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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2003 Acura MDX Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2003 Acura MDX Overview

Strong and Steady

The field of luxury SUVs is getting crowded; Lexus has a new model out this year, as does Lincoln, BMW and Volvo. Cadillac will be adding yet another vehicle to the luxury fold sometime next year. With so many choices and so many claims, how do you know which is best for you? Might we suggest you look to the one SUV that still generates waiting lists at dealerships around the country—even after 3 years in production! Or maybe the one that conjures up words like "covet" and "crave" and "desire"; words usually reserved for talking about another person or perhaps a really sinful dessert. If you hear these words in reference to an SUV, the conversation is probably about the Acura MDX and the words are fully deserved.

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 uni-body 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 fold-away 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. Up front, you'll find a set of contoured bucket seats that are just terrific to have beneath you on long drives, although the manual lumbar support could use a power upgrade. The interior plastics and woodtone trim found in the MDX are not as polished as those found in the Lexus or Mercedes SUVs, but the quality is first rate, with everything fitting tightly together.

For 2003, the MDX continues to be powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that sees its horsepower jump from 240 to 260. Acura has also replaced the 5-speed automatic transmission with a smaller, quieter unit—although we really can't speak to the improvement because in our 2002 test, the MDX's tranny wasn't much louder than a whisper and operated flawlessly. You will notice that the new transmission does kick down faster and seems less prone to hunting for the right gear.

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) increases the MDX's traction on loose and slippery surfaces.

About the only thing you might find fault with the complex nature of the heating and cooling control is when it's accompanied by the optional navigation screen. The controls are split between the dash-mounted console and the navigational touch-screen display, requiring you to steep through a series of menus to make simple adjustments to the climate control; other than this one minor nitpick, there is not much else about the MDX to criticize.

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, 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. Two new options this year include the voice-activated navigation system and a DVD entertainment unit that features a flip down 7-inch LCD screen; the audio can be played through the cars stereo or sent directly to a set of wireless headsets.

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