Acura raises the bar among luxury sport-utes
The Acura MDX is the newest competitor in the mid-size luxury sport-utility vehicle class – a segment that includes the Mercedes-Benz ML320, BMW X5 3.0i, Lexus RX300, Infiniti QX4, Land Rover Discovery, and possibly the Toyota 4Runner Limited.
Built in Alliston, Ontario, the MDX shares some components with the Honda Odyssey minivan (it’s built on the same assembly line) including its 3.5 litre V6 engine, but the MDX is, for the most part, a completely new vehicle.
Like the Acura 3.2TL sedan, the MDX offers above-average horsepower, interior room and standard equipment in its class. Its base price of $47,000 includes most luxury features, including leather seats, seven passenger seating, front and rear climate control, Bose audio system with 6-disc in-dash CD changer, and five-speed automatic transmission.
In its first year, the MDX has already impressed Canadian automotive journalists. It was recently name ‘Best New Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle’ by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada.
Bigger and more powerful than competitors
Though it doesn’t look it, the MDX is bigger than all of its competitors. For example, it is 202 mm (7.9 in.) longer and 122 mm (4.8 in.) wider than a Mercedes-Benz ML320. Its extra width makes the cabin seem more spacious, and its extra length makes it possible to add a standard third row seat, giving it a seating capacity of seven passengers (five adults and two children). The ML320 and Discovery also offer an optional third row seat, but they don’t offer quite as much rear seat legroom and cargo room.
The MDX’s standard engine is the most powerful V6 in its class: a 240 horsepower 3.5 litre SOHC V6 engine with VTEC (variable valve timing). The 3.5 litre engine meets ULEV (ultra low emission vehicle) standards, and is more fuel-efficient than many of its less powerful competitors (except the Lexus RX300) – fuel consumption in the city is 13.9 l/100 km (20 mpg) and 9.4 l/100 km (30 mpg) on the highway.
A 5-speed automatic transmission with Grade Logic to prevent ‘gear hunting’ is standard equipment, but this transmission doesn’t offer the manual shifting mode that is available on the 3.2TL’s 5-speed automatic transmission.
Automatic four-wheel-drive system
The MDX’s four-wheel-drive system, which Acura calls Variable Torque Management, is different to the full-time four-wheel-drive systems used by some of its competitors. The VTM system runs in front-wheel-drive only when the road is dry, but when the front wheels begin to slip, a rear-mounted electronically-controlled clutch automatically transfers up to 55 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels. This 4WD system can be locked manually using a button on the dash, however it automatically shuts off above 29 km/h. The MDX doesn’t offer a Low Range gear for extreme off-roading situations.
The MDX’s interior is fairly conservative, much like other Acuras – the fit and finish is impeccable and the dashboard and wood trim materials look extremely durable. A large video screen in the centre of dash supplies digital readouts for a variety of functions: the clock, outside temperature gauge, instant fuel economy, and some climate control functions, such as ventilation, fan speed, and air conditioning. Curiously however, some climate control functions are located separately just above the screen, including temperature control, and rear heating and air conditioning controls. I found this rather confusing.
A Bose AM/FM/cassette stereo with in-dash Bose 6-disc CD changer offers clear, precise sound from the eight speakers – in-dash CD players are more convenient than separately located CD changers because they’re easier to reach and the CD changer doesn’t take up valuable space in the glovebox or cargo area.
Leather upholstery is standard on the first and second row seats, while a look-a-like artificial leather material is used on the third row seat. The front seats have 8-way power adjustment and include seat heaters with High and Low temperature settings – I had this car during the Winter, and the seat heaters were a welcome feature on cold mornings. The front seats also have 2 position Memory settings.
Between the front seats is a centre armrest/storage bin with two levels – a shallow upper level for notepads, pens and the like, and a deeper lower level which can hold CD’s, tapes, cameras, cell phones and so forth. A 12 volt outlet inside the storage bin can be used for charging the cell phone.
Second row passengers have plenty of legroom and generous headroom, and they have their own fan, ventilation and temperature controls. A centre fold-down armrest has two built-in cupholders. For storage, there are map pockets on back of both front seats, and two door pockets with integrated bottle holders. The rear side windows will roll down 90% of the way.
The MDX’s two small third row seats are meant for children. Legroom is just adequate though headroom is generous. To make it easier to reach the third row seat, the second row seat on the passenger side automatically slides forward when the seatback is folded, however the gap between the seat and the door jamb is quite narrow, so passengers have to squeeze through. Third row passengers can make use of two cupholders and covered storage bins on each wall.
Both second and third row seats have split folding seatbacks, which when folded down, create a long carpeted load floor. Many variations are possible, such as folding down one side of each row in order to carry long items such as hockey sticks, skis or snowboards. Cargo space behind the third row seats amounts to 419 litres (14.8 cu. ft.), or about the same as a mid-sized sedan. With the third row seatbacks folded space more than triples, and with the second row seats folded, maximum cargo area is 2308 litres (81.5 cu. ft.).
The rear hatchback door is easy to lift, but doesn’t have a separate liftglass. The rear window glass offers a defroster, wiper and washer.
Safety features include two dual-stage front airbags, and side airbags in the front seats – a sensor in the front passenger seat will prevent the side airbag from deploying in a collision if the passenger is leaning into the path of the airbag. The MDX also has seven height-adjustable head restraints, and seven three-point seatbelts. The front seatbelts have pretensioners and load limiters.
Though it has 203 mm (8.0 in.) of ground clearance, step-in height is not excessive, and the driver has a good view of the road ahead. The front seats are comfortable and wide, and the driver has an easy reach to the floor-mounted shift lever. The instruments and controls are well laid out with the exception of the heater controls which are split between the screen and dashboard.
On the road, the MDX drives more nimbly than you’d expect a fairly large and heavy SUV to do. It leans slightly when cornering, but is generally quite composed. The body feels solid, and the ride is comfortable though a bit firm. Its surprisingly quiet – there’s little road noise, engine noise, or wind noise. Under acceleration, the engine is audible, but not very loud. Outward visibility is excellent – even the rear head restraints don’t restrict visibility.
It accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 8.7 seconds, better than average in this class. Panic braking distance from 100 km/h to 0 is 43.3 metres (142 feet), about average in its class. (Figures supplied by the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada). At a steady 100 km/h, the MDX’s engine is revving at less than 2000 rpm, one of the reasons it’s so quiet and gets better-than-average fuel economy. Too bad it uses expensive Premium fuel though.
The MDX’s standard four wheel disc brakes with anti-lock brakes include electronic brake force distribution which is designed to prevent wheel lockup by automatically varying brake-line pressure.
With an optional towing package, the MDX’s trailer tow rating is 1575 kg (3500 lb.), but Acura says it will tow boats up to 2025 kg (4500 lb.) because their aerodynamic drag is lower.
I had a chance to drive the MDX in the snow, and was pleasantly surprised with the seamless operation of the VTM four-wheel-drive system – there is no jerkiness as it transfers torque to the rear wheels. It offered superb traction in snowy and icy conditions. I was also impressed at its P235/65R-17 inch Michelin Frost Terrain snow tires which provided excellent traction and grip.
To get out of a snowbank, the driver can manually engage the 45/55 front/rear torque split 4WD system by pressing a button on the dash. This is also useful in low speed off-road conditions where the ground is loose of slippery, or very steep. Acura claims the MDX will climb a 28 degree dirt slope from a dead stop.
However, Acura readily admits that the MDX is not designed to be a serious off-road machine. “This would impose unreasonable compromises..such as added weight, awkward entry and egress, poor fuel economy, and reduced dry-pavement performance,” says Acura’s press release. Acura describes the MDX as a ‘medium-duty’ SUV used by ‘casual off-roaders’.
I would add that the MDX is capable of handling any off-road situation that a typical weekend camper, boater, or outdoors person is likely to find.
Price and features
For a manufacturers suggested retail price of $47,000, the MDX includes all of the above-mentioned features including the 240 horsepower 3.5 litre V6 engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, automatic four-wheel-drive, four wheel disc brakes with ABS, variable assist power steering, roof rack, heated power mirrors, and P235/65R-17 inch tires with alloy wheels.
Standard interior features include seven passenger seating with split second and third row seatbacks, leather upholstery, 8-way power driver and passenger seats with seat heaters, wood trim, dual front/rear climate control, Bose 8 speaker audio system with 6 disc in-dash CD changer, steering wheel mounted audio and cruise controls, tilt wheel, power moonroof with sunshade, three 12 volt power points, eight cupholders and two bottleholders.
I think many buyers will be impressed with the high level of standard equipment offered by the MDX for its base price of $47,000. It offers class-leading interior room, horsepower and standard seven passenger seating. Its one drawback may be its styling – to my eyes, the front bumper seems rather high, and it is otherwise rather uninspiring. But then, I don’t think the 3.2TL is very exciting either, and it’s selling like hotcakes.
|2001 Acura MDX|
|Type||4-door, 7 passenger mid-size sport utility|
|Layout||transverse front engine/full-time 4WD|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves, VTEC|
|Horsepower||240 @ 5300 rpm|
|Torque||245 ft-lb @ 3000 – 5000 rpm|
|Curb weight||1992 kg (4387 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||2700 mm (106.3 in.)|
|Length||4789 mm (188.5 in.)|
|Width||1955 mm (78.2 in.)|
|Height||1811 mm (72.4 in.)|
|Max towing||2025 kg (4500 lb.)|
|Fuel consumption||13.8 l/100 km (20 mpg)|
|10.2 l/100 km (28 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain & major components warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|