First Drive: 2002 1/2 Acura MDX
In its third year of production, the Acura MDX enjoys more power and chassis refinements.
Having earned Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year award in '01, the MDX has enjoyed constant improvement-but the gang at Acura hasn't rested on their laurels. In its third year of production, the '03 Acura MDX enjoys more power (260 horsepower, up from 240), a new five-speed automatic transmission, upgraded interior materials, and suspension and chassis refinements. Acura has now fitted the MDX with Vehicle Stability Assist, drive-by-wire throttle, and an optional DVD entertainment system-all while keeping the price at '02 levels.
The 3.8-liter V-6 uses a new exhaust system, a revised intake manifold, integrated cylinder heads, and new fuel injectors to deliver 260 horsepower. A 60mm-shorter transmission casing opens up the engine compartment, yet the new gearbox has increased torque capacity. Pulled from the NSX, the throttle system works with the tranny to smoother shifts, while the NSX-sourced front-brake calipers help to shed speed more effectively. On the road, gear changes are creamy under normal throttle and crisper under the whip. Off-road, the MDX gives a credible imitation of a mountain goat, benefitting from structural reinforcements that stiffen the torsional rigidity of the body 35 percent from the year before.
With three rows of seating, the MDX is a prime candidate for the DVD system. Occupants viewing the seven-inch screen can use either the vehicle's speakers or wireless headphones to catch the soundtrack. An optional navigation system is one of the industry's best, and, for '03, a rearview camera is fitted next to the license plate. The wide-view, color image makes backing into a parking spot child's play. Scores of details have been massaged, the result being a cabin that rates as one of the class' best.
Most manufacturers don't make changes on this scale in a vehicle's third year of production, but Acura is working to stay ahead of the curve. Plenty of new competition is on the street, and any platform that stands still is quick to fall from the buyer's view. Acura intends to stay a serious player in the SUV market, and the MDX is going to force many makers to burn the midnight oil.