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Classic Drive: The 2003 Acura MDX Takes Us Back to a Time When Luxury Meant Simplicity

I am tugging on the door handle of a classic first-generation Acura MDX, and it is refusing to let me in. This, I will shortly realize, is what obligates this old MDX such a incredible SUV.

But let us begin at the beginning: The original intent of this article was to celebrate the Acura MDX’s 20 th anniversary. Technically( and temporally) we’re a little off, as the original MDX actually arrived 21 years ago in Y2K. Likewise, "were not receiving" 2021 MDX, as the newest version ricochets instantly to the 2022 framework time. And if that wasn’t fairly, the exceptionally clean Opal Sage Metallic-painted example that I am currently locked out of is actually a 2003.

All of which is irrelevant to my current trouble: Why won’t the damn door open? And then I have my forehead-smacking moment: This MDX predates the proximity key and is completely forgetful to my existence. I can’t unlock it by purely stroking the treat, as I can in most brand-new vehicles; instead, I have to tell it I’m now by shove a button on the key fob.( I believe I could also made the key in the fastening, but exactly what we we, Neanderthals ?) The MDX, I realize, is a portal to a not-too-distant past, a go before comfort vehicles started trying to figure out what we want and just did what we asked.

Despite being on the wrong side of the door, I am starting to like this MDX already.

Finger on the fob, the fastens clack open and I’m in. Everything in the compartment is so clean and original-looking that it’s hard to believe the 72,500 mile decipher on the odometer. The MDX’s interior is a mix of functional plastic, high-zoot leather, and comically glossy wood trim. The general layout lashes off the first-gen Mercedes-Benz ML-Class, zig-zaggy transmission shift gate and all--but let’s remember this was Acura’s firstly home-grown SUV.

I clamber in behind the wheel and take in my encloses. There’s a touchscreen for the piloting plan, a $2,000 oddity at a time when the iPhone was still several years in the future. Oddly enough, the touchscreen likewise controls the fan speed--the one climate function not are dealt with by a elegant husk of buttons between the ventilates.( Good God, I’ve discovered the missing link between the simple Acuras of yore and the overly complex Acuras of today !) The double-height stereo makes CDs and cassettes but not USB or Bluetooth; nursing your cell phone to your face was still legal when this baby was new.

I hop into the back and find climate controls for the rear passengers--how charming, they’re phones , not buttons. The third-row seats are folded neatly into the floor. I deploy them, attempt to climb back there, and fail spectacularly. The fannies are sized for kids , not overweight adults with deteriorating knees. I make it far enough to see that each adolescent gets a cupholder and an armrest hiding a storage locker, inside of which I find a small plastic cookie. A fallen-off trim piece? Nope, it’s a cover for the divot left behind when the window-shade-style cargo cover is removed. Back In The Day, Acura really did think of everything.

Back in the adult-sized driver’s seat, I take a moment to admire the nice purity of the analog approximates: tachometer, speedometer, gasoline, and temp. A hilariously towering register of shifter ranks( P, R, N, D5, D4, D3, 2, 1) feeds down the two sides of the tach, a remember that the MDX’s automated has five moves , not the usual four. I applied the key into the ignition( “Be-be-be-beep! Be-be-be-beep! ” ), give it an old-fashioned twist, and it clicks solidly into the On position. I’m greeted not by a imagination start-up screen and a sci-fi audio jingle, but by more beeping and a sparse dispersing of idiot lights. I change farther and hear--but, singularly, do not feel--the engine crank and fire.

I try to shift into D5 and wind up in D3 instead. Gawd, I’d forgotten how very difficult these aged Acura shifters impelled it to find the gear you actually want. Accelerator tip-in is gentle and the MDX makes off smoothly, but when I feed in a little more throttle, she goes. The transmission holds the paraphernaliums a little longer than we’re used to nowadays, and the MDX’s 3.5 -liter engine reminds me how good a V-6 can sound.

This engine was, and still is, a wonder. When the Acura MDX performed its debut for 2001, it delivered 240 hp and 250 lb-ft of torque. That was enough to hustle the sub-4, 400 -pound MDX to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds, quicker than all of its luxury-branded competitives and still a estimable time today. The 2003 MDX I’m driving lends an additional 20 mares, and I loves as it delivers ability. It’s not champing at the bit trying to barge its way through traffic, but all the acceleration I could ever need is merely a foot-prod away.

The MDX’s ride is busy and alive, planned , no doubt, to give a more car-like feel than the truck-based SUVs that were still commonplace at the time. It’s not unpleasant, but there’s more twitching and joggling than in a modern-day 2022 Acura MDX. There is a lack of groans or sounds, merely the key fob bouncing against the plastic housing of the direct pillar with an pestering clop, clop, clop.

I ease the MDX onto the freeway, start their own businesses the on-ramp at a amiable run then matting the accelerator to get a lower gear--but there is no lower gear to be had. With merely five speedings to choose from, third gear is my merely alternative. The engine builds superpower and hustles up to freeway acceleration. I propagandize the scoot button to turn on cruise control--not adaptive cruise control, exactly cruise control--then smash Set. I look at the flair and appreciate ... nothing new. No liking graphic display picturing the issue of trafficking around me , no indicator of what rapidity I’ve adopted, time a light on the permutation and another on the hyphen. How refreshingly simple! The MDX moves straight and true-life, but wind and road interference eclipse the engine’s musical humming. That’s not old age; that was turn-of-the-century Honda/ Acura.

I take the next off-ramp and steer towards the curvy streets in the hills, the same route I made the previous day in a contemporary 2022 MDX. The new account astonished me with the route it hustled through the curves, but the first-gen car isn’t quite so sporting. Fancy VTM-4 all-wheel-drive notwithstanding, the aged MDX holds up its grasp at far less hurryings. The steering is a curiosity. It feels ponderous and roughly unassisted at low-spirited rates, croaks light as you start moving, and consignments up pleasantly as you turn in--but as soon as you dial in 90 grades or so of fastening, the feedback disappears and the steering wheel jumps around as if it were on a spring.

But actually, should I expect more from this first-generation MDX? Back when it was new, Acura had the Integra to satisfy the hot-shoes, and this was supposed to be the large-scale pedigree hauler. Compared to its Y2K contemporaries, the MDX was a revelation--controlled and dignified, whereas the Lincoln Aviators and GMC Envoys of the time were heavy and inept. More remarkable than that is this: If a brand-new 2021 crossover drove like this 2003 MDX does, we’d have little to complain about.

Time to try out some of information and communication technologies. The MDX has rudimentary spokesperson acknowledgment, but I simply get still further as telling it I just wanted to steer to an address before it refers me to the touch-screen keyboard--which, Heaven save us, lets me type in my end while the car is moving! I plug in an address--no point trying a business name, as the map DVD dates from 2007 -- and a female spokesperson, more pleasant-sounding than her daughter in the current-day MDX, admonishes me to turn left and right. The organisation is still too primitive to pronounce street names.

I load 10,000 Maniacs’ MTV Unplugged CD into the six-disc changer and am enveloped by music and nostalgia--I had forgotten how crispy and clear music reverberates without tighten artifacts. Natalie Merchant’s voice is as vivid as the colors she describes in Stockton Gala Days: “Blue in the series like nothing I have determined, outside of dreams that escape me.” Why did we ever give up on the video compact discs? Lexus, for all those eras I stimulated fun of you for still putting CD players in your gondolas, consider this my public apology.

But I must be maintained my journalistic investigation, so I pop in a cassette, an Ani DiFranco concert that I attended in June of 1993, then taped off college terminal WITR-FM the next darknes. I recollect cassettes resounding like nonsense, but either my recalls were incorrect or the MDX’s Bose stereo is working some serious magic--or perhaps a little of both. The chime aspect isn’t as good as CD, but it’s a lot closer than I imagine.

I kill the stereo and move aimlessly about the outskirts, experiencing the nature the V-6 starts from a purr to snarl and the solid-feeling clunk as you involve the turn signals. Driving a museum-piece classic is often a stress-prone affair, but here in the 2003 MDX, I find myself feeling unwound and content. What is it about this car that feels so welcoming?

And then the epiphany hits me like a race NSX: I am enjoying the 2003 MDX because it is letting me be. It isn’t devastating me with tangential trivia on a computer-screen dash or blinding me with 65,536 colors of ambient igniting. It isn’t trying to steer me back into a path I don’t want or advise me of impending destiny in the shape of a Prius that’s stopped a quarter-mile ahead.

That is what has changed about luxury cars. They have gone from performing our needs to interpreting and apprehending them--a noble goal, perhaps, but often an invasive one. The first-generation Acura MDX is luxurious, but it’s also simple and fundamental in its human-machine interface. It doesn’t claim to know all and construe all. It’s not trying to help me drive. The MDX relies me and I, in turn, cartel the MDX.

My first impression was right: The original Acura MDX is a wonderful car. Even if it wouldn’t let me in.

2003 Acura MDX Touring


PRICE $40,500 ENGINE 3.5L valve-train category SOHC 24 -valve V-6; 260 hp@ 5,750 rpm, 250 lb-ft@ 3,500 -5, 000 rpm

TRANSMISSION 5-speed automated

LAYOUT 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV

EPA MILEAGE 17/23 mpg( municipal/ roadway)

L x W x H 189.0 x 77.0 x 71.0 in

WHEELBASE 106.3 in

WEIGHT 4,354 lb

0-60 MPH 8.1 sec

READ MORE The Acura ZDX Was Ahead of Its Time Gorgeous 1998 Acura Integra Packs a Modern Supercharged Heart 2022 Acura MDX Revealed, Keeps Up the Brand's Sporty Push

The post Classic Drive: The 2003 Acura MDX Takes Us Back to a Time When Luxury Meant Simplicity loomed first on Automobile Magazine.

Read more: automobilemag.com

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