Flight is an amazing thing. You can board a jet in Pittsburgh at breakfast time and dine on escargot in Paris for dinner. Never in human history has mankind been able to travel so quickly. It took Christopher Columbus months to cross the Atlantic, now we accomplish the same feat in as few as eight hours; the whole process is as routine as flipping on a light switch or cleaning up a murder scene.
But for all of commercial aviation’s blessings there are just as many curses. Delays can turn a short regional hop into an overnight headache. Long lines, time-wasting security checks and bad weather can wreak havoc on travel plans. Airports are no fun, either; they can be crowded and decrepit. New York’s LaGuardia for instance is basically a dumpster fire with a runway. And then there are the airlines.
The entire industry is characterized by bankruptcy, inefficiency and abject indifference. Major carriers have been deadlocked in a battle of the Benjamins, racing to the bottom in an endless drive to cut costs. They compete not on amenities or customer service, but price. Flight has become a commodity, just like cows, corn and coal. Customer service died decades ago, about the same time common courtesy went extinct.
With aviation’s endless list of hassles sometimes you’d rather just drive. Sure, the open road has its share of troubles with traffic and construction, but for short trips driving can actually be quicker than flying. And of course you can bring all the liquids you want and make unscheduled stops at any time.
Jan and his wife are in the market for a new vehicle that will allow them to get away. They love taking long trips and are looking for something that can comfortably seat up to five passengers as well as tow a small camper. Their home away from home only weighs around 2,300 pounds; it isn’t some 30-foot-long Airstream with custom-made cast-iron bodywork and ballistic shielding so they don’t need a Super Duty F-350.
Reliability is important to Jan, as is fuel economy. All-wheel drive is also a must-have feature. He’s open to just about any brand, with one exception: Land Rover. Again, he wants something that’s built to last, not short circuit or crumble like a train trestle made of chalk. What utility vehicles will fit his bill like a first-class ticket to the Orient? Here’s what we’d recommend.
Suggestion #1 – 2014 Audi Q5 Premium
Our first suggestion is a luxurious German crossover. The Audi Q5 is a masterpiece of design and attention to detail. The company is known for incorporating clever touches into its products and this vehicle is no exception. It offers a luxurious interior that’s exquisitely elegant. This Audi could be a winner just because of its good taste.
The avant-garde Q5 is powered by a smooth-running 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that’s a staple of both Volkswagen and Audi’s lineups. In this particular application it delivers an unassuming 211 horsepower with 258 lb-ft of torque. Aiding and abetting fuel economy as well as performance is direct fuel injection. A cutting-edge eight-speed automatic transmission is standard; it makes the most of the relatively modest output and helps the vehicle accelerate from a standstill to 60 miles an hour in a claimed 7.0 seconds. Of course the company’s famed quattro all-wheel-drive system is included at no extra charge.
On the fuel-economy front Audi’s Q5 does not disappoint. This luxurious crossover stickers at 20 miles per gallon in the city and up to 28 on highway jaunts, figures that result in a combined score of 23 MPG.
When it comes to towing the Q5 is also a winner. It easily exceeds Jan’s requirements, with a surprisingly heavy rating of 4,400 pounds.
If more oomph is needed a 272 horsepower supercharged V6 engine is also available, but bring a dumpster-load of extra cash, ‘cause it ain’t cheap. Stepping up from the entry-level model to one of these will cost you at least 4 grand.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Acura RDX vs. Audi Q5
Base price for this capable luxury crossover is around $37,000, well within this week’s budget of 45 G’s. At that level this Audi comes with nice touches like automatic headlamps, three-zone climate control and leather-clad seats. Buyers even have a choice of four, yes FOUR different interior trims, from textured aluminum to several kinds of wood.
But when it comes to features the Audi may be behind the competition. Like other luxury brands they tend to nickel and dime customers. For instance, Bluetooth connectivity, something that should be standard on a full-bore luxury vehicle costs an extra $1,000; heated front seats are a $450 option. Buyers beware, with the Q5 you could end up spending A LOT more than you intended.
Suggestion #2 – 2014 Acura RDX AWD
Downsizing is the norm these days, but in some instances more can actually be MORE. It’s a crazy idea, we know. Bucking current automotive trends Acura drops a big-honkin’ V6 in the engine bay of its RDX crossover, replacing a turbocharged four-cylinder in the process.
At 3.5-liters this Acura’s powerplant is anything but dainty; it’s practically a 21st Century big block. It puts out 273 horsepower along with 251 lb-ft of peak torque. It’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission that’s ready for action.
Interestingly, the RDX has 62 additional horsepower and two fewer gears than the Audi but its fuel economy is practically the same. With all-wheel drive on board Uncle Sam says it will go 19 miles on a gallon of gasoline in ‘round-town driving and up to 27 on the interstate. That works out to an average score of 22 MPG.
What’s even more amazing than that is comparing the RDX to its former-self. The 2013 version is significantly more efficient than the 2012 it replaces. Last year’s model was powered by a turbocharged four but its fuel economy was embarrassing at best, stickering at 17 city, 22 highway, which resulted in an average of only 19!
Base price for an all-wheel drive RDX is $36,815 out the door, including $895 in destination and delivery fees, though you can call it highway robbery if you want. At that level the vehicle comes with a host of luxury amenities like perforated leather upholstery with a 10-way power driver’s seat, premium sound including Bluetooth (take that, Audi!), a USB port and satellite radio. Dual-zone automatic climate control is also included. Passengers will be suitably coddled in this Acura.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Acura RDX Review
And since the RDX is technically a Honda, reliability is sure to be tops, but there is one thing to look out for. The engine has something known as a timing belt. It’s essentially a toothed rubber band that drives the camshafts, which are located in the cylinder heads. Like brake pads or air filters timing belts have to be changed periodically, usually around 100,000 miles. If you neglect so to do and it breaks the engine could be totaled, just a word of warning. Other powerplant designs use timing chains, which typically last the life of the vehicle. You’ve been warned.
Suggestion #3 – 2014 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC
After a brief detour to Japan we’re back in Germany for a peek at the Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC; that’s a lot of words for a really nice vehicle. Unlike the preceding two crossovers this handsome hatchback does not run on gasoline, instead it’s powered by a different kind of deceased dinosaur.
As its name suggests, this Benz runs on something a little heavier, a little oilier than 87-octane regular. Believe it or not it actually burns diesel fuel, something that gives it numerous strengths and one or two downsides.
A major plus for the GLK250 is fuel economy. This luxury crossover trounces the competition when it comes to economical operation. It’s officially rated at 24 miles per gallon on the urban test cycle and up to 33 on the highway. In AutoGuide testing we managed to handily beat those scores, returning more than 35 MPG!
The little 2.1-liter diesel puts out some other impressive numbers as well. Peak horsepower is a little low at just 200, but the torque is overwhelming. Thanks to twin turbochargers it delivers a whopping 369 lb-ft of low-RPM twist.
This luxury utility pulls like a freight train and would be a perfect tow vehicle. As such it’s rated to drag up to 3,500 pounds. Splitting the difference between the Q5’s eight-speed transmission and the Acura’s six-speed unit, Mercedes offers a seven-speed automatic gearbox.
But with all of those plusses come a couple minuses. While the GLK250 is greatly more efficient than its gasoline-powered competitors, diesel fuel is generally more expensive than gas, which eats into its advantage. Beyond this, the vehicle also requires a special exhaust treatment fluid called AdBlue. This concentrated urea solution is required to meet emissions standards. It needs to be replenished periodically, usually at every scheduled service stop. Beware of this extra expense.
SEE ALSO: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 Review
When it comes to pricing the GLK250 is all over the Audi and Acura. It starts at right around $40,000. It comes standard with things like MB-Tex imitation leather seating surfaces, burled walnut interior trim and 19-inch wheels. Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio and dual-zone climate control are also included at no extra charge.
Of course there are literally dozens of potential recommendations for Jan and his wife. The three we’ve presented so far are front runners. A couple others came very close but for one reason or another failed to make the grade.
First up is the Audi Allroad. This car is essentially an all-wheel-drive station wagon. Think of it as a modern version of the AMC Eagle from decades ago. That’s a winning formula for a lot of people but the Allroad earns a dishonorable mention for one major reason: capability. Strangely Audi doesn’t mention towing in any of their press information, nor is it listed on their consumer site. Your guess is as good as ours as to what it can handle, though the European version can apparently drag around 4,000 pounds.
The BMW X3 also earns dishonorable-mention status. The base model is a solid offering that’s powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine; it delivers 240 horsepower and gets pretty excellent fuel economy. But like Audi’s Q5 and Allroad, it’s probably not all that great for towing, plus its interior isn’t all that great.
At the end of the day one vehicle rose to the top, setting itself apart in the process. What’s best for Jan and company? Here’s the breakdown. Audi’s Q5 may be stylish and very luxurious but it’s probably not the best for towing, despite its impressive rating. Its engine just doesn’t have the beans for heavy hauling. The Acura is a compelling and affordable choice that should be built for the long haul. There’s a lot to like about it and it has no major faults, but one vehicle offers just a little more, which is why we’re giving a nod to the Mercedes-Benz GLK250. With diesel power and efficiency it should be the perfect choice for Jan and his camper-crazy spouse.
As always, good luck Jane in your quest for a new car and thanks again for taking the time to Ask AutoGuide.
If you need a little assistance shopping for your next vehicle feel free to do the same. Send a short message to ask@AutoGuide.com. Let us know the basics of what you’re looking for. How many seats do you need? What size of vehicle do you want? How much are you willing to spend? With some of those fundamentals out of the way we’ll get busy to come up with two or three must-see vehicles that you’ll have to put on your test-drive list.