Back to the Wild, cont'd.

Oct 1, 2001
Outside Magazine

2001 Acura MDX



IT WAS WHILE we were switchbacking down a little tapeworm of a road in the volcanic mountains above Ouray, Colorado, that I first realized that the Acura MDX scares the hell out of me. The on-board navigation system had suddenly begun to flash detailed maps of our real-time position. On our way to a long weekend's rafting trip with friends, we could see every hairpin turn, every lake and stream, every feature save the occasional bull elk grazing by the roadside. We were a little red blip swimming in a subtly changing vista on a computer screen. Uncomfortably, it dawned on us what was happening: Some winking, blipping sputnik up in the firmament knew exactly where we were. We were being stalked.

Longitude, latitude, altitude, temperature, bearing, and speed—our place in the world was minutely accounted for. When we took the MDX off-road, the GPS computer planted tiny "bread crumbs" so that we could find our exact path back to civilization, like Theseus threading through the Minotaur's labyrinth. The thing actually spoke to us. "Left turn, 100 feet ahead," it squawked at one point, in a digitized, Stephen Hawking voice.

Before I drove the MDX, I'd always felt that, like dogs and barbecue grills, no car should be smarter than its owner. Yet slyly, quietly, the Acura's nimbleness, eagerness to please, and relentless usefulness make you soon forget that all your personal freedoms have been compromised by its Orwellian technology.

The MDX is an aggressively styled and slightly futuristic-looking thing built on the chassis of a minivan—the Honda Odyssey. It rides with the fat silkiness of a luxury sedan, maneuvers with the agility of a sports car, hauls prodigious amounts of stuff like a truck, and has a forward-facing third seat that's a godsend to all fecund parents who live in Soccer Nation. It handles adroitly on ice and snow, so I'm told, thanks to its all-wheel-drive system. And while Acura claims the MDX is only built for "medium duty" off-roading, it's tough as an musk ox. Not only that, it gets half-decent mileage (for an SUV).

Yes, the automobile appears to be headed down the scary road toward a totalitarian fantasy, but if the MDX is any indication, it's going to be a pleasure to drive. —Hampton Sides

240-horsepower V-6 engine; all-wheel drive; 82 cubic feet cargo capacity; 7 passengers; 17 mpg city, 23 mpg highway; $39,450 (as tested);

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