Ask AutoGuide No. 6 – The Crossover Conundrum

Ask AutoGuide No. 6 – The Crossover Conundrum

Once upon a time the automotive market was radically different. Just a few decades ago things were much simpler for consumers than they are today. Unless they’re shopping for a new Tesla, buyers face a borderline-absurd number of choices when they walk into a typical dealer showroom. This is why we’re here. Ask AutoGuide’s expertly trained, nationally certified Oracles are ready, willing and usually able to help new-car shoppers in distress. Think of them as caped crusaders fighting for what’s right… as long as they don’t have to get up from their desks or change out of their Velcro Hush Puppies.

Along with traditional sedans and pickup trucks modern vehicle lineups include automotive oddities like minivans and crossovers, not to mention the paradoxical four-door coupe, a half-breed that’s akin to the mythical liger (bred for its skills in magic). Car-based utilities are on the front-line of this sea change. Slowly but surely they’re starting to dominate the market like the Soviets dominated Eastern Europe, but instead of communism and an iron curtain think of trips to Costco and a new shower curtain.

This proliferation is good for consumers in need of spacious vehicles that deliver respectable fuel economy, but given how they’re multiplying like bacteria in room-temperature egg salad, choosing the right one is a monumental challenge.

This week Tammy sounded the alarm. She’s looking for a premium crossover and has about $50,000 to spend. That narrows things down to just about every car-based utility on the market today. Thankfully she has other criteria. Quality and reliability are important to her as are fuel economy and safety. She’s also looking for blind-spot monitoring, a roof rack and navigation, among other things. Giving our experts a general direction to head in, she mentioned vehicles like the Audi Q5 Hybrid, Lexus RX and Toyota Highlander. Vast amounts of cargo space are not a priority so compact luxury is the way to go.

Few things excite the Oracles like an automotive challenge and this is a big one. Hopefully they get as amped up about Tammy’s question as they do about scheduling an appointment with the allergist.

Suggestion #1: 2013 Volvo XC60

Information Card -- Volvo XC60Sweden is the land of Viking warriors, social welfare and ABBA. This Nordic country dangles above the European mainland like a salami hanging in a deli; it’s even got its own natural casing, which consists of Norway to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east. In wintertime this barrier even crunches like a cured hog intestine.

Sweden is also famous for its high standard of living and its auto industry. The former comes courtesy of sensible government policy, the latter of bankruptcy and Chinese ownership. Saab ran out of gas a year or two ago, succumbing to an unstoppable one-two punch: the Great Recession and GM’s blundering management. With the Griffon brand on the receiving end of a Viking funeral the only automaker left to wave the blue and yellow standard is Volvo, the most ‘we’re not dead yet’ automaker in Sweden.

The company’s offering in the premium small crossover segment is the capable and safe XC60, a vehicle Tammy may not have considered. It offers a comfortable cabin, lots of nice features and a touch of Scandinavian luxury, which is understated and elegant, unlike, say, German luxury, which is demanding an opinionated.

The XC60’s base price is a little more than $35,000, well within budget. Loaded up with the necessary options that figure grows by a substantial amount… like 11 grand. With blind-spot monitoring, heated seats and a navigation system the car’s MSRP just about hits $46,000.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Volvo XC60 R-Design Review

One interesting feature offered on the XC60 is called City Safety. It’s an advanced driver-support technology that’s designed to prevent costly fender benders. It works at low speeds in stop-and-go traffic. If the driver isn’t paying attention and the vehicle ahead is stopped City Safety will automatically slam on the brakes to prevent a rear-end collision. If the motorist is doing their job the technology is completely invisible; it only intervenes when necessary. In demonstrations the system is quite effective, and best of all it’s standard on every XC60.

Shelling out nearly 50 large gets you a front-wheel-drive model with a 3.2-liter straight-six under the hood. It develops 240 horsepower and nearly as much torque. It’s matched to an automatic transmission with half-a-dozen gears. On the efficiency front this stylish Swede should average 21 miles per gallon in mixed driving; that’s 19 MPG city and 25 on the open road (not the best numbers in its class).

If all-wheel drive or additional performance are called for plan on spending more. An up-level turbo engine belts out either 300 or 325 horsepower depending on how it’s tuned, but even in base trim Volvo’s Dancing Queen is comfortable and plenty capable.

Get full Volvo XC60 details here

Suggestion #2: 2013 Acura RDX

Information Card -- Acura RDXMore is less with the Acura RDX. When the company redesigned this luxury crossover a year or so ago they replaced the previous generation’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine with a big, honkin’ V6. Against the odds, fuel economy actually went up. The RDX’s combined rating improved by two miles per gallon, and that’s with more than 30 extra horsepower! This is eye-opening, especially at a time when manufacturers like Ford are aggressively downsizing their engines and bolting on the boost.

Like its Swedish competitor the RDX starts in the mid-$30,000 range. That gets you a 10-way power driver’s seat with adjustable lumbar support, a premium sound system, Bluetooth connectivity and a lot more.

To get the coveted navigation system one has to step up to a model equipped with the Technology Package, which is $3,700 extra compared to the base car. That’s a hefty chunk of change, a truckload of rolled quarters, but it’s more than just navigation. It includes a nifty multi-view rear camera, which can show three different views on the display screen as the vehicle backs up, AcuraLink real-time traffic and weather plus Xenon High-Intensity Discharge (HID) headlights that turn night into day.

Under the hood Acura offers drivers a choice, they can opt for a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 273 horsepower or they can buy a different vehicle. The engine is matched exclusively to a six-speed automatic transmission; like a canoe it can be controlled with paddles… paddle shifters, that is. All-wheel drive is available for, you guessed it, more money.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Acura RDX Review

With efficient front-wheel drive this Acura should be able to make it 20 miles on a gallon of gasoline in city driving. Naturally it does considerably better on the highway, returning up to 28 MPG.

The RDX is quite entertaining to drive, relatively spacious inside and it’s attractively styled (Tammy even said she liked the looks of it in her initial e-mail). But best of all under its fancy bodywork and leather trim it’s a Honda, meaning it’s practically guaranteed to deliver problem-free driving until she trades it in for a hydrogen-fuel cell car in 2030.

Get full Acura RDX details here

Suggestion #3: 2013 Lexus RX

Information Card -- Lexus RXJust like Honda, Toyota’s reputation is built on a foundation of quality. It’s not something that’s sexy, and it isn’t fun, but reliability and longevity are extremely important factors to consider when purchasing a vehicle.

Lexus is Toyota’s crown jewel, a pure expression of sound engineering and automotive quality. Year in and year out this luxury brand is at the top of various surveys such as the annual J.D. Power Vehicle Dependability Study, which measures problems per 100 vehicles. In the latest edition of the survey, which was released a couple months ago, Lexus drove away with just 74 reported issues; the worst was Land Rover with 220! Interestingly from a quality standpoint the RX was the highest-rated vehicle by J.D. Power.

Base price for the entry-level RX350 is considerably richer than the competition here; it starts at 40 grand. At that level it comes standard with 10-way power-adjustable front seats, dual zone automatic climate control and a power tilt-and-telescoping steering column. As for safety, the RX’s 10 standard airbags turn the cabin into children’s bounce house in the event of a crash.

In order to get a nav system you have to step up to a model with all-wheel drive. That’s adds a bit to the bottom line, but the real kicker is that navigation is part of an $8,000 options package. It includes other features like a heavy-duty radiator, heated AND ventilated front seats as well as rain-sensing windshield wipers. That pushes the vehicle’s price to $49,905, just $95 short of the limit. Talk about brinksmanship.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Lexus RX350 F Sport Review

Like the Acura RDX the similarly-named Lexus RX is powered by a 3.5-liter V6. It delivers a decent 270 horsepower and 248 lb-ft of torque. Following the industry standard it’s matched to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Fuel economy is something that’s also important to Tammy and the RX is pretty efficient. According to Uncle Sam’s minions at the EPA, it stickers at 18 miles per gallon city and 24 highway, numbers that give it a combined score of 20 MPG. But blowing those out of the water is the hybrid version of this Lexus crossover.

All-wheel-drive models of the RX450h average 29 miles per gallon, stickering at 30 in the city and 28 on the highway. Those scores make it sizably more efficient than the standard version, but that added fuel economy comes at a price. All-wheel-drive hybrids start at more than $47,000. The most basic package with navigation adds another 8 grand on top of that, bringing the total to almost $57,000 – it’s a real budget buster. On top of that the added cost of the hybrid system is suspect; sure you’re saving the environment ,but in real world driving don’t expect to recoup the extra cash any time soon..

Get full Lexus RX details here

Suggestion #Honorable Mention

So far the Oracles have presented a trio of high-end crossovers, any one of which should suit Tammy’s needs. These frontrunners offer high levels of technology, lots of luxury amenities and decent fuel economy. But there are so many offerings in this vehicle class a couple more are worth mentioning.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATICThe BMW X3 is one of the sportiest compact luxury crossovers. It’s offered with two different turbo engines: an efficient four-cylinder and a powerful straight-six. For Tammy a model with the base powerplant would be plenty. It serves up 240 horsepower and is matched to an eight-speed automatic transmission. Downsides to the X3 are relatively few. It gets expensive quickly and it probably won’t be as reliable as the Acura or Lexus, but still, it’s a fine choice.

2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATICNot to be outdone by other luxury nameplates, Mercedes-Benz also fields a compact luxury crossover. The GLK is a rugged, handsome-looking vehicle; it’s probably one of the most stylish in its class. Under that chiseled bodywork the powertrain consists of a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 302 horsepower as well as a tried-and-true seven-speed automatic transmission. Starting price is about $37,000 but optioned up to Tammy’s liking it stickers for about $46,000. Like the BMW complaints are few and center on long-term reliability.


With such a rich menu of offerings what’s the best vehicle for Tammy? Should she go with beluga caviar, Kobe beef or just sip on a glass of Romanée-Conti La Tâche? In truth she can’t make a mistake; all of the crossovers presented by the illustrious AutoGuide Oracles are first-rate choices. They each come with long lists of strengths and will almost certainly serve her well for years to come.

The Volvo XC60 is a solid choice. It’s safer than an artillery bunker and offers some very interesting technology in the form of the company’s City Safety autonomous-braking system. This comparison’s lone Swede is even wrapped in a stylish suit, but the XC60 is not without a few downsides. It’s interior, while a pretty swanky place is getting dated at this time. Rear seat legroom isn’t plentiful either. It’s a great luxury crossover but it’s probably not the best.

The Lexus RX is another stupendous choice. It’s reasonably powerful and efficient, it’s loaded with comfort and convenience features and it’s one of the most reliable vehicles ever built. It will probably still be running strong after the sun explodes. It’s also quite large for this class of crossover, which could be an added bonus, though Tammy says cargo room isn’t her number one priority.

Unfortunately all that quality doesn’t come cheap. Whether it’s the base RX350 or the even more expensive hybrid model the RX is pricey. Technically it’s still within Tammy’s $50,000 budget, but barely.

More engaging to drive than the Volvo and a better value than the Lexus, Acura’s RDX is a strong contender, which is why the Oracles are recommending it to Tammy, plus everyone else already drives an RX. It’s a quality piece of engineering that gets pretty good fuel economy and offers lots of technology. Acura gets the nod in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide.

As always, good luck 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 [email protected]. 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.