- The Washington Times - Friday, December 1, 2000

MODEL: Acura MDX
VEHICLE TYPE: Four-door SUV
PRICE-AS-TESTED: $40,500
MILEAGE: 17city; 23 highway

Four-by-8-foot sheets of plywood. A dozen bags of mulch. A boxed, 32-inch television set.
Acura engineers want you to bring them on. That kind of cargo fits nicely in the 2001 Acura MDX.
The first sport utility vehicle developed in-house by Acura, the luxury-appointed MDX is designed to stanch a loss of customers. They were shopping Acura but buying elsewhere because they wanted a stylish, carlike, smart-sized SUV, and all Acura had was a truckish, rebadged Isuzu Trooper that went by the name of Acura SLX.
Research in recent years showed potential Acura customers turning instead to the fancy Eddie Bauer version of the Ford Explorer, the Lexus RX 300 and the Mercedes-Benz ML320.
The midsize, luxury MDX could undercut competitors by packing in seven-person seating, four-wheel drive, leather, moon roof and a host of other standard features at a starting price in the mid-$30,000s.
A comparably equipped 2001 Lexus RX 300 with five seats and optional leather and moon roof has a sticker price of $38,430. The comparably equipped 2000 Mercedes ML320 with four-wheel drive and optional seven-passenger cloth seating and moon roof is $38,190.
The MDX is a noteworthy competitor in other ways, too. Built on the platform of the Honda Odyssey, it's a bit larger inside and out than the others. That means its third row of seats has enough legroom for more than the children. Because it's closest to the cargo, it is covered in easy-clean vinyl rather than the leather found on other MDX seats. The third row's two seats also have six reclining positions.
The MDX maneuvers in a mostly carlike manner and looks just as good as a base model as it does with the touring package that adds a roof rack.
Shoppers concerned with high gasoline prices can appreciate the fuel efficiency of this new SUV. With a 3.5-liter, single-overhead-camshaft V-6 putting out a generous 240 horsepower and 245 foot-pounds of torque, the MDX has a combined fuel economy rating of 20 mpg.
Better yet, the MDX is one SUV that, right from introduction, meets stringent ultralow-emission vehicle standards, even in California.
On road and off, the MDX powered forward with spirit and felt light and quick off the line. 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 front driving wheels to the rear wheels under certain circumstances, such as 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 the MDX detects wheel slippage. A button on the dashboard locks the rear differential clutch plates when maximum rear torque is needed at low speeds.
The MDX lacks an extra-low gear but can nonetheless tow trailers up to 3,500 pounds and boats up to 4,500 pounds: The weight difference comes from boats' more aerodynamic shape.
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' needs.
My complaints were minor. Although each seat has a head restraint and shoulder belt, I found the belt in the second row's middle seat chafed my neck.
Additionally, the wood-style trim inside the MDX is plastic, and there's no option for a wood-trimmed steering wheel.
Hot gases from the dual tailpipes at the back of the vehicle come out directly below the cargo area, making it important that the MDX be turned off when cargo is being unloaded.
The optional navigation system includes a "bread crumb" mode that leaves digital dots on the dashboard display screen when you drive in unmapped terrain so you can turn around and trace your way back out.
But I had to take off my sunglasses and squint to detect the tiny crumbs on the display.

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