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Acura MDX SUV 2004: The Weekly Driver Report
James Raia

It's hard to imagine all sport utility vehicles (SUVs) are purchased for the same reason. With the 2004 Acura MDX, for example, it's hard to imagine anything but luxury. In fact, isn't its classification as a luxury SUV an oxymoron?

Toting groceries home from the local market seems acceptable, but transporting the neighborhood soccer team or lugging around supplies from the home project store just don't seem appropriate for the Acura offering.

Rather, while often compared with the Cadillac SRX and Lexus RX 300, the MDX offers what Acura owners have come to expect: superior and spacious design, superior handling and a wealth of standard and optional features.

The vehicle is so well constructed and efficiently appointed, one industry car consumer guide describes it as a highly desirable blend of competence and convenience.

I drove the 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V6 MDX with a 5-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive for my weekly test.

It was immediately apparent physical and visual comfort was a priority for the vehicle's designers. The leather seats are positioned well and provide good leg and head room. Visibility is good, with no blind spots and all console controls are easily accessible.

The controls for the synchronized climate feature, positioned in the center of the top of the dash, required a slight stretch my for reach as a 6-0, 180-driver. But the controls operate smoothly and the temperature rises and decreases quickly.

The two-setting, individually heated seat controls are conveniently positioned to the right and left of the automatic transmission shifting center and also work quickly.

The seven-passenger seating capacity claim is not a stretch, like the same claim is in many other SUVs. The second and third rows can comfortably fit three and two adults, respectively, and both offer split and folding options. All three rows are covered with the head-protecting curtain side airbags. They're designed to deploy in side impacts and during rollovers, and are a new feature for '04.

Power moonroof, AM/FM cassette and six-disc CD changer (with eight speakers), dark wood console trim, rain-sensing windshield wipers and a driver's seat and outside door mirrors memory system are among the other options included in the Touring Package.

In short, the car looks and feels refined.

But it's the navigation system with voice recognition and rearview camera that are most impressive. The camera is discretely positioned under the rear license plate. When the engine is starts, the camera engages and it allows the driver to temporarily see what's immediately behind them on a angle toward the ground.

Driving the MDX is delightful. It's not particularly fast, but the acceleration is there when needed in city and highway scenarios. The vehicle is quiet among SUVs and unlike other SUV offerings, it has a solid feel while cornering and in inclement weather conditions.

If the Acura MDX has one slight downfall (and it's a small one) it's the misleading design of the glovebox. From the outside, the design gives the appearance of a sizable interior. But the interior space is nothing more than a narrow, deep slot not unlike the space of an expandable file folder. It's good for a few maps and maybe a pair of gloves, all turned sideways.

But such minor disappointment is nit-picking. The Acura MDX is a fine choice for consumers seeking the best value in a seven-passenger, all- wheel drive luxury vehicle priced (with all options) at less than $43,000.

2004 Acura MDX SUV

Safety features -- Driver and front passenger front and side airbags, side curtain airbags, ABS brakes, front and rear crumple zones, side-impact door beams, tire pressure monitoring system.

Fuel Mileage (estimates) -- 17 mpg (city), 23 mpg (highway).

Warranty -- Bumper to bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles; corrosion, 5 years/ unlimited mileage; roadside assistance, 4 years/50,000 miles.

Base price range -- $36,400-42,700.

James Raia is a syndicated journalist in Sacramento, Calif., who writes about sports, fitness and business topics as well as the free electronic newsletters Endurance Sports News and Tour de France Times and The Weekly Driver, a car review column.

Samples of Raia's writing can be viewed on his web site:

His car reviews and newsletters can be viewed at The Weekly Driver and Endurance Sports News and Tour de France Times

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