The automotive mantra when a manufacturer launches a new or significantly upgraded vehicle is that it has held the line on prices, particularly when figuring in equipment now standard that was optional last year.

But Acura is making no such claim for its all-new MDX premium sport utility.

And it can't, because prices have shot up between 7.6 and 8.1 percent depending on packages selected. Acura says it has figured in all the new features now available as standard equipment and the price hike is just 6.2 percent.

However you figure it, someone driving a 2002 MDX who decides it's time to trade up for the all-new model may indeed be hit up side the head with sticker shock.

But Acura defends the hike into 40-grand territory because the MDX has become a more upscale vehicle for 2007 with more of everything including size, horsepower and technological wizardry. You might say the new MDX has stepped up a rung on the luxury ladder making price increases necessary that are not usually associated with vehicles separated by just one model year.


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Prices for the 2007 MDX range from $40,665 to $48,465. Prices last year started at $37,795.

The new MDX is a dandy mid-sized specimen, indeed, with a 300-horsepower V-6 engine under the hood and optional "active suspension" that keeps the truck planted through hard cornering by controlling roll, pitch and dive.

In fact, we might say this is more of a driver's sport utility than most of its competitors and certainly more than the outgoing MDX.

It was tested and road tuned on the famous Nurburgring track in Germany.

Along with the 47-horsepower increase, the MDX gained a few pounds as well as a few inches — its 2.2 inches longer and 2.4 inches wider than the original MDX. And it also lost just a tad in gas mileage — 22 vs. 23 highway.

Although the 2007 edition feels sprightlier than the 2006 model, we kept thinking there should be more forward momentum until we studied the vehicle's specifications and discovered it weighed in at nearly 4,600 pounds.

Automotive sources have unofficially pronounced a 0-to-60 time from 8.1 seconds (MotorWeek) to 7.5 seconds (Motor Trend).

The MDX is athletic, but it's has a football linebacker's type of athleticism as opposed to a gymnast's.

It even has more of a football linebacker's face with the over-the-top grille that says "let's get down and dirty." We like the Acura front end design theme used over the past few years, but perhaps it has been taken a step too far in this rendition. It's one of those "eyes of the beholder" things.

Its face aside the overall look of the new SUV is appealing with the broad shoulders of — well, you guessed it — a linebacker. Its wide stance and bulging wheelwells lend to the athletic look.

Once inside and behind the wheel, you discover the real charms of this new creation. The Honda engine has a silky smooth sound, the interior bits and pieces are perfectly aligned, materials are of excellent quality and the seats are sinfully comfortable.

You want to be behind the wheel for the new MDX has a winning personality that makes driving it addictive. "Can we leave early and take the long way around?"

The MDX offers an extensive list of standard features including all-wheel drive, a tri-zone automatic climate control system with humidity control, a hands-free wireless telephone interface, a 253-watt, 8-speaker premium sound system with a multi-format 6-disc changer, XM Satellite radio, a MP3/auxiliary input jack for connecting personal audio players, 18-inch wheels, xenon high intensity headlights, moonroof and power and heated front seats.

Standard safety is also abundant with front side airbags, side-curtain airbags with rollover sensor, active front head restraints, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control and four-wheel antilock brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. Also standard is a tire pressure monitoring system.

Acura makes the buying experience painless with just three packages — added to the base vehicle — to pick from.

The technology package adds voice-controlled navigation system (my wife should understand me so well), solar-sensing climate control and rearview camera. The sport package has all the technology package features plus active sports suspension and upgraded leather trim. An entertainment package can be bundled with either of technology or sport and includes rear DVD entertainment, heated second-row seats and power tailgate.

While the adjustable suspension is interesting, you could save a couple grand by going with the technology/entertainment combo. That's what our test vehicle had at $46,365. Sport and entertainment comes in at $48,465.

The standard suspension offers a smooth, supple ride while allowing for zesty driving making the active suspension simply a exercise in handling overkill except for the hard-core enthusiast.

Of course if rear movies aren't necessary in your driving life and you don't much care about keeping your rear passengers' buns warmed, another two grand can be saved by opting out of the entertainment package bringing the bottom line to an easier-to-swallow $44,165.

We think the technology package is a must have. The navigation system is excellent, perhaps the best on the market. And the menu-accessing joystick that accompanies it is relatively self explanatory. But here's the good part — climate and audio controls are not bundled into the navigation screen and can be accessed through knobs and buttons, the old fashioned way.

So its big, it has a face only a mother can love, it costs more than a fine 5-star European vacation for the entire family, and yet from behind the wheel the Acura is hard to beat for 45 grand offering a wonderful driving experience and a myriad of cutting edge toys at hand.

Forgetting about the styling, and the fact that we are going to have to somehow reconcile the postponement of the long-planned European vacation to buy the MDX, one must learn to endure.

But then again who needs to endure those impolite Frenchmen particularly when the alternative is an extra 12 months behind the wheel of the new Acura creation.

Essentials

Base price: $40,665; as driven: $46,365
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 300 @ 6,000 rpm
Torque: 275 pound-feet @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3/2
Turning circle: 37.6 feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Maximum payload: 1,430 pounds
Curb weight: 4,550 pounds
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 190.7 inches
Fuel capacity: 21 gallons (premium)
EPA mileage: 22 highway, 17 city
0-60 mph: 7.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Volvo XC90, BMW X5, Lexus RX 350, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes M-Class

The Good:

Powerful V-6 engine
Cutting-edge electronic package
Best navigation system in the business

The Bad:

Like the rest of the industry, Acura hasn t solved the SUV gas mileage problem

The Ugly:

The sticker shock