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Acura introduced the 2019 model of its three-row 2019 MDX crossover on Tuesday, but the vehicle’s minor updates don't tell the full story of big changes in both Acura’s brand and the American manufacturing market.

Introduced in 2001, the Ohio-built MDX is the third-best-selling mid-size ute in the U.S. behind the Lexus RX and Cadillac XT5. And it's the No.1 three-row SUV.

Now in its third generation, the MDX received a stem-to-stern redesign in 2014 to be lighter and more powerful. But, unusual for mid-cycle refreshes, MDX development has accelerated over the last two years as the Acura brand has remade itself to be a more performance-oriented brand.

In 2017 the MDX was the first Acura to get the “diamond pentagon” grille – reflecting a major design change previewed by the Acura Precision Concept at the 2016 Detroit Auto Show. The grille is now spreading to all vehicles in the Acura lineup including the TLX sedan and the hot-selling, compact RDX crossover.

The '17 MDX line also imported radical new technology from another Acura halo car – the NSX hybrid supercar. The MDX Sport Hybrid debuted with a similar twin-electric motor with all-wheel-drive system as the NSX. That made for better fuel economy as well as improved handling.

The 2019 MDX continues the performance push as the family SUV for the first time gets the brand’s sporty A-Spec package which offers torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, 20-inch alloy wheels, a blacked-out grille, paddle shifters and red leather seats. While the 2019 A-Spec gets the same 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 as the rest of the MDX family, the sporty package hints that even the three-row ute may ultimately receive Acura’s hot rod Type S badge, complete with a snarling, turbocharged V-6 producing a reported 400 ponies.

The A-Spec package debuts at $55,795. That's $10,500 more than the base, front-wheel-drive MDX.

Upgrades to the 2019 MDX include a more responsive 9-speed transmission and optional adaptive dampers. The MDX comes standard with techy features like automatic braking, forward-collision warning and adaptive cruise-control. The base 2019 MDX starts $100 higher than the 2018 model.

All MDX production is in East Liberty, Ohio. In fact, all Acura vehicles are now made at the plant outside Columbus except for the slow-selling, Japanese-assembled RLX large sedan, a victim of its sibling SUV’s popularity.

Acura’s U.S production marks a remarkable transformation of the manufacturing landscape as the nation goes whole-hog for premium SUVs.

At the turn of the 21st century, not a single foreign, mid-size SUV was built within U.S.  borders. Now, as three-row sport utilities dominate America’s school yards, four of the five best-selling premium crossovers are built here: the BMW X5 (South Carolina), Mercedes GLE (Alabama), Cadillac XT5 (Tennessee) and the MDX.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-2 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.

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