February 20, 2013
Compact Luxury Crossover SUVs. Click image to enlarge
2013 Acura RDX vs 2013 Audi Q5 vs 2013 BMW X3 vs 2013 Infiniti EX37 vs 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK 350
Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony, Michael Schlee, Peter Bleakney, Lesley Wimbush, Steven Bochenek and Jeff Wilson, title photo by Jeff Wilson
Introduction, by Jonathan Yarkony
The wagon is dead. Long live the crossover. Face it, wagon fans, crossover utility vehicles (CUV) – the trendy term now applied to ever-more-car-like SUVs – has essentially found the middle ground between stigmatized, slow-selling yet practical wagons and overweight, needlessly rugged but still practical SUVs. Manufacturers love them, marketers love them, and consumers love them. Crossovers are not the beastly 4×4 machines of yesteryear, but rather refined, all-season vehicles, flexibly practical, reasonably efficient while still fun and engaging, and appealing to the bourgeois masses. Not surprising then that luxury brands are flocking to them as the segment du jour.
Compact Luxury SUV sales grew at an explosive rate in 2012, up 25 percent from 2011 and breaking 30,000 units in sales (as per Desrosiers Automotive Consultants segment breakdowns). Granted, this volume pales in comparison with non-luxury Compact SUVs, which sell at nearly 10 times the rate (almost 280,000) with growth steady at almost 4 percent, but the luxury niche is ripe with profit margins for manufacturers.
Customers, too, can revel in a range of options like never before. Although slicing up the segment is tricky business, we selected a handful of compact luxury SUVs (and by now, the crossover or CUV designation is equally applicable for any of them) that have been recently refreshed or appear to present a competitive product.
The first-generation BMW X3 arrived on our shores as a 2004 model, but it took years for BMW to accept a reasonable ride compromise that meant a livable, comfortable suspension. This second generation was launched as a 2011, and for 2013 BMW customers can order it with the new 2.0L turbo-four that is making an appearance in just about every BMW product under two tonnes. With Premium, Tech, and more tech packages, our $42K X3 xDrive28i climbed its BMW pricing slope up to $52K with destination factored in.
The other veteran of the segment, the Acura RDX (around since 2007), is just now basking in the afterglow of its second-generation launch. It has followed the opposite course of the X3, trading in a frantic turbocharged I4 for a smooth V6 and a more mature personality. The RDX however, is of limited options, and our fully loaded 2013 Acura RDX Tech didn’t even break $46K, with freight charges applied, by far the most affordable in test (the X3 was the next cheapest), and clearly the value leader with many competitive features, even if lacking some amenities.
Over the past few years, we’ve seen an influx of new luxury cute utes from Infiniti, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and even a second from Land Rover, all eager to cash in on the crossover trend and to capture new customers to their premium brands. As much as we wanted the Volvo XC60 and slinky little Range Rover Evoque (or even the butch little LR2), they simply were not available, so we stuck with what the press fleet gods provided.
2013 Luxury Compact SUV Comparison. Click image to enlarge
The Infiniti EX37, with a fresh injection of muscle courtesy of its 3.7L V6 and looking every bit the alien kitten to the FX’s ‘bionic cheetah’ act, came in at $55,695 thanks to Premium, Navigation, Journey and Technology packages. The EX, it should be noted, is likely due for an all-new model and name (QX50) in short order, based on the upcoming Infiniti Q50 sedan replacing the G37.
Curiously, on test day we actually had a couple of Audi Q5s to choose from: the Q5 2.0T we had booked for the comparison, as well as a Q5 Hybridthat one of our contributors drove in with. The Q5 2.0T was mildly optioned with a nav system and paint upgrade for $53,595, and showed an unassuming, softly styled ‘SUV next door’ air.
At the very opposite end of the design spectrum from the EX and Q5 was the boxy Mercedes-Benz GLK, which one-upped everyone with 20-inch wheels straight out of the AMG catalogue. While those wheels are standard on the GLK 350, the Driving Assistance, Headlights, Navigation and Premium packages and some fancy paint brought the GLK up to $55,665, close behind the Infiniti’s highest price in test.
As 2013 promises to be another banner sales year if the economy stays on its tracks, and compact luxury crossovers will only grow even more popular. We weigh in on the notable options in this segment and determine which vehicle provides the best combination of stylish luxury, efficiency and value, and a balance of performance and practicality in this ‘nouveau wagon’ segment.