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Car Corner
Acura MDX & S Types

December 1, 2001
By Scott Lewis

Well, we traded in our 1999 Suburban on a new 2001 Acura MDX. While I was at the dealer I took the opportunity to test drive two S-Types (I know it is really Type-S, but that doesn't work well as a plural, so I took a little literary license), the Acura 3.2 CL Type-S, and the all new RSX Type-S.

MDX

We bought this in early October. You are only reading about it now, so don't think we bought one lounging on a lot. When we bought our MDX the 2002 models had not arrived yet. It was a fluke that we bought it at the time we did. My wife had trouble starting our Suburban to the point she was afraid she would be stuck at work. She finally got it started. When she got it home she tried to start it again, but wouldn't start it at all. When I got home it started just fine. Well, my wife called the Acura dealer to ask about the MDXs. We had previously looked at them and a few other car based sport utilities, and decided to get this one... when we could afford it.

Since the Suburban was acting up we decided to trade it in. However, the Acura dealer has a waiting list for the MDX... based on color. Tell them what color you want and give them $500. When that color comes in they will call you. When we called they told us they happened to get an extra Emerald Green in they hadn't expected, and wasn't on a waiting list. We went there the next day. For us it was either take this one or put ourselves on a waiting list for another color, so we bought it.

We got the "stripped" model. It was the standard MDX. They also have a premier edition that includes a navigation system, 6 disc in-dash CD changer, memory for the power seats, and a couple of other things I don't know about. We didn't want to spend an extra $3500 for those things... although the memory seats and 6 disc changer would be nice. We will have to make do with a single disc CD player, and power seats.

In fact that car is loaded for a stripped car. I love telling people that. We didn't get any options from the factory. The car (truck, SUV, whatever) comes loaded. Power windows, power seats, power mirrors, heated mirrors, heated seats, full time all wheel drive system (detects slip and reroutes power to other wheels), full leather interior, power sun/moon roof, anti-lock disc brakes, cruise control, radio controls in the steering wheel, trip computer with numerous fuel mileage readings, etc., etc., etc.

The base model really doesn't need anything. We did add a rear "spoiler" and had gold trim put on in place of the chrome in the grill and the rear of the car. It looks elegant against the dark green.

So.. now you are probably wondering what I like and don't like about the car. I am always up front about what is wrong with every car I drive, so let's start there... also because this will be the short list. With the drivers seat moved up (where my wife has it) the lower dash sticks out that I have to be very careful not to bang my knee getting in. I hate the gated gear selector. Just put a damn button on the shifter and let it move straight. I really don't like the mileage. The car is rated at 17/23. Why? How heavy can this thing be? It is just a jacked up car. My brother-in-law has a 3.2 TL Type-S, and he says the interior looks almost identical. His car has 20 more horsepower and still is rated at 29 on the highway. This thing should be able to get closer to 30 mpg. Finally the rear windows doesn't open. So if you want to carry long 2x4s home from Home Depot you will have to run them across the middle and maybe front seat.

One thing that is not actually wrong, but I will miss is the width of the front seats that the Suburban had. Each front seat was a captain's chair with its own armrest. The MDX has a padded console that double as the armrest... as so many cars have.

That's it. A short list of dislikes. Everything else about the MDX is very good. I love the way it drives. It is quiet inside, the engine has plenty of power (240 hp), and it handles like... a car! I am so tired of driving SUVs that drive like trucks. They bounce over speed bumps like crazy. Our 96 Explorer was really bad about that. I don't know if they improved that with the all new Explorer with its independent rear suspension. The 99 Suburban bounced less... mainly because of increased mass, but it still was a bit unsettling when it did it. Again, I don't know... but doubt they fixed that with the all new 2000s. The MDX is very smooth and soaks up speed bumps very well. Like a luxury car... which it really is.

One other thing we may miss is the 8th seat. Our Suburban sat 8, 3 in the last row. The MDX seats two in the the third row of seats bringing the total count to 7. My wife's sister and her family (4 in all) fit with us (4 in all) in the Suburban perfectly. Oh well, life's not perfect. They can drive their own car.

So... for us we finally get the best of both worlds. I get to drive a car, and my wife gets to ride up high in a SUV. What a combination. If they could just get car mileage out of it.

3.2 CL Type-S

I was curious how much power this car really had with its 260 hp V-6 engine. Its size puts it at a perfect car for me to trade in my Camaro for... should I ever decide to part with it. 

Before driving it I already had one gripe... it only comes with an automatic. The 3.2 CL is basically a two door version of the four door TL. I have driven a non Type-S TL, but not the 260 hp version. Since I really don't want a four door, the CL got the nod for a test drive.

I was very impressed with the power. Squealing the tire off the line is not a problem. The car feels strong throughout the power range. I am very impressed with the 5 speed automatic. I would still prefer a manual, but as automatics go this one is excellent. The 5 gears also come in handy to make the most of the V-6 engine. In any driving condition except a flat out drag race, the CL 3.2 is just as fast, if not a bit faster, than my Z-28. My Z would beat the CL in an actual drag race, but I think the CL is a better performer overall than my Z.

I don't say that lightly. The 5 speed transmission does an excellent job of keeping the engine in is power band, and shifts flawlessly. In my Camaro it feels like it doesn't have enough power, or it downshifts with a drastic rush of power. I would prefer something in between these extremes. The CL Type-S provides that "in between" of having just the right amount of power for almost any circumstance. Add to this all that the CL is more comfortable than the Camaro, yet can probably match it around a track. That would be tough to prove, but it is a feeling I get.

I haven't been able to find a road test of the CL Type-S to verify its actual performance, but I would have to say it is in the low 6 second range 0-60, and low 15, maybe high 14 seconds in the quarter mile.

The car I drove was priced at just a little over $29,000. That was below sticker... which was unheard of when the CL 3.2 first came out. I am seriously thinking about getting this car if I ever give up on my Camaro and give up on the idea of a convertible. If Acura made a convertible version of this car I would put it at the top of my list.

RSX Type-S

Being all new, and having 200 hp in such a small package with a six speed manual, I was wondering if this car would be worth getting instead of the CL Type-S. It is smaller, lighter, has a smaller engine, and a manual transmission. It should get a good deal better gas mileage. Now that I drive 70 miles round trip to work every day mileage has become a concern.

I drove the RSX back to back with the CL. It is hard to prove by myself, but I think the CL was a more powerful car. It seemed to be faster, and was definitely more relaxed doing it. The RSX begged me to take a two fisted approach to driving it. It felt very much like a boy racer, and I am sure it will be a popular car with the front wheel drive crowd. I saw Road & Track got an RSX Type-S to go 0-60 in 6.3 seconds, and do the quarter mile in 15.2 seconds. Both very good numbers. I can't verify that the CL is faster, but I will keep my eye out for a road test. I also felt cramped in the RSX. I had trouble getting comfortable and relaxed. Its engine is revving pretty high at normal highway speeds. I think this would drain on me with 70 mile round trip drives to work every day. And for all its smallness... the RSX only gets 2 mpg better gas mileage than the CL (in Type-S format, according to the EPA). BTW... the RSX Type-S was going for $23,000 and change. $6,000 less than the CL. I think it is worth it to spend the extra 6K for the CL.

The RSX had one feature going for it... it had auto up and down power windows. It was still only for the driver's windows though. Both the CL and the MDX only have auto down and only for the driver's window. That has been around for a long time and I even have that on my 93 Camaro that cost $20,800. These cars should have auto up and down for all windows... at least for the driver to control.

I jumped straight from the RSX into my Camaro Z-28, and I was much more comfortable in my 8 year old car than the brand new RSX. It just isn't the car for me. Until the Americans get off there collective asses and start building better cars I am hooked on the Acura CL 3.2 Type-S for my next car.

Chevrolet still has a chance to build an all new Camaro that is a world class car. I have ideas for that, so check out my column next month. For those that don't know the Camaro will see its last year of production in 2002... which is why I have saved my article about saving the Camaro for my first edition in 2002. See you then.

Conclusion

I like the MDX a lot. It drive very nice... like a car. I really like the CL 3.2 Type-S. It is fast, handles great, has plenty of luxury, all at a reasonable price compared to any car that cares to compete with it. The RSX is too noisy, with too little torque. You have to rev the daylights out of its engine to get the performance of the CL, and it is not nearly as comfortable. Perfect for the early 20 somethings that are hopping all over front wheel drive performance cars. Truly a pocket rocket, just not for me.

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