Now that there are signs that the economy is brightening (or is it just our optimism because summer is here?), you might be thinking about replacing your older, larger, less-efficient SUV with something newer, smaller, and more environmentally responsible. Downsizing used to mean giving up luxury, comfort, style, and features. Not so today.
Excess was the hallmark of the 1990s. Think the HUMMER H1 Alpha and the Ford Excursion. Today, trends track more conservatively and manufacturers know what's hot. Lexus was first to sell a mid-size luxury crossover with their 1998 RX300. With many new models just out, Lexus is no longer the only one, even though they are the sales leader.
You're probably familiar with the term "crossover;" a vehicle styled like an SUV that's based on passenger car mechanicals. These are the industry's five latest crossovers, so their design and tech is absolutely current and aimed toward every-day driving, not weekend off-roading. All seat five, have available all-wheel-drive, and efficient six-cylinder engines.
Adding more depth to their family-friendly range of offerings is the Volvo XC60. The all-new mid-size crossovers slots between the full-size XC90 SUV and the popular XC70 Cross Country station wagon. The XC60 seats five with flexible cargo-loading capabilities (the rear seatbacks fold in three sections). Additionally, the XC60 provides unparalleled safety equipment as standard.
Over the last few years, Volvo design has come into its own. The XC60 looks like a member of the family with its recognizable grill flanked by new LEDs, and the strong shape carved into the rear fenders. With over nine inches of ground clearance, the XC60 also looks tough. Although its off-road capabilities are not "advertised," don't be afraid to wander off the beaten path.
The interior of the XC60 is easily the most distinctive of the group, and plays up the XC60's Swedish design heritage; you can see it in the artful center console that's covered in lightly stained oak with grain you can feel. Quality materials reinforce a premium feel. Rear seats are exceptionally roomy, but the wheel wells encroach on the legroom for those in front.
Compared to the other vehicles in this comparison, the Volvo's is the only in-line six-cylinder. Plus, it's the only turbocharged engine. The combination is exceptionally smooth, refined and powerful. Its 281 horsepower tops the group. All-wheel-drive is standard, and with adjustable steering response, the XC60 feels like a buttoned down sports sedan that never runs out of grip.
The XC60 comes standard with a City Safety, a low-speed active collision avoidance system designed to help keep distracted drivers from crashing. Below 9 mph, the system can completely stop the SUV before it impacts another vehicle. From 10-19 mph, the brakes forcefully slow the XC60 to reduce the impact severity. Welcome to a world where cars drive themselves … almost.
Audi has built a solid reputation for high-performance, luxurious road cars. The R8 and TTS are current favorites of AOL Autos. The full-size Audi Q7 is an excellent long-distance touring champ thanks to its high-degree of luxury and exceptional comfort. The all-new Q5 crossover provides a similar experience in a smaller package, based on the capable Audi A4 sedan.
The family resemblance between the new Q5 and the current Q7 makes it immediately clear that there is a new, smaller Audi SUV in on American roads. The wheels seem to stretch the body to its limits, giving the Q5 a sporty, taut look. The overall design is tidy and fluff-free. Tasteful glints of chrome and LED daytime running lamps speak to the SUVs upscale nature.
When it comes to elegant interiors, Audi has led the automotive world for close to a decade. Their design acumen shows in the Q5. Sweeping shapes are highlighted by wood and brushed metals. Gauges are easy to read and mastery of features (like the nav system) comes quickly thanks to the Multi Media Interface (MMI). Our Q5 featured a spectacular sunroof that ran nearly the length of the interior.
Audi is famous for its Quattro all-wheel-drive system, and the Q5 has it standard. When roads get wet or covered with snow, the extra traction provided by Quattro is immediately appreciated. The Audi's 3.2-liter V-6 produces 270 horsepower and uses a six-speed automatic. On the road, the Q5 drives like a much larger vehicle, something some AOL Autos editors didn't always appreciate.
If you test drive a Q5, try out optional Audi Drive Select. It dramatically changes the driving character of the SUV. The response of the steering, accelerator, transmission shifts, and suspension can all be set by the driver. Feeling like you need to be fully isolated from the world? No problem. Set everything to "comfort." Want a more exciting experience, choose "dynamic."
It's not marketing hype to claim that Lexus invented the mid-size luxury crossover with their 1998 RX300. The RX was an instant hit and helped establish Lexus as a luxury leader. Today, the RX remains the best-selling Lexus model. Lexus totally redesigned the RX for 2010, recently introducing the RX350 and RX450h (hybrid). Of the five vehicles compared, the RX is the only one available as a hybrid.
Unless you happen to own an older RX, you'll be hard-pressed to see the big changes made from 2009 to the all-new 2010 RX350. Nothing is carried over, and the look is sportier and more aggressive. Even with the changes, the profile is unmistakably Lexus RX, which should make returning RX customers happy. Hybrid models feature different chrome trim that has a blue hue.
The tasteful interior makes good use of soft leathers and rich wood. But compared to the others in this comparo, the RX looks uninspired and lacks a high level of detailing. Regarding features, the RX comes fully equipped and also offers a terrific infotainment system with XM NavWeather. Rear-seat room is ample, and cargo room behind the seats is the largest in this group.
Lexus improved the 3.5-liter V-6 engine for the new RX350 so that it produces more power (275 hp) with better mileage of 18/24 city/hwy. The transmission is an all-new six-speed automatic (up from a five-speed in 2009). Shifts are smooth, as you'd expect, and acceleration is more than adequate. The all-wheel-drive can shift power fore or aft depending on available traction.
Because new vehicles have more technology than ever before, manufacturers have struggled to make the technology accessible to the driver in a safe manner. Lexus' answer is called Remote Touch, and it works like a computer mouse, but much better. The console-mounted Remote Touch finger-tip joystick gives you physical feedback, making it much easier to use while driving.
More than any other vehicle in this comparison, the new-for-the-2010 GLK350 looks more like a traditional truck-based SUV. Differentiation is a good thing. However, the GLK350 is not based on a truck, but instead on the Mercedes' C-Class, a rear-wheel-drive car architecture that influences (for the better) the dynamics of this agile feeling SUV.
The GLK350's shape is refreshingly edgy and crisp. The front fenders look powerful, and we particularly liked the expanse of glass made possible by the low door sills and slender roof pillars. This style adds a visual lightness to the design that is absent from the other designs that look to have shared a wind tunnel. Advice: skip the optional running boards, they make it hard to get in and out.
The large windows -- what designers call "the greenhouse" -- give the GLK350 the most open feeling interior in this comparison. Stylist carried the "tougher" design to the inside, exemplified by the substantial door pulls with a brushed-metal finish. Some plastics looked too inexpensive, but overall the interior is comfortable, even though the back seats were a little tough to get into.
The GLK350 uses a smooth 268-horsepower V-6 found in many Mercedes-Benz models. The seven-speed automatic transmission wins the contest for the most gears. Rear-wheel-drive models are now in dealers, but 4Matic all-wheel-drive models are more capable in bad weather. City/highway mpg of 16/21 marks the low-end of this group, but the driving experience is among the best.
Forget everything you know about first-generation Cadillac SRX. The 2010 SRX is all-new and completely on target with what you might be looking for. The design is fresh and is built on a new chassis that gives the SRX excellent ride and handing. Like the others in this group, the SRX seats five in two rows, and also features a fully-integrated and functional roof rack.
Origami artists do to paper what Cadillac designers do to sheet metal — they bend things into interesting shapes highlighted by crisp, angular surfaces. Stacked headlights bookend a grated grill, and the inset side panels give the SRX a distinct profile. In back, the taillights stick up like mini fins. The only weak view is from the rear, where the rear window seems undersized.
Cadillac once trailed the competition in style and fit/finish, but this is no longer true. Hand-sewn details showcase the luxury and quality of the new SRX. Soft leathers mingle with chrome and wood to create a striking cabin that is distinctly American in its boldness. There's plenty of room inside, and ambient lighting gives it an especially cool look at night.
The standard 3.0-liter V-6 is the least powerful engine in the group, but you'll never know it. Its 265 horsepower feels more than ample while delivering the best highway economy (25 mpg). The six-speed automatic shifts quickly and with exceptional smoothness. Front-wheel drive is standard, and a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system is optional, as is an active suspension.
If you're a fan of big wheels (you bling lovers know who you are), make sure to drive an SRX with 20-inch wheels and the FE3 suspension with Continuous Damping Control (CDC). This suspension adjusts every two milliseconds, helping to provide a smooth ride even with huge 20-inch wheels (not what you'd expect). CDC also gives the SRX ultra quick handing responsiveness.