July 2007
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The X factor
Luxury SUVs: The Lexus RX350 and Acura MDX are tops among nonhybrid models

Lexus RX350's rear side window and gas door.
Lexus RX350

Acura MDX's headlight.
 Acura MDX

Cadillac SRX's grill.
 Cadillac SRX

BMW X5's name plate.
 BMW X5

Lincoln MKX's rear side window.
 Lincoln MKX
Photos by Tracey Kroll
The freshened Lexus RX350, helped by a new, more-powerful engine, and the redesigned and well-rounded Acura MDX (both available to ) are among the best SUVs we’ve tested.

Virtually tied in overall score in our Ratings, they are below only the previously tested Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus RX400h, the hybrid version of the RX.

At the other end of the Ratings chart, the Lincoln MKX (available to ) finished at the bottom of this class despite being a new model.

Rounding out this month’s group are the redesigned BMW X5 and the freshened Cadillac SRX (both available to ), which earned very good scores but finished relatively low in the class.

Loaded with features such as sunroofs, navigation systems, high-end sound systems, and comfort and convenience packages, this group had prices ranging from $43,595 for the Lincoln MKX to $56,745 for the BMW X5.


A GROWTH SEGMENT

More automakers have been introducing car-based luxury SUVs in recent years, with many models now offering a third-row seat for carrying up to seven or eight people. With all-wheel drive and more stylish designs, they appeal to many families who shun the seemingly bland image of a minivan. Beware, though: The third-row seating in many SUVs is typically tight and large enough only for small children.

Among this test group, the Acura, BMW, and Cadillac are available with third-row seats; the Lexus and Lincoln have seating for only five.

The RX350 and MDX also have very different driving characters. Which one is better for you is a matter of personal preference. The RX is a luxurious and comfortable vehicle that has always done well in our tests. Its new V6 engine delivers the quickest acceleration and the best fuel economy in this group, at 19 mpg overall. But the RX isn’t agile or particularly fun to drive. So drivers who prefer a cushy ride and who don’t need seating for more than five might prefer the RX.

The MDX has better handling and a powertrain that feels sportier than the Lexus, but a firmer ride. Some of our staff preferred driving it to the RX. If responsive handling or a third-row seat is a high priority, the MDX might be a better choice for you.


other Suvs to consider

While both the Lexus and Acura are excellent vehicles, other high-rated models in this category cost thousands less. Our top-ranked model, the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, is priced roughly $5,000 less. The Honda Pilot EX-L costs $10,000 less than the RX and MDX and is rated almost as high. Both offer a third-row seat. Look for a redesign of the Highlander this fall and of the Pilot in 2008.

All of the vehicles in this group can tow at least 3,500 pounds and handle moderate off-road driving. But if towing heavier loads or tackling serious off-road terrain are important, you might want to consider a more traditional body-on-frame design such as the Lexus GX470 that also has three rows of seats.

If a luxury SUV is a stretch for your budget, check out next month’s issue in which we’ll have tests on several new midsized SUVs in the mid-$30,000 range, including the Ford Edge, Hyundai Veracruz, Mazda CX-9, and Saturn Outlook.