Road Review: Three-row beast

Courtney Messenbaugh

The 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid is easy to load, gets great gas mileage, and is a thrill to drive. Miraculous.

Many of us require larger cars. We need space—to haul the children, the gear, the dogs, and so on—but we also would love a car that’s fun to drive, since driving is something we do a lot. These two things can seem incompatible. The conundrum deepens if we want something noble, like decent fuel economy. A vehicle that incorporates all these things has always been hard to find.

Until now. The 2018 Acura MDX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) hits all the marks: it gets good fuel economy, it’s got push-button access to a third row of seats, and it can be a thrill to drive.

The Dynamic Control system offers four preset drive modes, powered by a 3.0-liter engine with three electric motors producing a combined 321 horsepower. For those days you spend driving hither and yon around town, cruising city streets and parking lots, the Comfort setting’s got your back. This mode employs the hybrid engine often, delivering an easygoing gait and maximizing fuel efficiency. Normal mode adds a bit of suspension, and Sport mode even more so, along with tighter steering and throttle response. But if it’s the thrill you’re after, go straight to Sport+ mode, which gives you everything the gas and electric engines have to offer—

plenty of verve in acceleration and even a touch of the happy roar an engine makes when its primed to go—a noise rarely heard, but gleefully received, from any three-row beast.

The bonus is that, thanks to the hybrid technology, you’ll average 26 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. That’s several clicks better than many others in this class.

While the behind-the-wheel experience in the 2018 MDX SH-AWD is stellar, it’s not the only thing that merits adulation. Form and function hit high notes as well. Second-row captain’s chairs with a roomy center console between them create an appealing, lounge-y atmosphere, punctuated by a premium sound system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Getting to the third row has never been easier either, thanks to a singular button that pushes those captain’s chairs out of the way and allows passengers to get into the third row without pole vaulting. Miraculous. Another button—this one on the key fob—starts the engine remotely, so that the car will be ready to go before you are, with the driver’s seat perfectly heated or cooled by the time you slide in.

Cargo space is on par with other cars in this class, and a five-star safety rating with standard features like a multi-view camera and collision mitigation braking system round out the list of reasons to embrace the super handling of this car.

The car I tested was the highest-level trim available with the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, and a sticker price of $59,145. The SH-AWD with standard engine starts at $46,200 and goes up from there.

 No matter the trim you choose, this vehicle is a rare find, one that you shouldn’t let get away.

AAA Resources

AAA Colorado AutoSource supplies the vehicles used in EnCompass road reviews. AutoSource can arrange for your test drive of the vehicles—new and used—that best fit your lifestyle and budget. Call 877-244-9790, or visit AAA.com, and experience concierge service like nowhere else.

Courtney Messenbaugh is a freelance writer in Lafayette who has been writing about cars and life in the car for more than a decade.