With all the plush interior features of a finely crafted luxury sedan, plus the cargo space of an SUV and the power of a sports car, it's plain as day to see why the luxury crossover segment has been doing so well of late. As pioneered by Lexus in the late 1990s, these do-it-all vehicles are now offered by every luxury automaker.
We combed through our catalog to bring you our top 5 picks for the best compact and midsize luxury crossovers money can buy, with all of these rides priced between $30,000 and $40,000 to start. For the same price as the least expensive of luxury cars, you can have a vehicle with plenty of space for the whole family plus all their gear. From the elegant Lexus to the heart-pumping Audi, each of these five rides has something unique to offer.
The RX 350 is far and away the top-selling luxury crossover on the market today after Lexus invented this red-hot segment more than a decade ago. Receiving a significant refresh though not a complete redesign for the 2013 model year, the RX 350 now features updated styling with Lexus's new corporate “Spindle Grille” front end helping to make a pleasing, cohesive design statement. Toyota/Lexus's ubiquitous 3.5-liter V6 engine is perfectly suited to the RX, making 270 horsepower and coming mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and either FWD or AWD.
Though the RX's 18 city/25 highway mpg rating is not outstanding, those who do a ton of driving may want to consider the available RX 450h hybrid model. The RX 350 comes in just two trim levels, standard and F-Sport, with all the premium features grouped into option packages. The RX F-Sport does not receive a power bump, instead getting a bolder, sharper exterior design and retuned suspension among other upgrades. We recommend skipping the expensive F-Sport model, and opting for an Audi or BMW instead if you like to drive your luxury crossover like a sports car.
Buyers continue to flock to the RX largely due to the ultra-luxurious creature comforts you'll find within. Premium equipment is grouped into the Display Audio With Back-Up Monitor, Premium, Comfort and Navigation Packages. Top features include a user-friendly touchscreen head unit with Lexus Enform app suite and navigation, plus supple leather, real wood trim, a 15-speaker Mark Levinson surround sound system, adaptive cruise control, an automatic parking system, and much more. The Lexus is supremely comfortable, reliable, quiet and refined, and while there are other models that better mimic a sport sedan over twisty roads, the luxury crossover that started it all is still among the best.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 18 city/25 highway.
Acura's RDX compact luxury crossover has been completely redesigned for the 2013 model year along with the Honda CR-V with which it shares some engineering. Featuring an ultra-smooth and responsive powertrain, if not overly sporty handling, the RDX makes a big step up in luxury from its Honda counterpart while keeping pricing in check. Bucking the current trend of lopping off cylinders and adding turbochargers, Acura's offering actually moves instead from a turbo-four to a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter i-VTEC V6, now featuring a welcome 273 horsepower while still maintaining 20 city/28 highway mpg. The big V6 comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and either FWD or AWD, though gearheads may want to note that Acura's sporty SH-AWD system has been dropped with the new generation in favor of a simper system shared with the CR-V.
Like the CR-V, the RDX is much larger on the inside than its exterior footprint would suggest. Cargo capacity figures of 26.1 cu.ft. behind the rear seat or 76.9 cu.ft. with it folded flat are near the top of the class, and even full-size adults will not be cramped in the outboard rear seating positions. If you're sold on the RDX, which comes in a single trim level with extra features grouped into option packages, make sure to spring for the absolutely loaded Technology Package, which brings xenon HID headlamps, an easy-to-use navigation system with voice control, a 410-watt ELS surround sound system, a power rear liftgate, and even GPS-linked automatic climate control.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 20 city/28 highway.
The X1 is an all-new model for U.S. buyers in 2013, though it has been offered in Europe for quite some time. Positioned as the entry-level model in a BMW crossover/SUV lineup that also includes the larger, more-costly X3 and X5, the X1 hits the sweet spot as a personal luxury vehicle for buyers seeking an entry-level model with the taller ride height and extra cargo capacity crossovers bring. With the smallest footprint on this list – the X1 is 5 inches shorter than a BMW 3-Series Sedan – this baby Bimmer is plenty fun to drive and easy to park.
Power comes from a 2.0-liter TwinPower turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 240 horses, coming mated to an eight-speed automatic and either RWD or xDrive AWD. Fuel efficiency is as high as 24 city/34 highway mpg. Craving a little more power? You can choose the up-level 3.0-liter TwinPower inline-six engine and six-speed auto combo, with 300 horsepower making this tiny crossover a rocket out of the starting block.
The X1's small size is less of an asset when it comes to areas like cargo and passenger space, where it trails other luxury crossovers. BMW's iDrive infotainment interface come standard, as do an eight-speaker audio system and automatic climate control. Upscale models see adaptive xenon HID headlamps with LED daytime running strips, a panoramic moonroof and other luxury features. At a touch over $30,000 to start, the X1 is less expensive than even the 128i hatchback, making it the cheapest way to get into BMW quality and driving performance.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 21 city/31 highway.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 20 city/28 highway.
The Cadillac SRX has become the brand's best-selling model, thanks to its bold, distinctly American styling, good driving dynamics and outstanding versatility.
Unlike the other Luxury Crossovers, the SRX does not feature third-row seating. It is larger in comparison, however, and it’s immediately felt when it's time to load up the family and all their gear for a long vacation. Coming standard, a big, powerful 3.6-liter V6 engine with variable valve timing brings 306 horsepower and a 7.1-second 0-60 mph time, quick for the class. The V6 comes mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and FWD or AWD, the latter available with Cadillac's Continuously Variable Real-Time Chassis Damping, which adjusts suspension damping and spring rates every 2 milliseconds in response to current road conditions. The result is a luxury SUV that feels planted and capable, yet never overly harsh.
Take a step inside and the SRX continues to impress, with a luxurious and well-proportioned interior with available leather and Raven Sapele wood trim. Be aware that Cadillac has added its CUE infotainment system as standard equipment to the SRX for 2013, which nearly completely eliminates center-console buttons and dials in favor of an 8-inch capacitive touchscreen and voice controls. This system has a wide array of high-tech features, though response times can be slow and the on-screen buttons are hard to press while driving. Foibles aside, this is a strong luxury crossover/SUV that deserves every bit as much consideration as the Lexus RX.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 17 city/24 highway.