Raised by a pack of nomadic hippies, camping has long played a significant role in what the word “home” truly means to me. When you spend most of your childhood on sailboats, in the back of Winnebago RV’s, and beneath the starry canopy commonly referred to as the heavens, pitching camp and breaking it down the next day at sunrise is just another aspect of one’s existence.
Being the stereotypical Clark Griswold type, I recently decided that it was high time my wife and 4 year-old experienced the joys of “roughing it.” With a quick little 14 hour jaunt up to Vermont to attend my former editor’s wedding already on the calendar, and a mischievous look in my eye, I proffered up the idea of skipping hotel accommodations and camping instead. After a series of discussions, followed by my agreement that tent shenanigans would be kept to a minimum, a pact was made and we set to collecting camping gear for our forthcoming voyage.
After dropping some greenbacks on a large Coleman Evanston tent and a bunch of basic camping essentials it was time to decide what to drive. Even though only three of us were undertaking this winding peregrination, a larger vehicle was the obvious choice. Fitting the mountainous collection of crap that comes with the undertaking of such an endeavor was a top concern from the get-go, followed shortly by fuel economy and agility. With those three factors in mind I set to reviewing our options and almost instantly stumbled upon the ideal candidate for our adventure.
Luckily for us, our friends over at Acura had been searching for someone to test out the latest iteration of their full-size SUV and graciously stepped up to the puck to provide us with a loaded “Advance” version of the all-new MDX Sport Hybrid. This particular badge may be new to the market, but the MDX has remained a longstanding pillar for the brand thanks to its popularity. I for one am a huge fan of Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, and being that we own a heavily modified first generation RDX with this same setup, I grew ecstatic over the thought of testing out the larger SUV’s handling strengths.
Loaded to the gills, with the third row folded flat and obfuscated by every form of luggage known to mankind, we strapped my daughter’s Recaro baby seat into the captain’s chair behind my wife and embarked upon our 1,660 mile journey. Unfortunately, less than thirty minutes into our fun-filled family foray things immediately took a turn for the boring, and finding a way in which we could pass the time became a priority.
Traveling by car across the flat plains that separate Cincinnati from Cleveland tends to be about as exciting as watching Lawrence Welk reruns without the aid of strong pharmaceuticals, so with autonomous tech goods engaged I began testing out a few key Acura safety features. Despite being a bit overly jumpy at times (and only retaining lane keep assistance for around 20 seconds) the MDX’s AcuraWatch suite did a phenomenal job of noting the unforeseen and driving itself when needed. This aspect of the automobile would play a crucial role over the course of the next few days by drastically reducing both driver fatigue and stress, and I relish in the thought that these safety features now come standard on every new MDX.
After exiting the congested roadways around Cleveland all of the bland strips of highway suddenly began to fade, and with Lake Erie on our port side and sweeping hills of lush green ahead, we pushed into the night toward Buffalo. After a greasy, wing-filled evening, we awoke early the next morn and turned eastward toward Rochester, where we caught lunch with an old colleague of mine at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the name, just think of a barbecue joint buried within the belly of a shipping depot overlooking a dilapidated spillway and you’re halfway there. Equal parts biker bar, wild west saloon, and steam punk tetanus ranch, it’s a dive that begs to be visited if you’re ever in the area, with food that is equal parts out of this world scrumptious and unhealthy.
Palates satiated, we made our goodbyes and took off toward Albany, our final stop before stabbing northward into Vermont’s mountainous nether regions. Unbeknownst at the time, it was at this point in our voyage that the MDX Sport Hybrid’s finely honed inner self was set to emerge, and that a series of unforeseen challenges and setbacks awaited us.
Instead of sticking to the insipid interstates Acura’s navigation had suggested, we detoured our way up NY-7 and then onward through Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests in order to connect with VT-11. This winding duo of connecting roads lead us through some of the most sensationally scenic canyon carving along the east coast and is a must drive experience if you are ever in the area. Unfortunately for us, caravans of painfully slow RV drivers, logging trucks, construction work, and crappy tarmac conditions foiled our chances of truly enjoying this majestic mountain safari.
On the bright side, there were plenty of places where nary a soul was to be seen, and it was here that the MDX’s SH-AWD system and adaptive damping sport suspension were allowed to shine. Our Acura gobbled-up corners and potholes alike with an appetite that hovered somewhere between avarice and absorbency, a balance that is rarely found in a vehicle with three rows. Torque-vectoring our way onward toward Hartland, with the wedding ceremony a mere two hours away, we hastily snapped photos of the countryside, all while rocking out to B.B. King’s Bluesville on the sensationally calibrated Acura ELS premium audio system.
Then, with just a mile to go disaster struck. A tree had fallen across the road, and by blocking our path we were forced to frantically search for an alternative route. By this point we literally had 45 minutes to get our tent pitched, gear inside it, and wedding attire on before the matrimonial shindig started. We were also running short on daylight and to top it all off, the miniature monster in the backseat was starting to grow impatient and began demanding cheesy poofs.
At this point Acura came to the rescue with a flurry of detailed 3D mapping, which after some scrolling illuminated a hidden entrance toward the back-end of the farm road. With foot on the floor and windows down we made our way around the backside of the mountain, pulling into the farm’s parking lot with a mere thirty minutes to spare. After a hasty Coleman assembly process, followed by me feverishly tossing everything inside the damn thing, there was just enough time left to get dressed for the evening’s festivities. As we crossed the street toward the farmhouse, I looked back at the MDX and our bright green tent resting beneath the protective foliage of the orchard’s fruit trees. We had officially arrived in style, and dammit if we weren’t looking like a billion bucks.
The next morning, after sleeping off the previous night’s festivities and breaking camp, we grabbed a quick brunch and started our two-day, thirteen-hour journey back home to Ohio. Along the way we stopped for the night in Buffalo once more for views of Niagara Falls, and the next day in Cleveland for a bite of supper before heading south toward Cincy. All told it was an adventure to remember and our trusty chariot did a sensational job of getting us to Vermont and back. Both my wife and I were absolutely enamored with the way in which the MDX Sport Hybrid performed and accommodated, and not once did we find ourselves wishing that we had booked a different vehicle.
Having said that, there are a few standout features housed within this version of the Acura MDX that made our 1,600+ mile voyage downright delightful, with its ho-hum 27 mpg fuel economy averages not being one of those. Simply put, the electrical part of this powerplant focuses more on adding sport to the MDX than efficiency. And it does sport surprisingly well despite its sizable road presence.
Once combined, the MDX’s triple-motored hybrid system and smaller 3.0-liter V6 generate 321 horsepower and 341 pound-feet of torque. These numbers may look unassuming on paper, but in practice are snappishly good when ascending through all seven dual-clutch-driven gears via paddle shifts. And speaking of snappy, press the “Drive” button twice and sport mode instantly engages for speedy interstate overtakes. Dive deeper by toggling the Sport+ setting, and angry sounds suddenly emanate from the engine bay, while revs spike for even more acute aggression.
But sportiness isn’t the only thing this SUV focuses upon. It also is very well put together, and the optional split captain’s chairs in the second row with their spacious center console storage remind you that yes, this is indeed a proper SUV, designed for kids and adults alike. From a child’s perspective, the MDX is a breeze to climb in and out of thanks to its ergonomically positioned pull handles and tapered door sills. There’s also a plethora of places for stowing stuffed animals and juice boxes, and there’s no shortage of views from the rear seat for the vertically challenged thanks to the raised height of the captain’s chairs.
For all us grown folk, most of us will likely dig things like the heated/cooled front seats, the heated second row and steering wheel, genuine hand-carved wood trim, suave ambient lighting, and proximity sensitive power-folding mirrors with puddle lamps. The MDX also features a super easy LATCH system for buckling in baby seats, Honda-grade storage smarts, fold-flat seat buttons that are effortless and illuminated, and a set of acutely tuned rain-sensing wipers.
A few other notables that we admired and shoppers should appreciate are the MDX Sport Hybrid’s ability to run on any fuel grade, its adjustable 360-degree camera views, solid blind-spot visibility, projected reliability ratings, and sophisticated body lines. It is also worth mentioning that once our trip was complete both my wife and I felt like we could keep going for another 1,600 miles because those leather-bound seats truly were that comfy.
Simply put, the Acura MDX Sport Hybrid in top trim is an all-inclusive luxury barge with performance blood pumping through its veins to the tune of $58,000. Granted, at this price point you can start toying with vehicles like the Audi Q7, and at $45,000 the Signature version of the Mazda CX-9 still undercuts every triple-rowed luxury option out there, but that’s another story for another time.
Almost everything about the MDX Sport Hybrid hits the piston on the head, regardless of whether you plan on using it for trips down to yoga class or across the Appalachian Mountains. After years of yawners, Acura has finally begun to re-instill “Precision Crafted Performance” within its vehicles, and seeing all three of these elements actively making their mark in a soccer mom machine is fantastic to find. Now if only they would bring back the TSX wagon and give it the SH-AWD system it deserved from day one, this longtime Acura fanatic might be able to talk his family into another lengthy road trip.