2003 Acura MDX -- Powertrain - Part 1

An advanced powertrain is essential to meet 2003 MDX's goals of providing V-8-like performance, class-leading low emissions, and excellent fuel economy. To that end, the MDX is powered by an advanced 3.5-liter, VTEC V-6, engine. Through a 40 percent reduction in exhaust resistance, key changes to the intake manifold, and other enhancements, horsepower and torque have both been increased for 2003. The MDX powerplant now produces 260 horsepower at 5750 rpm, a 20 horsepower gain compared to last year, and boosts torque output to 250 lb-ft of torque between 3500 and 5000 rpm, a 5 lb-ft gain over last year. Acura's renowned Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC') valvetrain, first used in the NSX supercar, adjusts the timing, duration, and lift of the intake valves according to engine speed. In conjunction with a two-stage intake manifold, VTEC yields muscular response at low- and medium-rpm, high peak-rpm performance, very low emissions, and best-in-class fuel efficiency.

The more powerful engine is coupled to an innovative drive-by-wire throttle system, which eliminates the need for a mechanical connection between the cockpit and engine, reduces overall weight by incorporating the cruise control function and helps to reduces shift shock by communicating with the transmission during up and down shifts.

To handle the additional horsepower and torque, the 2003 MDX receives an all-new, compact 5-speed, automatic transmission. This compact, efficient gearbox utilizes a super-flat torque converter and a 4-shaft layout that relocates the third gear clutch to reduce overall length by 60 mm over the previous transmission while increasing torque capacity. Furthermore, an innovative shaft center layout of the idle row gear reduces the amount of gear inclination during driving, thereby reducing gear noise. This transmission boasts several features engineered specifically for use in a mid-sized luxury SUV, including: wide gear ratios to optimize both start-up acceleration and highway cruising comfort, a lock-up torque converter for maximum efficiency and a rigid alloy case design for light weight.

The MDX's innovative VTM-4' (Variable Torque Management' 4-Wheel Drive) all-wheel drive system works with the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) to provide extra traction during acceleration and when encountering slippery road conditions. Additional VTM-4 benefits are improved dry-road vehicle dynamics, medium-duty off-road capability, and a lock feature to aid extraction from severe "stuck" conditions. A compact transfer case is bolted directly to MDX's front-mounted transaxle. A two-piece propeller shaft delivers torque from the transfer case to a rear axle drive unit. Two computer-controlled, electromagnetically-powered clutches engage as needed to provide torque to the rear wheels. For 2003, the VTM-4 system has been remapped to provide up to a 30 percent increase in rear torque for enhanced handling and increased steering feel, especially in slippery situations.



  • 3.5-liter 60-degree V-6 with belt-driven single-overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder
  • 260 horsepower at 5750 rpm; 250 lb-ft of torque from 3500-5000 rpm
  • Broad and flat torque curve with 95-percent of peak output available from 2500 to 5500 rpm
  • High flow exhaust system
  • Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC)
  • Drive-by-wire throttle system
  • Computer-controlled Programmed Fuel Injection (PGM-FI)
  • Dual-stage induction system
  • Direct Ignition system
  • 105,000-mile tune-up intervals

5-speed Automatic Transmission

  • Wide-ratio design provides a first gear with extra pulling power to start heavy loads in combination with a high top gear for quiet highway cruising
  • Components are engineered to provide the durability needed for on-road, off-road and towing use

Variable Torque Management 4-Wheel Drive (VTM-4)

  • Remapped for 2003 for up to 30 percent increase in rear torque
  • Uses integral, single-speed transfer case, two-piece propeller shaft, and electromagnetically-actuated clutches in a rear axle drive unit to provide the best of all-wheel drive and part time 4-wheel drive
  • Optimum vehicle dynamics during both dry and slippery conditions
  • Extra traction and stability on snow and wet roads
  • Rear-driving traction for off-road use
  • Lock feature for getting unstuck in slippery conditions
  • 212 lb. system weight is significantly lower than competitor systems

Fuel Economy and Exhaust Emissions

  • Fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg in city driving and 23 mpg on the highway in manufacturer testing using EPA test methods (best combined ratings in class)
  • Exhaust system retooled for 2003 to include two close-coupled primary catalyzers, an underfloor secondary catalyzer and a larger diameter exhaust pipe that help to reduce exhaust back pressure by 40 percent
  • All MDX models are designed to meet ULEV-2 standards

The Acura MDX's engine is an advanced 3.5-liter, SOHC, 24-valve, 60-degree, V-6, aluminum-block-and-head design that is compact, light and powerful. A long list of technologies has been engineered to provide 260 horsepower, a broad and flat torque curve, very low emissions, high fuel efficiency, and instantaneous throttle response. The VTEC valvetrain and dual-stage intake manifold optimize cylinder filling efficiency across the engine's entire operating range. Low-restriction intake and exhaust systems, a 10.0:1 compression ratio, and roller-type rocker arms also aid efficiency.

The MDX 3.5-liter engine's block is die-cast and made from heat-treated aluminum to minimize weight. A deep-skirt configuration rigidly supports the crankshaft, minimizing noise and vibration. Thin-wall, centrifugally-cast iron liners help reduce overall length and weight. Each liner's rough as-cast exterior surface bonds securely to surrounding aluminum during the manufacturing process to increase strength and enhance heat transfer.

A forged-steel crankshaft is used for maximum strength, rigidity, and durability with minimum weight. Instead of bulkier, heavier nuts and bolts, connecting rod caps are secured in place with smaller, high-tensile-strength fasteners that screw directly into the connecting rod. Short-skirt, cast-aluminum, flat-top pistons are notched for valve clearance and fitted with full-floating piston pins.

For 2003, the MDX receives innovative cylinder heads that include tuned exhaust manifolds as an integral part of the casting. Made of pressure-cast, low-porosity aluminum, these lightweight components improve overall packaging, enhance exhaust flow and permit optimal positioning of the primary close coupled catalytic converters.

Unlike many SUVs, the Acura MDX has four-valve combustion chambers, the best approach to optimum performance with excellent fuel efficiency and very low emissions.

Valves are clustered near the center of the bore to minimize combustion chamber volume and to provide ample squish area. A 10.0:1 compression ratio helps maximize thermal efficiency, power output, and fuel mileage. One centrally located camshaft per bank is driven by a fiberglass-reinforced toothed belt. Head gaskets are made of high-strength materials to contain combustion pressures.


The MDX's innovative Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control (VTEC) is one key to maximizing engine output across the full operating range. To help boost peak horsepower in the 2003 model, the high-rpm induction lobes of the camshaft provide 0.5 mm additional valve lift. Ordinary engines have fixed valvetrain parameters - the same timing of valve lift and overlap whether the tachometer needle is struggling to climb out of the low-rpm range or screaming at the redline. The VTEC approach, however, has two distinct modes so that operation of the intake valves changes to optimize both volumetric efficiency (breathing) and combustion of the fuel-air mixture. In order to achieve the optimum valmetric efficiency in the lower portion of the engine's operating range so rocker arms are programmed to follow cam lobes that provide low lift and reduced duration (shorter time open with less valve lift).

At 4400 rpm, the MDX's powertrain control module commands the VTEC system to switch intake valve operation to the high-rpm mode. In response, an electric spool valve opens to route pressurized oil to small pistons within the intake-valve rocker arms. These pistons then slide to lock the three rocker arms provided for each cylinder together. As a result, both intake valves follow a central high-lift, longer-duration cam lobe. The switching process takes just 0.1 second and is undetectable by the driver.

The extra lift and longer duration provide the added air and fuel the engine needs to produce high peak horsepower and a broader torque band. Instead of a peaky engine, the MDX has a powerplant that provides excellent performance at any engine speed.

The induction system atop the MDX's V-6 engine works in concert with the VTEC valvetrain to significantly boost torque across the engine's full operating range. Internal passages and two butterfly valves commanded by the powertrain control module are configured to provide two distinct modes of operation. The valves are closed at lower rpms. In this mode, the three cylinders on each bank draw air from only the nearer half of the manifold's internal chamber, or plenum. The volume of the plenum and the length of inlet passages are both tuned to maximize the resonance effect, wherein pressure waves are amplified within each half of the intake manifold at certain rpm ranges. The amplified pressure waves significantly increase cylinder filling and the torque produced by the engine throughout the lower part of its rpm band. Funnel-shaped intake ports - similar to those used on racing engines - are built in at the uppermost end of each intake runner to improve air flow. To help boost horsepower for 2003, the length of these ports was changed to increase the velocity of the air/fuel mixture into the cylinder in the higher rpm range.

As the benefits of the resonance effect dwindle with rising rpm, the butterfly valves open to interconnect the two halves of the plenum, thereby doubling its volume. For 2003, these butterfly valves open at 3700 rpm instead of 3500 rpm. An electric motor commanded by the powertrain control module opens directly and closes the connecting butterfly valves. Now each cylinder draws intake air from the full plenum chamber. The inertia of the mass of air rushing down each intake passage helps draw in more charge than each cylinder would normally ingest. This phenomenon is the same effect produced by a low-pressure supercharger. The inertia effect greatly enhances cylinder filling efficiency and the torque produced by the engine at higher rpm. Concurrently, the VTEC system has switched from low-speed to high-speed valve timing to further enhance air flow through the intake valves and into each cylinder.

The net effect of the MDX's dual-stage intake manifold and VTEC valve train is that MDX delivers more torque and power than many of the large V-6s and small V-8s used by the competition, while also providing class-leading fuel efficiency and very low emissions. More than 95-percent of peak torque is available from 2500 to 5500 rpm.

Fuel is delivered in sequence and timed to each cylinder's induction stroke by six injectors mounted on the lower portion of the intake manifold. The 2003 MDX is the first Acura vehicle to feature innovative orifice-type injectors instead of pintle-type injectors. These new injectors optimize the fuel spray pattern, and improve fuel atomization for increased fuel mileage and reduced emissions. A 32-bit, 40MHz central processor unit (CPU) within the MDX's powertrain control module calculates injection timing and duration after assessing an array of sensor signals: crankshaft and camshaft position, throttle position, coolant temperature, intake manifold pressure and temperature, atmospheric pressure, and exhaust-gas oxygen content. The CPU controlling the MDX's Programmed Fuel Injection (PFM-FI), VTEC valve train, dual-stage intake Manifold and the transmission also communicates with CPUs that regulate the new drive-by-wire throttle, the Variable Torque Management 4-wheel-drive system and the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA).

For 2003, the MDX features an innovative drive-by-wire throttle system with technology gleaned from the NSX sports car. This new, second generation drive-by-wire system replaces a conventional throttle cable arrangement with an all-electronic system that senses the throttle pedal position and relays that information to a computer. The computer then performs the actual throttle activation instantaneously. Unlike the NSX system, this system utilizes a DC motor instead of a Step Motor within the throttle body.

The MDX drive-by-wire system works by means of a throttle pedal sensor, a throttle angle sensor, an electronic control unit and a DC motor to control throttle opening and provide fail-safe throttle operation. This system allows for throttle control to be integrated into the VSA and VTM-4 systems and also incorporates the cruise control function. To improve shifting smoothness, the drive-by-wire system controls the throttle during transmission shifts. To maximize driving feel, throttle pedal characteristics are calibrated to be smooth and linear during start up, when driving on ice or other low traction surfaces, and more responsive during acceleration.

The 2003 MDX uses a single, serpentine belt to operate all of the engine's accessory drives. In addition to saving space compared to the dual-belt system used on the previous generation engine, this maintenance-free component features an integral auto tensioner.

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