Acura introduced the MDX as a 2001 model, and the midsize sport utility vehicle from Hondas luxury division has tallied impressive sales totals. The MDX competes against such rivals as the BMW X5, Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. Interested shoppers have even faced waiting lists for the car-based MDX, which is loaded with luxury features.
Acura previously offered an SUV, called the SLX, but it was a rebadged version of an Isuzu product. Acura decided to produce the MDX in-house, and it is built on the platform used for the Honda Odyssey minivan. With some borrowed components such as the V-6 engine, the MDX is manufactured at the same plant in Ontario, Canada, that turns out the Odyssey.
Improvements for 2002 promised to give the MDX an even quieter ride. For 2003, the engine has gained 20 horsepower. Acuras Vehicle Stability Assist electronic stability system and a drive-by-wire throttle system have been added. The optional navigation system now has voice recognition and a rearview camera, and a DVD-based entertainment system is available as a factory-installed option. The only other option is a Touring Package that includes a roof rack and an eight-speaker 200-watt Acura/Bose stereo with a six-CD changer.
The MDX is styled in California, and it features sloping rear roof pillars like those on the RX 300. According to Acura, it strikes a balance between muscularity and elegance, starting with a sharply chiseled front fascia and a wide stance. Bold creases highlight the hood and bodysides. The MDXs grille is similar to the one used on the companys sedans. Alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires, and the SUV comes equipped with a four-wheel-independent suspension. The MDX rides a 106.3-inch wheelbase and measures 188.5 inches long overall and 68.7 inches tall.
Seven passengers occupy three rows of seats in the MDX, which contains two front buckets, a three-place split middle bench and a two-place split rear seat. The center and rear seats fold flat into the floor to create additional cargo space. When the load floor is flat, it can accommodate a pair of mountain bikes or even a 6-foot ladder. The cargo volume is 81.5 cubic feet when the second- and third-row seats are folded flat. Standard features include leather upholstery, remote keyless entry, a power moonroof and a seven-speaker Acura cassette/CD stereo system.
Under the Hood
The 2003 MDX packs a 260-hp, 3.5-liter aluminum V-6 engine that teams with a five-speed-automatic transmission. A VTM-4 variable-torque management all-wheel-drive system powers the front wheels on smooth, dry roads. On slippery surfaces, it automatically transfers power to the rear wheels as needed to maintain traction. A dashboard button can be used to lock the system, which allows it to deliver maximum traction. Acura claims the MDX can accelerate from zero to 60 mph in less than 9 seconds.
Dual-stage front airbags and side-impact airbags for the front seats are standard. All-disc antilock brakes are installed.
Acceleration in the MDX is energetic but a tad sluggish in the first moments. The SUV handles with somewhat of a tight feel, and it comes across more like a performance model than a gentle highway cruiser especially when its equipped with the Touring Package. The MDXs steering is extra sharp, and this makes it easy to keep the vehicle on course. With or without the Touring Package, it grips tenaciously in curves.
Because the suspension is quite firm, the ride is close to luxurious on smooth pavement but less genteel when the surface becomes even moderately rough. The seats are exceptionally supportive, and occupants have plenty of space. Except for a hearty roar during acceleration, the MDX operates quietly.