2001 Acura MDX SUV of the Year

John Kiewicz
Dec 16, 2003
Photographers: John Kiewicz
Acura's impressive MDX loomed large on MT's radar screen from the start of this 12-vehicle battle. As thousands of miles of twisting asphalt two-lanes, instrumented track tests, and off-road challenges unrolled during our two week test session, it held its position as a top contender. When the driving was done, the voting commenced. Although several competitors lasted until the final round of balloting, there can be only one winner-and we're proud to say that's Acura's all-new MDX.

There are two vital elements of the SUV equation: sport and utility. The Acura easily handled our on-road sport requirement with its torquey, smooth-revving, great-sounding 3.5L SOHC V-6, five-speed automatic transmission, structurally stiff unibody, and sophisticated all-independent suspension. MT's off-road sporting needs were met by the MDX's standard Variable Torque Management all-wheel-drive system and better than expected ground clearance. Even though its main mission in life is not that of hard-core off-roader, the rocks, deep sand, and steep grades of our off-road test area were handled with more than reasonable aplomb.
2001 Acura Mdx Suv top Interior
  |   2001 Acura Mdx Suv top Interior
Then, there's utility, an area where perspectives are constantly evolving. Traditional truck-derived models are having a tough time serving the market's ever-increasing demands for better fuel efficiency, greater agility, and auto-style civility. But while many of the new, athletic, car-based demi-SUVs fall short in the towing, rock-crawling, cargo-hauling, and people-moving departments, the MDX truly shines. Given its relatively tidy exterior dimensions, nothing can touch its 81.5 cu ft of cargo space, 3500-lb tow rating, and easily reconfigurable seating for seven.
The body/chassis is reinforced by two hefty longitudinal rails supported by eight box-section crossmembers. Acura specified small rubber-mounted subframes for front and rear: In the nose, the front frame isolates the powertrain's vibrations and road inputs with its MacPherson strut suspension. In the rear, another subframe isolates the multilink suspension's road inputs and vibration from the drive system's rear-axle drive unit. It all works, as one of the staff's favorite aspects about the Acura is its remarkably compliant ride. Indeed, on- and off-road the MDX serves up a quiet cruise devoid of the tire thumping on highway expansion joints common to SUVs.
Luxurious it is, but don't think Acura's designers forgot the "utility" part of this evaluation. Both of the MDX's 70/30 second- and 50/50 third-row seats split and fold flat into the floor to conveniently handle a variety of people- or cargo-hauling needs. The engineering difficulty of packaging fold-into-the-floor seats into a four-wheel-drive vehicle is significant, but for you this trick means owners don't have to worry about hefting the third seat's weight or where to store it. And all seven seats have headrests and three-point seatbelts.
Luxurious it is, but don't think Acura's designers forgot the "utility" part of this evaluation. Both of the MDX's 70/30 second- and 50/50 third-row seats split and fold flat into the floor to conveniently handle a variety of people- or cargo-hauling needs. The engineering difficulty of packaging fold-into-the-floor seats into a four-wheel-drive vehicle is significant, but for you this trick means owners don't have to worry about hefting the third seat's weight or where to store it. And all seven seats have headrests and three-point seatbelts.

Only one powertrain choice is available, or required: A powerful V-6, smooth five-speed auto, and all-wheel drive.
A few years ago, it would've been unthinkable for a sport/utility to pack an all-aluminum SOHC V-6 as sophisticated and flexible as the MDX's with variable valve timing and valve-lift control and a two-stage intake manifold. These two deep-breathing technologies contribute mightily to its 240-hp rating-as much as some V-8s-available at 5300 rpm, and 245 lb-ft of torque (95 percent of which is available by 3000 rpm).
112 0012 Soty 04s 2001 Acura Mdx Suv Engine
  |   112 0012 Soty 04s 2001 Acura Mdx Suv Engine
Don't feel right about driving an SUV because of environmental issues? All MDX models, built exclusively in Ontario, Canada, meet California's stringent Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) requirements while managing a respectable city/highway rating of 17/23 mpg. That's a new standard for luxury vehicles in this hard-working midsize class. And with its 19.2-gal fuel tank, the MDX will deliver quite good range, if pedaled reasonably.
Speaking of pedaling, check out this rig's acceleration numbers. Sixty arrives in just 8.1 sec. That's as quick as many V-8-powered sport/utilities, and only the best sport coupes sound as good as the MDX doing it.
Acura's high-tech V-6 is partnered exclusively with an excellent five-speed automatic. Smooth shifts are its calling card (some makers haven't yet fitted their premium sedans-much less SUVs-with five-speed autos). What about cruising in the dirt? Acura calls its unique system VTM-4, for variable torque management four-wheel drive. We'd describe it as clever, light, quiet, and electronically sophisticated. Basically, the MDX operates as a front-driver on dry pavement. Its rear wheels are engaged only when its wheel-speed sensors and electronic control unit anticipate or read front-wheel slippage.

When the sensors detect wheel slippage, the VTM-4 computer sends current to electromagnetic coils on the right and left sides of the rear-axle drive unit. These coils apply wet clutches that mechanically lock the halfshafts to the pinion-driven ring gear. The halfshafts then transfer the muscle out to the wheels. This system also offers the driver a lock button to hold engagement of the rear wheels until 18 mph to aid the vehicle under ultraslippery or sticky conditions. Braking is similarly well controlled, utilizing big four-wheel discs with ABS.
The MDX's chiseled exterior is stylistically subtle and reasonably slippery, with a 0.36 drag coefficient. A glance across the competing SUV design spectrum reveals a devotion to huge slabs of gray-and-black plastic cladding. Vehicles like the Pontiac Aztek and the Isuzu Vehicross have roughly 50 percent of their body sides fortified with composite shielding. Not here: The MDX carries none of the stuff-just bold, clean shapes doing the talking. Its badges, headlamp reflectors, dual exhaust tips, brushed aluminum wheels, and chrome door handles are the only exterior brightwork. Acura's stamping dies pressed some nicely muscular lines into the hood, body sides, and wheel arches. We definitely like this upscale approach to SUV styling. About our only bodywork-related issue was noticeable amounts of wind turbulence around the sideview mirrors at higher speeds.
112 0012 Soty 05s 2001 Acura Mdx Suv Gps
  |   112 0012 Soty 05s 2001 Acura Mdx Suv Gps
The MDX feels truly like a luxury sedan, with a high, command-style seating position. Its handsome, four-spoke steering wheel carries convenient cruise and radio controls. The businesslike dash is covered with a reasonably convincing version of faux wood (though we still prefer the real thing). The three-gauge cluster with its 8000-rpm tach, 140-mph speedo, and coolant/fuel gauge is easily readable and tastefully rendered.
In addition to the gauges, a large central LCD screen provides a multitude of readouts from the trip computer and the optional navigation system. Herein lies one of our few complaints about the MDX's people-friendly packaging: Some of the HVAC functions are managed via buttons, while others require interaction with the complex LCD touch screen. Furthermore, the fan switch is sequential: If you have it set on 2 and you want 1, you must scroll through 3, 4, and 5 to get there. It's just more hassle than it needs to be. In the area of beverage control, however, all is well: the cupholder count is eight.
Also high in the MDX's credit column are contoured leather seats that offer just the right amount of lateral support for all-day-driving comfort and support for the twisty sections. Leather seating surfaces are of high quality. The MDX's dual front airbags are the crash-severity-sensing variety and the front passenger seat has sensors to detect the height of the rider and if he/she is leaning toward the door. Other safety highlights include seatbelt pretensioners, side-impact bags, and high-strength beams in the doors for extra crash protection.

With a base price of $34,370 and a loaded price of roughly $39,000, the MDX is an outstanding value, given the high level of features: leather seats (except third row), leather door inserts, power mirrors/windows/doors, foglamps, power tilt wheel, sliding moonroof, cruise control, seven-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with in-dash CD player, power adjustable heated front seats, alloy wheels, and a handy trip computer. While some competitors might start at a lower price, they'd quickly equal, and in most cases exceed, MDX price levels when optioned accordingly.
There are only two options: one, a $2600 "Touring" package that adds a two-position driver seat and mirror memory system, an eight-way power adjustable passenger seat, a roof rack, a reverse-mode tilting sideview mirror, differently styled light-alloy wheels, and a symphonically powerful 200-watt eight-speaker Bose system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer. The second, Acura's navigation system, is an approximately $2000 stand-alone option. Not cheap, but the MT staff judged it to be one of the more informative and easy-to-use units out there.
2001 Acura Mdx Suv interior
  |   2001 Acura Mdx Suv interior
On the Road
Acura's engineers have done an amazing job of blending the best interior attributes of a minivan with a slick luxury car and a load-lugging, weather-capable sport/utility vehicle. And there appear to be very few dynamic compromises.
Drop the hammer, and the MDX is off with the potent intake howl and muscular verve of a gutsy sport sedan. Cut the wheel, and it swaps lanes or traces a curve's radius with confidence-inspiring precision. Another non-trucklike strength is its smooth, carlike ride quality-on- or off-road body motions are well damped and never threaten to upset beverages or passenger stomachs. Indeed, the only area where we'd like to see a minor tweak is braking. Like its sister, the Honda Odyssey minivan, the MDX's stops are well controlled and stable, even under full-on emergency conditions. But these stopping distances (60-0 in 139 ft) are a bit longish versus anything but full-size, truck-based sport/utility vehicles.
The Winner
Our judgement is that no other new or substantially revised sport/utility vehicle offers the Acura's mix of seven-passenger convenience, large-load capacity, crisp on-road dynamics, impressive off- and all-road capability, excellent build quality, a strong and efficient powertrain, high feature content, and exceptional value.
Acura's all-new MDX truly stands apart-as the Motor Trend 2001 Sport/Utility of the Year.

2015 Acura MDX Specifications

Fair Market Price $39,475
MSRP $42,765
Editors' Overall Rating
Mileage 20 City / 28 Highway
Engine 3.5L V6
Horse Power 290 hp @ 6,200 rpm
Torque 267 ft lb of torque @ 4,500 rpm
See all Specifications
Truck Trend Network


Acura MDX

Fair Market Price
Editors' Overall Rating
Basic Specifications
MSRP: $42,765
Mileage: 20 / 28
Engine: 3.5L V6
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