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Discussion Starter #1
I'm posting this mainly because someone else might be in the market for a vehicle on the above list, and would be interested in hearing what someone else had to say about them.

I've been looking around for the better part of three weeks now, and I'm close to a decision. Here's my homework though, hopefully it will benefit someone who hasn't made up their mind:

Websites used:

General info and ratings:

http://carpoint.msn.com
http://www.edmunds.com
http://www.kbb.com
http://www.consumerreports.com (requires subscription)
http://www.carreview.com
http://www.epinions.com
http://www.europeanhonda.demon.nl/acura_mdx_test.htm
http://thecarconnection.com/index.asp?article=3310&n=157,181&sid=181
http://www.nctd.com/01/suv/01acuramdx.cfm
http://automotive-review.com/mdx.htm
http://cars.about.com/autos/cars/library/testdrive/blcolin022001.htm
http://www.usatoday.com/money/columns/healey/0029.htm
http://www.nsxsc.com/nsexcitement/mdx.html

Safety test ratings:

http://www.iihs.org
http://www.nhtsa.dot.gov

Pricing engines (for invoice and retail costs)
http://www.carsdirect.com

General impressions:

1. X5

The X5 is a nice vehicle, no doubt about it. It rides and handles very nicely, has very good acceleration, and smooth cornering. My one question to the designers of this car would be - who is the target audience? I doubt it's the family, because it has the same cargo space as a sedan.

2. ML-320

Also a very nice vehicle, but a few questions about reliability and the appearance (hello? it's a MINIVAN). Drives heavy, typical of a MB wagon.

3. 2002 Ford Explorer EB

Why is Jacques Nasser still running that company? After the whole fiasco around the Explorer, you'd think ole' Jacques would have found the best guys in the business and hired them to work on the new Expy. Instead - the quality of materials has gone down yet another level, and the design is not very impressive (interior, it's not anywhere near as roomy as the MDX).

4. MDX

Jack of all trades, master of none. For luxury, the interior lags (albeit not that much) behind the X5 and ML-320. For performance, the X5 (4.4) will eat it for lunch (but at $10k more). ML-320 without the third row will take more cargo (after all - it's a MINIVAN). Still, a solid handling and performing car.

Main categories:

A. Safety

The X5 wins here, with the MDX running second, mainly because it hasn't been tested yet, and because the X5 tested incredibly well in the IIHS tests. The ML-320 runs at third, with the Explorer a distant 4th. Please explain to me why Ford goes on and on about the side airbags, and then makes them optional?

I'd even think of tying the MDX and X5 if the MDX had stability control on it's list of features. I'm sure that Acura will add it somewhere down the line; unfortunately, that doesn't help me this year.

The tendency of a vehicle to roll over in an accident is called the SSF (static stability factor), which is directly related to the track and height. Thanks to a very wide wheelbase (courtesy of it's Odyssey cousin), the SSF is pretty low for the MDX.

Braking and CR's emergency handling tests really knocked the MDX, taking it to task for fishtailing. I'm sure that stability control would improve the scores, if not improve the handling ;)

B. Reliability

Going solely on CR reports for reliability (I checked JD Power, and for some reason, didn't like their data. Durango?!). Here's what I got from that:

1. BMW
2. Acura
3. MB
4. Ford

Needless to say, I expect that the reliability on an MDX should be excellent, as I've seen nothing but good comments from Acura owners on Internet based forums and CR. BMW gets 1 because they throw in maintenance for 3/36.

C. Usability/Utility.

Here's where the MDX beat the others silly, as far as I was concerned. Decent ground clearance, yet not hard to get into. Good sized rear seats, yet not cramped for cargo when they're open and no extra vehicle length.

The dash is very nicely laid out, and the ergonomics of the vehicle are astounding. I liked the X5 as well - MB, while impressive with the quality of the amenities was not as pleasing as the X5 and MDX, and that third row seat is a joke.

Visibility was the MDX's great feat, IMHO - you can see forever on a clear day out of that vehicle. Cargo space was also good, although not as big a factor as you might think (without that silly third seat, the MB would win there).

D. 4WD.

Sorry to say it, but the MDX trailed here. That's fine by my parameters - I'm looking for a family vehicle in NYC, with occasional AWD use for safety (snow and rain). But if you're looking for serious 4WD, the other three on the list here would probably win, hands down. The lack of a transfer case, and the inability to force 4WD above 18 MPH just let me down.

E. Acceleration/Performance.

If you had your hands on an X5 4.4, then you'd win in a footrace. Unfortunately, that would partially be because your pockets would be much lighter. At 3.0l, the X5 couldn't muster enough oomph to beat the MDX. Ford actually fared well here, placing a close 3rd to BMW. MB - the heavy ride hurts you here.

Cornering was impressive on the X5, with the MDX performing capably and the Explorer actually doing just as nicely (and much better than it's predecessor). I did notice some funky AWD kick from the MDXs VTM (it was raining). If I was a veteran MDX driver, I think I would have understood/appreciated it more.

F. Luxury.

I hate to say it, but the MDX disappointed me here a bit. This was another close call, with MB taking the top in the ladder and the X5 right behind it (and practically tied with the MDX). But - why all the fake wood? Would a wood shifter have cost Acura that much? And those plastic snaps on the center console? C'mon - this thing costs $40k, gimme a break Honda!

The fake wood really bugged me, but even worse was the dealer offering up an option to put more fake wood trim around the dash instrumentation. Really - $5 worth of plastic wood, and you offer it as an option?

The leather was nicest in the MB, but the MDX and X5 were virtually tied for second, and close to the MB. Ford's leather is more like very nice vinyl.

Acura - you went through the trouble of cutting a hole in the roof. Why is the sunroof so damn SMALL?

G. Comfort.

The most comfortable vehicle for me was the MDX. Roomy and w-i-d-e. Those extra inches paid off, and the seating was excellent. Most posters on the BB, when prompted for a single gripe on the car, mentioned the lack of a dead pedal for a footrest - this test drive was too short to reveal any problem with that, but I can see how it would get annoying on a long trip.

Controls were ergonomically placed within the MDX. BMW did a nice job with that too. The auxiliary controls for the MDX's rear seating air conditioning were remarkable - on a really muggy (90% humidity) day in NY, the AC in this baby was KICKIN'.

MB was very nice too - I keep saying that. Honestly - if you're in the market for a vehicle with 5 seats, 4WD, and don't mind it looking like a minivan, then I think the MB is not a bad buy. Add that third seat, though, and you're asking for trouble. That swing-out-of-the-way mechanism is ridiculous.

The MDX and Explorer both had easily retractable third row seating. Both were difficult to get in to - this is just a side effect of not having a bigger 3rd row - but my experience with these test drives tells me that you'll need a much bigger vehicle to get around that (Expedition, Sequoia or Yukon XL).

One thing I couldn't figure - the lumbar support on the MDX. Was it just me, or was it just a little off somewhere?


H. Looks

I liked the Explorer in this department, but you know what they say about looks - beauty is in the eye of the beholder. The MDX is also a very handsome vehicle, but without adding a bunch of dealer add-ons (like mouldings - again, a $40k vehicle, and Acura can't throw in a set of fender flares?), it looks a little plain.

Plain vulnerable is what I'd call the doors in a parking lot. I saw a lot of posts regarding that here, and now I know why. The dealer did offer some door side mouldings - $225 installed. <sarcasm> What a bargain </sarcasm>.

The MB looks (to me) like a minivan. The X5 looks like someone distorted a 325 and turned it into a truck. I'm not fond of the typical BMW look, so I didn't think too highly of the X5, but that's me.

Inside, all of the vehicles looked nice (as well an almost $40k new car should), with the MB leading the way, and X5 and MDX a close second (tied). Ford - your interior looks like a rental car - cheap and used.

My decision:

I needed a mix between a wagon and an SUV. Something that would protect my family, would offer 4WD for the rough weather we get 3 months out of the year, and would give me some height to enjoy those potholes without the wear and tear on my bumpers. Cargo space was a must, with 7 passenger seating a definite plus. The engine had to be tough enough to make merging on the BQE simple.

My best performer was the X5. It was disqualified because it was too small inside, and expensive when you added the 4.4 engine.

My best value was the MDX - it handled all of the tasks very capably, and I'm sure the reliability will be excellent.

Ford was the winner for 'if that's all you could spend, you'd get it'. Sorry, but the lack of luxury (even at a $35k EB edition and 5.4L engine) was disappointing, and the performance despite being a gas guzzler was not very enlightening.

MB - if I ever need a minivan that seats 5, I'll get this car. Until then, no way.

Bottom line:

I put a deposit on the MDX. I'm unsure about whether or not I'll take the vehicle (I might keep looking for a different dealer) because I'm unhappy about the $500 over MSRP and the $825 side steps I had to purchase. In the end, this car represented the best value and performance for my family, and in as much as I'll be keeping it for at least 8 years, it seemed like the one I could afford to keep that long (without breaking the bank).
 

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Wow, very nicely done comparison. You should write for Consumer Reports. I reached the same conclusion. Now driving my 3 day old MDX. Love it!
 

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Re 4 wheel drive observations:

You are incorrect that 4 wheel drive doesn't operate over 18 mph. I saw a review in a AAA guide book to new cars that made the same error, so you probably read that somewhere.

The MDX has a fine automatic 4 wheel drive system which performs as well as the rest of competition. The VTM4 lock is simply an extra feature, one not available in other comparable SUV's.

Although the VTM4 works on a different principal than most 4 wheel drive systems, the VTM4 lock button on the dash accomplishes the same thing that a locking rear differential does on a conventional system. I don't think there is a SUV made which offers rear differential locks from the factory even as an option (Jeep Wrangler, maybe), and for sure none of the MDX competitors have one. You can't drive on paved roads without differentials unless there is snow on the ground, which is why when you activate the VTM4 lock, it unlocks after you upshift or go over 18mph- it's there strictly to get you "unstuck".

Four wheel or all wheel drive systems with "open" front, rear, and center differentials will be stuck if any one wheel slips. They often use the ABS braking system as part of a traction control system to limit wheel slip. I think BMW uses this on the X5. Some other manufacturers have limited slip differentials in the front, rear, and/or center, but traction control systems more and more are being used to limit slip because they are relatively cheap to implement once you have ABS. With the VTM4 locked, three wheels must slip simultaneously before forward traction is lost.

Read the real world tests on traction with SUV's using TCS to limit wheel slip. The system often bounces back and forth between wheels as traction is lost, and is not terribly effective in difficult conditions. The MDX does very well in these tests, but in the long run, it was clearly designed like its competitors as an onroad, rather than an offroad SUV.
 

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Discussion Starter #4
Obeejr-

Thanks, but I'm still confused by documentation I've seen from Acura and others alike.

First - let me explain what I believe to be the fault (and I can be wrong - I don't own and didn't design this vehicle): the lack of a full time 4WD system.

According to the sales documentation, you can lock in 4WD in low gears, up to 18 MPH. As you approach 18, the amount of power transferred to the rear wheels decreases, until the speed equals 18 MPH, at which point it is zero.

I don't doubt that you get some 4WD features at any speed - just that you have to wait for the VTM system to kick in. I would have liked the option to lock in the 4WD up to about 35 MPH.

(incidentally - having owned other 4WD vehicles for recreation and for towing, I know that all those vehicles recommend that you do not engage the 4WD system above 35 MPH, for fear of damaging the system).

Still - don't get me wrong - for all practical purposes, the MDX's VTM system is all you'd need.
 

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Very thoughtful post, JNanas...

If/when you get the car, hopefully for MSRP or less and without the forced sidesteps since you don't seem to want 'em, do a search for "body side moldings" as some of us have put our own on. Mine were around $75 and look great. jdford posted pics a LONG time ago as did I.

I'm not a fan of the fake wood either, but believe it or not, the car looks better if you get the additional pieces. However, I'd recommend the kit from exoticwooddash.com or wooddash.com (Joshua Tree). Search for those -- pics too.
 

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MDX:Good decision -

Good decision, You'll be happy. Not in euphoria-it's not perfect, but after time, you decision will continuely be justified. Jack of all trades is a great description.

JNanas said:
Bottom line:
I put a deposit on the MDX. I'm unsure about whether or not I'll take the vehicle (I might keep looking for a different dealer) because I'm unhappy about the $500 over MSRP and the $825 side steps I had to purchase.
As far as the bottom line, we need the New Yorkers to chime in here. Let us know where you are. There has to be a better dealer in that area that the one you went to, which you need to mention the name. You shouldn't be forced into acessories and $500 over msrp.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
Regarding the dealer...

I went to Island Acura in Wantagh.

I'm in Brooklyn. I tried the following:

Acura of Brooklyn - no MDX for test drive.
Acura of Denville - waiting list of 1 YEAR.
Hillside Acura - MSRP + 1k, no MDX for test drive.
Acura of Roslyn - delivery date of January too late for me.

If anyone knows of a better place, I'll plop down a deposit, to hedge my bets. I'm very disappointed with Hillside, mainly because they indicated that I'd get 'mats' with my $500 market adjustment (which, was a very nice way of saying 'you're getting NOTHING with it').

I posted in the 'Your Experience' section - this was my MAJOR beef against the Acura. Their dealers are horrible (my experience at least). The rest on the above list were very helpful, and all provided a decent competitive price for their product. Acura was more like 'we don't need you - go away or put down some cash'.

If anyone knows of a tri-state dealer taking MSRP and offering November delivery, with decent prices on accessories (because I did want the steps; I just didn't want to be forced to get them at 2x MSRP), please let me know.
 

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Re: Obeejr-

JNanas said:
Thanks, but I'm still confused by documentation I've seen from Acura and others alike.

First - let me explain what I believe to be the fault (and I can be wrong - I don't own and didn't design this vehicle): the lack of a full time 4WD system.

According to the sales documentation, you can lock in 4WD in low gears, up to 18 MPH. As you approach 18, the amount of power transferred to the rear wheels decreases, until the speed equals 18 MPH, at which point it is zero.

I don't doubt that you get some 4WD features at any speed - just that you have to wait for the VTM system to kick in. I would have liked the option to lock in the 4WD up to about 35 MPH.

(incidentally - having owned other 4WD vehicles for recreation and for towing, I know that all those vehicles recommend that you do not engage the 4WD system above 35 MPH, for fear of damaging the system).

Still - don't get me wrong - for all practical purposes, the MDX's VTM system is all you'd need.
May I be blunt?

1] The MDX has a full time AWD system

2] Rear wheel torque is reduced to zero at 18 mph only when the VTM-4 button is depressed

3] There is no "wait for the VTM system to kick in"

http://english.acuracanada.ca/models/mdx_benefits.asp

It's all in there. Check VTM sections under "Overview" and "Drivetrain".
 

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Re: Regarding the dealer...

JNanas said:

If anyone knows of a tri-state dealer taking MSRP and offering November delivery, with decent prices on accessories (because I did want the steps; I just didn't want to be forced to get them at 2x MSRP), please let me know.
JNanas, try out of state dealers and the cost above MSRP would be the delivery cost (approx $500 depending on the distance). See my experience below and good luck. BTW, that was a great analysis.

http://www.acuramdx.org/forums/showthread.php?threadid=963
 

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JNanas,
Great post. Thanks for sharing your research with us. I looked at the X5 & ML320 also, but decided on the MDX for many of the same reasons you did. Your information helped me confirm my decision and will help many others to make a decision. Thanks!
 

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Compliment on the study....

Great job on the study. You have done your homework and obviously kept an open mind and unbiased opinion when considering your opinion. The 4 wheel drive system on the MDX works a little different from traditional 4WD systems. As you said the MDX is meant for occasional/mild 4 Wheeling and Acura has not marketed it as a hardcore offroader like the competition has. It was not marketed for that but if you have read some past reviews and first drives on the MDX a lot of the reviewers were quite impressed on how it handles off road and it is capable except going over boulders and huge rocks but why would you anyways? I am more comfortable with the VTM system since it will kick in only when you really need it, and since I do am not an experienced 4 wheeler this system matches my skills better and I suspect I am not alone at this. Of course an experienced 4 wheeler will opt for a more hard core off road performer, I wished Mitsubishi would bring the Lancer Evolution series here in the US that would be a nice every day driver.
 

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4WD

I am not going to get "technical" and argue all pros and cons of MDX's 4WD. However, since I had a chance to drive this car through NYC winter which happened to be snowey for a change, i would like to offer a word of caution.

MDX is almost 4,500 lbs! No AWD, ESC nor even GOD will help you if you try to do something "stupid" in detrimental conditions. I jumped into the MDX from Subaru Outback. What Subaru would go through "laughing" while doing so, MDX had problems with! At one point a "near miss" of app. 1/2 of an inch on each side was caused by MDX refusal to stop!!!

Driving about 10 mph in second gear with VTM-4 engaged on a snowey street, I applied breaks (GENTLY) in order to stop at a Stop sign. I was app. 30-50 feet behind a car that was already standing there. ABS started making usual ratcheted noise, but the car NEVER slowed down. I miraculoisly found a clearance the size of MDX + 0.5 of an inch on each side between that stopped car and a parked car. I finally stopped even with the first car!!!

If you are looking for safe handling and substaintial savings $$$ and the size does not really matter to you that much, consider Subaru!!! I know for a fact, that if we ever need a second car or my or my wife's parents decide to renovate their wheels (which, by the way are also Subarus), they will have my business in a heartbeat!
And Subaru dealers and Subaru Corporate treat you like you are buying a $50K luxury car, not a $20-25K everyday vehicle. (based on my experience with 3 different dealers)
 

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Re: Regarding the dealer...

JNanas said:
. . .
I'm in Brooklyn. I tried the following . . . If anyone knows of a tri-state dealer taking MSRP . . ., please let me know.
I too am from NYC. I investigated L.I. dealers; visited Paragon (and was jerked around b/c they wanted $2K over); called other local dealers (5 month waits and upto $5K over MSRP); and finally bought at Brunswick in NJ. I got my car without waiting and paid MSRP with no options (probably just lucky, I called one day last December and they had one in transit; I went in the next day and it acutally had arrived the night before; but, I probably got screwed on my Explorer trade by $1,700). Try calling Fred (nice enough guy, but like all Acura dealers, they make no excuses for asking for and getting maximum profit).

If you are a little handy with a few tools, save a bundle by buying your accessories from Tim @ HondaAcuraworld.
 

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Discussion Starter #14
Thanks!

I'll give Brunswick a try. I'm quite handy myself, and that's what kills me about the forced side steps @ $825 plus tax (which is basically a whopping $900). I can order the steps from time for about $500, and save the extra $400 by installing them myself in no more than an hour. The question remains - will my wife consider the remote possibility of maybe letting me attempt to install them? (if it was a 92 Explorer... maybe) ;)
 

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Discussion Starter #16
Dunno if it's elsewhere on the board...

But here was another link I used to gauge the effectiveness of the MDX's 4WD. Car and Driver took the luxury SUVs out to the dirttrack to get some test results:

http://www.caranddriver.com/xp/Caranddriver/comparisontests/2000/December/200012_comparisontest_designerutes.xml

The MDX won, although they did mention that it was clearly not an offroad vehicle.

That's what disappoints me about most car reviews. There should be a clear audience for the review - when you see a movie review, the critic always indicates that this is a 'juvenile', 'family', etc type movie.

Why don't car reviews do the same thing? Did someone honestly think that Acura had the typical pickup user in mind when they designed the MDX? Hardly.
 

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Re: 4WD

vip9 said:
...Driving about 10 mph in second gear with VTM-4 engaged on a snowey street, I applied breaks (GENTLY) in order to stop at a Stop sign. I was app. 30-50 feet behind a car that was already standing there. ABS started making usual ratcheted noise, but the car NEVER slowed down. I miraculoisly found a clearance the size of MDX + 0.5 of an inch on each side between that stopped car and a parked car. I finally stopped even with the first car!!!
vip9,
If I remember correctly, you have a base model which has the Goodyear tires which may perform differently from the Michelin's that came on mine which has the Touring package. Tires can make a big difference and it would be interesting to see if MDX owners with the Goodyears experience the same kind of snow traction problems you did compared with those of us with the Michelins. I got mine after the winter so I can not offer any data points. However I did use my VTM Lock to pull the John Deere tractor out of my culvert and it worked like a champ. Only time I needed it so far.:D
 

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Re: Tires

Remery, you may be right as far as the tires are concerned.

On the other hand, Subaru had mediocre Bridgestones which, by 5th year, were getting a little worn out. Still, I NEVER!!! experienced loss of traction (including fishtailing) in all 5 years of owning that car. I guess I do not need to convincce you that Subaru can "boldly go where no [car] had gone before". i certainly look forward to your comments on VDC vs MDX handling next winter.
To me, that was a disappointment as I thought
(how naive :() that all AWD are "created equal" for everyday driving.

My original post, although probably a little misplaced based on JNanas' original thread topic, would act, I hope, as a little caution to those who think that VTM, AWD, and ABS will save them in any unforeseen situation. Sometimes it would not offer any additional benefits in comparison to a regular front-wheel-drive car.
 

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Re: 4WD

vip9 said:
Driving about 10 mph in second gear with VTM-4 engaged
on a snowey street, I applied breaks (GENTLY) in order to
stop at a Stop sign. I was app. 30-50 feet behind a car
that was already standing there. ABS started making usual
ratcheted noise, but the car NEVER slowed down.
You slid more than 30 feet at 10 MPH? Downhill???
 

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Re: Re: 4WD

Crem de la SUV said:
vip9 said:
Driving about 10 mph in second gear with VTM-4 engaged
on a snowey street, I applied breaks (GENTLY) in order to
stop at a Stop sign. I was app. 30-50 feet behind a car
that was already standing there. ABS started making usual
ratcheted noise, but the car NEVER slowed down.
You slid more than 30 feet at 10 MPH? Downhill???
Downhill, huh? It may sound "funny" now, it was not funny during those few seconds... It took me about a minute to shake it off and finally pull away from that stop sign.

And, by the way, it was not icy, just about 3 inches of fresh show (with only several cars going on that street before me, so snow was not well-packed)

Crem, to answer you question, it was NOT downhill. If it were, I would at least get some better MPG. :)
 
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