I bought my '04 with 160,000 miles, and felt that the handling wasn't quite what I wanted it to be - it was starting to show its age/ mileage.
Replace the lower control arms (with ball joints), and the inner and outer tie rod ends. Replace the struts (I'd recommend "quality" struts, and re-using the original springs so you don't end up changing the ride height). I suspect that the rear shocks are fine - I changed mine and it made no difference. Also change the front sway bar bushings, and the links if they show any signs of being loose / worn. At that point, the car will ride and feel an awful lot like a brand new one (but without those pesky payments!). ;-)
Woozy, it was a joke. There are a lot of people on here getting “high mileage” units that were soccer mom owned and all that was done was spark plugs and oil changes only. It blows my mind how some previous owners drive down the road in a car for a decade and don’t notice a change in the feel of their rides. Blissful ignorance I guess.
I totally agree with Habbyguy (especially with keeping the OE springs...damn things look like the front wheels stopped on a small speed bump), I replaced my rear shocks and felt a difference with cornering. The car is heavy and more top heavy than several SUV’s I’ve owned/ driven. Habby is right, you don’t feel much difference because the MDX is made to tow so it’s got a back end like a truck for weight not a car for handling. I have this turn right before I get home...it’s a fast merging right hand on a three way intersection. When going home that direction has the right of way so everyone does the turn at speed (40MPH) at about 45+. When wet I had to slow down to take it (it’s a turn and drop...about 15ft over 75yards), the backend would break loose and drift left at anything over 42mph. After the rear shocks got replaced I can do about 48MPH safely in the wet. Maybe because the back was loosing wheel contact from the turn and drop...who knows. But anything that keeps that 4500lb+ girls butt planted on a turn like that is worth mentioning. That turn has some history for catching tourists off guard because you don’t think to slow down from the look of it till the drop registers. Just my opinion about the rears being weirdly important on the 1st Gen. But MDX’s don’t make good “drifter’s!
This is what I did. At around 207,000 miles, I put new struts in. I put shocks in earlier. Both were KYB G2 and both made a difference. Still have the original sway bar bushings. With 259,000 miles, I can hear slight noise over bumps which I determined to be deteriorating control arms. At 275-300k I am going to replace them. I don't understand the other comments here. I think this car is a tiger for it's size. If you put in a nice set of tires with a bite to them, it corners better than, say, Lexus sedans. Prior to a few weeks ago, I had a set of Cooper CS5 tires and was extremely pleased with them after they wore out at 40,000 miles. Highway noise on them was minimal, though the new Arizonians are quieter for obvious reasons, but the T-speed rating clips the handling a bit. So, bottom line: struts, shocks, control arms and tires and your'e good to go.
My major fault with the 1stGen’s would first be weight and then braking. Because (honestly), it’s a “luxury” SUV and one of the first real luxury SUV’s the weight killing the brake feel is excused for the most part. I’m in NH and she tends to float when the ABS kicks in on snow (with or without snow tires). Like I’ve said in other posts before, my Escalade stops better in the snow than my MDX. That is saying something when you look at the weight difference. I think it’s the ABS setup and I’ve made it a little better with slotted rotors but slotted rotors ear pads faster so there’s a trade off. As far as handling goes, pound for pound it took the BMW X5 to better handle the MDX. OldsVista is right, she’s a good big vehicle! If it wasn’t for the dinner table seating position you could forget your in a SUV.
The bushings that cause the most obvious ride / handling issues are those in the lower control arms (the big donuts in the rear of the arms get weather-checked and loose). That probably made more difference than everything else on my 160,000 mile 1G MDX, other than MAYBE struts.