Only once a year does a single sport/utility take home our Golden Calipers, and for '01, it was the all-new Acura MDX. Honda's upscale nameplate's first homebuilt SUV combines a stylish mix of clean lines, quality materials, luxury presence, and better than expected off-road prowess. Featuring a unibody platform with a cleverly disappearing third-row seat, the MDX impressed the MT staff with its intelligent approach to solving a multitude of issues, including packaging, structural rigidity, and safety. We took delivery of a new MDX, with 12 miles on the odometer, in preparation for 12 months of evaluation in our long-term fleet.

Our fully equipped Nighthawk Black Touring model (with Navigation system) cost $39,450 out the door, a good value at less than $40 grand, and it's covered by a 4-year/50,000-mile basic warranty.

Built as a unibody, the MDX has a high level of bending and torsional rigidity. The result is a stiff body shell, ideal for mounting a sophisticated MacPherson-strut setup at the nose and a fully independent multilink rear suspension. It gave us a polished ride that treated our backsides with more care than most off-road-capable vehicles. Truck Trend Editor Mark Williams said the MDX had "probably the best suspension of any SUV crossover sold in the U.S." Numerous logbook entries also pointed out the carlike handling characteristics: "The more I drive this vehicle, the more I'm glad we picked it as SUV of the Year," and "It rides like a sedan, yet when I wanted to take the 15-plus-mile dirt trail used by the local Jeep tours, the MDX performed quite well on the rut-filled road."