Automakers keep building more and more SUVs, cramming them full of innovative new ideas they insist we simply can't live without. At some point, the proliferation of hardware becomes overkill and the heart and soul of the vehicle gets lost beneath all the add-ons. One vehicle that has avoided this trend is the Acura MDX. Not only has the MDX remained fairly constant in its design, it also continues to be one of the hottest selling luxury SUVs on the market. MDX owners appreciate the simple elegance of their SUV, with handsome exterior styling that avoids the garish and flamboyant and an interior that coddles the senses and pampers weary muscles. In a word (or two), the MDX is practically perfect, offering power, safety, handling and all-weather capability in a package that can fit easily into the average garage.
What you'll love about the MDX is that it possesses power and agility, luxury and utility, comfort and cargo hauling ability. While other luxury SUVs can make the same claim, few can say they do all these things so effortlessly and with such refinement. For the MDX, it all begins with the chassis. Unlike many pickup truck based, body-on-frame platforms, the MDX's body and underside are welded together to form a single frame that the suspension, doors and front fenders are then attached to. This type of frame allows the engineers more latitude to build in crumple zones as well as to strengthen the cage that surrounds the passenger compartment. The MDX takes full advantage of its unibody construction, so much so that it was chosen as a "best pick" rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for its performance in their frontal off-set crash test.
The other big advantage of the MDX design is that it makes room under the rear shelf for a clever foldaway third-row seat. When the seat is tucked away, the MDX has a large, flat cargo area that can be made larger by folding down the second-row split-bench seat. This year, the second row seat travel has been increased by 40%, making it much easier to access and exit the third row seat. Up front, you'll find a set of contoured bucket seats that are just terrific to have beneath you on long drives and at long last, receives a power-operated lumbar support in place of last year's manual unit. The interior plastics and metal trim found in the MDX still seem a bit hard, but the quality is first rate, with all pieces fitting tightly together.
For 2004, the MDX gets a larger free flowing exhaust that ups the 3.5-liter V6's net output to 265 horsepower. Other changes for the model year include a freshened front and rear fascia and redesigned 17-inch alloy wheels.
On the road, the MDX offers a controlled, stable ride; off-road, the MDX tends to bounce a bit, but never feels unsure or off track. Though it can tackle off road duty, realistically the MDX is most comfortable on paved road surfaces. The real pleasure in driving the MDX is its car-like ability to negotiate turns and twists. After you test drive enough truck-based SUVs, you'll come to understand the joy of driving the MDX, both around town and on the highway. New this year is Acura's Vehicle Stability Assist program (VSA), which increases the MDX's traction on loose and slippery surfaces.
Acura has improved the functionality of the optional navigation system, allowing the heating and audio controls to work independently of the LCD view screen. Other improvements to the MDX interior include a brushed metal accent on the dash and console and ambient foot well lighting. The most important addition to the MDX interior is a new side-curtain airbag that protects passengers in the first, second and third-row seats.
Standard equipment on the MDX includes power windows with driver's side on touch up/down, power door locks, alarm, full-time 4WD, 17-inch alloy wheels, front side-impact airbags, side-airbag curtains, ABS, heated outside mirrors, privacy glass, rear wiper, fog lights, leather seating, 8-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, AM/FM/CD stereo with seven speakers, cruise control, tilt wheel, auto on/off headlights, illuminated vanity mirror and three 12-volt outlets. The optional Touring Model adds such niceties as a memory feature for the driver's seat and mirrors, 8-way power passenger seat and a Bose audio system. The Touring Package nets you such options as the voice-activated navigation system with rear backup camera and a DVD entertainment unit that features a flip down 7-inch LCD screen; the audio can be played through the car's stereo or sent directly to a set of wireless headsets.