2002 Luxury Crossover Comparison Test

2001 Audi Allroad Quattro Wagon

(2.7L V6 Twin-turbo AWD 6-speed Manual)

Diamonds in the Rough

  • Comparison Test
  • Fourth Place - 2002 Lexus RX 300
  • Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Lexus RX 300
  • Third Place - 2001 Audi allroad
  • Stereo Evaluation - 2001 Audi allroad
  • First Place (tie) - 2002 Acura MDX Touring
  • Stereo Evaluation - 2002 Acura MDX Touring
  • First Place (tie) - 2002 BMW X5
  • Stereo Evaluation - 2002 BMW X5
  • Conclusion
  • Editors' Evaluations
  • Top 10 Features
  • Consumer Commentary
  • Final Rankings and Scoring Explanation
  • 2002 Acura MDX Touring Specs and Performance
  • 2002 BMW X5 3.0i Specs and Performance
  • 2001 Audi Allroad Specs and Performance
  • 2002 Lexus RX 300 Specs and Performance

Even as luxury SUVs continue to sell in large numbers, the emergence of high-end "crossover" sport-utes is beginning to take center stage — and for good reason. Consumers who bought traditional sport-utilities as their primary family vehicle are starting to recognize their drawbacks — poor handling, low mileage, bland interiors — and they're looking for alternatives.

Crossovers promise all the utility of a sport-ute with the ride, handling and comfort of a sedan. How far they lean toward one extreme or the other depends on the manufacturer, but, as we found out, there is no perfect ratio of one to the other. The fact that their sticker prices place them in the luxury category adds yet another element to an already complicated equation.

The assembled competitors represented the best of what's currently available, but there are plenty more on the way shortly. From Japan's luxury car makers came the Acura MDX and Lexus RX 300, while Germany was well represented by BMW's X5 and Audi's allroad.

As these are typically used as family vehicles, we used them as such during our two-week testing period. Commuting, weekend errands and weekday lunch runs were all part of the mix, along with a few trips through the hills for fun. Despite our assumption that few, if any, of these vehicles will ever see anything but smooth pavement, we also subjected each vehicle to an easily passable, but rough, fire road. It was enough to gauge their relative competence without placing them (or us) in any danger of getting stuck.

Upon returning to the comforts of a cell phone signal and gas at every corner, we scrutinized each vehicle with a 24-point evaluation, picked our own personal favorites as well as choosing which of the four we would recommend to others. When the numbers came in, it was obvious that there were no losers in this bunch. Each of the four vehicles warrants some level of consideration depending on your own personal tastes. And while they may not have the biggest engines or the largest badges stuck to their tailgates, these luxury vehicles excel in more subtle ways, as in the ones you're likely to notice every day rather than once a year. If that's the kind of sport-utility you're looking for, read on to find out which one of these four belongs in your garage.

Fourth. Last. Whatever you want to call it — it looks bad.

But don't hold it against the RX 300. It's no loser. In fact, for a good percentage of buyers in this category, the RX 300 represents the best compromise between luxury and practicality. Like its lesser cousin, the Toyota Highlander, the RX 300 offers all the essential elements of a well-rounded crossover vehicle — an elevated stance, plenty of room for passenger and cargo, a smooth-running drivetrain — and in this category — plenty of luxury amenities.

Despite these strong credentials, the RX 300 failed to inspire much enthusiasm among our staff. Nothing spells this out better than the RX 300's scores in our subjective "recommended" and "personal" picks categories — 81 percent in the recommended column, 31 percent in the personal column. Obviously, it's not for us, but we're wise enough to know that the average driver will find the RX a fully competent and immensely enjoyable vehicle that will probably last longer than they care to drive it.

With a base price of just under $36,000, the Lexus was one of the cheaper competitors in the test. Our loaner vehicle came bundled with the Navigation Value package that added a healthy $5,400 to the bottom line, placing it well above the Acura, but far below the Audi and BMW in final price. In addition to the navigation system, this package added leather trim, a six-disc in-dash changer, HID headlights and a sunroof, among other things.

Even without this pricey package, the RX 300 would still look luxurious. The wood trim on the dash and door panels is some of the nicest you'll find in any luxury vehicle, and even the dashboard is soft to the touch. The gauges light up with what Lexus calls Optitron instrumentation, high contrast white-on-black needles that remain readable in almost any type of light. Add to that a well-laid-out center stack that manages to combine radio and climate controls and a navigation screen into one console without looking overcrowded or complicated, and it's easy to see why the Lexus scored well in both the design and materials categories.

Step-in is easy thanks to a relatively low ride height, and lightweight doors add to the ease of entry and exit. The seats are soft all around, a trait that, while normally commendable, puts the RX at a disadvantage when scored back to back against the firmer, more supportive sport seats in the BMW and the Audi. Even with the vehicle's low ride height, the seats in the Lexus remain elevated enough to provide a good view of the road ahead, but the rearward sight lines are hampered by the wide C-pillars and small rear side windows.

Although the RX 300 is built on the same platform as the Highlander, its interior dimensions are slightly smaller, resulting in less rear passenger room and cargo space. Compared to the Audi and the BMW, the Lexus provides more comfortable accommodations for second-row occupants, but the Acura is better still. The seats are split 60/40 and can folded with one hand. This opens up the cargo area to a full 75 cubic feet, but intrusive suspension arms bottleneck the load floor at the middle.

The RX 300 also shares the Highlander's 3.0-liter V6 engine and electronically controlled four-speed automatic. With 220 horsepower and 222 lb-ft of torque, the V6 produces the kind of smooth, quiet power you would expect in a Lexus. It's not as willing to rev as the BMW's six, nor is it as powerful down low as the Acura, but for most day-to-day driving, it's a perfectly competent motivator.

The suspension is a fully independent setup that emphasizes ride comfort above all else. Toss the RX into a turn at any substantial rate of speed and it will keel over and beg for mercy. There's never any loss of control, but there's not much fun to be had, either. The brakes were the softest of the four, although they turned in a respectable stopping distance of 125 feet from 60 mph. The standard Vehicle Skid Control (VSC) system was moderately intrusive during hard cornering, but considering how most RXs will be driven, we doubt anyone will ever notice. Additional safety features like standard side-impact airbags and force-limiting seatbelts earned the RX 300 top crash scores in both NHTSA and IIHS crash tests.

Despite the fact that few, if any, RX 300 owners will ever venture into the wild, we still dragged the plush Lexus along on our off-road test loops. To no one's surprise, the RX was just too soft to handle rough terrain at speed. The soft suspension isolates the cabin nicely, but push it too fast over bumps and rocks and it bottoms out easily. The all-wheel-drive system never failed to provide perfect traction despite the relatively tame Goodyear street tires.

This is a street machine, pure and simple. And a well-appointed, perfectly built one at that. Its status as the best-selling vehicle in the Lexus lineup proves that while it may not have the capacity of the MDX, the agility of the X5 or the gadgetry of the allroad, it has just enough of what most people want at a price they're willing to pay.

We didn't like it as much as the others, but for the those who would gladly give up cornering prowess and a gutsy engine in return for a forgiving ride and a quiet cabin, the RX 300 makes perfect sense.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
This is the cruiser of the lot. Everything about the RX 300 is butter-smooth, from the powertrain's character to the luxurious ride; the Lexus exudes refinement and a low-stress environment for driver and passengers. If we gave out an award for center consoles, this baby would take the trophy with its huge amount of covered and slide-open compartments. On a long trip, it's great to have quick access to items like CDs and snacks that are held secure enough that they won't spill all over the place. But in spite of the comfy ride and great interior, I wasn't won over by the Lexus. The driving experience is isolated, the antithesis of the BMW. And for those of us who enjoy more of an interactive feel between man and machine, it's a turnoff.

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
As somewhat reluctant as I am to admit it, there are two RX 300s in the Kim family fleet. Both of my sisters have determined that their respective Lexi possess enough power, comfort, utility, slim dimensions and style to convey their families and belongings. Both are happy with their purchases, citing a great reliability record and nice doodads to remind them that their cars are premium vehicles. Personally, I think the eldest one, with three young children, would've faired much better with an MDX because of its greater cargo capacity and third-row seating.

Still, the Lexus provides a smooth, placid road demeanor; thoughtful ergonomic features; supple leather; luminous wood trim; and a pretty L on its waterfall grille. For my blood relations (and for numerous consumers, judging by its sales numbers), this is plenty. So why do I keep yawning every time I climb into one? Well, the engine doesn't elicit much excitement; the suspension, while comfortable, doesn't inspire; and the cargo space provides little more than a small station wagon does. Yes, it's extremely easy to live with, but it will do little to inspire.

Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
Although I appreciated the RX 300's efforts to get me to my destinations in supreme comfort, the oldest crossover in our test seems ready for a redesign. Not because it lacks important features (except for maybe an automanual transmission), but because its handling is overly soupy compared with the others and its interior less functional than the Acura's. Both of these issues have been addressed in the RX 300's close relative, the Toyota Highlander, and I would be inclined to trade some luxury to reap these improvements.

Even when driven sedately in the city, the RX 300 shifts its weight sleepily around every turn; if you get more aggressive on a canyon road, excessive body roll and (fortunately) a watchful stability control system will bring back your conservative driving habits. Though reasonably responsive, the steering can be unsettlingly light — and even a bit sloppy if you're fiddling with the stereo controls while on the freeway — and the turning radius is large. On the plus side, the 3.0-liter V6 and its four-speed automatic are a very quiet team.

Inside, the cushiony seats leave the driver and front passenger with little to complain about, though adult-size backseat occupants probably won't like the low-mounted bench and the reduced legroom in the center due to the large center console in the front. The sound system is excellent, and a large touchscreen display makes it easy to shuffle between discs in the glovebox-mounted changer. Otherwise, the center stack controls are a mess — the seek button is on the far right side of the stack (with no steering wheel controls to compensate) and the climate control system is split between a collection of buttons and dials at the bottom of the stack and a tiny display on the upper right side of the nav screen.

If you buy an RX 300, you probably won't be disappointed as the wood-trimmed steering wheel glistens for years to come. If Lexus-grade luxury isn't a must, though, the MDX is a better buy.

Ranking in Stereo Test: Third

System Score: 7.0

Components: Most of the Lexus vehicles we've listened to over the past few years have had good to excellent stereos. This one, while not in the excellent category, has much to recommend it.

Let's start with the speakers. This is one of the more interesting speaker arrays we've come across, and it contributes much to the overall sound quality of the vehicle. Specifically, the Lexus engineers have done something with the front tweeters that we've not seen in any other vehicle. Instead of mounting them in the front doors or the A-pillars, the Lexus folks have gone one better and positioned the front tweeters in their own little enclosures on top of the dash. Aimed directly into the passenger compartment, the tweeters do a good job of dispersing high frequencies into the cabin. The rest of the speakers are pretty much standard-issue Toyota — a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the front doors, plus a pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the doors aft.

Electronically, this system is a little more problematic. Our test vehicle came with an in-dash GPS navigation system. All well and good, except that such an arrangement reroutes many of the stereo functions through the touchscreen LCD display. Gone are some of the friendlier ergonomics we've seen in other Lexus and Toyota vehicles. And because this vehicle also comes without any steering wheel controls, stereo operators will spend a fair amount of time poking at the touchscreen display to adjust such functions as bass, treble, balance, fade and all station presets. We found this arrangement irksome, but perhaps you'd get used to it over time. Give us a good old button any day, which renders a solid, tactile response to our endless poking and adjusting. On the plus side, our test vehicle came with a mid tone control for increased sonic flexibility, separate round dials for volume and tuning, and a cassette deck as well as a six-disc CD changer in the glovebox). A word on the CD changer: We found the trays funky and difficult to use; on your redesign, Lexus engineers, please install the same six-dish in-dash changer you use in your Toyota family of vehicles.

Performance: This one sounds pretty good. The dash-mounted tweeters produce an excellent soundstage, while the door-mounted drivers give a surprisingly thumping performance. The system also has a warmth and smoothness you don't find that often — something hard to put into words, but which we've heard in other Lexus vehicles. It's not the loudest system on the planet, and it does tend to get a little grainy and "dirty" when turned up too loud, but it has an overall sonic purity that will please most listeners.

Best Feature: Dash-mounted tweeters.

Worst Feature: Funky CD tray and other design miscues.

Conclusion: This one is a keeper. While not as impressive as other systems in this class, it's nonetheless a solid performer. We were put off by some of the ergonomic faux pas, and marked off accordingly. While routing the stereo controls through the GPS screen may be the best — or most cost effective? — way to integrate the two systems, we found it annoying. — Scott Memmer

As the only real "wagon" in the test, the allroad represented a slightly different take on the idea of a luxury crossover. Rather than building a taller, larger vehicle that attempted to combine the best aspects of a sedan and a traditional SUV, Audi merely fortified its existing midsize wagon, the A6 avant, with the tools necessary to give it that extra level of capability that crossovers promise.

And after pitting it head-to-head against the heavyweight competition, we found Audi's strategy to be a sound one, as the allroad finished a close third behind the Acura and the BMW. Car-like agility, surprising rough-terrain capability and a beautifully detailed interior brought the allroad within striking distance of the winners. But in the end, the Audi's occasionally harsh street ride, featherweight steering and finicky turbo engine kept it from earning enough unanimous praise to place it on the already crowded winners' podium.

With 250 horsepower, the allroad's 2.7-liter twin turbo V6 has little trouble motivating the more than 2-ton vehicle. Track testing proved it to be the fastest vehicle out of the four, with a 0-to-60 time of 7.4 seconds putting it a full half-second ahead of the next quickest competitor. Yet even with all that power, the Audi still received the lowest scores in the engine category of our driving evaluations. The culprits?

Turbo lag, for one. This common problem results from the fact that turbos don't really kick in until at least moderate engine speeds are reached. In the allroad's case, this condition leaves you pulling away from stop signs and trudging up hills wondering where all those ponies are hiding. Once the turbos do kick in, there's a surge of acceleration that really plants you in your seat, but the inability to easily modulate the available thrust makes the allroad an often annoying companion around town.

Compounding the turbo lag problem is a lazy automatic transmission that fails to downshift fast enough to maintain sufficient engine speeds. A Tiptronic mode alleviates this problem to a certain degree by allowing manual control, but we've driven automatics that actually improve the feel of a turbo engine, so the Audi's unresponsive unit was a bit of a disappointment.

We also failed to warm up to the allroad's speed-sensitive steering rack that never seemed to deliver enough heft. It's acceptable enough during leisurely driving and even helpful for parking maneuvers. But at higher speeds, it doesn't reduce the assist enough to provide a solid connection with the suspension below, making the otherwise lively chassis difficult to have any fun with. The excellent brakes are easily modulated and immensely powerful, hauling the allroad down from 60 miles per hour in just 120 feet, a short distance for any type of vehicle.

Although every allroad comes equipped with Audi's highly advanced quattro all-wheel-drive system, it's the four-position driver-adjustable air suspension that really makes the allroad more than just your average sport wagon. Able to raise the vehicle's ride height by up to 2.8 inches, this system gives the allroad an impressive 8.2 inches of ground clearance at its highest setting — the most of any vehicle in the test.

Bounding down our bumpy off-road test loop, the allroad absorbed big hits without bottoming out, though the cabin boomed with every impact, making extended runs over rough terrain tiring. The quattro drivetrain never failed to provide perfect traction, and the allroad's exclusive Pirelli Cinturato tires held their ground despite their street-biased tread. Again, the overly light steering always makes you feel a step behind what's going on down below, and the peaky engine was hard to manage at slow speeds, but for light off-roading and rough weather duty, the allroad has more capability that most people will ever need.

On the street, the allroad's pneumatic suspension delivers a confusing mix of softness in the corners and harshness over bumps that left our editors questioning the car's appeal as a day-to-day driver. "It soaks up the small stuff nicely, but then you hit a pothole the whole cabin shudders," wrote one driver. He continued, "You think to yourself, 'OK, this is what you have to put up with to get sporty handling,' but then you throw it into a corner and it rolls over like the Lexus. Once you get used to the strange tuning, it can be fun to play around with, but most drivers won't bother to take the time."

Less controversial was the allroad's sharp-looking interior that made every editor feel good whether they knew how to handle the funky suspension or not. Top-quality materials cover every inch of the cabin and the simple yet elegant layout was rated the most aesthetically appealing of the four. The numerous buttons that litter the radio and climate control panels aren't immediately intuitive, but once learned, they pose little annoyance. At night, nearly every button is backlit in a fiery red hue making the dashboard look like the cockpit of a 747 — confusing to some, uniquely appealing to most.

The lower ride height of the allroad allows for the most manageable entry and exit of all the vehicles, but on the flip side, it doesn't offer the commanding view of the road like the taller sport-utes. Once inside, a tilting and telescoping steering wheel and a 12-way power driver seat makes finding a comfortable driving position a simple task for drivers of varying body types.

Most liked the firm padding of the driver and passenger sport seats, but a few complained of the short, narrow cushions after longer stints behind the wheel. An optional convenience package added much appreciated multi-level heaters to both seats, as well as satellite controls to the heated steering wheel. There's plenty of storage space within reach, as each door panel houses two separate retractable bins that can swallow an appreciable amount of your accumulated junk.

Not surprisingly, the more compact dimensions of the allroad result in tight rear quarters that earned the lowest rating of the four vehicles. Not even the articulating headrests, seat heaters and padded armrests could make up for the lack of leg and shoulder room. The 60/40-split bench seat folds easily and has a ski pass-through for longer items.

For safety, there's the usual array of front and side airbags up front, along with a supplemental side curtain airbag system that provides head protection for both the front and rear passengers in a side impact collision. Rear-seat side airbags are also offered as an option. Neither NHTSA nor the IIHS have tested the allroad for crashworthiness.

Total cargo capacity with the second-row seats folded is a respectable 73.2 cubic feet, less than the Acura, but about on par with the Lexus (75 cubic-feet), and considerably more than the BMW. You won't break your back loading it up either, as the allroad has a low liftover courtesy of the reduced ride height.

And therein lies much of the allroad's appeal. You get all the capability of a sport-ute without the overwhelming and often unnecessary bulk. The lavish interior won't leave you wishing for a luxury sedan, and the substantial cargo capacity affords just enough functionality to make it practical. The biggest question is whether or not the allroad's sophisticated suspension and additional horsepower are worth the extra price over a standard A6 Avant. If it is to you, and the confused suspension and fussy turbos don't bother you, then by all means score yourself an allroad, you're not likely to be disappointed.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
Let's be honest — the allroad is a station wagon. Yes, it has a fancy suspension that can be raised at the push of a button to allow more ground clearance, as much as some "real" SUVs. But like the Subaru Outback, the body is that of a station wagon; there is no increase in luggage or passenger room — so much for "utility." And I was disappointed in the performance; the steering is way too light (odd in a German car), and the tranny saps performance with its too-quick first-to-second-gear upshift and slight hesitation when a downshift is called for. Of course, there is that gorgeous interior and tight build quality, but for 50 grand, I'd expect more capability in terms of serving SUV-type needs.

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
The allroad is a car full of kind-ofs. Yes, it's kind of sporty in a luxurious way, but the BMW has it beat in that respect. Yes, it kind of has off-road pretensions with its height-adjustable suspension, but really, I preferred the Lexus when driving on dirt roads. And you know that the side cladding is perilously fraught with potential for scratches.

It's the most powerful vehicle in the test with 250 horses from a twin turbo powerplant, but the power is non-linear — it's unnerving to try and squirt your way through traffic when you must, press hard on the accelerator and have to wait for a response. The light steering and soft suspension may appeal to denizens of multi-story parking lots, but it leaves you wanting when you're driving fast on a curvy road. Overall, I was left rather unimpressed with this crossover. It's too expensive with little to recommend it over others.

Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
No vehicle comes closer to being a car in this group than the allroad, since it is, of course, an armored height-adjustable version of the A6 avant. However, in this comparison, this didn't seem to be an advantage for the Audi. Like the X5, it was hurt by its high "as tested" price and low fuel economy rating (15/21). Nor did it have the BMW's athletic handling characteristics. Though it gripped the road well when pushed, the allroad felt comparatively heavy and soft with light, non-communicative steering. Off road, the Audi was more fun than any of the other luxury crossovers, but even at its highest suspension setting, it still didn't have the clearance to deal with serious ruts. The 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 is an interesting case — it has an explosive powerband, but an apparent combination of turbo lag and a lackadaisical automatic transmission make the 250-hp allroad rather a chore to drive in city traffic.

While the Audi could prove very satisfying for a small group of people who have flexible budgets, active lifestyles and a limited number of offspring, most crossover shoppers will be better served with something more practical — like an MDX or an RX 300.

Ranking in Stereo Test: Tied for first.

System Score: 8.0

Components: As we've written elsewhere, we've been fans of Audi/VW stereos for several years now. The Audi allroad has four 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the doors, each one coupled to a 1-inch dome tweeter above. This arrangement is exceptionally accurate and also very punchy and tight (smaller speakers equal less mass, which equals quicker response time).

Electronics include a nicely appointed head unit boasting 18 AM/18 FM presets, a cassette deck and a single-disc CD player. Surprise-and-delight features include round, ridged, detented knobs for both volume and tuning, a "mid" tone control for increased sonic flexibility, a wide topography with ample spacing between most controls and excellent radio positioning in the upper-center portion of the dash. It also has a cool-looking red display that matches the rest of the interior controls. Oh, and you'll find steering wheel controls for both volume and seek/scan.

Performance: Well, it's a real treat. The door-mounted drivers convert the door cavities into four dynamic speaker enclosures, and they sound exceptional. While bass is not thunderously low, it has surprising snap and verve. Kick drum and percussion present a noticeable "punch" in this system, complemented in the upper register by bright (sometimes too bright) highs. Mids are just slightly muddy in detail, with horns sounding a little boxy and constrained. Likewise, female vocals get a little overcooked at higher volume levels, and acoustic string instruments sound a little raspy and hot. But overall, this system sounds quite good.

Best Feature: User-friendly head unit; good sound quality.

Worst Feature: Overly bright high end when the amp gets pushed.

Conclusion: An ergonomically friendly head unit combined with sonic clarity make this system a pleasure to listen to and use. If you want more bass, Audi offers an optional Bose system that includes a Bose subwoofer and 200 watts of system power. But this one plays pretty well without all that. — Scott Memmer

We're beginning to see a pattern here.

Acura's TL sedan managed to edge out BMW's 3 Series in our last entry-level luxury sport sedan comparison, and now the MDX scores a tie with the X5 for the top spot in the luxury crossover category.

How did yet another Acura manage to overcome one of the most respected brands in the industry to share a spot on the winners' podium?

In the case of the MDX, it came down to functionality, drivability, feature content and, to a large degree, price. Even with a DVD navigation system (the only option available), our fully loaded MDX tester still came in under $40,000. Compare that to the X5 that starts at $39K before you add a single one if its endless options, and it's hard to ignore the Acura's value equation.

The buying public sure hasn't. According to Edmunds.com, the MDX's TMV® price, a figure that reflects what most buyers are paying on the open market, is often more than its sticker price. This is rare in the car industry, especially for a relatively high-volume model like the MDX, so it's quite apparent that we're not the only ones who consider the MDX a standout in the category.

Much of its appeal can be traced to the MDX's generous passenger accommodations. Up front, the well-bolstered bucket seats have a wide range of movement that allows drivers of all sizes to find a comfortable position. The rear seats are easily the most comfortable of the four vehicles, with ample leg-, head- and shoulder room at all positions. The MDX was also the only luxury vehicle in our test that had third-row seating (a rear-facing bench is optional in the allroad). Not surprisingly, space is at a premium, but if all you need is a little extra room to get the kids home from school, the third row makes the MDX a legitimate minivan alternative.

The spacious cabin also makes the MDX a very practical cargo carrier. The second-row seats are split 60/40, folding nearly flat with one simple latch. The third-row seat is all one unit that folds flat, as well, but you must remove the headrests to do so. With both the second- and third-row seats folded down, there's 82 cubic feet of usable space — a full 7 cubic feet more than the Lexus. The liftover at the rear is moderate, but the load floor is unobstructed and almost completely flat. Add in a rear storage compartment area in the floor, and you're talking about one seriously capable crossover.

We had considerably less enthusiasm for the interior's overall design and material quality. "More functional than luxurious," wrote one editor, while another called it "typical Acura — well built, easy to use and painfully dull." We liked the numerous storage bins and the build quality was first-rate, but in the luxury category, it takes a little more than just a practical design. If you never drove anything else, you probably wouldn't be all that disappointed, but compared to the other vehicles in the test, the MDX falls short in the luxury department.

An abundance of features does an admirable job of masking the lack of luxury. The DVD navigation system got high marks for its easy-to-manage interface and large, colorful screen. An in-dash six-disc CD changer is always an appreciated feature, and the simple steering wheel audio controls make the audio unit that much more enjoyable. There's also the security of knowing that the MDX, like the BMW, earned top crash scores in both NHTSA side impact tests and IIHS frontal offset testing.

Comfortable on rough city streets, yet firm enough to feel agile in the corners, the MDX offers a pleasing compromise between ride comfort and handling ability. Softer than the BMW and the Audi, but with more control and road feel than the Lexus, the Acura was most often described as "balanced," resulting in a personality that's likely to appeal to a broad range of buyers.

Our mild off-road jaunts proved that it was well up to the task of soaking up big hits as well as smoothing out long, winding stretches of bumpy fire road. A full 8 inches of ground clearance allows the MDX to clear small obstacles with ease, and, although we never needed it, there's a lockable rear differential to boost traction further in slippery conditions. The brakes turned in the longest distances of the four at the test track (132 feet), but on the street, most editors gave them good marks for easy modulation and a solid feel.

Although it can't match the BMW's sedan-like handling, the MDX does manage to provide solid road feel without delivering annoying jolts at every bump. Body lean is minimal in tight turns, adding to the feeling of stability, but the steering can be a bit vague at times, especially when compared to the X5's precision rack. We also couldn't help but notice that the MDX was the only vehicle in the luxury segment that doesn't offer stability control, a notable deficiency considering that the Audi, BMW and Lexus all come standard with this important safety feature.

The only available drivetrain in the MDX is a 240-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 matched to a five-speed automatic transmission. A broad torque band gives the MDX excellent drivability around town, but the power delivery is not as refined, nor is it as quiet, as the engines in the Lexus or the BMW. A few editors complained of slow downshifts from the five-speed auto, but for the most part, shifts are smooth and well-regulated.

Unlike the X5, the MDX isn't a vehicle you aspire to. This is the one you buy because you need it. In exchange for the emblem on the hood and the tenacious grip in the corners, the MDX gives you plenty of room for the family, a ride they can all live with, an engine that will move them swiftly and more than enough features to keep them comfortable and safe.

If this is your idea of the perfect luxury crossover, the MDX is your vehicle.

SECOND OPINIONS:

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
This is the one I'd take. The MDX simply has everything going for it: smooth power, good handling, a nice ride, virtually everything standard (including leather and a moonroof), a useable third-row seat and Acura's typically high level of fit and finish. Everything about the MDX immediately felt comfortable, from the seating to the reassuring heft of the steering. The cabin design was among the most appealing to me, with pleasing textures, plenty of cubbies and tight-as-a-drum construction everywhere you look. But if the MDX is equipped with a nav system, a few quirks pop up, specifically the climate controls being split between a small panel (whose displays wash out in direct sunlight) and the nav screen, making it confusing to operate at first. Also, I looked everywhere for a clock, only to discover that it's visible only when the nav/multi-display screen is on. But if that's the worst I can say about this vehicle, then Acura has done something right, and that's providing the best value in this market segment.

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
With plenty of horsepower, a spacious cargo area that puts the other SUVs to shame, and livable third-row seats, the Acura MDX is an obvious choice when it comes to recommending a fully functional crossover SUV. It provided sprightly acceleration, and the suspension was well-equipped to handle the rough road that we drove over. My biggest gripe with it is that although it sports a premium label badge, the interior does little to convince you that you did, indeed, get a luxury vehicle. The wood is spectacularly fake, and some of the controls and panels feel cheap.

This is clearly the most well-rounded vehicle of the four. However, parent company Honda will soon sell its Pilot, based on the MDX with eight-passenger capacity and similar specs but at a selling point that is sure to be at least a couple of grand less than the Acura. If I were looking for a car-based SUV and didn't care about a luxury brand or the ensuing price premium, I'd definitely wait.

Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
The last time I drove the MDX, I didn't cut it much slack. It didn't handle as well as an X5, and I couldn't get over that. During this comparison test, I came to my senses.

Of course I still don't think the MDX could stay with an X5 on a curvy two-lane road. But it doesn't have to, because it costs less when fully loaded (even if you have to pay more than MSRP) and offers much more functionality for a family of five (or seven). So for about 40 grand, you get an SUV that rides pleasantly on the highway (though without the RX 300's plushness), and should you decide to push it around a few turns, it provides decent grip and a surprising amount of road feel. Adding to the driver's confidence are a competent set of brakes and a steering setup with ample heft and quickness. The absence of stability control was duly noted, however, as all of the other luxury crossovers had it and it was possible to get the MDX to slide around a little. Still, I definitely felt more at ease driving the Acura hard than I did the Lexus.

While Acura's obvious cost-cutting bothered me — hard plastic dash, non-automatic window and sunroof controls, no retained power for the windows after you remove the key, no illumination around the ignition — I can't ignore the MDX's wealth of usable space and affordability in relation to the others.

Ranking in Stereo Test: Tied for first.

System Score: 8.0

Components: While many Honda vehicles have notoriously mediocre sound systems, Acura vehicles are a different story. The Bose-designed system in the MDX comes with a DVD-based navigation system as well as a premium sound system. While many automakers do a so-so job of joining these two technologies (see our review of the Lexus RX-300 and BMW X5 stereos in this test), Acura succeeds beautifully. This is done mainly by keeping the two systems separate. With the exception of the smallish display for the radio, this Bose-designed system breathes Honda class and user-friendliness, and stands on its own as a solid addition to this vehicle.

Coming with steering wheel controls for volume up/down and seek/scan, the head unit offers 12 FM/6 AM presets, a cassette player and an in-dash six-disc CD changer. It also boasts a logical topography with a clean, simple, uncluttered design. The faceplate boasts widely spaced preset buttons and separate round knobs for both volume and tuning. Because of the touchscreen, the radio is slightly low in the dash; other than this, ergonomics are classic Honda.

Speakers include an impressively located pair of 6.5-inch full-range drivers in the rear doors. Similar to setup in the Land Rover Freelander we recently reviewed, the Acura-Bose folks have wisely mounted the door speakers in the upper half of the door panel, instead of the usual lower position. This improves dispersion and soundstage, making the audio more available to the listener. As a result, the rear door speakers do an excellent job of the filling the entire rear portion of the cabin with sound. Other speakers include a matched set of 6.5-inch mid-bass and 1-inch tweeters in the front doors, plus a very boomy 6-by-9 subwoofer in the passenger side rear quarter-panel.

Performance: This system has very boomy bass, a trait that seems slightly out of character with the vehicle. Aside from this, it offers sound in the good to excellent range. We found highs sizzling and transparent, mids detailed and intricate, and respectable articulation throughout the entire audio spectrum. Female vocals are full and rich, acoustic strings warm and lush, and percussion has a solid, tight attack. The boominess of the bass outdoes the balance of the system with some kinds of music, but this is still a great system with a surprisingly aggressive power amp behind it. Bose has also wisely built in gain limiting, so that very little distortion gets to the speakers.

Best Feature: Deep, boomy bass.

Worst Feature: Poor LCD display — washes out in daylight.

Conclusion: Most of the Acura sound systems we've heard rank near the top of their respective classes. This one is no exception. Although we found the bass overpowering on certain music selections, most consumers will probably appreciate the bump and thump. Besides, it's a great way to drown out the kids and ignore the inevitable question, "Are we there yet?" — Scott Memmer

It's no big secret that we like BMWs. Look through any one of our past comparison tests, and 9 times out of 10, if there was a BMW participating, it finished at or near the top. We have been accused of cashing checks from the Bank of Munich more times than we can count, and if you're thinking about firing off an e-mail telling us that we should change the name of our site to "bmwlovers.com," save it — plenty of others have beaten you to it.

We might feel a tinge of guilt if it weren't for the fact that every time we drive a BMW, we're instantly reminded of just why they earn the scores that they do.

The X5 is another perfect example. A world-class drivetrain, sedan-like handling, a beautifully designed and well-built interior, exceptional safety scores — and we're supposed to feel guilty about this?

If there was any reason for us to rethink our love of BMW's sports car on stilts, it was the price tag. Starting at an already pricey $38,900, our loaner added more than $10,000 worth of options to finish up with a final sticker price of just over $50,000. Not cheap, especially considering the fact that this was the base 3.0-liter model, but with most of the options falling into the gadget department, we would probably enjoy a more basic model equally as much.

Rather than further nauseating the already downtrodden legions of e-mail evangelists, no doubt already hard at work on their latest diatribes on our fascination with all things German, we figured we'd serve 'em up some cannon fodder right off the bat by highlighting a few of the X5's most glaring weaknesses first.

For one, as far as hauling the family, the X5 isn't much better than a typical sedan. Rear-seat accommodations are average at best, with both the Lexus and the Acura offering more space, features and comfort. The most memorable aspect of the rear quarters was the power recline feature for the seatbacks, but momentary consideration of the usefulness of this "feature" quickly regulated it to gimmick status.

Second problem: cargo capacity. With the second-row seats folded, the X5's maximum capacity stands at an almost laughable 54.4 cubic feet. That's almost 20 cubic feet less than the Audi or Lexus, and nearly 30 cubic feet less than the Acura. Sure, it has a trick clamshell tailgate, but when it opens up to reveal a cargo bay that can barely swallow a laundry basket, the uniqueness fades quickly.

Third problem: the stereo/navigation system. Never one of BMW's strong points, the system in our X5 was a design catastrophe, leaving us practically beating the dashboard in aggravation. Between knobs that did nothing and unlabeled buttons that did too much, just tuning the stereo was a lesson in frustration. Listening to a CD would have calmed us down a bit, but, in another example of design ineptitude, BMW deletes the standard CD player when you order the $1,800 navigation system. That's right — our $50,000 luxury SUV had no CD player.

The navigation system is equally unimpressive. Despite widespread use of DVD-based systems — such as those in the Acura and the Lexus — the X5 still uses a less sophisticated CD-ROM-based unit. This means multiple discs are needed to cover different regions of the country, something most owners aren't likely to even realize until they venture out of their home territory — you know, exactly when they'll need a navigation system the most.

So the X5 has a few problems. Whether you consider them minor or not depends on what you plan to do with your luxury SUV. For most buyers, a luxury sport-ute is nothing more than a luxury car substitute, and it's in this capacity that the X5 excels.

Like its sedan cousins, the X5's cabin is bathed in high-quality goods from the headliner on down. If not for one finicky editor who didn't like the Poplar wood trim, it would have earned a perfect 10 in the materials category. The classic BMW instrument cluster still looks good after all these years, but we'll admit that the climate controls, while sharp in design, aren't the most intuitive setup.

Unlike the marginal seating in back, the buckets up front earned top scores for their firm cushioning and solid lateral support. A power tilting/telescoping steering wheel allows you to find a comfortable seating position easily, while the high stance makes for a good view out the windshield.

Build quality was first-rate throughout. Whether we were yanking on a door handle or pushing on a trim piece, nothing moved an inch. Squeaks and rattles were virtually nonexistent during our two-week test period.

And all this despite numerous trips up and down a rocky, potholed test loop. Sure, we know that the X5 isn't built for trail running, but we thought any vehicle of this type should be able to at least scamper down a mountain fire road without hesitation. Our test vehicle made it through with the help of an adjustable ride height suspension system. We're not sure if it was worth the extra $1,200, but the X5 was surprisingly capable in the rough stuff, with enough suspension travel to avoid bottoming out and good tracking through rutted washouts.

As acceptably as it performs in the dirt, the X5 really comes into its own on the pavement. One look at the "drive" scores from our evaluation sheets says it all. The X5 was rated first in the following categories: engine, transmission, brakes, suspension, tires, steering performance and fun-to-drive. If that doesn't tell you all you need to know, then the X5 isn't for you.

Throw it hard into a turn and it holds on like a five-year old on the first day of school. The steering is near perfect, body roll is tightly controlled, and if you push beyond its limits, the standard Dynamic Stability Control (DSC) cuts in quickly to keep you headed in the right direction. The Audi did mange to post a slightly faster speed through the slalom, but in terms of overall vehicle dynamics, the BMW wins hands down.

The engine might not look that impressive on paper, but a broad, smooth powerband and a perfectly programmed transmission make it feel more powerful than the numbers would suggest. And, unlike its competitors, the BMW feels just as content at 6,000 rpm as it does at 2,000, not a trait most people are looking for in an SUV, but no doubt one of the reasons why the X5 is so often referred to as the "sports car of SUVs." A 60-to-0-mph braking distance of 116 feet again had us comparing the X5 to high-performance two-seaters that weigh half as much.

Needless to say, the X5 is a BMW first, a sport-ute second. Sure, it has a high stance and four-wheel drive, but that's about as far as its sport-ute capabilities extend. Its limited cargo- and passenger-hauling capability render the X5 far from versatile, but in this high-dollar segment, such practical concerns are far less distracting. If you want a vehicle that looks utilitarian but doesn't drive that way, you can't do much better than this BMW. But if function over form is your underlying philosophy, the X5 doesn't warrant much consideration.

Second Opinions:

Road Test Editor John DiPietro says:
The X5 may have taken first with me if not for the lack of value; we're talking $50,000 here, and it's not the V8 model. Not that there's anything wrong with the six, which was energetic from low revs to high and emits one of the best soundtracks of any engine extant. The automatic transmission is flawless when in "sport" mode, making the most of the engine's potential performance so adroitly that I never found myself wishing for more power. And the handling was the best of the group, on- or off road. But still, BMW charges extra for so many features that are standard on the Acura, nickel-and-diming their way until the price is 10 grand above the MDX. Plus the MDX has that handy third seat. The X5 3.0 is nice, but it's not 25 percent nicer than the oh-so-close MDX.

Road Test Editor Liz Kim says:
What can one say — this is a pure BMW, through and through. It has the same steering feel, the same quality of materials and workmanship, its chassis is perfectly balanced and it's the only vehicle in the test that will nudge you to take that winding road. The others only begrudgingly take you there. Little wonder that this structure is able to support high-performance versions like the 4.6is and the idiotically fast LeMans edition.

Yes, it appeals to the right side of the brain, the one that appreciates a finely crafted vehicle, a marvel of engineering. However, the left side of the brain cringes at the tiny cubby known as the cargo space and at the prohibitively expensive cost. It also rolls its eyes at the fragile sounds made by the suspension when asked to travel over rough surfaces and the futility of having a hill descent control system. Yes, I would pant to be the owner of an X5 since I have no need to ferry progeny (and their doodads), nor am I the outdoorsy type, but I would be remiss to recommend the Bimmer to anyone who needs either of the above capabilities.

Road Test Editor Erin Riches says:
This is the crossover to get if driving enjoyment and SUV styling and ride height are your priorities, while budget, passenger-carrying and cargo-hauling concerns aren't very important. Take the X5 on a two-lane highway, and the excellent suspension, steering and brakes will immediately reveal their shared lineage with other BMWs. None of the others in this test could match its composed ride and communicative steering, not even the allroad, an armored A6 wagon. And even with the base engine, our test vehicle certainly didn't feel unsatisfying — the power delivery from the inline six was as smooth as ever, especially when the automatic was in sport mode. The X5's 15/21 fuel economy rating is pretty lousy, though.

On the inside, the X5 feels more luxurious than either the Acura or the Lexus (and about on par with the Audi), but the backseat, while supportive, is really only comfortable for two adults or three small children. Further reducing the BMW's practicality is its small cargo area — the smallest of the group — though I have to admit I was fond of its clamshell-style hatch. While the cockpit certainly had more automated functions than the MDX's, those unversed in German cars might find the collection of small flat buttons and unfamiliar symbols overwhelming compared with the Acura's more straightforward arrangement. Finally, our test vehicle's audio entertainment was limited to the radio and a tape player hidden behind the nav screen — it's a bit assuming to ask someone spending 50 grand to forgo a CD player.

I like the X5, but it's not practical or affordable enough to be my top choice here. If someone I knew wanted to buy one, I would push hard to get that person to test-drive a 525i wagon, which, of course, has a lower base price, more cargo room and even better handling.

Ranking in Stereo Test: Fourth (last)

System Score: 6.0

Components: Considering the segments in which BMW sells its vehicles, we've been unimpressed with most of the company's stereo offerings. Many of the Japanese and American vehicles in the same price range have equal or better sound systems for thousands less. Sure, you want to own that little blue and white emblem on your hood, a sign of your good taste, fine breeding and fat wallet, but just how much is too much to pay?

Part of this is due to the original equipment manufacturers BMW has aligned itself with. While Mercedes and Lexus have partnered, respectively, with Bose and Mark Levinson, BMW has taken the more pedestrian route of joining forces with Harman-Kardon and Infinity, manufacturers less known for their high-end offerings.

We first heard the stereo in the BMW X5 two years ago, in the first model year of this crossover SUV. We were unimpressed then and remain so now. While this is not a bad-sounding system, the other vehicles in this test offer far more bang for your buck and also have more options for system upgrades.

Speakerwise, the system consists of a pair of 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers in the rear doors with a pair of tweeters above. The front doors duplicate this arrangement, although the tweeters come housed in their own enclosures above the door panel. There are no speakers in the rear of this vehicle, and the system does not include a subwoofer. [There is an upgraded audio package that boasts 12 loudspeakers total, including dual subs and a DSP (Digital Signal Processing) unit available.] Luckily, the X5 we had for this comparison test redeemed itself somewhat with a fine pair of mid-tweets in the corners of the dash, firing upward into the windshield glass.

Our test vehicle offered a GPS navigation system, routing many of the controls for the stereo through the GPS screen. This design lacks user-friendliness. Unlike other nav systems that utilize a touchscreen, the BMW's has a cumbersome two-stage procedure where the operator selects a setting then hits an enter key. Unfortunately, the two main controls for this are located on the far side of the faceplate, away from the driver, and were quite a stretch for us, as we would guess they'd be for most operators. Another piece of bad tidings: Adding the GPS option deletes the CD player. And so our $50,000 test vehicle had GPS and cassette but no CD.

All is not waste and woe, though. Steering wheel controls for volume and seek/scan ease the burden of operation, and an LED display at the bottom of the main instrument cluster reads out radio station call letters and station ID. We wish more automakers would do this.

Performance: Considering there are neither subwoofers nor a CD player in this vehicle, it doesn't sound half bad. The dash-mounted mid-tweets present a definable soundstage, and the 6.5-inch mid-bass drivers provide a solid kick. However, we would still argue that a vehicle in this price range, even one from the Bavarian woods, should offer the consumer more. (Remember, this vehicle is built stateside, not in Germany.) This audio system receives a thumbs-down.

Best Feature: Dash-mounted tweeters.

Worst Feature: No CD player.

Conclusion: You can spend less and get a much better sound system. An underwhelming effort from BMW. — Scott Memmer

Luxury crossover vehicles are a difficult group to judge. They have roughly the same objective, but go about satisfying that goal in numerous ways. Calling one or the other "the best" forces us to consider what the majority of buyers are looking for — never an exact science.

Built on the same platform as Honda's Odyssey minivan, the Acura MDX appeals to more affluent customers who are willing to give up a little functionality in return for a vehicle that doesn't scream "family van." It still has plenty of people-moving ability, but with its sleek bodywork and numerous amenities, you'll rarely feel like you gave anything up in the name of practicality.

The BMW X5 is the least compromised vehicle of the bunch. It gives up almost nothing to its sedan stablemates in terms of vehicle dynamics, but it also offers little extra in return. Basically, it sits higher and has all-wheel drive. If those are two vehicle attributes you absolutely must have, and you're willing to throw practicality out the window in the process, the X5 is your vehicle.

The Lexus could be considered the flip side of that coin. In place of the BMW's agility, it offers Lexus luxury. Granted, there's significantly more space inside than in the BMW, but when it comes down to it, the RX 300's most appealing trait is its ability to coddle its passengers while providing an elevated stance and four-wheel drive.

By sticking with the station wagon formula, the Audi allroad gives up little in terms of practicality and drivability. If it weren't for the dicey suspension and the tricky turbo engine (a V8 version is on the way), it would be a much more attractive alternative. But as it is now, the allroad's biggest draws are its sharp cabin and, to some, the industrial chic exterior.

Like any buying decision, it all comes down to what you want from your vehicle. In the end, we couldn't decide what we liked the best: the functionality of the MDX or the performance of the X5. If neither of these attributes seems appealing to you, then maybe the luxury of the Lexus or the unique character of the Audi will win you over. Needless to say, all of these vehicles provide an above-average driving experience in one form or another, so regardless of what you settle on, you're more than likely to enjoy the ride.

Evaluation - Drive
Evaluation - Ride
Evaluation - Design
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space

Evaluation - Drive

Engine Performance
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 8.5 1
Acura MDX Touring 8.3 2
Lexus RX 300 7.3 3
Audi allroad 7.0 4
Transmission
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 8.8 1
Lexus RX 300 8.0 2
Acura MDX Touring 7.5 3
Audi allroad 5.8 4
Braking
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.8 1
Audi allroad 9.3 2
Acura MDX Touring 8.8 3
Lexus RX 300 8.3 4
Suspension
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.3 1
Acura MDX Touring 8.3 2
Audi allroad 7.0 3(t)
Lexus RX 300 7.0 3(t)
Tires
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.3 1
Acura MDX Touring 8.5 2
Audi allroad 8.3 3
Lexus RX 300 7.5 4
Steering
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.8 1
Acura MDX Touring 7.5 2
Lexus RX 300 7.0 3
Audi allroad 6.0 4
Visibility
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi allroad 8.0 1
Acura MDX Touring 7.8 2
BMW X5 3.0i 7.0 3
Lexus RX 300 6.5 4
Fun to Drive
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.5 1
Acura MDX Touring 7.3 2(t)
Audi allroad 7.3 2(t)
Lexus RX 300 5.5 4

Evaluation - Ride

Seat Comfort Front
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.0 1
Acura MDX Touring 8.8 2
Audi allroad 8.5 3
Lexus RX 300 8.0 4
Seat Comfort Rear
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura MDX Touring 8.8 1
Lexus RX 300 7.3 2
BMW X5 3.0i 6.5 3
Audi allroad 6.3 4
Wind & Road Noise
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 8.8 1
Audi allroad 8.5 2(t)
BMW X5 3.0i 8.5 2(t)
Acura MDX Touring 7.3 4
Rattles & Squeaks
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 10.0 1
Acura MDX Touring 9.5 2(t)
Audi allroad 9.5 2(t)
BMW X5 3.0i 9.3 4

Evaluation - Design

Interior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi allroad 9.3 1
BMW X5 3.0i 8.8 2
Lexus RX 300 8.0 3
Acura MDX Touring 7.0 4
Interior Materials
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 9.8 1
Audi allroad 9.3 2
Lexus RX 300 8.8 3
Acura MDX Touring 7.0 4
Climate Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 7.0 1
Audi allroad 6.8 2
Acura MDX Touring 5.8 3(t)
BMW X5 3.0i 5.8 3(t)
Audio System Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura MDX Touring 8.0 1(t)
Audi allroad 8.0 1(t)
Lexus RX 300 7.0 3
BMW X5 3.0i 6.0 4
Secondary Control Design/Operation
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 8.8 1
BMW X5 3.0i 8.3 2
Audi allroad 7.5 3
Acura MDX Touring 6.3 4
Exterior Design
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi allroad 8.8 1
BMW X5 3.0i 7.5 2
Acura MDX Touring 7.3 3
Lexus RX 300 6.5 4
Overall Build Quality
Vehicle Score Rank
BMW X5 3.0i 10.0 1
Acura MDX Touring 9.3 2(t)
Audi allroad 9.3 2(t)
Lexus RX 300 9.0 4
Evaluation - Cargo/Passenger Space
Entry/Exit
Vehicle Score Rank
Audi allroad 9.3 1
Lexus RX 300 8.3 2
BMW X5 3.0i 7.8 3
Acura MDX Touring 7.3 4
Expanding/Loading Cargo
Vehicle Score Rank
Acura MDX Touring 8.8 1
Audi allroad 8.5 2
Lexus RX 300 8.0 3
BMW X5 3.0i 6.3 4
Storage Space
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 9.5 1
Acura MDX Touring 8.8 2
Audi allroad 7.8 3
BMW X5 3.0i 6.3 4
Cupholders
Vehicle Score Rank
Lexus RX 300 8.5 1
Acura MDX Touring 7.0 2
BMW X5 3.0i 5.0 3
Audi allroad 3.8 4

We asked the editors who participated in the test to pick the top 10 features that they would want if they were buying a luxury crossover vehicle. Any feature that was standard equipment on all four vehicles was thrown out. Points were awarded based on whether each feature was standard or optional and whether our particular test vehicle was equipped with that feature.

Top 10 Features

Top 10 Features
Acura MDX Touring Audi allroad BMW X5 3.0i Lexus RX 300
Six-disc in-dash CD changer O O N/A O
Navigation system O O O O
One-touch open and close windows N/A S S S
Rear climate control S N/A O N/A
Parking distance monitor N/A O O N/A
Side curtain airbags N/A S S N/A
Stability control N/A S S O
Steering wheel-mounted stereo controls S S S N/A
Tilt/telescoping steering wheel N/A S S N/A
Xenon headlamps N/A O O O


Key:
S: Standard
O: Optional
N/A: Not Available

In-dash six-disc CD changer: In-dash CD changers allow you to load multiple discs without ever having to leave the driver seat — a real plus when you're traveling alone. Not surprisingly, the BMW was the only vehicle in the test that didn't offer this feature — although a cargo area changer is available via dealer installation.

Navigation system: These handy electronic maps are now commonplace in most luxury vehicles. The DVD-based systems in the Acura and the Lexus were the easiest to use and provided the most comprehensive maps.

One touch open/close windows: This is one feature we wish every car had. In order to earn points, all four windows needed to offer one-touch operation.

Rear climate control: With most of these vehicles serving as family car substitutes, we considered rear-seat comfort a top priority.

Reverse sensing system: This high-tech feature sounds an audible chime when the rear of the vehicle approaches an object, keeping both the bumper and small children safe.

Side curtain airbags: These large, flat airbags deploy across the front and rear side windows for added head protection in the event of a side-impact collision.

Stability control: This electronic system maintains vehicle control by actively applying individual brakes to keep the vehicle headed in the proper direction.

Steering wheel satellite controls: These handy buttons allow drivers to adjust various climate, stereo and cruise control functions without ever having to take their hands off the wheel.

Tilting/telescoping steering wheel: This allows a wide variety of drivers to find a comfortable seating position. In order to earn points, the vehicle had to offer both a tilting and telescoping steering wheel

Xenon headlamps: These bluish-hued lights throw off considerably more light than their halogen counterparts, increasing visibility and reducing driver fatigue.

2002 Lexus RX 300

"I have owned several SUVs during the past 10 years. This is the most comfortable, the most stylish, and the most fun to drive. I debated between a Ford Explorer and the Lexus two years ago and ended up with the Explorer. If I had known what I was missing, I would have purchased the Lexus then. I have driven the Mercedes M series SUV and the BMW X5. The Lexus has the best ride by far. I really love the way it handles and the way it absorbs bumps in the road. I couldn't be more pleased." — LenJAllen, Mar. 12, 2002.

"I've been really happy with my AWD RX 300. Amazingly quiet inside, I still can't believe how little road and traffic noise you hear. Seats are comfortable and leather is very soft. Sound system is great. Just got the car issue of a certain consumer magazine. They score every vehicle on reliability, satisfaction and depreciation. The RX 300 is the only vehicle with top marks in all three. I know why, this is a great vehicle." — HBsteve, Mar. 9, 2002.

"I went from a Chevy Blazer to a RX 300 6 months ago and have not looked back for one second. If you like the finer things in life such as a quite vehicle that is made with superior attention to details you will love this car as much as me. It drives beautifully on the highway with very little noise and handles very well for a SUV. My only gripe is with the arm rests. They are a bit small for someone with large shoulders. Sometimes I place my arm on the passengers armrest." LexusDriver2, Jan. 13, 2002.

2001 Audi allroad

"A great ride overall. This car has no major weaknesses, and a whole lot of strengths. Pros: Good looks and performance. Great interior and overall comfort. Excellent handling and braking for such a heavy car (4200 lbs.) Adjustable suspension is great for trips on rough city roads, plus it's cool when it auto-adjusts at a stoplight. Optional third seat in rear helps haul small kids around without taking up space for adults in back. Good build quality — over 4K miles and no problems. And best of all, it's not a truck! Cons: Fuel economy could be better. A bit pricey, but you can pay more and get less for a truck!" — E-man Mar. 18, 2002.

"Elegant looks-inside and out. Very comfortable for long rides. An absolute joy to drive. Acceleration is very good (could be better with a V8) and handling is superb with minimum body lean, no tire squealing. Favorite Features: Elegant styling inside and out. Handling on curves etc makes it a great fun-to-drive car. All wheel drive gives me great confidence and security on wet roads. Suggested Improvements: Throttle lag on accel from dead stop is excessive. Cupholders are weak." — FargoFred, Feb. 28, 2002.

"We looked at all the usual suspects for a light duty off road wagon (including wagonoid vehicles) and chose the allroad three months ago. At 4000 miles, I think it was a good pick. Fit and finish are excellent. Great ergonomics, visibility, etc. Good acceleration, mild turbo lag, very good handling (for its weight), great brakes, fair gas mileage (ave. 18.5mpg). It has done some light off road and sandy washes, and performed fairly well. The height leveler is not a gimmick. The Bose stereo upgrade is well worth it as is the cold weather package. Only problems so far was faulty fuel gauge sending unit and a slight engine (not the turbo) whine, on hard acceleration. This car replaces the Subaru Outback LTD ('98) for us. It is so not in the same class as to not warrant a comparison. The Allroad is a great SUV alternative; and is as much fun as I can imagine having, while being in a wagon. Also, many compliments on appearance." — allroader, "Audi allroad," Feb. 10, 2001.

2002 BMW X5


"I have owned M-Benz' in the past and then bought a 2000 528iT and thought that was simply incredible. But the X5 is awesome, simply awesome. Its exterior design is simply breath taking. But wait till you slip behind the wheel. All I can say is that you are in complete control driving the X5 whether you're taking it easy at 45mph or hauling at 105. If you have never been in love you will be now. DRIVE THE X5, OWN AN X5, AND LIVE WITH AN X5!!!" — Just Do It, March 10, 2002.

"10 years ago I was in a bad auto accident. Since that date I have taken notice of safe auto's. The X 5 might be the safest SUV on the road. Style and comfort are great. 10 air bags. The gas mileage is like most SUV's. The X 5 drives like the 530i. Great value and all wheel drive lets you go in the snow. Buy one, you won't be sorry, just broke." — Barry A, Jan. 31, 2002.

"I lost my 2001 X5 in divorce court and did not hesitate leasing another. If safety, performance, dependability and style are important to you, you will love this rocket. The 3.0 liter engine will suffice for even the most discerning BMW purist. NOTE: spend the extra $500 on the Xenon headlights, it's well worth it...The dash controls and cockpit configuration offer an exceptional configuration of classically German pragmatic style and grace. Frank Lloyd Wright could not have given this design any more form or function." — Stratton, Dec. 15, 2001.

2002 Acura MDX Touring

"I waited a long time to get my silver MDX with touring and navigation system. It was definitely well worth the wait. The front windshield has an extremely broad viewing area. I am really impressed how quiet the engine is. We went on a trip and the navigation system is wonderful. No more guessing where a certain restaurant or place is. It literally takes the place of your brain; and it is definitely user friendly. The sound system is great. The cargo room is huge and I love that the 3 row seat folds down into the floor. It sure beats having to manually install and uninstall the 3rd row seat. I could go on and on how great this SUV is, but if you really want to know... I guess you have to test drive it yourself!" — mayeyee, Dec. 31, 2001.

"Just returned from a trip to California in my new '02 MDX. Car handled extremely well, passed most other cars going over 10,000 ft Colorado passes. Extremely comfortable front and middle, a little cramped in third row. At 75 MPH, still has a lot of additional passing power, and is very solid on snow/ice. Very good visibility all around and roomy with third row seats folded down. Gas mileage on trip ranged from around 18 to 22 MPH. Extremely happy with this car." — J Nystrom, Mar. 25, 2002.

"Bought it 8 months ago. Great family hauler. Feels and looks solid. Very comfortable inside. Very good handling and acceleration. Excellent crash test results by the IIHS. NHTSA, although they have not crashed it head on, also gave it 5 stars for side impact crashing and 4 stars for rollover(most SUVs are either 3 or 2). It comes loaded so the dealers cannot play many games with options. We looked at the RX 300 but the MDX won hands down in terms of pricing and features." — MDXer, Mar. 1, 2002.

Final Rankings

Final Rankings
Acura MDX Touring Audi allroad BMW X5 3.0i Lexus RX 300
Personal Rating (10% of score) 81.3 50.0 87.5 31.3
Recommended Rating (10% of score) 93.8 25.0 50.0 81.3
Evaluation Score (20% of score) 83.3 81.8 85.0 82.1
Feature Content (20% of score) 33.3 66.7 73.3 33.7
Performance Testing (20% of score) 73.7 98.4 78.9 63.1
Price (20% of score) 100.0 79.7 74.1 93.3
Total Score 75.6 72.8 76.0 65.7
Final Ranking 1(t) 3 1(t) 4

Scoring Explanation

Personal Rating: Purely subjective. After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she would buy if money were no object.

Recommended Rating: After the test, each participating editor was asked to rank the vehicles in order of preference based on which he or she thought would be best for the average consumer shopping in this segment.

20-Point Evaluation: Each participating editor ranked every vehicle based on a comprehensive 24-point evaluation. The evaluation covered everything from exterior design to cupholders. Scoring was calculated on a point system, and the scores listed are averages based on all test participants' evaluations.

Performance Testing: Each vehicle was put through our usual battery of performance tests. The top-performing car in each category was given full points, while each subsequent finisher was given partial points depending on how close their results were to the top score.

Feature Content: For this category, the editors picked the top 10 features they thought would be most beneficial to the consumer shopping in this segment. For each vehicle, the score was based on the number of required features the vehicle included and whether that feature was standard or optional.

Price: The numbers listed were the result of a simple percentage calculation based on the least expensive vehicle in the comparison test. Using the "as tested" prices of the actual evaluation vehicles, the least expensive vehicle received a score of 100, with the remaining vehicles receiving lesser scores based on their comparison to the lowest price.

Vehicle
Model year2002
MakeAcura
ModelMDX Touring
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve SOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3.2
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)240 @ 5,300
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)245 @ 3,000-5,000
Transmission typeFive-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.9
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.1 @ 85
60-0 mph (ft.)132
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)57.5
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)17/23
Edmunds observed (mpg)18.2
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)4,387
Length (in.)188.5
Width (in.)76.3
Height (in.)68.7
Wheelbase (in.)106.3
Turning circle (ft.)37.8
Legroom, front (in.)41.5
Legroom, rear (in.)37.8
Headroom, front (in.)38.7
Headroom, rear (in.)39
Shoulder room, front (in.)61.2
Shoulder room, rear (in.)61.1
Cargo volume (cu-ft)49.6
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)82
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/ 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/ 50,000 miles
Corrosion4 years/ Unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance4 years/ 50,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2002
MakeBMW
ModelX5 3.0i
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC inline 6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)225 @ 5,900
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)214 @ 3,500
Transmission typeFive-speed automatic with Steptronic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)8.5
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.4 @ 84.3
60-0 mph (ft.)116
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)15/21
Edmunds observed (mpg)17.2
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)4,824
Length (in.)183.7
Width (in.)73.7
Height (in.)67.5
Wheelbase (in.)111
Turning circle (ft.)39.7
Legroom, front (in.)39.3
Legroom, rear (in.)35.4
Headroom, front (in.)39.3
Headroom, rear (in.)38.5
Shoulder room, front (in.)58
Shoulder room, rear (in.)57.2
Cargo volume (cu-ft)23.8
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)54.4
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/ 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/ 50,000 miles
Corrosion6 years/ Unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance4 years/ 50,000 miles
Vehicle
Model year2001
MakeAudi
ModelAllroad
Drivetrain
Engine typeturbocharged 30-vale DOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)2.7
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)250 @ 5,800
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)258 @ 1,850
Transmission typeFive-speed automatic with Tiptronic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)7.4
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)15.6 @ 88.6
60-0 mph (ft.)120
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)61.9
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)15/21
Edmunds observed (mpg)16.4
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)4,233
Length (in.)189.4
Width (in.)76.1
Height (in.)62
Wheelbase (in.)108.5
Turning circle (ft.)38.3
Legroom, front (in.)41.3
Legroom, rear (in.)37.3
Headroom, front (in.)37.5
Headroom, rear (in.)38.4
Shoulder room, front (in.)58.6
Shoulder room, rear (in.)56.9
Cargo volume (cu-ft)36.4
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)73.2
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/ 50,000 miles
Powertrain4 years/ 50,000 miles
Corrosion12 years/ Unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance4 years/ Unlimited mileage
Vehicle
Model year2002
MakeLexus
ModelRX 300
Drivetrain
Engine type24-valve DOHC V6
Displacement (cc/cu-in)3
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)220 @ 5,800
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm)222 @ 4,400
Transmission typeFour-speed automatic
Track Test Results
0-60 mph (sec.)8.6
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph)16.7 @ 80.6
60-0 mph (ft.)125
Slalom, 6 x 100 ft. (mph)58
Fuel Consumption
EPA fuel economy (mpg)18/22
Edmunds observed (mpg)19.5
Dimensions & Capacities
Curb weight, mfr. claim (lbs.)3,924
Length (in.)180.3
Width (in.)71.5
Height (in.)65.7
Wheelbase (in.)103
Turning circle (ft.)41.3
Legroom, front (in.)40.7
Legroom, rear (in.)36.4
Headroom, front (in.)38.1
Headroom, rear (in.)38.7
Shoulder room, front (in.)57.7
Shoulder room, rear (in.)57
Cargo volume (cu-ft)30.7
Max. cargo volume, seats folded (cu-ft)75
Warranty
Bumper-to-bumper4 years/ 50,000 miles
Powertrain6 years/ 70,000 miles
Corrosion6 years/ Unlimited mileage
Roadside assistance4 years/ Unlimited mileage
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