SEATTLE – Acura positions its forthcoming MDX Sport Hybrid as the lowest-price entrant in the U.S. large-luxury hybrid CUV segment, confident it can achieve the incremental volume it wants from the CUV.

Acura expects the new hybrid to account for 5% of overall MDX sales. In recent years it has sold 55,000-60,000 units of the CUV annually in the U.S.

The 3-row MDX will start at $51,960 when it reaches U.S. Acura dealers next month, below the $53,035 and $53,500 starting prices of the Lexus RX 450h and Infiniti QX60 hybrid CUVs and well south of the plug-in hybrid trio of the BMW X5 Xdrive 40e, Mercedes GLE 550e and Volvo XC90 T8.

“We think we’ve established a strong winning position (with specifications and by undercutting the competition),” Gary Robinson, manager-Acura product planning, tells attendees here at an ’18 MDX Hybrid media event.

Acura calculates its advantage is $1,075 against the RX and up to $15,840 with the GLE. The three European PHEVs start in the $60,000 range, but often transact above $70,000, Robinson says.

MDX Sport Hybrid fuel economy comes in at 26/27 mpg (9.0-8.7 L/100 km) city/highway, falling shy of the 2-row Lexus RX’s 31/28 mpg (7.6-8.4 L/100 km) city/highway rating. However, Acura officials here emphasize the MDX provides more total horsepower with the MDX than the RX, 321 hp vs. 308 hp.

“This is our unique way to express our performance,” Jon Ikeda, vice president and general manager-Acura says of using the NSX supercar’s 3-motor hybrid system under the hood of the MDX.

The 3-motor system has two 36-hp motors, separated by a 1-way clutch to vector torque side-to-side between rear wheels, and a 47-hp front motor integrated to a 7-speed DCT powering the front wheels. The engine in the MDX hybrid is a 257-hp 3.0L SOHC V-6.

The variant wears many of the same styling cues as Acura’s non-hybrid MDX, which was refreshed last year for ’17 with the brand’s new diamond pentagon grille and higher-quality interior materials such as open-pore wood. The slight styling differences for the hybrid include a lower aero kit, body-color side sills and stainless-steel pedals.

Acura claims the MDX is the No.1 premium 3-row CUV purchased by those under 35 years old and it sees a similarly young buyer for the MDX hybrid, noting those buying large luxury hybrid CUVs tend to be younger than large luxury non-hybrid CUV buyers due to the need for seating for young families. They also have a keen interest in technology and eco-friendly attributes.

The brand sees the typical MDX hybrid buyer as a Millennial or on the younger end of Generation X and making $250,000 or more in annual household income. “It sounds like kind a little bit of a unicorn, but those people are out there and interested in this type of vehicle,” Robinson says.

The MDX Sport Hybrid will be assembled at the MDX’s new home in East Liberty, OH. Some MDX production is continuing at Honda’s Lincoln, AL, plant as East Liberty ramps up.

This week, the Japanese automaker announced it was investing $85 million in Lincoln, also home to three Honda-brand models (Odyssey minivan, Pilot large CUV, Ridgeline midsize pickup) to increase the plant’s flexibility. Phase one of the project calls for an expansion of vehicle-assembly Line 1, slated for completion in 2018.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com