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New Car Review : 2004 Acura MDX

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By Bruce Hidaka-Gordon Far East Bureau Chief

As the parents of two young, very hip and fashion conscious boys, aged 4 and 6, my wife Sugano and I are always looking out for their best interests, one of which, the "cool factor" tends to be very important to them (and to my wife and my self as well). So when the opportunity to review a new Acura MDX came about, I thought that we could test the SUV under “real life conditions” in the Colorado Rocky Mountains as well as get some extra cool parent points.

The Acura MDX did not disappoint. We picked up the car after a weary 24 hours of plane travel from Okinawa, Japan on our bi-annual "visit to America trip". When the kids (and my wife) saw the MDX all they could say was "cool car Dad", the younger one actually asked if this was MY new car. After explaining that we were going to test it out for readers of The Auto Channel they were exited to give their opinions at every opportunity. The model we reviewed had the full luxury package including, leather seats, heated front seats (not a favorite item of mine) and of course the kids favorite a DVD player.

The first test of the car was as simple as starting it. Once I turned the key I could not believe how quiet the engine was, with a lack of any vibration at all. This vehicle did not even seem to be running at all. Then I noticed that all of the dash lights were still on and the engine was not running, but when I actually started the MDX, it was almost as quiet running as not.

We loaded up the vehicle with enough luggage for a three state, three week, three climate vacation (translated by my wife to be "just a few things" and by me to be "90% of our worldly possessions") which all fit very nicely thank you in the cargo area with the rear bench seat down. Keeping in mind that this vehicle has the extra seats in the back we were happy to note that the extra bench folded completely down and did not leave any obstructions that prevented the heavy luggage from sliding in.

On our drive from Denver to Vail we were in stop and go traffic which finally opened up to beautiful fast moving lanes heading up to the mountains. The vehicle remained quite and the cruising RPM was so low that again the car felt as if the engine was off. Although the RPM was low just a little extra push on the accelerator and the power kicked in without hesitation. At speed (within the legal limit of course) the handling was smooth and unlike many other full sized SUV’s I did not notice any unwanted vibrations or noises.

As soon as we were on our way the boys opted to watch a DVD and not admire the beautiful mountain scenery…and thus started the saga of figuring out how to operate the Car Theater audio visual system. There were so many buttons and options that it was impossible for me to intuitively get it and for my wife (already exhausted from the flights) it became a challenge. After about 10 minutes we got the DVD to play in the back with the movie audio coming through the Bose speaker system which sounded as good as my home theater. As the movie played on, we starting going up into the mountains and I found myself using the rear view mirror more often to check on cars that were passing us. The DVD screen is placed directly in the center of the rear view and blocks the view so much that it became a real hassle. This is really the only complaint I had about this vehicle, so although it was bothersome and potentially dangerous it does not change my overall opinion. I would not recommend using the DVD in other than pristine driving conditions, especially in rain or snow when being aware of trailing cars is even more important.

We drove the Acura for a week, in Rain, Snow and Ice. The traction was superb and the heater and defrosters did their job well. The leather seats remained comfortable in the cold and if you like having your bottom artificially warmed the front seat the heaters were an added benefit.

The navigation system that comes with this vehicle was nothing short of amazing, completely intuitive and seemingly always correct. One of the nice features is that when evening falls and you turn on the lights the navigation screen automatically uses a darker background so that the interior of the vehicle remains at a safe light level and does not interfere with the outside vision.

Obviously this review is not about the technical details of this vehicle, but more a review of how it "feels". The Acura MDX feels great. It seems to be a cross between a minivan and an SUV, the body design is pleasing to the eye and the interior features and room make this more of a family vehicle than any other SUV I have recently seen.

Overall I recommend the Acura MDX for anyone who can afford it and is looking for a vehicle that maintains the "cool factor" of a shiny SUV with the added benefit of the extra room and rear seats that rival any minivan available today.

Acura MDX Press Releases:

September 3, 2003 -- Torrance, Calif. -- The 2004 Acura MDX luxury sport utility vehicle receives updated styling, new safety systems, additional horsepower and an assortment of new features. The new 2004 MDX sports redesigned front and rear fascias, redesigned alloy wheels, a new Side Curtain Airbag system that helps to protect occupants in all three rows, and interior upgrades including enhanced interior lighting and, on models with the available Touring Package, power-adjustable driver's lumbar support.

"The public knows a great thing when it sees it and the MDX has been one of the most sought after luxury SUVS on the market since it was introduced in 2001," said Dick Colliver, executive vice president, auto sales. "With the numerous changes we've made to the 2004 model, it should be hotter than ever."

The 2004 MDX features sportier styling designed to more accurately reflect the strength of its high performance powertrain. The signature Acura family grille, which now sports a sophisticated satin chrome finish, serves as the centerpiece for a new, more tapered front fascia. A redesigned headlight treatment features a leaner, more angular design and new projection-type headlights that enhance illumination while accenting the new styling. The front bumper has been redesigned with a new, more integrated chin spoiler that accents the sporty styling and moves air smoothly to the sides of the car for increased aerodynamics. The rear fascia has been updated as well with a new, more sophisticated taillight treatment, and dual exhaust tips. Two new exterior colors, Aspen Pearl White and Burnished Bronze Metallic join the MDX palette for 2004.

The 2004 MDX's 3.5 liter, 24-valve, all-aluminum, VTEC V-6 engine benefits from a new, dual exhaust system that boosts horsepower from 260 to 265 and torque from 250 lbs-ft to 253 lbs-ft. This exhaust system utilizes two close-coupled primary catalytic converters, a secondary underfloor catalytic converter, and larger diameter exhaust pipes. In addition to adding horsepower, the new exhaust system helps the MDX meet stringent ULEV-2 emissions standards. With estimated city/highway ratings of 17 mpg city/23 mpg highway, the MDX delivers better combined fuel economy than most of its luxury competitors.

The MDX features a compact 5-speed automatic transmission with components engineered to provide the durability needed for on-road, off-road and towing use. A wide-ratio design affords a first gear with extra pulling power to start heavy loads and a high top gear for quiet highway cruising. This 4-shaft gearbox utilizes a unique shaft layout that not only reduces size, but also trims gear noise, clutch drag and hydraulic friction.

The 2004 MDX employs a drive-by-wire throttle system that evolved from the NSX supercar. This innovative system eliminates the need for a mechanical connection between the accelerator pedal and the engine, and modulates the throttle during transmission shifts for improved smoothness. It also allows for throttle control to be seamlessly incorporated into the MDX's VSA logic and directs the vehicle's cruise control function.

The 2004 MDX utilizes a unique VTM-4 four-wheel drive system designed to enhance traction on low friction surfaces. Unlike conventional automatic 4WD systems, which react only to wheel slippage, VTM-4 proactively apportions torque from the front to the rear wheels before wheel slippage can occur. When cruising, the system automatically reverts to front-wheel drive for improved fuel economy.

In addition to ample power, the MDX delivers sport sedan-like handling and a smooth, compliant ride. It features a 4-wheel fully independent suspension, 4-wheel disc brakes with 4-channel ABS, dual piston calipers in the front, standard 17-inch alloy wheels and specially designed P235/65R-17 all-season tires to provide stability and responsiveness. Front and rear stabilizer bars, a wide track and a low center of gravity give the MDX predictable cornering response and help maximize cornering capabilities.

Handling is further enhanced through the application of a standard Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) system that works in concert with the VTM-4 and drive-by-wire throttle systems to provide enhanced control during acceleration, braking and cornering. This 4-channel system orchestrates the throttle and each of the vehicle's four disc brakes to seamlessly integrate traction control, Anti-lock braking, and stability enhancement for increased driver control during acceleration, braking and cornering.

The MDX's interior emphasizes the vehicle's versatile yet refined character with standard-setting levels of luxury and functionality. Three uniquely transformable rows of seats allow the MDX to comfortably seat up to seven passengers. A convenient walk-in feature provided at the right (curb) side of MDX's second-row seat slides the whole second seat forward with the touch of a lever. This feature has been improved for 2004 by extending forward travel 40 percent, making entry and egress to the third row even simpler. Second and third row seats split and fold flat into the floor providing 82 cubic feet of cargo room. Even with all three rows in use, the MDX still offers 14.8 cubic feet of cargo room behind the third row seats.

For 2004, a variety of enhancements have been made to the MDX interior including the addition of brushed metal-look trim on the instrument panel, ambient foot lights, and welcome illumination. A new, Side Curtain Airbag system has been applied to help reduce injury to occupants in all three rows of seats during a sufficient side-impact collision. It deploys from a module in the roof in the event of a sufficient side impact, providing an important and significant level of head protection in the window area. This system also includes a series of rollover sensors designed to trigger the system in the unlikely event of a rollover. Should the MDX begin to tip, the rollover sensors monitor the rate of roll and deploy the side curtain airbags accordingly.

The MDX also features dual-stage, dual-threshold driver's and front passenger front airbags. The driver's airbag adjusts deployment force to one of two rates according to input from sensors which monitor the severity of the impact, seatbelt usage and the position of the driver's seat. The front passenger airbag's deployment takes into account the severity of the crash, seatbelt usage and the passenger's weight. The MDX also offers driver's and front passenger's side airbags with occupant position sensors in the passenger's seat; and the LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) system on the second row of outboard seats to simplify child seat attachment.

New for 2004 is a direct Tire Pressure Monitoring System that uses sensors in the valve stem of each wheel to alert the driver when tire pressure drops significantly below the recommended level. If the system detects that tire pressure is low (32 psi is recommended), the low pressure indicator notifies the driver, while a schematic of the vehicle located in the center meter housing the speedometer indicates which tire or tires require air.

While the MDX is already one of the most comprehensively equipped vehicles in its class, an optional Touring Package adds a variety of premium features. These features include a roof rack; exclusive alloy wheels (redesigned for 2004); an upgraded, eight speaker Acura/Bose Music System with 6-disc, in-dash CD changer; two-position memory for the driver's eat and sideview mirrors, and a front passenger's 8-way power seat. For 2004, the 8-way power-adjustable driver's seat now features power-adjustable lumbar support. The Acura/Bose Music System receives a more powerful 225 amplifier and revised speaker tuning for superior sound reproduction.

The Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition is available as a factory-installed option on models equipped with the Touring Package. This state-of-the-art

navigation system includes a menu of 217 voice commands, a comprehensive destination guide with over 7 million points of interest, turn-by-turn guidance and coverage of virtually every road in the continental United States. For convenience and safety, the system also includes a rearview camera incorporated into the tailgate, which transmits a rearview picture to the navigation screen when the MDX is in reverse gear.

The Acura DVD Entertainment System is also available as an option on Touring Package-equipped models. The 7-inch LCD screen is mounted to the headliner, just behind the front seats for use by rear seat passengers. The DVD player mounts below the standard audio system and plays over the MDX's sound system or through a pair of cordless infrared headphones. The system can be controlled either by using the MDX's audio controls or from the rear seats through the use of a remote control or the screen's control panel.

Like all Acura vehicles, the MDX comes equipped with a comprehensive 4-year/50,000-mile limited warranty that includes Acura's customer service package.

September 22, 2003 -- Torrance, Calif. -- The 2004 MDX luxury SUV, which goes on sale today at Acura dealers nationwide, will be priced at $36,400. The MDX with Touring Package, which adds a roof rack, premium Acura/Bose sound system and other additional features, will be priced at $39,000. The MDX with Touring Package comes with two available factory options: the Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition' priced at $2,200 and the Acura DVD Entertainment System priced at $1,500. Despite numerous improvements, 2004 MDX prices reflect a modest 1.8 percent increase, or $700, compared to last year based on a sales-weighted average.

The 2004 MDX delivers V-8-like performance with a new dual exhaust system adding five extra horsepower for a total output of 265 horsepower. Styling enhancements include a redesigned front fascia with a more integrated chin spoiler, the addition of satin chrome finish trim front and rear, and a sportier taillight assembly. Two new exterior colors, Aspen Pearl White and Burnished Bronze Metallic join the MDX palette for 2004. Already equipped with several cutting-edge safety systems, the 2004 MDX receives a new Side Curtain Airbag system that helps to protect occupants in all three rows, and a direct Tire Pressure Monitoring System that alerts the driver when tire pressure drops significantly below recommended levels.

Enhancements for 2004 Acura MDX

  • Output increased to 265 horsepower at 5800 rpm
  • Torque increased to 253 lb-ft between 3500 and 5000 rpm
  • Side curtain airbags with rollover sensors
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System
  • Redesigned front fascia
  • Integrated chin spoiler
  • Dual exhaust
  • Satin chrome finish front and rear trim
  • Redesigned taillights
  • New projector-type headlights
  • Acoustic windshield glass
  • New colors: Aspen Pearl White, Burnished Bronze Metallic
  • New wheel design (Touring Package)
  • Power lumbar support on driver's seat (Touring Package)
  • Brushed metal-look instrument panel trim
  • Enhanced Acura/Bose" Music System (Touring Package)
  • Ambient foot lights and welcome illumination
  • Enhanced functionality of second row seat (40 percent slide increase)
  • Enhanced leather seat material and inserts