2001 Acura MDX
2001 Acura MDX. Click image to enlarge

Even though the Acura MDX was named North American Truck of the Year for 2001, this sport-utility vehicle has continued to be a work in progress. Not to fix things, per se, but to keep up with all the action in the luxury ute segment.

So for 2004, Acura has upgraded the MDX’s styling, added more power and features and added a new “Tech Package.” Power for the 2004 model is up five horsepower to 265 for the 3.5-litre V6 thanks to a new dual exhaust system. The 2004 MDX also has a new front end and new wheels.

Also, a $5,300 “Tech Package” (on top of the $50,300 sticker) includes a navigation system with voice recognition, a rear DVD entertainment system and a rear-view back-up camera. Interior upgrades? Among them are a better sound system and more insulation has cut down on noise. For safety, Acura has added standard side curtain airbags and a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).

All this is interesting because only last year for 2003 Acura did some tweaking to address the concerns of some critics who were not overwhelmed by the original 2001 model. Those critics argued that the original 240 horsepower V6 wasn’t quite potent enough, the ride wasn’t quite smooth enough, the handling not quite as predictable and sure-footed as it could have been. The critics were also quick to mention that the MDX was and remains a sport-utility derivative of the Honda Odyssey minivan.

Yes, Acura did some very smart tweaking to the 2003 MDX. The 3.5-litre, 24-valve V6 was boosted to 260 horsepower, up from 240 hp. Acura’s engineers increased air flow, thus boosting horsepower, by playing with the catalytic converters and exhaust pipes. Not only that, the 3.5 was teamed with an new five-speed automatic. This tranny performs a little more smoothly and quietly than the tranny in the 2001 and 2002 models. A new “drive-by-wire” system for 2003 improved throttle responses.

Then there were the suspension upgrades for 2003. Acura engineers retuned spring rates and beefed up stabilizer bars front and rear. The result: a softened ride without being overly cushy. And handling was improved. The 2003 MDX is a more predictable and precise vehicle compared to the 2001 and 2002 vehicles.

Acura also added a new standard stability control system for 2003. It helps newer versions of the MDX with road manners, especially on bad roads. And the engineers also recalibrated the full-time four-wheel-drive system for 2003. Those changes were designed to distribute more torque to the rear wheels for better footing in snow and on slippery surfaces.

When it arrived in 2001, the seven-passenger MDX was late to the sport-utility game. Key rivals such as the Lexus RX300, Mercedes-Benz ML320 and BMW X5 had already been busy carving out nice little niches of an increasingly crowded collection of activity vehicles.

Nonetheless, Acura put enough thought into the MDX to make it a success. Quality has proven to be good and ownership costs remain low as a result. But the improvements of the last two years should mean a few more nearly-new MDX models will come on the market.

Those older trucks deliver good value, even though newer versions of the MDX are noticeably better in many ways.

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