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Acura MDX (2001)

SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide

by John Heilig


ENGINE:  3.5-liter SOHC VTEC V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE: 240 hp @ 5,300 rpm/245 lb-ft @ 3,000-5,000 rpm
TRANSMISSION:  Five-speed automatic
WHEELBASE: 106.3 in.
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT: 188.5 x 76.3 x 68.7 in.
STICKER PRICE:  $43,000 (est.)

And another one joins the fray.

Acura has introduced the MDX, a luxury sport utility vehicle that has been designed form the ground up by Acura to be class-leading in performance and utility.

The MDX competes head-to-head with the Lexus RX300 in all categories. The power and performance are similar, with each vehicle reflecting the respective manufacturer's spin on a luxury vehicle. Like the RX300, the MDX probably wouldn't be totally at home riding the Rubicon in California, but it'll handle almost anything a normal SUV can handle. The key is that it does it in complete comfort.

The first sensation you gain when you shift into "D" and take off is the smoothness of the ride. Here is an SUV with ride quality to match the best of them. So I was surprised when I discovered that the suspension isn't some exotic combination of intricate geometries. The front suspension is independent, incorporating struts and an "L" arm. The rear is also independent, using multi-links and a trailing arm. There are gas-pressurized shocks at all four corners.

This suspension package offers a smooth ride on paved roads, good handling on winding roads, and a reasonable ride on washboard dirt roads. We took the MDX on a nice straight washboard dirt road near our daughter's house in Virginia. In some vehicles, it's hard to hold onto the steering wheel on these roads. In the MDX, not only were we able to hold onto the wheel, the ride quality was good. There was a lot of feedback because of the road surface, but we were able to maintain control and comfort.

Under the hood is a 3.5-liter single overhead cam V-6 engine rated at a comfortable 240 horsepower. It also has a wide torque band, so you can stay in fifth and still pull along with ease. There's no need for the transmission to go searching for a gear that will give a higher rpm and more horsepower because there's adequate torque to do the job, even at relatively low rpms. Connecting the engine to the 17-inch wheels is a five-speed automatic transmission with a "manual transmission" shifter. It took some getting used to, not having a "T" lever to work the gears.

Acura has filled the MDX with some interesting features. One is a third row of seats. This two-passenger 50-50 split rear seat pushes the MDX into a seven-passenger vehicle. The front two rows of seats are leather-trimmed, with the third row upholstered in leather-like vinyl. Quite naturally, the third row seats fold flat to give increased carrying capacity, and this was the use we gave the MDX most of the time. You can also fold the second-row seats, further increasing carrying capacity. That's for people who don't have a lot of friends but have a lot of cargo to carry. Granted, legroom in the back seats isn't great, but they'll do for children, or for adults on shorter trips. Maximum cargo capacity is 81.5 cubic feet, 49.6 cubic feet with the third row seats down and 14.6 cubic feet with all seats up.

On long trips, I found it difficult to get maximum comfort from the driver's seat. I worked up a back ache that was relieved by the heated feature of the front seat, but I would rather not have had the ache.

There's a huge screen in the middle of the dash that offers a melange of information. You can learn your range left in the fuel tank, your mileage (21.1 mpg), the outside temperature, the direction of air flow, your instantaneous mileage (useless) and a few other things. You can't use it for navigation, despite the fact that the screen is in an ideal location for both drive and passenger to read and get information. I know Acura has an excellent GPS navigation system in its luxury sedans, it seemed a shame not to include it in the MDX. The screen is also quite bright, so on a dark night there's a great deal of light inside the vehicle. I had trouble finding the switch to either dim the light or shut it off.

All in all, though, the MDX is a great SUV. It's comfortable, it has utility, and it's smooth. Acura didn't provide us with a price sticker, so we're guessing that it'll go for somewhere between $40,000 and $45,000, thus the estimate in the specifications.