Photo By: Photo courtesy of Mercedes-Benz
Crossovers – those vehicles that manage to bridge the gap between go-anywhere sport-utility vehicles and family station wagons – have become a major force in the marketplace.
Since 2006, crossovers have outsold traditional SUVs. Reviewing our notes of the past two months revealed that we have driven crossovers from five manufacturers, providing a good cross-section of the quality and diversity available in this market category.
Ranked in terms of price, as tested, our set included the 2012 Honda Crosstour 4WD EXLN ($37,470), the 2012 Nissan Murano SL FWD ($39,255), the 2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech ($40,315), the 2012 Volvo XC70 T6 AWD ($49,070) and the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4matic ($53,075).
Across the board, these are all excellent choices for the consumer. They are more sensible choices than the larger SUV siblings in their respective manufacturer’s lineup with regard to cost, fuel efficiency and carbon footprint. And, on the other hand, they are more flexible in use than smaller sedans in the lineup. All are more comfortable for long trips, confident on any terrain or road surface that might be encountered on a typical family outing and capable of hauling five passengers plus luggage or a full load of cargo from a weekend trip to the garden store or warehouse market.
These five vehicles are quite similar in terms of fuel efficiency, with all of them coming in at approximately 20 mpg in combined city-highway use, a considerable improvement from results as recent as five years ago. That’s not surprising, because they all use some variation of a six-cylinder engine producing between 250 and 300 horsepower. The Volvo has a continuously variable transmission and the Honda has a five-speed automatic, while the other three have six-speed automatics.
The Volvo that we drove also had a high-performance six-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 300 horsepower, though other journalists have commented that the version with a naturally aspirated six-cylinder engine producing 240 horsepower and selling for $6,000 less would be a better buy for the more practical owner.
Horsepower in the 250-300 range is more than required for normal use, but it’s what is expected by most consumers in today’s market. But for the practical sort who prefers better mileage and can sacrifice a little acceleration and torque, there’s a comparable list of models by these and other manufacturers available with four-cylinder turbocharged engines at a slightly lower price.
All of these vehicles are impressive in their ride quality and handling. When crossovers were first introduced, their use of a unibody chassis and automobile suspension distinguished them from their SUV forebears, but with all of these in their second or even third generation, the engineers have managed to provide a comfortable and confident ride equal to any regular sedan. But we both agreed that the Acura RDX, closely followed by the Mercedes GLK, had the smoothest ride over our rough construction-scarred local roads.
As might be expected with a price spread of nearly $16,000, there is a wide range of design, comfort and trim.
At the lower end of the price range, the Honda Crosstour has a simple, functional monochromatic interior, while at the upper end of the range, the Mercedes GLK rewards its buyer with two-tone upholstery in high-grade vinyl or leather and contrasting wood accents on the interior, making it seem more like a luxury sedan than the family workhorse. This also goes for the Murano, which has a luxury interior but a complicated driver interface that can create too much distraction.
Just below the Mercedes in price and quality, the Volvo has the same elegance of design first introduced on the company’s sedans, with the distinctive floating center console and elegant minimalist controls. The spacious interior of the Honda Crosstour had its own distinctive features and excellent forward visibility.
Though all the models have backseats that are comfortable for adults even on long trips, the Honda combined a few more inches of width with stadium seating that had the second row of seats approximately 4 inches higher than the front, allowing rear passengers an unobstructed view of the road ahead.
But the major source of variation among these cars, and probably the single factor that will cause a prospective buyer to select one make and model over another, is the exterior styling.
Both the Mercedes GLK and the Acura RDX have styling in common with the larger SUVs in their companies’ lineups, but the others depart from this tradition.
The most distinctive among the group are the Honda Crosstour and the Nissan Murano, which feature rear styling that swoops down from the rear door to the taillights, giving the vehicle the lines of a sleek coupe rather than a working vehicle. Though dramatic, the styling restricts cargo space behind the rear seats and reduces driver visibility to the rear, especially in the Honda.
The Volvo stylists went a different way, designing their vehicle to look more like a traditional station wagon than either a sleek coupe or offroad truck. The consequence is good cargo space, and an accessible standard roof rack, in a straightforward package.
Our main conclusion from the experience of driving these five vehicles is that in today’s world, it’s becoming harder to justify the purchase of a full-sized sport-utility vehicle, even for someone who wants the elevated driver position, good ground clearance and cargo capacity that once were only available on an SUV. Instead, the practical family can opt for a stylish crossover, saving money and fuel without sacrificing any functional utility or comfort, and actually gaining a bit in ride comfort and handling confidence.