Ask AutoGuide No. 13 – BMW X3 vs. Mercedes-Benz GLK250 vs. Toyota Highlander Hybrid


Crossovers are all about fuel efficiency and family functionality. They blend attributes of cars with traits of traditional SUVs to create vehicles that are neither fish nor fowl; they’re the undecided voter of the automotive world, essentially the state of Ohio. Is it going red? Will it be blue? One thing’s certain; it’ll never go to the Green Party.

There are literally dozens of different crossovers on the market today. Car shoppers eyeing this vehicle segment can feel more than a skosh overwhelmed by the sheer number of options available. Venturing out into the automotive wilderness alone to hunt for one is foolhardy at best. Dealerships are unforgiving to shoppers unprepared. Like recreational prostate exams the outcome of these endeavors is rarely good, as such it’s wise to ask for assistance.

This week Greg sent in an e-mail requesting aid. He wants a new set of wheels and has a little more than 40 grand to spend. He’s after a crossover but is not necessarily opposed to large sedans. Presumably of the gangly persuasion, he said front and rear-seat legroom is a top priority. He also mentioned space for five passengers is essential. Additionally Greg wants something that handles well, offers the cargo room of a small SUV and gets at least 24 miles per gallon combined.


Spoilers, tacky plastic add-ons and anything “redneck” are forbidden. Needless to say we won’t be suggesting Truck Nutz. Perhaps he’s interested in a pair of more subtle of Auto Ovaries.

What vehicles fit Greg’s requirements without shattering his budget like Evil Knievel’s skeleton after a botched motorcycle jump? Multi-talented AutoGuide staff members have crunched the numbers and generated a short list of recommendations.

Suggestion #1 – 2013 BMW X3 xDrive 28i

Information Card -- BMW X3The BMW X3 should check at least one of Greg’s boxes, after all it’s an “Ultimate Driving Machine.” This crossover delivers an engaging on-road experience but does it meet any of his other criteria? Surprisingly, yes.

The xDrive 28i model may be saddled with a dreadful name but the vehicle itself is anything but a clunker. Aft of its iconic twin-kidney grille is a modern marvel of motor-vehicle engineering. The X3 is powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine with 240 horsepower mated to a quick-witted eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s smart enough to be on Jeopardy but since gearboxes can’t talk, write or make a wager it will have to sit this one out. Additionally, all-wheel drive is standard, which should deliver confident handling in all weather conditions.

Fuel economy was another one of Greg’s big concerns. Can a sporty BMW possibly deliver respectable mileage? Remember, things aren’t always as they seem; serial killer John Wayne Gacy was a clown. There’s nothing funny about murder, nor the X3’s EPA scores. This highfalutin crossover should get 21 miles per gallon in the city and up to 28 on the highway, which makes for an average of 24 MPG in mixed driving.

In his initial correspondence Greg mentioned he prefers cloth seats but in the luxury segment you pretty much two choices: leather or simulated leather. The X3 comes standard with some sort of fancy vinyl but genuine animal skins are $1,450 more. If it’s a big problem Gregory can always grab a couple seat covers. They’re constructed of numerous materials from imitation chinchilla fur to wooden beads.

The X3’s combined fuel economy score is spot on and so is its pricing. The xDrive 28i model starts around $41,000 including shameful destination and delivery fees. That leaves a little bit of budget to play with. For guaranteed driving fun Greg can step up to the dynamic handling package, which is $1,400. It includes variable sport steering and something called “performance control.” Basically this alters the all-wheel-drive system’s torque balance to send more power rearward.

SEE ALSO: 2013 BMW X3 xDrive 28i Review

We considered suggesting the cold weather package because it offers niceties like heated front and rear seats as well as an electrically warmed tiller, all for only $905. But there’s a catch, it necessitates getting leather seats, which cost a bunch more. For this reason jettisoned the kiester toasters. Germans love to play pricing games like that but we refuse to stay at BMW’s hotel on Boardwalk.

Speaking of sneaky things, BMW charges an additional $550 for a metallic paint job. And how convenient for them; almost all of the colors offered cost extra. If you want to avoid paying more for paint you’re limited to black or white.

In any event the 2014 BMW X3 xDrive 28i should push all of the right buttons by offering a spacious, comfortable interior, decent fuel economy and an engaging driving experience. With a non-metallic paint job, “leatherette” seats and the Dynamic Sport Package its out-the-door price should be a whisker less than 42 grand, perfectly in line with Greg’s budget.

Suggestion #2 – 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC

Information Card -- Mercedes-Benz GLK250BMW and Mercedes-Benz are fearsome rivals. When one of these companies introduces a redesigned vehicle or brings a new technology to market you can bet the other will soon follow. Predictably, the Volk in Stuttgart are not about to let their Bavarian colleagues go uncontested in the luxury crossover segment. The X3 is a solid vehicle but Mercedes has its own ideas of how things are done.

You say potato, I say potato; Mercedes says “Rudolph,” BMW “Otto.” The X3 runs on gasoline but the GLK250 features an ultra-efficient 2.1-liter diesel engine. With twin turbochargers this compression-ignition wonder delivers 200 horsepower, which is not an overwhelming amount by today’s standards, but it more than makes up for any deficiency with torque. This little monster puts out 369 lb-ft of twist. That’s more than a Ford Expedition with a 5.4-liter V8!

Handling all of that torque is an efficient and effective seven-speed automatic transmission. Power is sent to all four corners via standard all-wheel drive.

So, what’s the benefit of that BlueTEC diesel? Well, the GLK250 is rated at 24 miles per gallon in the city and up to 33 on the highway, figures that blow BMW away like a blade of grass in a hurricane. But that’s not the whole story. In real-world mixed driving AutoGuide extracted some 35 MPG from a GLK without even trying!

However, there are two caveats. Diesel fuel is more expensive than gasoline, typically by around 15 percent. Additionally, to meet U.S. emissions requirements the GLK needs a special fluid that cleans up the engine exhaust. Periodically this solution, called “AdBlue” has to be replenished, which is another expense.

Base price for the GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC is $39,495 out the door including $905 in protection money… we mean shipping and handling fees. That’s with ZERO options added, but to be fair Greg isn’t looking for any electronic gadgets or anatomically correct additions to his trailer-hitch.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK250 BlueTEC 4MATIC Review

At that price buyers are treated to standard HD radio, a 10-way power driver’s seat and bovine-approved MB Tex seating surfaces. Bluetooth is also included at no extra charge.

Like the X3 Mercedes’ GLK250 is a very premium vehicle with a nicely trimmed interior and an attractive body. It’s kind of like actress and philanthropist Angelina Jolie, beautiful inside and out. Our next vehicle has its strengths but is not quite as breathtaking.

Suggestion #3 – 2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Information Card -- Toyota Highlander HybridSo far we’ve compared two midsize luxury crossovers. They each have their strengths and weaknesses, though both offer a premium experience. However, if Greg wants a little more room and an extra row of seats these two aren’t going to cut it, but Toyota’s Highlander Hybrid could be just the ticket.

With its aft-two rows folded this husky family hauler offers 94.1 cubic feet of storage space. That’s quite a bit more than served up by the X3 and GLK; in fact it’s nearly twice as much. Another thing that’s sure to please Greg are the seats; cloth is standard!

The Highlander Hybrid is hauled around by a 3.5-liter V6 that puts out 231 horsepower, but that’s not the whole story. Of course the internal-combustion engine is augmented by bunch of hybrid wizardry. With an onboard battery pack and torque-rich electric motor net system horsepower is a more appropriate 280. A continuously variable transmission (CVT) serves as the ratio swapper.

What does all of that rich, nougatey, gasoline/electric goodness get you? About 28 miles per gallon. The Highlander Hybrid is a triple threat, delivering the big two-eight on all three driving cycles, city, highway and combined. As always your mileage will vary, but with this hybrid it shouldn’t be by very much.

So, this Toyota is spacious, efficient and comes with fabric-covered perches, what else does it offer? In the amenities department fog lamps, intermittent wipers and cruise control are all standard fare. Rear-seat air conditioning and a navigation system are also included.

In the pricing department this vehicle is actually right in line with the BMW and Mercedes. With no options it’s just about $41,000. That’s a lot of greenbacks for a mass-market Toyota.

SEE ALSO: 2013 Toyota Highlander Review

When it comes to downsides there’s one major drawback to the Highlander: driving dynamics. It’s bigger and hundreds of pounds heavier than either the X3 or GLK, plus it’s saddled with a hybrid drivetrain, three things that result in copious precipitation on your carnival procession. This car will never drive as well as its smaller German competitors.

But making up for that shortcoming is one major trump card. Quality is the right bauer in the automotive euchre deck, it has the ability to take down all comers and level the playing field. Toyota’s legendary reputation for reliability earns the Highlander back some points it lost in the dynamics department.



One vehicle that could have been a strong contender in this crossover quarrel is the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It’s got a lot of check marks in its “plus” column including handsome styling, good road manners and a beautiful interior that’s probably nicer than the cockpit of the BMW X3. But subpar fuel economy deflates an otherwise excellent package. Even with a V6 engine, two-wheel drive and an eight-speed transmission it only averages 20 miles per gallon, which is 20 percent short of what Greg wants and 100 percent rules it out.


The Lexus RX is also an intriguing option. It’s high on luxury and design with even better quality than Toyota. But the F Sport version, which is probably the only model worth owning starts at more than $47,000! The RX is knocked out of contention without a shot being fired. Is it Japanese or French?



Each vehicle in this week’s installment of Ask AutoGuide has its strengths and weaknesses. With a potent gasoline engine and an eight-speed gearbox the BMW is almost certainly the most fun to toss around. Unfortunately its interior is a bit disappointing and it’s not all that fuel efficient.


The Mercedes GLK250 is the economy champ with its torque-rich diesel engine. But that advantage comes at a price, namely more costly fuel and extra maintenance in the form of exhaust after-treatment fluid that needs to be replenished.


Lastly there’s the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a vehicle that’s a size class larger than the BMW and Mercedes. It’s got the most interior room, a third row of seats and it gets pretty good fuel economy. But it’s kind of pricey for what you get and it’s no fun to drive, plus a brand-new model will launch shortly. It’s probably best to wait.

Choices, but which one is right for Greg? Well, after carefully weighing all of the options we’d recommend the BMW X3. It’s luxurious, fun to drive and just efficient enough; it’s a jack of all trades and a master of fun.

As always, good luck Greg 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.

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