- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is it possible to build a sport-utility vehicle that puts as much emphasis on the “sport” as it does on the “utility”? The folks at Acura say “yes,” and they believe they have proved their point with the 2007 MDX.

They’ve increased the power, revised the suspension, upgraded the all-wheel-drive system and, for good measure, they’ve redesigned and slightly increased the body size, refined the interior, upgraded the amenities, increased the practicality, and, of course, raised the price a bit.

The emphasis on sportiness begins with the redesign. The boxy look of the first-generation MDX has given way to a bolder design with a more sculpted body, a curvaceous roofline and a more aggressive looking grille.

But looks alone won’t get you around that sharp curve. You have to look beneath the sheet metal to see the hardware that adds a new dimension to what already had been a capable and comfortable vehicle.

Under the hood you’ll find a new 3.7-liter V-6 engine that cranks out 300 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque and a five-speed automatic transmission. That’s a power increase of 47 horses and 25 foot-pounds over the 3.5-liter V-6 predecessor. Admittedly, you’ll probably never see two SUVs in a drag race, but this 4,600-pound truck’s seven-second 0-60 time gives it an edge over most of the competition. The same is true of its 17/23 miles per gallon EPA rating. In my real-world driving, however, the fuel efficiency numbers were 15/21. The real test of sportiness, of course, comes from the handling department, not the engine compartment, and Acura engineers even traveled to the famed Nurburgring race course in Germany to fine tune the MDX. To overcome the inherent instability of a tall truck with a high center of gravity, Acura has taken on the laws of physics with an updated independent suspension and what it somewhat immodestly calls Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.

Not only can SH-AWD keep the Acura on the go on off-road trails and in bad weather, it can distribute power to the right or left rear wheels as needed to help the MDX get around curves. Add to that stability control and traction control and the MDX provides best-in-class cornering.

On models equipped with the sport package, Acura includes a shock-absorber system that can be adjusted to two settings, comfort and sport. The sport setting offers additional body control for the aggressive driver, while the comfort setting provides the more compliant ride that luxury-vehicle passengers expect.

The rack-and-pinion steering is heavy, but responsive, and the beefy, four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes stand ready to bring the MDX to a stop in a hurry.

Those who use an SUV for trailering will be happy to know that towing capacity has jumped from 3,500 to 5,000 pounds and the vehicle’s stability control works to keep the trailer from a tendency to weave.

Inside, the seven-passenger MDX features comfortable and supportive leather-covered seats in the first two rows and two mostly-for-children, fold-flat third-row seats that trace their origin — don’t whisper a word of this — to the interior of parent Honda’s minivan. The clever packaging provides cargo space ranging from 15 cubic feet with all seats in place to 84 cubic feet with second and third rows folded flat. Controls and instrumentation are intuitive and driver-oriented, and all MDX models come with a high level of comfort and convenience features. In addition, the MDX comes with a comprehensive list of safety features.

Base price of the MDX is $39,995. There are three option packages: a technology package, a sport package and an entertainment package. The test vehicle came with the sport and entertainment packages and a sticker price of $48,465.

Included were a navigation system, rear entertainment center with 9-inch screen, premium sound system, xenon high-intensity headlights, power sunroof and power tailgate.

In the final analysis, it would be a mistake to think that suspension tuning can turn a sport-utility vehicle into a sport sedan.

Those laws of physics can be stretched only so far. But the Acura’s attributes should be enough to put it high on the list of the person looking for a satisfying mix of sport and utility in a premium SUV.

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