Cars.comparison: Luxury SUVs

Even as other parts of the SUV market cool, luxury SUV sales remain strong. Audi's looking to cash in with its all-new Q7, but the competition isn't backing down; Acura and BMW have redesigned versions of their mainstay SUVs — the MDX and X5 — for 2007. Read on to see which upscale 'ute comes out on top.

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The Contenders
2007 Acura MDX2007 Audi Q7 4.22007 BMW X5 4.8i
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Base MSRP
$39,995$49,900$54,500
Price as tested
$48,465$64,520$63,540
Gas mileage (city/highway mpg, curb weight)
17/22, 4,587 lbs.14/19, 5,269 lbs.15/21, 5,335 lbs.
Street presence
Some of us are fans of the "shield" on the front, but the overall appearance is a bit wagony.The large and menacing snout compensates for the low-profile, wagonlike silhouette; this SUV looks like it's ready to eat the car in front of it. A well-executed evolution of the original model, the BMW's engine now strains against its hood, and its classic nostrils are flared. We dig it.
Acceleration and braking
The only V-6 in the bunch is plenty powerful for the SUV's weight, and the braking brings the MDX to a halt with seeming ease; there's no trademark Honda grabbiness, so the kids won't be jerked around.The V-8 drivetrain sometimes hesitates when accelerating hard, and the brakes are merely adequate, but the 350-hp engine moves this heavy SUV as gracefully as possible. The X5's smooth and powerful 4.8-liter V-8, cooperative six-speed automatic and strong, linear brakes are the best of the three SUVs.
Ride and handling
Of the three, the MDX's ride is definitely the cushiest, even in Sport mode. It also corners extremely well, with little body roll, but the steering isn't as pinpoint accurate as the Germans'. The new Super Handling All-Wheel Drive evens the playing field by giving the MDX rear-drive balance.The optional adjustable air suspension and 20-inch wheels make for a bone-jarring ride on imperfect pavement; its Dynamic setting controls body roll, but it's still hard to see this SUV as sporty.The X5 is pretty nimble, and though there's some body roll in tight corners, it feels stable as you edge closer to its limits. Like the Q7 with the air suspension, expect a firm ride.
Comfort and roominess
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You can only get into the MDX's third row from the curb side; the other models are ambidextrous. First- and second-row seating is comfortable but not overly plush.
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The first and second rows are roomy, with inviting leather seats. Like the others, though, the third row isn't designed for the tall.
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The optional multi-contour front seats have adjustable side bolsters and cushion length; they're supportive, but rather firm. Second-row space is generous, but the third row is tight.
Technocontrols
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Acura ditched its touch-screen navigation system for a knob-controlled setup, but you can still change radio and A/C settings by pressing buttons on the dash.
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Audi's Multi Media Interface doesn't have as much control over features and settings as BMW's iDrive does; it gets easier with use, but MMI can still be a hassle.
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BMW's iDrive controller has displaced even more buttons than Audi's MMI. While this makes for a clean-looking dash, the system's complexity is a disaster. The unconventional turn-signal and gear selector levers complicate use and provide no clear benefit for the driver.
Cabin ambiance
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The MDX's futuristic, wraparound dashboard is the most expressively styled of the three and fits the SUV's sporty personality.
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The Q7 features top-notch materials and, as usual, Audi is mindful of small details, like dual sun visors. The black interior color scheme is a little stoic, but other choices are offered.
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The X5's clamshell glove box doors and joysticklike gear selector are interesting, but, taken as a whole, the X5's cabin is rather plain.
Safety features
A full complement of front, side and curtain airbags and an electronic stability system are standard. Like the others, a rearview camera is optional. Like the MDX, the Q7 has the requisite stability system and airbags, but it's the only one here that can add side-impact airbags for the rear seats. Otherwise competitive, the X5's main downfall is that its side curtain airbags don't cover the optional third-row seat.
Cargo space (rear seats up/down)
15/8411/737/62
A covered bin along the liftgate keeps items out of sight.The optional air suspension lets you lower the rear end from the liftgate for easier loading — of limited use, but definitely cool.The separate liftgate and tailgate means less space is required behind the X5 when opening the hatch in tight quarters.
Overall value
There's no question the MDX offers an incredible amount of luxury, space and performance for the money. So why is Acura perceived more as only premium and the other two as luxury?Deleting our Q7's fancy options brings it down to the price of the MDX, but doing so gives up features like navigation and a rearview camera, which the Acura has.Automatic air conditioning, leather seats and adaptive headlights are standard, and they better be for what the X5 starts at. What's with the single-CD player, though?
 
Editors' choice
Acura has done it again with the new MDX. It will please former owners and offers all the bells and whistles in a sleek package. While it's stylish and luxurious, Audi needs to soften the Q7's ride and work out its drivetrain hesitation. Still, it's a decent first effort.The X5's drivetrain and handling are almost enough to make us overlook iDrive and the stark interior. Adding a little more luxury to the equation might tip the scales in its favor.
Updated on 3/28/07
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