The 2018 Acura MDX performs very well for its class, which is to say that ride and comfort come before outright performance. The Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is intriguing for many reasons, but we suspect that more buyers will pick the traditional powertrain.
We give the MDX a point above average for a glassy ride—even on optional 20-inch tires. It earns a 6 out of 10. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Most versions of the MDX will be powered by a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. The engine has been tuned to produce more tug at lower speeds, which helps in stop-and-go daily slogs. The MDX is rated to tow up to 3,500 pounds with a trailer attached, enough for most small weekend toys.
A 9-speed automatic is standard on all models, and all-wheel drive is available with every trim level. It’s a competent transmission, but not without its faults we’ve found. The 9-speed can get confused with so many cogs available at its disposal—entering an interstate can induce momentary indecision. Toggling the transmission into “Sport” mode seems wholly unnecessary for a vehicle as large as the MDX, but opens one option: drivers can opt to select their own gears with the paddle shifters in a true “manual” mode. Lug or blitz the engine all you want, Acura presupposes a level of sophistication with its drivers that we clearly don’t meet.
The MDX benefits from special shocks that smother road imperfections. Like other tall crossovers, there’s a hint of body lean in the MDX around corners, but head toss is negligible to imperceptible in most cases.
The MDX rides on standard 18s, but opting for either Technology or Advance packages subs 20-inch wheels on each corner. They don’t ruin ride quality, even with less sidewall, and fill the wheel arches fairly well.
Although the Sport Hybrid and all-wheel drive models share similar concepts, the two systems are mechanically different.
On non-hybrid models, all-wheel drive adds cold-weather confidence thanks to a true mechanical torque vectoring system that can shuffle 100 percent of power left to right, or up to 70 percent of power to rear wheels when needed. Acura is one of the few automakers to offer mechanical torque vectoring (Mitsubishi did too) and the MDX is better for it.
Acura MDX Sport Hybrid
Beginning last year, Acura subbed in a hybrid powertrain to its MDX that was largely borrowed from its NSX supercar and RLX sedan. The system adds electric motors to power the rear wheels exclusively, which is sometimes called “through the road” hybrid system.
A detuned 3.5-liter V-6 still rides up front, a 7-speed automatic is swapped in, and the net system power output is up to 321 hp in Sport Hybrid models.
Acura says the “Sport” in Sport Hybrid is intentional—an MDX with electrons is a sportier drive, according to them. OK, sure.
But the added bonus of improved fuel economy and slightly better roadholding in our rainy drives meant that the $1,500 apples-to-apples cost for a hybrid model sounded better to us.