Relatively low gas prices are blunting what should be one of the biggest automotive stories around. Manufacturers are offering better and more affordable hybrids and all-electric cars than ever before. But the share being sold is falling because most consumers just don't see the need of spending the additional money for them, even though the price gap is closing.
That must be why Acura thinks only five percent of those who buy a 2017 MDX crossover will choose the new Sport Hybrid AWD version. Which, if the company is right, is too bad. It only costs about $1,500 more than the gas version but is both more economical and more powerful. For the extra money, the hybrid system gets 8 miles per gallon better in town and 1 more mile per gallon on the freeway. And it generates 31 more horsepower and 22 more pound feet of torque than the non-hybrid system.
But even better, it doesn't drive like a hybrid. The seven-speed automatic transmission shifts quickly, especially in the Sport+ driving mode (one of four available). The brakes are firm and responsive, even though they generate power to recharge the batteries. The suspension is surprisingly supple for such a large vehicle. It also comes standard with an advanced all-wheel-drive system that improves traction and handling on slippery surfaces.
And all of this is included in one of the best looking, most luxurious and most technologically advanced crossover SUV's on the market.
Acura achieved all this by borrowing design features from its radical and wonderful new NSX sport car. Like it, the MDX Sport Hybrid uses a V6 engine and not one but three electric motors for propulsion. One of the electric motors helps drive the front wheels while the other two are attached to the rear ones. Power shifts around between all of them to maximize power, economy or traction, depending on the demands of the driver and driving conditions.
But you'd never know it behind the wheel. The Sport Hybrid just feels like a faster version of the gas-powered MDX that happens to get better mileage. Although the V6 is not turbocharged like the one in the NSX, the powertrain still produces a combined 321 horsepower and 289 foot-pounds of torque, which is more than respectable. And it delivers an EPA estimated 27 miles per gallon, which is very good for the vehicle's size and performance.
Not much else needed to be changed from last year's model. The most notable difference is the grill, which eliminates the last remnants of the "beak" that drew so much criticism and increases the size of the badge to more closely resemble those on older Mercedes-Benz vehicles.
Most consumers will probably continue to shun hybrids and all-electric vehicles as long as gas prices remain at or below $3 a gallon. But smart ones in the market for a large crossover would be wise to check out the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid AWD. It will be an even better choice when gas prices increase, as they inevitably will.
2017 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid AWD
Base price: $51,960
Price as tested: $58,975
Type: Three-row crossover SUV
Powertrain: 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors (321 hp, 289 lbs-ft)
Transmission: 7-speed automatic with four driving modes
EPA estimated mileage: 26/27
Overall length: 196.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,471 to 4,484 pounds
Final assembly: Lincoln, Alabama