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2017 MDX powers up with new hybrid, gets prettier with fresh Acura styling

Last Update August 25th, 2016

2017 Acura MDX

2017 Acura MDX.

What changes make the 2017 Acura MDX better?

Plenty. Updated styling, more standard safety equipment, and addition of a hybrid model focused on performance, not necessarily fuel economy. The MDX is a seven-passenger, midsize-class crossover SUV. For most of its 17-year existence, it was the best-selling vehicle for Honda’s luxury brand; only recently did the compact-class Acura RDX overtake it.

MDX sales are down about 15 percent year-over-year through the first half of 2016. Premium-class SUV shoppers are downsizing, as evidenced by the RDX becoming Acura’s new volume leader. Company officials are hopeful MDX’s 2017 updates will invigorate demand for this comfortable and luxurious family hauler.

Read our 2018 Acura MDX Preview for the latest information

Why should I buy a 2017?

To get a thoroughly up-to-date premium-class crossover. And with every trim level now equipped with the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assists – including automatic emergency braking – all MDXs earn coveted Top Safety Pick+ status from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Buying a ’17 also could make you first on your block to take advantage of the new hybrid powertrain. Dubbed “Sport Hybrid,” fuel frugality is not its main focus – additional performance and better handling is. This approach to electrified powertrains has been done before with vehicles such as the Lexus GS 450h and older generations of Honda’s own Accord Hybrid. While these vehicles did deliver on their promises of enhanced efficiency and driving dynamics, they never lit up the sales charts. We’ll see if the MDX Sport Hybrid can do better.

Conventionally powered 2017 MDX models return with a choice of front-wheel drive or Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). All models have a standard V-6 engine and 9-speed automatic transmission; those equipped with the $10,450(!) Advance Package or $12,450(!!) Advance & Entertainment Package add an engine-idle stop/start function that shuts of the engine at a stop and instantly restarts it when the driver releases their foot from the brake pedal. This results in a 1 mpg increase in EPA city fuel-economy ratings (see below for details).

Should I wait for the 2018 model instead?

No. Model-year 2017 represents a major freshening for this vehicle, so aside from a new paint color and higher starting prices, it’s highly unlikely the 2018 Acura MDX will see any worthwhile updates. What you see here will almost certainly stand pat until the next-generation MDX debuts, likely for model-year 2020.

Is the 2017 styling different?

Yes. MDX’s redesigned front end borrows many of its cues from the brand’s Precision Concept, and it’s a look that will almost certainly filter down to other Acura products in the coming years. The grille is larger, sporting an inverted pentagon, with a large Acura logo in the center. Its signature “Jewel Eye” headlights return, but they’re raked more aggressively to give it a sportier demeanor. Top-level models are available with 20-inch wheels for the first time. Changes to the rear end are more subtle, with a redesigned bumper and visible dual-exhaust outlets.

Aside from a couple tweaks, the 2017 MDX’s interior design stands pat. From a room and comfort standpoint, this is a good thing. The first two seating rows have plenty of headroom and legroom. The third row is not difficult to access thanks to a second row that can power forward, however there’s not quite as much legroom or knee space as you’ll find in the rival Infiniti QX60. We wish Acura would have done more with the 2017 MDX’s controls. Most key functions are governed by a touchscreen that’s both finicky to operate and a fingerprint magnet. Further, some key operations are buried deep within sub-menus, which can take attention away from the business of driving.

Any mechanical changes?

Not for conventional models. All are available with front-wheel drive or AWD. The sole engine/transmission combo is a 3.5-liter V-6 with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque mated to a 9-speed automatic. Kudos to Acura for making the 9-speed standard across the board, as opposed to only in the most expensive models (which is what parent-company Honda does on its Pilot crossover). This is a highly refined drivetrain that furnishes plenty of power in any situation. MDX is the most fun-to-drive three-row luxury crossover that doesn’t have a German-brand badge or German-brand pricing. The steering is linear and dynamic. SH-AWD adds a reassuring measure of grip on dry, wet, or snowy roads – it’s a feature we would recommend anyone at least sample, even if you live in a dry climate.

Sport Hybrid models are AWD only. They will have a 3.0-liter V-6 engine an a 7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The hybrid system consists of three electric motors, one at the front and two at the back. The front motor resides in the transmission and exists primarily to provide extra horsepower. The others provide power to the rear wheels in place of a conventional driveshaft/differential setup. This allows for torque vectoring, which can instantly divert power between the wheels in order to enhance traction and handling. Total system output is 325 horsepower. The hybrid system is capable of shutting off the gas engine at a stop, but unlike most gas/electric vehicles, the battery pack cannot power the vehicle by itself.

Does fuel economy improve?

With the addition of the Sport Hybrid, yes. Conventional models are unchanged. With front-wheel drive, the 2017 MDX gets EPA-estimated fuel-economy ratings of 19/27/22 mpg city/highway combined. The available idle stop/start system with the Advance and Advance & Entertainment Package boosts those estimates to 20/27/23 mpg. AWD conventional versions rate 18/26/21 without stop/start and 19/26/22 with it.

Estimates for the Sport Hybrid were not available in time for this report, but Acura predicts 25 city/26 highway, which should result in a 25-26 mpg combined figure. The highway number could be higher, though, because the Sport Hybrid’s V-6 engine can shut off three of its cylinders at cruising speeds in order to save fuel. This feature is not available on the conventional MDX.

Does it have new features?

Yes. The previously optional AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies is now standard on every 2017 MDX. These features include a blind-spot camera; pre-collision brake assist; forward-collision alert; lane-departure warning with automatic steering correction to keep you in your lane; and radar-based adaptive cruise control. Unfortunately, you need to upgrade to the $4,410 Technology Package in order to get blind-spot with rear cross-traffic alert, though the package does come with other upscale amenities, including remote engine start, rain-sensing windshield wipers, GPS-linked automatic climate control, navigation system, Acura’s excellent ELS-branded premium audio system, and an upgraded version of the brand’s AcuraLink telematics with support for SMS text messaging, e-mail, and Apple’s Siri Eyes Free.

The Advance Package requires the Technology Package and an additional $6,040. It adds the aforementioned idle stop/start system, along with ventilated front seats; a heated steering wheel; heated second-row captain’s chairs (reducing seating capacity to six); genuine wood trim; integrated second-row sunshades; LED fog lights; front- and rear-obstacle detection; and a surround-view camera.

An ultra-widescreen rear DVD entertainment system is $2,000 and must be ordered in conjunction with either the Technology or Advance package.

The full list of standard and optional equipment for the Sport Hybrid was not available in time for this review, but it should mirror that of the conventional MDX, including availability of the DVD system, Technology, and Advance packages.

Are 2017 prices different?

Yes, the 2017 MDX costs, on average, about $925, or 2 percent, more than the outgoing model. That may sound a bit steep, but consider that the AcuraWatch safety suite is now standard on all 2017s, when it was a $1,500 option on the 2016 edition. Even with this modest price increase, MDX remains a compelling value for its blend of room, comfort, and driving enjoyment, all backed by a brand with an excellent reputation for reliability and strong resale values. Acura is one of the few luxury brands to not offer any kind of complimentary scheduled maintenance, however.

Base prices of the 2017 Acura MDX include the manufacturer’s $940 destination fee. Per Honda/Acura tradition, vehicles equipped with any option packages are priced as separate models. We will list the starting prices for front-drive vehicles; SH-AWD adds $2,000 to any MDX.

The well-equipped base model starts at $44,890. Adding the Technology Package brings the price to $49,300; combining this with the Entertainment Package makes the sticker $51,300. Getting the Advance Package will set you back at least $55,340 without the Entertainment Package and $57,340 with it.

Acura had not released pricing for the Sport Hybrid in time for this report, but we estimate these models will start around $48,000 and top out at or slightly above $60,000.

When will it come out?

Conventional 2017 MDX models went on sale in late-June 2016. The Sport Hybrid is expected before the end of the calendar year.

The MDX is better than the…

Buick Enclave, an aged seven-seater slated for a model-year 2018 redesign; Infiniti QX60, a roomier seven-seater but with duller driving dynamics; and BMW X5, a five-seater that costs a lot more comparably equipped and, surprisingly, doesn’t shame the Acura for road manners.

The MDX is not as good as the…

Volvo XC90 for refinement and chic design; Audi Q7, a handling and style leader, despite a cramped third-row seat; and Mercedes-Benz GLE, just five seats, but a class standard for solidity and upper-crust value.

What change would make it better?

A slightly roomier third-row seat would be nice, as would standard blind-spot/rear cross-traffic alert. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to fault the 2017 Acura MDX. It really is a near-ideal blend of space, performance, luxury, and value.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]