Features and Usability: Techno OverloadAside from radar-guided cruise control, a head-up display, and a set of cameras that provide a simulated aerial view while parking and an easier look at blind intersections, there's little in the way of technological wizardry in the X5. Technologically speaking, the X5 was out-gunned by the less expensive Infiniti JX. The X5's third row doesn't win any awards, either. The BMW's second row folds and slides to allow passengers in and out of the third row, but the third-row seats themselves are cramped and difficult to fold. It doesn't help that the third-row seat is an expensive option that isn't included in any packages or trim levels. The BMW does score points for its trick tailgate (75 percent folds up, 25 percent folds down), and the best cargo area opening of the four cars.
For nearly the same price as the BMW, the MKT offered numerous technological features. Our heavily optioned MKT had a THX-certified surround sound stereo, MyLincoln Touch, and Active Park Assist, which will parallel park the luxo-truck at the press of a button. The MKT's standard second row is a bench seat, but our car featured optional bucket seats, as well as a rear-seat center console with an optional refrigerator. Both the second and third-row seats fold at the press of a button. The third row had little headroom, thanks to a high seating position and a low headliner that also stores the rear sunroof's sunshade. The door and trunk openings are also quite deep, which means there's more distance to load passengers or cargo into the car.
The MDX's technology is less flashy than its competitors', but there's also less of it. The MDX has a radar-based automatic braking system, and a climate control system that uses GPS to compensate for the position of the sun relative to the car, but it doesn't park itself or chill your beverages, and it's the only car of the four without keyless entry/ignition. The optional ELS stereo boasts Dolby ProLogic II surround sound, and the rear-seat entertainment system is nearly identical to the much-loved unit in the Honda Odyssey. The MDX is about 16 inches shorter than the MKT, and its short stature handicaps the third-row seat. Only the passenger's side of the 60/40-split second row slides forward to let third-row passengers in or out, and there's little third-row legroom. There is plenty of headroom, however: "we stuffed two six-foot-plus editors back there," DeMatio said, "and I think they could both ride back there for a while without killing each other." The MDX's lower driving position also requires less passenger climbing or cargo lifting than the X5.
Despite being the least expensive, the Infiniti JX offers the most technological features, including the ability to drive itself: the optional Driver Assistance and Technology Packages include Intelligent Brake Assist and Lane Departure Prevention, which automatically brake and steer the car (through the brakes) to avoid collisions. The color screen between the JX's gauges tracks these features in real-time, projecting the image that you're driving an electronic nanny on wheels.
Our takeaway from the JX is that its powertrain and handling might leave something to be desired, but its convenience features won't. The JX's second-row seats fold and slide forward with one press to allow third row passengers in or out, and they can still slide if a baby seat is strapped in. As for the third row seat, senior editor Eric Tingwall proclaimed it the best of the four. "At 6'3" I fit comfortably and there's tons of light flowing in to keep things from feeling claustrophobic," he said.
Winner: Infiniti JX
The Takeaway: Compromise Isn't Bad After AllA luxury crossover must be better than a crossover, and all four delivered luxury, sporting character, and convenience to levels neither the minivan nor the basic sport utility vehicle can reach. But the best luxury crossover must offer the greatest compromise of all three.
The Lincoln MKT is arguably the best car here for passengers, especially second-row passengers who can relax and enjoy the car's entertainment tech and soft ride. It's also an unsightly creature, and neither Lincoln's meager brand cachet nor the MKT's chic interior can outweigh the MKT's baroque styling.
The BMW X5 is a sports car with a cargo cover, and the driving experience gets better the harder you push it. It also has the best badge of the group, by a large margin. But the BMW's third-row seat is an expensive option, its low-speed ride is busy, and its steering is heavy. It is a fantastic sport utility vehicle, but it's not a good three-row luxury crossover.
Stepping out of the X5 and into the Infiniti JX is a journey from one school of thought to another. The X5's purchase price is an investment in enthusiastic driving and a blue-chip brand name; with the Infiniti you purchase top-tier technology and innovative design. But Infiniti clearly invested more capital in safety features and creature comforts than the driving experience, and the JX's techno-wizardry doesn't make up for an unengaging drive.
Our choice of the four is the Acura MDX. It doesn't boast the prettiest exterior or the classiest interior, and isn't the quickest of the bunch, but it competes well in all categories and blends sportiness, usability, and panache. And that's what defines the three-row luxury crossover.