.)
The 2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid: The Cons
- As much as I want to understand and enjoy the benefits of Acura's dual-screen infotainment system, I just can't. My numerous attempts to find peace with whatever advantage Acura imagined years ago were an abject failure. It's confusing, visually unpleasant, and downright cheap compared to the single-screen affair in the all-new RDX. In this important regard, the next-generation MDX (or a fully revamped interior) can't come soon enough.
- There's nothing technically wrong with Acura's decision to make do with old-school analog gauges. The issue is the way the dials' dated styling detracts from the cutting-edge vibe the rest of the car tries to impart, Jewel Eye LED headlights and push-button shifter included. And the real crime is found between them: a tiny, multi-purpose display that would make a Game Boy Color cringe.
- As our very own Kyle Cheromcha noted when he tested the 2019 Acura MDX A-Spec, the way in which Acura packages the different trims and offerings hardly makes any sense. For example, the Sport Hybrid, which is the most powerful and therefore sportier of the MDX lineup, can't be had with the cool A-Spec package. One would think that the fastest and most capable MDX could benefit from a sleek body kit and snazzy add-ons. Also, for whatever reason, Acura doesn't offer the $2,000 Entertainment Package in the Sport Hybrid trim but it does in the others. Why punish the children just because their parents opted for a hybrid?
The 2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, Value
Equipping the 2019 Acura MDX with the more powerful and fuel-sipping hybrid engine may set you back $3,500 on paper, but in terms of value, that's actually a pretty darn good deal. Compared to the base-model MDX, dropping that extra coin gets you an extra six miles per gallon in the city, which is nothing to scoff about. More importantly, you get Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system—that alone would cost $2,000 to add to the front-wheel-drive MDX. So, in a nutshell, you're getting a heck of an engine and considerable fuel savings for just a $1,500 difference.
The 2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid, The Bottom Line
Choosing the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid over its pricier and less efficient competitors should be a piece of cake for most buyers, even though there will undoubtedly be many who base their entire purchase on the badge on the hood. And for those folks, there's not much that any review can say or prove. For the rest, however, the pros will outweigh the cons. For every time I cringed about the outdated graphics, I was quickly distracted by the sound of that V-6. For every time I felt frustrated by the dual touchscreens, I soon found myself smiling at its sharp handling and surprisingly quick acceleration.
Lastly, it turns out I'm not the only one who is a fan of the MDX's overall performance. Sometime during my test, I caught up with someone who knows a thing or two about driving: Five-time IndyCar champion, Indy 500 winner, and 24 Hours of Le Mans podium finisher, Scott Dixon. We mainly discussed his brand-new Ford GT, but being the down-to-earth individual that he is, he quickly shifted the conversation to the MDX Sport Hybrid he's been loaned by Honda Performance Development when he realized I was also driving one.
He went on how much more he enjoyed the Sport Hybrid compared to his previous non-hybrid model. He attributed the three electric motors for the impressive acceleration off the line and described the drivetrain as "linear" and "progressive." In his (admittedly amortized) view, "there isn't a better option out there for driving from point A to point B." So, if it's good enough for IndyCar's winningest active racing driver, then it's probably good enough for you.
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