Acura's midsize crossover SUV, known as the MDX, has been on the market since the all-new 2001 model was introduced in late 2000.

And even though a whole-new generation is still a few years away, Honda hasn't been letting its premium sport utility stagnate.

For 2003, it got more power. A year later, the exterior got a minor makeover. And now, for 2005, the vehicle gets some interior enhancements, including one of my favorites - XM satellite radio.

The XM system is standard on all '05 MDX models, and it even comes with a three-month complimentary subscription to the service, which was $10 a month until April 1, when the price was increased to $13 (to match the price of XM's competitor, SIRIUS). I'm not complaining about the price increase, though, because beginning this week, XM will broadcast all major league baseball games, including those of my favorite team, those Texas Rangers.

Of course, one doesn't have to go out and buy an Acura MDX just to get XM radio, but it is a nice standard feature to have on a vehicle such as this, which is intended for everyday family use and extended highway cruising (where XM really comes in handy to keep the vehicle's occupants entertained even out in the boonies, where often all you can get (if you can get anything) on your car radio is a hokie local station broadcasting the farm report.

But enough about XM. This column is really about the MDX, so let's move on to that.

This car essentially is a gussied-up version of the Honda Pilot (although the MDX was introduced first). Both of these vehicles are family-style sport utilities that are based on the chassis of the previous-generation Honda Odyssey minivan, which itself was based on the underpinnings of the Honda Accord midsize sedan.

Another vehicle joins the Honda lineup this spring on this same chassis - the Ridgeline sport utility truck, which essentially is a Pilot with two rows of seating and the roof chopped off of the cargo area to create a small pickup bed. Which, of course, leads to speculation that Honda might even create an Acura version of this vehicle using the MDX - sort of the way Cadillac did with the Escalade EXT, built on the same chassis as the Chevrolet Avalanche sport utility truck.

The MDX is the luxury version of the Pilot, and even though it is built on a car chassis, it has Honda's typical high quality, and it also is very rugged for a crossover sport utility.

Besides the standard XM radio for 2005, other changes include the Acura HandsFreeLink Bluetooth wireless phone interface (but only with the optional touring package; the OnStar navigation/communications system (only on models equipped with DVD navigation); a larger fuel tank; a six-disc, in-dash CD changer (only on models that have the optional rear entertainment system); an enhanced electronic stability system; and three new exterior colors - desert rock metallic, billet silver metallic and steel blue metallic.

For 2003, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine was given more power, and now is rated at 265 horsepower (from 240 in 2001) and 253 foot-pounds of torque. A new five-speed automatic transmission was introduced as well, lighter and quieter than the one it replaced.

That year, the vehicle also got some revisions in the fulltime all-wheel-drive system designed to give the MDX better traction by applying more torque to the rear wheels under slippery driving conditions. In routine driving conditions, most of the power goes to the front wheels, as this is essentially a front-drive platform like that of the Accord and Odyssey.

The stability system that has been upgraded this year was added in 2003 to help maintain the MDX's sport sedan-like handling, the company said. Other features that have been added on past years include redesigned alloy wheels, automatic on/off headlights, automatic-up driver's side window, upgraded brakes with dual-piston front calipers, stiffer springs and heavy-duty shock absorbers for a better ride, reinforcements that made the body 35 percent stiffer, improved air bags, an electronic drive-by-wire throttle, and a better navigation system, with all 50 states included on one DVD disc.

A cool feature added last year, and included on our 2005 test vehicle, is a rear-view TV camera, which displays what lies behind the car on the dashboard screen of the navigation system. It works only when the transmission is in reverse gear. This is helpful when backing out of mall and supermarket parking spaces, as you can easily see people, including very little ones, behind you - not to mention other cars.

The base price of the '05 MDX is $36,900. Only three factory options are offered: the aforementioned touring package ($2,825), the navigation system with voice recognition and rearview camera ($2,750), and the DVD entertainment system ($1,500) that lets the kids in the back watch their Disney movies while listening to them on wireless headphones. (You never heard such a quiet car on a long trip). Our car included all three, for a total price of $44,545 (including $570 freight).

For the extra bucks, the touring package includes rain-sensing windshield wipers, which are another nice feature that has been cropping up lately on a lot of premium cars, foreign and domestic. These wipers, when put into the intermittent mode, sense when the windshield gets wet, then make a sweep to clear it.. Only once in a while do they fail to detect a rain-dotted screen, forcing the driver to work them manually.

Standard luxury features include leather seats (first and second row only), leather door inserts, automatic climate control, automatic headlights, power windows/mirrors/door locks, power tilt and sliding sunroof, cruise control, power adjustable heated front seats, alloy wheels and a digital trip computer.

As with many of the newer midsize SUVs, the MDX comes with a third seat that allows the vehicle to carry up to seven people. With the third seat in place, though, cargo space is quite limited. A nice feature for cargo-hauling allows both rear seats to be folded flat into the floor to increase cargo space dramatically. But even with the third seat in place, the MDX has nearly 15 cubic feet of cargo space behind that seat.

Just announced this week: the 2005 MDX has been given the highest possible safety ratings during the most recent frontal crash tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The MDX scored the top rating of five stars for both driver- and front-passenger safety, Acura said. The MDX already had been given a five-star rating in the agency's side-impact tests.

Standard safety features include the stability-control system; side-curtain air bags; dual-stage, dual-threshold front air bags' front-side air bags with passenger-side occupant position detection system (OPDS); and rollover sensors designed to deploy the side-curtain air bags in the event of a rollover accident.

Honda says the MDX can tow boats weighing up to 4,500 pounds, or other trailers weighing up to 3,500 pounds. Also, the MDX can be towed behind motorhomes, with all four wheels on the ground. The only stipulations are a maximum towed speed of 65 mph and that the transmission fluid be recirculated after every eight hours of driving (by starting the vehicle's engine), according to Motor Home magazine.

Fuel-economy ratings are better than those of the average midsize SUV - 17 miles per gallon in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. The tank holds 20.4 gallons of fuel, but unfortunately, unleaded premium is recommended for the best performance. It's not required, however.

G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236;

At a Glance - 2005 Acura MDX

The package: Midsize, four-door, seven-passenger, all-wheel-drive, V-6 powered, premium sport-utility vehicle. Highlights: All new for 2001, this a a premium version of Honda's Pilot sport utility. This one is a Honda product from the ground up, with good performance and comfortable ride. It is on the same chassis platform as the Honda Odyssey minivan, which was derived from the previous-generation Accord chassis. As usual, Honda quality is the vehicle's strongest point. Negatives: Third seat is too small for adults; limited cargo space with third seat in place. Engine: 3.5-liter V-6. Transmission: Five-speed automatic. Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock. Power/torque: 265 hp/253 foot-pounds. Length: 188.5 inches. Curb weight: 4,531 (with touring package and other options) Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds (boats); 3,500 pounds (other trailers). Major competitors: Lexus RX 330, Infiniti FX35/45, BMW X5, Mercedes-Benz M-class, Buick Rendezvous, Volvo XC90, Volkswagen Touareg, GMC Envoy Denali, Saab 9-7X. EPA fuel economy: 17 miles per gallon city/23 mpg highway. Fuel capacity/type: 20.4 gallons/unleaded premium recommended. Base price: $36,900, plus $570 freight. Price as tested: $44,545, including freight and options (touring package, DVD navigation system, rear entertainment). On the Road rating: ***** (five stars out of five).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling prices may vary according to manufacturer and/or dealer rebates, incentives and discounts, if any.