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by Grant Yoxon
Last year, Acura gave its MDX midsize luxury sport-utility some significant mechanical improvements.
Among them: a new five-speed automatic transmission, vehicle stability assist, an electronic throttle, an improved all-wheel-drive system and substantial chassis reinforcement.
Horsepower from the 3.5 V-6 engine rose to 260 from 240, and torque to 250 pound-feet from 242, thanks to new cylinder heads, a shorter intake manifold and a retooled exhaust system that increased flow by 40 per cent.
Apparently, though, that 2003 MDX was an unfinished project.
Now Acura has turned its attention to features and appearance. For 2004, the MDX gets a styling update, some interior revisions, additional safety features and an optional “tech package” offering a navigation system, DVD entertainment system and a rearview backup camera.
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And with a new dual exhaust system, power is up again, to 265 h.p. and 253 lb.-ft. of torque.
The exhaust outlets accent new taillights and the revised rear bumper and trim. New headlights, grille, bumper, foglights and skidplate and a new 17-inch wheel design complete the styling changes. Overall, they give the MDX a cleaner, less cluttered look, particularly up front.
Interior enhancements include blue ambient lighting in a new overhead console as well as in the footwells. The leather upholstery on the front and second-row seats has been changed (the third-row seat has “leather-look” upholstery). A power lumbar adjuster has been added to the driver’s seat, which has a two-position memory control.
Both driver and passenger seat are eight-way power-adjustable (up and down, front and back, tilt and seatback recline).
Oddly, the driver’s seat does not retain its setting once the vehicle is turned off and the doors are locked. It reverts to a low, rear-most position. This eases access, but requires the driver to readjust the seat with either the memory buttons or the seat controls before setting off again.
Still, the seats proved to be a high point on several long journeys, providing good support for both the back and legs and easily adjusting to a comfortable driving position.
The MDX has plenty of room for both passengers and cargo. It’s wider than many of its competitors, 100 mm (4.3 inches) broader than the Lexus RX 330, for example, and 83 mm (3.2 in.) wider than BMW’s X5. My three teenagers never complained about sitting in the MDX’s second-row seat.
Cargo space behind that seat is an enormous 1,405 litres (49.6 cu. ft.), when the third-row seat is folded. Or, with both rows of seats folded to form a level platform, there’s 2,308 litres (81.4 cu. ft.) of space.
Even with the third-row seat in place, there’s still 419 litres (14.8 cu. ft.), more than the trunk space in some midsize passenger cars.
The third-row seat is actually two buckets that fold independently, giving you some flexibility, but the seats themselves are designed for occasional use and certainly for no one bigger than a child.
Riding in an MDX means travelling in comfort. Along with the usual powered features are an audio system with cassette, six-disc CD changer, eight speakers and steering wheel-mounted controls; automatic climate control with front and rear controls; trip computer with compass and outside temperature readout; speed- and rain-sensing windshield wipers; and a sunroof.
While the $5,300 tech package increases the content considerably, the MDX has not kept up with some competitors. For example, its CD changer is mounted under the driver’s seat, not in the dash. The steering wheel tilts but doesn’t telescope. Only the driver’s window is auto-up and -down. The backup camera is a useful aid, but no other backup or parking warning system is available.
The rear DVD system, however, is a blessing on long trips. The inclusion of two sets of wireless headphones means front and rear passengers can choose their own entertainment.
The navigation system provided accurate information about streets and points of interest in our community, but like many of these systems, learning how to use it properly requires some study of the manual. The system can be operated with voice commands in French and English.
One area where the MDX has kept pace is safety. For 2004, Acura has added a tire-pressure monitoring system and standard side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors to an already extensive list of standard passive safety features. The 2003 MDX received four out of five stars in front-impact testing by U.S. regulators. The 2004 model has not yet been tested for front impact, but did receive five stars in side-impact tests.
Active safety features — those that will help keep you out of trouble — include vehicle stability assist (VSA) with traction control, four-wheel antilock brakes and, of course, all-wheel drive.
If the MDX begins to go out of control, VSA automatically brakes individual wheels and reduces the throttle to correct directional stability. The system will engage only if the vehicle is in danger of spinning out.
Acura’s all-wheel-drive system, called Variable Torque Management 4-wheel drive (VTM-4), operates in front-drive for dry-pavement cruising conditions and engages AWD only when there’s a need to improve mobility, stability or manoeuvrability. This system anticipates the need for all-wheel-drive and engages the rear wheels before slippage begins.
There is no low range — the MDX is designed for medium-duty off-road use — but it can be locked in four-wheel-drive to help it get out of a slippery hole or, more commonly, a snowbank.
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We had ideal conditions — lots of wet snow — to test the AWD system and found the MDX to be very stable, even when the driver had a heavier foot than conditions warranted. The torque transfer was immediate and noticeable as the MDX fought for traction, but rarely did we notice the traction control system come into play. Our tester’s Michelin Pilot Alpin winter tires certainly helped as well. Stopping was just as solid, the ABS bringing us to a halt without any side-slip.
With its wide stance, fully independent multilink suspension and 17-inch tires, the MDX feels stable, despite its height. The body is tight, and you sense the MDX is strongly built.
The V-6 has plenty of punch for accelerating onto the freeway, overtaking slower traffic or simply moving the 2,046-kg MDX briskly from a stoplight. It’s also quiet, purring at 1,700 r.p.m. at 100 km/h. That, and little noise from wind or tires, make the cabin a tranquil place.
With the addition of a $1,149 towing package, the MDX can tow trailers up to 1,588 kg (3,500 lb.) or boats up to 2,041 kg (4,500 lb.).
Fuel consumption is good for a vehicle this heavy, but the MDX is no miser. It requires premium fuel.
Despite its relative youth, the MDX could have quickly fallen from contention in the midsize luxury SUV class. Competition is severe, with new or revised models coming from Cadillac Lincoln, Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Lexus, Infiniti and Volkswagen since the MDX’s introduction in 2001.
But Acura has managed to keep the MDX current, first with a thorough mechanical upgrade in 2003 and now with freshened styling, improved safety and new, optional comfort and convenience features.
Technical Data: 2004 Acura MDX
|Options||$5,300 (Tech package – Acura satellite navigation system, DVD rear entertainment system, rear-view back-up camera)|
|Price as tested||$56,650|
|Type||4-door, 7-passenger mid-size sport utility|
|Layout||transverse front engine/four-wheel drive|
|Engine||3.5 litre V6, SOHC 24-valves VTEC|
|Horsepower||265 @ 5,800 rpm|
|Torque||253 lbs-ft @ 3,500 – 5,000 rpm|
|Transmission||5-Speed Automatic w/ Electronically Controlled Lock-Up Torque Converter and Grade Logic Programming|
|Curb weight||2,046 kg (4,510.7 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2,700 mm (106.3 in.)|
|Length||4,789 mm (188.5 in.)|
|Width||1,955 mm (77.0 in.)|
|Height||1,811 mm (71.3 in.)|
|Min. ground clearance||181 mm (7.1 in.)|
|Cargo capacity||2nd & 3rd rows folded: 2,308 litres (81.4 cu. ft.)|
|3rd row folded: 1,404 litres (49.6 cu. ft|
|Behind 3rd row: 419 litres (14.8 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 14.1 litres/100 km (20.0 mpg)|
|Highway: 9.4 litres/100 km (30.1 mpg)|
|Fuel type||Premium unleaded required|
|Warranty||3 years/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 years/100,000 km|