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by Daniel DeGasperi

The Honda MDX is tipped to return to Australia within two years.

The third generation of the premium large SUV will soon be revealed, possibly at the LA auto show next week. Interest has now been confirmed to CarAdvice by Honda Australia, which is rumoured to have imported prototypes to test locally.

“We’d love to have the MDX back,” said Honda Australia’s principal advisor, Lindsay Smalley. “We need to plug our model line. We need to plug that [premium-large SUV] line, and plug the sub-compact SUV segment.”

Smalley, a Honda veteran of 23 years, and planning retirement in December, argues that Honda MDX would do better now than the first generation (pictured main and below) did when it launched here in 2003. Back then, the X5/ML-sized MDX launched from $69,990, powered by a 3.5-litre V6 engine.

In its first full year on-sale, the MDX garnered just 677 sales, compared with 3138 units of the BMW X5 and 1226 of the Mercedes-Benz ML. Last year, the entire SUV Luxury segment tallied 30,000 units.

Any suggestion that Honda may realign the MDX as a Mazda CX-9 rival, rather than a BMW X5 competitor, was ruled out. “I couldn’t imagine any change in its positioning,” said Smalley.

This is despite the Honda Accord Euro lining up as a ‘non premium’ Mazda6 competitor in Australia. The Euro, like the MDX, sells in North America as an Acura, Honda’s Lexus-rivalling premium brand.

The current, second-generation Honda MDX launched in 2006 and is due to be replaced within a year. It is powered by a 224kW/370Nm 3.7-litre V6 linked to a six-speed automatic, but is produced only in left-hand drive at Ontario, Canada. That will almost certainly change with the new model, according to Smalley.

Where other manufacturers are forging ahead with turbocharging downsized engines, Honda is committed to expanding its hybrid vehicle line-up. Smalley promises that there are “some very clever things happening with hybrid technology at the moment” including harnessing the electric motor inside the continuously variable transmission, to reduce parasitic power loss.

With increasingly stringent emissions regulations being enforced in the MDX’s North America home market, it is highly likely the two-tonne seven-seater will be available with a petrol-electric drivetrain. It would also provide Honda with a rival for the Lexus RX450h.

No doubt the local arm will look at the sales performance of the recently-launched Infiniti FX before making a final decision on whether to import the Honda MDX.

Sources currently put the chances of the Honda MDX coming to Australia at about 80 per cent.