Thanks to its uncanny Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system, Acura’s MDX won our love on a white-knuckle drive over Snoqualmie Pass several Christmases ago.
Like most crossovers, the MDX ($44,300) is built on a front-wheel-drive platform. But here in snow country its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system is a well-worth-it $2,000 option.
Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) reads output from a network of sensors to anticipate traction loss and responds by routing power to individual wheels. By forcing the outside rear wheel to spin more quickly than the others in a corner or at the inception of a slide, it helps pivot the car out of trouble.
It’s ingenious and, as we discovered in the mountains, it works as advertised.
Comfy, utilitarian cabin
Of course, there is more to the MDX than an exceptional AWD system. Its seven-passenger cabin (it was the first three-row crossover) is quiet, functional and well equipped. Materials quality and fit-and-finish are first-rate.
Bins — large and small, covered and not — accommodate everything from cell phones to pocket books. Rubberized surfaces prevent items from clattering around.
Every MDX is fitted with leather, keyless entry and ignition, tri-zone automatic climate control, automatic LED headlights, a power liftgate and a sunroof.
Tech features include navigation, a two-screen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration, Bluetooth, four USB ports and an eight-speaker sound system.
Acura’s AcuraWatch safety suite, also standard, features forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking; lane and road departure warning and mitigation; and adaptive cruise control.
Nimble, spry and engaging
A clever one-touch push-button mechanism tilts and slides the second-row seat, making for easy access to the third-row bench.
The MDX has one of the best ride-and-handling packages of all the midsize CUVs. Its ride is firm without being harsh and the MDX is responsive and engaging.
It’s nimble and spry in traffic and SH-AWD contributes to secure and stable handling in fast corners.
For all its strengths, the standard-issue MDX is not a thrifty drive, with EPA-estimated mileage of 22 combined (19 city/26 highway).
That’s why Acura added a hybrid to the mix in 2017. The AWD-only Sport Hybrid ($52,800) is based on Acura’s three-motor hybrid system; one powers the front axle, the other two drive the rear wheels).
Hybrid is sports-car quick
We recently tested a loaded version of the Sport Hybrid, which rang the bell at $60,545. Not chump change, but a substantial savings over similarly equipped competitors.
In the hybrid, the system produces 321 horsepower versus the 290 hp made by the V-6 that powers the rest of the lineup. The Sport Hybrid adds navigation, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert.
The hybrid scoots from 0-60 in the high five-second range, a few ticks quicker than V-6 models. Its seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission is quicker and more responsive than the slow-shifting nine-speed that’s paired with the six.
Estimated mileage (27 mpg combined/26 city/27 highway) handily bests its sibling’s.
On the downside, the hybrid is not tow-rated. Only seven percent of MDX owners tow and Acura feels the gas-powered MDX, with its 5,000-pound capacity, serves them best.
A-spec appearance package debuts
This year, Acura debuts an A-Spec package that's available on AWD gas-powered models. It adds dark-toned exterior trim and wider rims with low-profile tires. Inside, there are faux-suede seat inserts and unique gauges and steering wheel.
But the MDX is aging. And, while Acura keeps it viable with constant updates, the forward cabin feels dated and uninspired.
The push-button electronic shifter is less user-friendly than a traditional shift lever and Acura’s twin-screen infotainment interface is due for replacement. A knob-based control system minimizes driver distraction but the system is too complicated.
Fortunately, Acura has its new True Touchpad interface waiting in the wings. It uses fingertip gestures to access its many features and functions. True Touchpad appears daunting initially, though once mastered, it’s quick, responsive and intuitive.
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2019 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid Advanced
Vehicle base price: $44,300
Trim level base price: $59,950
As tested: $60,445 (includes destination and handling)
Options: The Sport Hybrid with the Advanced package is a fully equipped model; our tester included no options.
Tow rating: The hybrid is not rated for towing
EPA rating: 27 combined/26 city/27 highway
Premium unleaded fuel required