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Honda MDX V6 2003 review

The incoming waves have already given us the Mitsubishi Outlander, the Toyota Prado, the Kia Sorento and the Lexus RX330 in the first four months of the year. And that's only the all-new arrivals.

The number is far bigger if you include updates on everything from the BMW X5 and the Mazda Tribute to Jeep's Grand Cherokee and the Mercedes ML.

So where does the factory-fresh Honda MDX fit? It's towards the top, and not just on price and size.

Explore the 2003 Honda MDX range

The MDX is a quality job that shows Honda is serious again about enticing people into showrooms with cutting-edge cars.

This follows several years -- and models -- that were a bit less than Honda's best.

The MDX is a new flagship in Australia and its pricetag of $69,990 covers everything, including a sunroof, seven leather seats and a body built big for America.

It's going to lure people away from the pace-setting BMW X5 and the Mercedes ML in the luxury 4WD class, as well as creating a hot new rivalry with the Lexus RX330.

Honda is right on the money with the MDX, which drives light yet tight. It has plenty of cabin space, a smooth V6 engine and a part-time 4WD system that should satisfy anyone who wants to do some light duty off the bitumen.

Honda has made it a sharp price for its class and, by including all the gear you expect in a flagship, it could easily steal sales from the Legend sedan.

It also gives the company somewhere to go if it decides to play the price game, using an MDX with less equipment.

Right now, Honda expects it to repeat the performance of its compact CR-V to easily achieve 2000 sales a year.

Australia has had to wait too long for the MDX, but only because of the cost of developing a right-hand drive model. When Japan finally said yes, it was also readied for showrooms Down Under.

The basic layout is a big, two-box 4WD with a 3.5-litre V6 engine.

A five-speed automatic gearbox turns the front wheels, with a button to boost drive to the back wheels.

There are 10 cupholders, five child-restraint anchorages, and three 12-volt power sockets.

It's an American-style high rider but with a softer Honda look and an all-in approach to luxury that should make shopping a lot easier.

There are anti-skid brakes, front and head airbags, auto aircon, top CD sound, all the electric assists, alloy wheels, the sunroof and leather seats.

The mechanical package is built up from a fully independent suspension bolted to a monocoque body, not a separate ladder-chassis 4x4 set-up.

Honda claims 191kW of power and 345Nm of torque to move nearly two tonnes of MDX. And you have to use premium unleaded fuel to do the job.

It's going to drive into action against a huge range of rivals, from the popular Pajero and the new Prado to the ML and the X5.

But it has plenty of ammunition for the battle.

It could also win friends from Legend shoppers. Sales of the Honda flagship have slumped to just nine cars in the first four months of this year.

As well, it could provide a choice for Honda fans who would have bought an Odyssey people mover.

On the road DRIVING the MDX is one of the better surprises. We expected it to be soft, relying on luxury equipment to make friends, but it's a lot better.

It is swift, feels tight yet light, has easily the best suspension we've found on any recent Honda. And it wins points with everything from comfy front buckets to a foldaway third bench.

It's as impressive in its own field as the compact Honda Jazz, and without the buck-buck suspension, which is the only real flaw in the four-star baby car.

The MDX also won us over with its ability to cover distances with no fuss, tackle some lightweight off-roading without stress, and cater for big-family action.

After the CRV, which we'd recommend for suburban duties but avoid if you want a weekend escape machine, the MDX really kicks.

Honda's engineers have chosen front MacPherson struts in place of the twin wishbones that have been almost a signature item in all its vehicles. They make the car quiet and relaxed for highway work.

It still has the signature steering, which is light but direct. There is no tugging under brisk acceleration and it is surprisingly easy to park.

The 3.6-litre V6 didn't feel as punchy as Honda claims, but that could be down to the heavy body.

It's a big car and it needs all 345Nm of torque to get it moving from a standing start. The engine pulls smoothly to the redline and there is good overtaking power.

But the fuel economy of 13.4 litres/100km -- on premium fuel, remember -- shows it is working relatively hard.

The rest of the MDX package is comfortable and enjoyable.

We're no fans of the foot-operated parking brake, which could cause an injury in a side-on smash.

And the giant screen in the centre of the dash is a fidgety gadget.

But these are minor niggles in an instant four-star hit that's likely to find lots of friends in Australia.

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Range and Specs

(base) 3.5L, PULP, 5 SP AUTO $5,500 – 8,470 2003 Honda MDX 2003 (base) Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide


Lowest price, based on 8 car listings in the last 6 months

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