OK, I finally get it. For years I have labored under the misapprehension that sport utility vehicles were meant to be trucks that can negotiate the perils found when the pavement ends. Well, what the heck was I thinking? The CJ5 led to the Bronco which begat the Cherokee and that resulted in the eventual softening and homogenizing of the concept until we are left with what amount to tall station wagons. And that, dear friends, is the reason for it all.

You see, if you want to haul kids and stuff around the neighborhood, a wagon or minivan is best. They also have all the sex appeal of Rush Limbaugh in a Speedo. So enter the car-based, or in the case of the Acura MDX, van-based sport ute. And Honda, parent company of Acura, did a lovely job turning the Odyssey van into, first, the Honda Pilot, and later, a svelte, slightly more rugged-looking SUV back in 2001.

The MDX has three rows of seats standard, thanks to its van origins, and all the leather and sound system upgrades you expect in a luxury vehicle. It also originally had some of the least convincing fake wood trim this side of a Daisy BB gun. Now though, there is absolutely no stone left unturned in the luxury SUV chase at Acura. It’s truly elegant.

And it has a new nose, as well. Just when we were getting used to the V-shaped grill, they have updated it to a more open-mouth version, which they have christened the “Diamond Pentagon,” and which I like. Under that hood is a 3.5-liter V6 cranking out 290 horsepower, and sending it to the wheels through a 9-speed automatic. What you get for all that trouble is a 0-60 time of 6 seconds according to Car and Driver Magazine. That is pretty darned speedy for a vehicle weighing in on the sunny side of 4200 pounds.

Inside, an elegant dash with open-pore wood and leather with contrasting piping make it a very cushy place to park your tush, but the sound system controls and touch screen are too complex and will make you long for a 1958-vintage push button Motorola.

Second row seats are pretty roomy, the third row, not so much. OK, you say, but the Volvo and Audi and other tres-chic competitors have a bit more room and wood trim. All of which is nice, if you want to spend 20 or 30-thousand dollars American for the privilege.  The latest Acura MDX can be had, with a little restraint, for under $50-large.

We forget Honda was the first of the Asian automakers to invent a luxury division, like Ford and GM, back in 1986. They’ve had some practice and the latest Acura MDX is proof they’ve melded Honda quality and dependability with enough upscale trim to satisfy the pickiest parking attendant at the country club.

So for those folks who really like the Honda Pilot but, it just doesn’t cost enough, then the MDX is for you. And frankly, the luxury sibling won’t set you back all that much more. It’s one heck of a deal.


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