2001 Acura MDX

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2001 Acura MDX

By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Rating: 9
Pros:
  • Well equipped, even in base model
  • Car-like ride—for an SUV
  • Less-than-brutish looks
Cons:
  • Not a heavy-duty SUV
  • Navigation system's "bread crumbs" can be hard to detect
  • Must wait for Honda version to get cloth seats, less luxury

The MDX is the first sport-utility vehicle developed in-house by Acura, and it comes to market with a lot going for it—a lot of standard equipment, a lot of seats, a lot of power. Though conservatively styled in an Acura sort of way, it's bound to attract a lot of buyers.

Attention, luxury-sport-utility buyers! Acura returns to the segment in 2001, with its very first in-house-developed SUV. And it looks like a winner.

The 2001 Acura MDX packs more standard equipment and more standard seats than do major competitors such as the Lexus RX 300 and Mercedes-Benz M-Class. And the 7-passenger MDX does it at a price that's more than just palatable, making it extremely competitive—at least if you're shopping in the luxury SUV segment.

That's not all. This V6-powered Acura SUV comes with more standard horsepower—240—and more torque—245 lb-ft—than the major V6 competition has. It's even more than the 225 horses and 214 lb-ft of torque found in the base BMW X5 with 3.0-liter V6.

Yet, the MDX tries to be true to the heritage of Acura's parent company, Honda, by being relatively efficient with fuel and stingy with emissions. So the MDX has a combined fuel economy rating of 20 mpg—equal to the rating of the RX 300 and better than those of the Mercedes ML320 and BMW X5 3.0i.

In addition, the 2001 MDX is designed to meet Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (ULEV) standards, even in California.

Pleasant ride
The best way for me to describe the ride and handling of this new sport utility is to say it's not as softly sprung as the RX 300 and it's not as stiff and taut as the X5. It's sort of in the middle, which likely will make it pleasing to a wide spectrum of buyers.

With the big, 17-inch tires pushed out to the corners, the MDX has an amazing track for a family-size SUV. The 66.3 inches of front track and 66.5 inches of rear track actually are larger than that of the Chevrolet Tahoe, which is a bigger vehicle.

Frank Paluch, principal engineer for the MDX and project leader, said the track contributes to the stability and handling of the vehicle. In fact, he said, the MDX was designed to be stable without the need for a vehicle stability control system.

Now, this doesn't mean this vehicle wouldn't ever roll over. Any vehicle can be pushed beyond its limits, so buyers must continue to be aware that like all SUVs, the MDX does have a higher center of gravity than does a typical car and must be driven with that in mind. The MDX has a minimum ground clearance of 8.0 inches.

Still, on road and off, the MDX maneuvers in a pleasant manner with a nimble feel. I wasn't struggling with the steering wheel to get this midsize SUV around obstacles. The turning circle of 37.8 feet is commendable; it's even smaller than that of the RX 300.

But in my first drive of the MDX, I did whack the passenger-side outside mirror against a pole. I just wasn't quite aware of how wide this new SUV is. The MDX measures 76.3 in width, which is 2.6 inches wider than the X5, 4.1 inches wider than the ML320 and 4.8 inches wider than the RX 300.

Spirited power
The 3.5-liter DOHC V6 with Honda's Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) performs smoothly. Like the ML320 and X5, the MDX comes with a 5-speed automatic transmission. The RX 300 continues with a 4-speed automatic.

On road and off, the MDX powertrain seemed to give this SUV a sense of spirit. The MDX powered forward without hesitation. It felt light and quick off the line, not at all sluggish.

Note that the MDX has what Acura calls a "sensible" curb weight of around 4,300 pounds. This is some 200 pounds lighter than the ML320 and X5.

No flamboyant, brutish looks
Outside, the MDX looks conservative, for an SUV. There are no huge chunks of body cladding, no exaggerated fender flares or wheel arches. It's typical Acura styling, no doubt about it. It's a bit more mainstream than I might prefer, but certainly it's not going to bring gawks from onlookers.

Impressively, gaps between body panels on the outside of the MDX are exceptionally small for this class of vehicle.

At the bottom of the front bumper, you can see a bumper override. It's a special piece of metal below the fog lights that helps prevent this SUV from riding over lower-riding cars during a frontal collision. There is no such device for the rear end, though.

Interior is airy, upscale
Inside the MDX, the look is upscale, yet restrained. The quirky pods and mixed shapes that the RX 300 has aren't here, thank goodness. But the wood trim is fake.

A display screen sits in the center of the dashboard to transmit information to the driver about interior temperature, trip mileage and direction the vehicle is headed. This display also conveys navigation information if the MDX is outfitted with the optional nav system.

Built on the platform of the Honda Odyssey, the MDX is a bit larger inside and out than the RX 300 and M-Class. The overall feel inside, with standard moonroof, is airy, as even side glass windows are decent-sized.

That MDX's third-row seats, which are closest to cargo in back and thus come with easy-clean vinyl seat covering rather than the leather that's on all the other MDX seats, can accommodate more than just the kids, at least for a while. At 5 foot 4, I sat back there with enough comfort on a long highway drive that I fell asleep.

Maybe it was due to the quiet interior. In fact, it's quiet enough that I could hold a conversation easily with the driver, even if I was seated back in the MDX's third row of seats.

But I noticed, in back-to-back drives of vehicles with and without roof racks, that the MDX with roof rack has more wind noise.

The two separate seats in the third row have six recline positions. The second-row seats have seven. But it's awkward to get at the levers that control those positions when you're in the vehicle, easier when you're standing outside.

And the position of the dead pedal for the driver's left foot wasn't as comfortable as I would have liked.

The MDX's 82 cubic feet of cargo space—available with both rows of back seats folded flat—can accommodate 4-foot-wide sheets of plywood or more than a dozen big bags of mulch or a boxed, 32-inch television set.

Just watch that as you load and unload items in back, that you don't stand in front of the MDX tailpipe, which releases very hot exhaust gases from under the back bumper.

Front- to 4-wheel drive
In most situations, only the front wheels power the MDX. This mode helps contribute to the 20 mpg fuel economy rating.

Drivers do nothing to activate the all-wheel-drive system, which Acura has coined Variable Torque Management-4WD. It automatically shifts power from the normal driving wheels in the front to the rear wheels under a variety of circumstances. One instance is when a driver is accelerating hard from a standstill. By moving some power to the rear wheels, the vehicle can get off the dime in a steady manner, without torque steer tugging at the front wheels and affecting driver control of the vehicle.

Power also shifts if wheel slip is detected in the MDX. And there's a button on the dashboard to lock the rear differential clutch plates when maximum rear torque is needed at low speeds. The maximum transfer of total torque that can transfer to the rear is 52 percent, officials said.

Towing power, but not ready for Rubicon trail
But there is no extra-low gear. Acura officials explained that rather than build a weighty, pricey, heavy-duty SUV, they sought to build a medium-duty SUV that would suit most buyers' everyday driving needs.

But cognizant of the fact that many luxury SUV owners tow boats and trailers on weekends and on vacations, Acura said the MDX is designed to tow up to 4,500-pound boats and 3,500 trailers. The different weight ratings come from the fact that engineers factored in aerodynamics of the tow vehicles.

"We tested vehicles with 4,500-pound boats and 4,500-pound trailers," Paluch said. "We found the aerodynamics of a 4,500-pound, thick-sided trailer does not allow us to tow it with the margin of safety we wanted."

But, he added, heavy boats, with their contoured shapes, can be safely towed, taking into account crosswinds, sway and overall control issues.

Other issues
Although each seat in the MDX has a head restraint and shoulder belt, I found the belt chafed against my neck when I sat in the middle position of the second row.

The optional navigation system includes a "bread crumb" mode, which leaves digital dots on a display screen on the dashboard when you drive in unmapped terrain, allowing you to turn around and find your way out. But I had to take off my sunglasses and squint to detect the tiny crumbs on the display. The nav system voice had to be turned up quite high, too, so I could hear instructions clearly.

The MDX's starting manufacturer's suggested retail price is set for the mid $30,000s, which is high for folks seeking more basic SUV transportation. There's no less-expensive, 2-wheel-drive model offered, as there is in the RX 300 lineup.

But give it a few years. Honda is planning a version of the MDX that will feature cloth seats and fewer luxury appointments. It will carry a lower price tag, too.

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BB04 - 7/24/2014 9:19:59 PM