A Taste of the Popular Midsize Luxury Crossover Offerings
Your friends call you up and say, “We’ve got an extra couple of spots on the Wine Wagon vineyard tour in Temecula next weekend. Want to drive down from L.A. and meet us there?” What to drive? The same old sedan you use for commuting? No, you want something with plenty of style and space for a weekend’s worth of leisure gear, perhaps a set of clubs, and a case or two of your new favorite varietal. These are some of the reasons to choose a luxury crossover, but which one?
We gathered three likely 2016 midsize candidates: the redesigned Lexus RX 350 F Sport, the very originator of the segment itself and the first winner of MT’s SUV of the Year; the Lincoln MKX, a finalist in our 2016 SUV of the Year contest; and an all-new Mercedes-Benz GLC300 that replaces the boxy (and smaller) GLK-Class with handsome styling and a generous helping of the celebrated C-Class sedan’s hardware, interior treatment, and tech.
All three of our wine-weekend warriors were ordered with all-wheel drive, Sport packages where applicable, premium infotainment systems, and a bevy of safety equipment. First we took them to the track for hard numbers. We then made the long drive from L.A. to the new Southern California wine country. Finally, we drove each on a demanding 65-mile (105-km) evaluation loop that included a multitude of surfaces, elevation changes, twisting roads, and a four-lane highway. Here’s what we learned.
Ride & Comfort
What is luxury, after all, if it doesn’t include a healthy portion of comfort? Comfort begins at the road and ends quite literally in the driver’s seat. This means every element in between is important, from the tire size and construction through the suspension and bushing tuning to the body structural rigidity and finally to the quality of the padding and leather used for seats. Combined, these account for a great deal of perceived luxury. Designers love 20- and 21-inch wheels because they look cool. Suspension engineers, however, know that their added mass and short, stiff tire sidewalls make it hard to deliver a smooth ride and nimble handling. Both the Lincoln and Mercedes-Benz featured self-adjusting and driver-selectable suspensions, and on our rotations among the three, only one thing was unanimous: The Lexus RX 350 F Sport got it wrong. Without the option of a more intelligent suspension and with soft springs and conventional dampers, the RX 350’s ride oscillated between pillowy soft and jarring when abrupt seams or bumps met the tires. Meanwhile, the MKX and GLC300 minimized impact harshness while providing a smooth ride; the Lincoln provided a more isolated road feel than the Mercedes, which felt equally sophisticated but better planted. Also, these two could be switched to a firmer setting at the press of a button, something the Lexus was unable to do.
Conversely, the Lexus RX 350 was unanimously dubbed the best place to rest your bum. Supple leather, excellent contouring, and standard heated/ventilated front seats outperformed on long, steady drives. The firmer Mercedes-Benz front seats (just heated) with their stable side-bolsters were preferred on meandering roads. The Lincoln’s $1,500 USD optional 22-way power driver’s seat with massage would appear to be the throne of choice, but it was no match for those in the Lexus or Mercedes. The MKX’s driver’s seat in particular felt as if we were sitting on the seat rather than in it. In fact, the Lincoln’s seat was at its most comfortable only while it was in massage mode, yet it groaned and creaked like an old rocking chair. Even its seat ventilation fans made audible whirring sounds. Right idea, Lincoln, but poor execution.
We ranked rear-seat comfort the same—Lexus the best, Lincoln the worst—for nearly the same reasons. The seat height in the MKX was unusually high and firm, which impacted headroom, so the recline adjustment was welcome. The Mercedes rear seats did not recline, but headroom was plentiful. It’s worth noting that the comfy Lexus rear seats reclined but also slid fore/aft to expand rear cargo area if needed; however, their outboard positions weren’t heated, and there was no AC power jack as in the other two.
If peace and quiet are a priority, you’d be hard-pressed to pick between the GLC300 and the MKX. Describing the highway noise in the Lexus, however, Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said, “Even the wind is confused by the RX 350’s surfaces,” and we found it also produced the most tire noise, especially on concrete surfaces. Were it not for the dispersed wind noise emanating from the Lincoln, it would have risen to the top. Instead, the GLC300’s combination of quiet tires, muted engine, and a slippery exterior suggested it had spent the most quality time in a wind tunnel.
Quality & Details
It’s sometimes hard to describe, but you know quality and luxury when you put your eyes and hands on it—soft, yielding, and smooth where you frequently touch it and solid, substantial, and pleasingly textured elsewhere. It’s the little things that matter. They show attention to detail and indicate that somebody worked to deliver the special touches you expect and pay good money for.
Priddle noted the Lincoln MKX has both good and bad material choices, “with nice wood and leather and some higher-grade plastics, but where the dash meets the windshield looks cheap and unfinished.” The elegant buttons that cascade down either side of the center stack look clean and orderly, but they sound hollow when tapped and could be better damped when pressed. The volume knob feels like a hollow screw-off wine cap, and the turn signal/wiper stalks look like they came right out of a Ford Focus. Evans even noticed “a couple of small rattles and creaks in the cabin, and they’re not going away.” It’s as if Lincoln is on the verge of luxury without quite being there.
In the Lexus, on the other hand, “The leather on the door, where my hand goes every time I get in and out of the vehicle, is exceptionally soft and reminds me constantly that this is a luxury vehicle.” All of the secondary controls feel well-oiled and sufficiently damped, and the interior packaging overall (right-sized cubbies, adjustable-depth cupholders, bins galore) are unquestionably clever and clearly evolved from years of consideration. The trouble here is that there is no cohesion in the overall design. It’s as if each system/component had a different design team and then somebody had the task of marrying the elements. We expect better design than this in a luxury SUV.
Comparing this interior to the Lincoln or especially the Mercedes-Benz, the difference in overall intent and aesthetics is clear. Sure, the black-stained, open-pore wood in the GLC300 is a bit dour (it can be ordered in a more lifelike hue), but the craftsmanship, the flow of the layout, and the intuitive functionality of its design are a step above the others. The execution is also top-notch. Every material in the GLC300 feels authentic. Wood is wood, metal is metal, and even the faux leather feels more convincing than the Lincoln’s true leather. Every button, dial, and switch is designed and built to a standard rather than to a price. Mercedes-Benz has set the benchmark with the GLC300’s interior design and execution.
Features & Technology
Presentation is one thing, and execution is another. The RX 350 now has an impressive, optional 12.3-inch color display, but its graphics package remains outdated. The necessity to download the Lexus Enform app to your smartphone to access full functionality and the infuriating Remote Touch joystick controller make interacting with the infotainment system an exercise in patience that invites unsafe operation. Too many disparate elements are competing for the driver’s attention.
With the MKX’s MyLincolnTouch touchscreen, navigating among entertainment, navigation, phone, and climate is intuitive with everything presented in a reasonably modern fashion, though why Lincoln didn’t incorporate the latest Sync3 system here baffles us. We’ve driven new Mustangs and F-150 pickups with the new-gen system, so why didn’t the luxury brand get the new software? And why was the 12-volt outlet hidden beneath the center stack in an almost inaccessible cubby hole? Again, right idea, poor execution. Although Mercedes’ COMAND might not be cutting-edge in terms of technology and/or screen size, at least there are multiple/redundant ways in, and it’s easy to navigate through its features using both hard buttons on the center stack and the knob/touchpad controller. Its graphics are not only sophisticated but also useful for intuitively accessing everything from vehicle preferences to manually tuning radio stations. No gimmicks, no frustrations, no “it’s just the way you have to do it.” Rather, it just worked on a level above the others.
Performance & Dynamics (Power & Poise)
This comparison among Lexus, Lincoln, and Mercedes-Benz illustrated the respective manufacturers’ guiding principles in powertrain technology. Doing so also revealed who was leading. Unless you opt for a hybrid, the only powertrain available in the Lexus RX 350, is a naturally aspirated engine. The GR-based aluminum V-6 engine traces its lineage back some 14 years. An award-winning engine, the GR family powers pickup trucks, cars, minivans, and SUVs. On our evaluation drive, the 295-horsepower, 3.5-liter Lexus V-6 provided smooth power delivery and decent fuel economy of 18 mpg (13.1 L/100km) in demanding driving conditions thanks in large part to its new eight-speed automatic. Our Lincoln MKX came equipped with the optional twin-turbo, 355-horsepower, 2.7-liter V-6 mated to a six-speed automatic. Our odds-on favorite at the drag strip was indeed the quickest (by less than you might imagine) but also the least fuel-efficient. As we’ve learned from the torque-rich and surprisingly smooth EcoBoost engines, one gets either Eco or Boost but not both. On our 65-mile (105-km) loop (run three times in succession), the iron-block V-6 returned 16 mpg (14.7 L/100km). The Mercedes-Benz GLC300 is powered by a turbocharged, 241-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. However, it has the least amount of weight to motivate (weighing in 450-550 pounds (204-249 kg) lighter than the others), and it gets a sophisticated nine-speed automatic transmission. Just 0.1 second behind the MKX and a half-second ahead of the RX 350 to 60 mph, the turbo-four in the GLC300 proved its mettle. On our rigorous evaluation drive, the transmission provided not only nearly imperceptible up- and downshifts but also never felt caught on its heels when asked to climb a hill or pass slower traffic—a feat not all automatics can claim. Not surprisingly, the GLC300 returned 20 mpg (11.8 L/100km) on our loop.
When we drove the trio through bends, some with mid-corner dips, the Lexus RX 350 F Sport proved sporty in name only, as it completely lost its composure. It rolled unnecessarily, lost its line in corners that weren’t absolutely pristine, and the steering, though weighted nicely, felt disconnected from the front tires. The MKX, on the other hand, was nearly unflappable, soaking up anything it encountered with confidence and surprising agility, especially in Sport mode. Working against the Lincoln was its 4,640-pound weight, which ultimately limited its pace. The lightest, “pointiest,” and most capable driver was the Mercedes-Benz. Its Agility Control suspension also soaked up the rough stuff, and the GLC300’s pace, precision, and poise were a step above the others.
By now, the awards might be obvious.
First Place: Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic
Second Place: Lincoln MKX AWD 2.7 EcoBoost Reserve
Third Place: Lexus RX 350 F Sport
Considering it was a finalist in this year’s SUV of the Year, we had side bets on the MKX winning. Its lofty $63,695 USD price didn’t help matters, but Evans said it best: “Lincoln has closed the gap considerably; it’s getting very close and is not last with a bullet anymore. It’s a contender now that just needs a bit more refinement.” And the redesign of the Lexus doesn’t address its interior design, which is hardly a “design” and more of a collection. Plus, the new exterior is polarizing and feels as if it will look dated very soon. The fact that the F Sport treatment didn’t improve the RX’s driving dynamics and may in fact have hampered them reveals the false promise of this “performance” package. That left the completely redesigned Mercedes-Benz to swoop in and take the prize. The GLC is larger and improved in every measure compared to the GLK, and its handsome exterior, impeccable interior, and class-leading dynamics and efficiency only serve to underscore the value it also contains. Who would’ve guessed that a Mercedes-Benz would emerge as the least expensive, least powerful, lightest, most sophisticated, most engaging to drive, most fuel-efficient, most attractive, and thus most desirable player in this group? The GLC300 takes the gold medal. Keep your eye on this one for next year’s SUV of the Year.
|2016 Lexus RX 350 F Sport||2016 Lincoln MKX AWD 2.7 EcoBoost (Reserve)||2016 Mercedes-Benz GLC300 4Matic|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||60-deg V-6, alum block/heads||Twin-turbo 60-deg V-6, iron block/alum heads||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||211.0 cu in/3,456 cc||164.7 cu in/2,699 cc||121.5 cu in/1,991 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||295 hp @ 6,300 rpm||335 hp @ 5,500 rpm||241 hp @ 5,500 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||267 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm||380 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm||273 lb-ft @ 1,300 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,000 rpm||6,300 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||15.4 lb/hp||13.9 lb/hp||16.9 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||8-speed automatic||6-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar||Multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, adj shocks, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||12.9-in vented disc; 13.3-in vented disc, ABS||13.6-in vented disc; 12.4-in disc, ABS||13.5-in vented, drilled disc; 12.6-in vented disc, ABS|
|WHEELS||8.0 x 20 in, cast aluminum||9.0 x 21 in, cast aluminum||8.5 x 20 in, cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/55R20 (102V) M+S Michelin Premier LTX||265/40R21 (105V) M+S Pirelli Scorpion Verde All Season||255/45R20 (101W) Bridgestone Dueler H/P Sport|
|WHEELBASE||109.8 in||112.2 in||113.1 in|
|TRACK, F/R||64.4/64.0 in||64.8/64.7 in||63.8/63.7 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||192.5 x 74.6 x 67.7 in||190.0 x 76.1 x 66.2 in||183.3 x 74.4 x 64.5 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.2 in||7.8 in||5.9 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||17.0/24.9 deg||18.0/23.6 deg||28.0/00.0 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||38.0 ft||38.6||38.7 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||4,533 lb||4,640 lb||4,083 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||57/43%||59/41%||53/47%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||3,500 lb||3,500 lb||3,500 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||39.4/39.1 in||38.2/37.6 in||37.8/38.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||44.1/38.0 in||42.8/39.6 in||40.8/37.3 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.8/57.6 in||58.9/59.0 in||57.3/56.5 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, MIN/MAX||18.4/56.3 cu ft||37.2/68.8 cu ft||19.4/56.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.3 sec||2.0 sec||2.0 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||3.6||3.4||3.6|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 92.7 mph||14.7 sec @ 92.9 mph||14.9 sec @ 90.7 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||123 ft||119 ft||112 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.79 g (avg)||0.84 g (avg)||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.63 g (avg)||26.5 sec @ 0.68 g (avg)||26.6 sec @ 0.66 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,500 rpm||1,750 rpm||1,400 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$59,985||$63,695||$59,980|
|AIRBAGS||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, front knee||Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, front knee, rear-outboard belts||Dual front, f/r side, f/r curtain, driver knee|
|BASIC WARRANTY||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||6 yrs/70,000 miles||6 yrs/70,000 miles||4 yrs/50,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||4 yrs/Unlimited miles||6 yrs/70,000 miles||Unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||19.2 gal||18.5 gal||19.3 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||19/26/22 mpg||17/24/19 mpg||21/28/24 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles||198/140 kW-hrs/100 miles||160/120 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.90 lb/mile||0.99 lb/mile||0.82 lb/mile|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded premium|
What About the 2017 Cadillac XT5?
The all-new Cadillac XT5 that will soon replace the SRX was invited, RSVP’d yes, backed out at the last minute, and then showed up a week after the comparison test. How would it have fared? Middle of the pack, probably third place. The absolutely stunning interior with its greatly improved CUE infotainment system would only serve to offset mid-pack acceleration, handling, ride, comfort, and efficiency, all at what would have been the most expensive as-tested price with a comparable roster of features. And for that price, we were surprised to learn that although the XT5 Platinum comes standard with forward collision warning, following distance indicator, and low-speed automatic braking, it doesn’t feature adaptive cruise controlâwhich uses the same sensors/technology. Unlike in the others in this test, that costs extra. The newish ATS/CTS/CT6-sourced 310-hp V-6 isn’t remarkable other than it has cylinder deactivation, and its new eight-speed automatic transmission is programmed for “max eco” mode, meaning it races to top gear as quickly as it can and is reluctant to kick down except when the throttle pedal is nearly on the floor. Also, the semi-smooth auto-stop/start function is locked “on,” so there’s a tremor at every stop. Perhaps it’s meant to hide the rough idle we found when we switched the transmission to manual mode. It’s a handsome package worth your time to explore and test drive if you’re in this entry-level luxury crossover market, but like the Lincoln, “almost there” isn’t quite there for us.
Read the 2017 XT5 First Test review HERE
XT5 photos by Robert Guio
|2017 Cadillac XT5 AWD 3.6 (Platinum)|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$63,845|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||3.6L/310-hp/271-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 *|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,333 lb (58/42%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||189.5 x 75.0 x 66.0 in|
|0-60 MPH||6.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||15.1 sec @ 92.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||111 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.82 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.1 sec @ 0.65 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||18/26/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||187/130 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.93 lb/mile|