2003 Acura MDX

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2003 Acura MDX

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Available in 1 styles:  2003 Acura MDX 4dr 4x4 shown
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Asking Price Range
$4,828–$12,480

Estimated MPG

17 city / 23 hwy


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Expert Reviews

    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

By 

The Detroit News

Last week, we tested the redesigned 2004 Lexus RX 330, which we consider to be the gold standard in luxury crossover vehicles. This week, we drive one of its nearest competitors, the Acura MDX, which has been noticeably improved for model year 2003.

The '03 MDX, which is built in Ontario and shares many of its parts with the Honda Pilot, starts at under $36,000. But our test model, equipped with a $2,600 touring package, $1,500 DVD entertainment system and $2,200 navigation system, carried a hefty $42,500 sticker.

Unlike the RX 330, we felt the MDX falls just short of being world-class.

He: So far, this has been a bumper year for luxury crossover vehicles, with many fine new entries, from the Lincoln Aviator to the Infiniti FX. Even with all those new faces, however, Honda's premium Acura division didn't bother to fully redesign the MDX, although it spent a lot of money and energy on some pretty significant upgrades. One of the more noteworthy improvements is to the powertrain. The single-overhead-cam 3.5-liter V-6 now makes 260 horsepower -- up 20 from last year -- and is mated to a new five-speed automatic transmission. That same engine, by the way, is being sold to General Motors Corp., which will use it next year in the Saturn Vue, among other models.

She: I still can't get the image out of mind that the MDX is supposed to look like a rhinoceros.

He: Says who?

She: The designers. But I think it looks like a rhino crossed with a minivan. That's why I still like the Lexus better. It doesn't look as big and clunky. For some other strange, unscientific reason, every doctor I know seems to own an MDX. And they're all men.

He: OK, Nurse Lienert, let's examine the patient a little more closely. Where the Lexus seats only five in two rows, the Acura accommodates seven in three rows. And you can fold that third seat flat with the floor. Of course, it comes with a bigger engine and lots more power, with very little sacrifice in fuel economy. The MDX is also bigger inside than the RX 330, and it doesn't look quite so much like an overgrown station wagon. Not that it has all that much style. But I would say the Acura has simple, rough-hewn good looks. Think of it as the Daniel Boone of luxury crossovers.

She: To make it sound even more unappealing to women. However, Acura was right on in terms of adding goodies for families. In addition to the rear-seat entertainment system, the navigation system has been improved and now includes a voice-recognition feature and a tailgate-mounted rear-view camera. When the MDX is in reverse, the camera transmits a picture onto the navigation system's screen. I found this to be a really great feature, considering we live on a cul-de-sac surrounded by families with kids who are constantly leaving everything from bikes to athletic equipment on the sidewalk.

He: Imagine, a rhino with a rear-view camera. As high-tech as the MDX is, w e noticed some minor flaws -- like a bit of carpeting pulling loose from the center console and a general reluctance by the engine to start on some mornings. Those faults don't detract terribly from a vehicle that otherwise is virtually state of the art in the segment. I just wish it were a bit sexier to look at and a little more entertaining to drive.

She: My problem with the driving experience is that the MDX felt harsh on rough pavement, and there was too much wind and tire noise at higher speeds. I also thought the rear visibility is compromised by the thick rear pillars. Having said that, the MDX does have some great standard safety features, including a new stability control system, as well as anti-lock brakes and side air bags for front-seat occupants. I'm a little surprised that Acura doesn't provide side bags or curtains for the second and third rows. Our test vehicle was equipped with the optional touring package, which includes new rain-sensing wipers that automatically turn on when the first drops hit the windshield.

He: To me, part of the beauty of the MDX is its ease of use. With an on-demand four-wheel-drive system, you literally just jump in the vehicle and go. The Acura has modest off-road capability and decent towing capacity, but I expect most buyers will spend most of their time on the highway. Here, the MDX excels. Handling is responsive, and I really don't think the ride is that rough, as SUVs go. It's certainly better than you get in the truck-based sport-utes in this class.

She: I don't know if you can call any $42,000 vehicle a great value. With the MDX, you get a lot for the money. But if it were my money, I'd still be going for the Lexus

2003 Acura MDX

Type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, seven-passenger luxury sport utility vehicle

Price (Includes $500 destination charge.): Base, $35,700; as tested, $42,500

Engine: 3.5-liter V-6; 260-hp; 250 lb-ft torque

EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway

Key competitors: BMW X5, GMC Envoy, Infiniti FX35, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Lexus RX 330, Lincoln Aviator, Mercedes-Benz ML 320, Mitsubishi Montero, Nissan Murano, Toyota Highlander, Volvo XC90

12-month insurance cost (Estimated by AAA Michigan. Rates may vary depending on coverage and driving record.): $1,503

Where built: Alliston, Ontario

Paul's vehicle rating: 4 (Above Average)

Likes: Improvement in horsepower over previous model. Superior convenience features, including navigation system with rearview camera, and DVD entertainment system. Smooth new five-speed automatic transmission. One of the best riding crossovers in the segment. Corrects shortcomings on competitors such as RX 330.

Dislikes: Our test vehicle didn't like to start. Middle-of-the-road fuel economy. Not as sexy as an Infiniti FX. Carpet coming loose from center console.

Anita's vehicle rating: 4 (Above Average)

Likes: Pleasant, roomy cabin for seven passengers. Standard all-wheel drive. Improved handling. Flat-folding third-row seat. Four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty with roadside assistance and concierge service. Great value in an expensive segment.

Dislikes: Styling is bland and minivan-ish. Visibility compromised by thick rear pillars. Wind and tire noise at highway speeds. Ride is a little rough. No side air bags or curtains for rear passengers.


    Expert Reviews 2 of 4

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