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Mid sized luxury SUV shoot out

Automotive expert , Updated:

Mid sized luxury SUV shoot out

The Case

Acura MDX, Mercedes M Class, and the Lexus RX 330 are all midsize luxury SUVs that offer all wheel drive and have prices that hover around $40,000. So the case here is which of these upscale vehicles is the best value, best handler, and easiest to live with on a daily basis. Other competitors worth noting are the new BMW X3, the Volvo XC 90, Buick Rainier, and Vokswagen Touareg. Reviews of them are on file at, and

The Defendants

Although these three SUVs are similar in price, they are entirely different in execution and in daily living. The Mercedes is a very sophisticated vehicle well designed for serious off roading and less of a luxury vehicle. The MDX is the best handling of the group, spacious, has the least desirable interior, but the best GPS and is the fastest. The Lexus is very elegant inside, has a soft ride, very usable interior, and is not fond of acceleration.

The Jury's Opinion

Mom's view: Ladies, it wouldn't take long to fall in love with the interior of the Lexus. It is beautifully done, has ample storage room and good cupholders, and is very easy to drive. However, it is a bit of a softie when it comes to corners and it even shakes a bit sitting at a stoplight when traffic is whizzing by. So the comfortable ride compromises its ability to be enjoyable to drive. It is more of a luxury car than a SUV. The Acura is the handling champion, but again, at a price. The ride is the nosiest, the interior noise the loudest, and the overall effect is not luxurious at all. I think the Honda Pilot is better in this regard. The Mercedes just feels awkward to me. I like its ride, the way it answers the helm, but it seems too high and difficult to load. The interior is nice, but not that nice, and there is not a third row of seats available. In other words, the Mercedes is the burliest of the group, quite capable of whatever task asked of it. The Acura is the athlete, eager to spring into action, carries any load, and tries to be polite in the process. The Lexus is the lady of the group, stylish, and given to smoothing over imperfections.

Overall, I would buy the Lexus RX 330, forgo the many expensive options such as a huge sun and moon roof combination, and order the two-wheel drive model. The Acura is a sharp runner and has more grunt and a tad more room in the back seat, but it never shouts "You're a lucky lady" when you climb aboard. As for the Mercedes, no question if I lived where the sophisticated traction control was necessary it would be a first choice.

Dad's view: The Acura performs. It may not be quiet, but it does everything well except stop. The brakes were not up to the others. The Lexus is very car like to drive, and has road manners that almost make you forget you are perched fairly high in the air. The MDX is clearly faster reacting than the others. It is the athlete of the bunch. The suspension is firm, but does not overwhelm you when the road roughens. The Mercedes has a quality ride; it feels heavy, but never reaches the Acura's sporty level, but its stops a lot better.