The point of the Junkyard Gems series is to share automotive history, and the period of the middle 1990s through early 2000s is a very interesting one for U.S.-market new vehicles. The SUV revolution went into high gear with the introduction of the 1991 Ford Explorer and 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee, and sales of sedans, hatchbacks, and minivans began their steady decline. The Detroit companies were in good shape to cash in on the commuter-truck craze, with plenty of additional models ready for a quick slathering of luxury features. Toyota, Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Isuzu were ready as well … but Honda was completely unprepared for the Next Big Thing at that point. With American sales absolutely critical to Honda (which has never held much market share for four-wheeled vehicles in its home country), a deal was made to rebadge the Isuzu Trooper as the Acura SLX and the Isuzu Rodeo as the Honda Passport while an all-Honda big SUV could be developed. That SUV was the Acura MDX, which debuted for the 2001 model year. Here’s one of those first-year MDXs, a huge turning point in Honda history, found in a Denver-area self-service boneyard recently.
Oh, sure, Honda began selling the CR-V over here in 1997 and so wasn’t completely out of the SUV game during the 1990s, but that little Civic-based machine was never going to lure away many Explorer or even Montero shoppers. The MDX was a proper three-row crossover SUV, despite being based on the same platform as the not-so-imposing Accord, and a Honda-badged version (the Pilot) followed two years later.
Here’s that third row, which looks quite cramped, but so what? MDX sales started out respectable and stayed that way.
Every 2001-2013 MDX ever sold here came with a VTEC-equipped V6, automatic transmission, and all-wheel-drive (some later MDXs could be bought with front-wheel-drive). This engine is a 3.5-liter DOHC plant rated at 240 horsepower and 245 pound-feet, decent enough for a truck that tipped the scales at well beyond two tons.
The MSRP on this truck was $34,370, which amounts to around $58,260 in inflation-adjusted 2022 dollars. The base ’01 Ford Explorer started at just $25,210, but the swankified Eddie Bauer Edition was better-suited to the Acura-shopper demographic and listed at $32,025. You could buy a new Montero XLS and do some serious off-roading for $31,397 that year, but it had warlord-grade ride to go with its warlord-grade abilities in the bundóks. The most intimidating rival for the MDX, from Honda’s point of view, must have been the Lexus RX 300 and its $33,955 starting price tag. Sure, just two rows of seats, but the Lexus brand stomped Acura for snob appeal at the time.
Below the Interior Color sticker (which tells us that this MDX has “Grace Beige” inside), there is a telltale REBUILT FROM SALVAGE stamp in the door jamb. This truck led a long and sometimes difficult life.
Taking the SUV to a place it’s never been before.