Interior: Luxuriously Quiet, Quietly LuxuriousHaving tested our luxury crossovers' ability to get our hearts pounding, we looked at how they keep us comfortable and entertained.
The X5 is the most expensive car of the bunch and its interior materials are obviously of high quality, but there's little visual flair. Some of the blame goes to our particular color combination -- brown wood over an inky, graphite-colored leather -- but the available sand and creamy brown leather colors can only go so far to dress up the bland interior. At least the seats are comfortable and the controls are straightforward.
The MDX's interior is somewhat better. Our tester had both the Advance and Entertainment packages, which meant the center stack was littered in buttons for the front and rear entertainment systems, navigation, and automatic climate control. On either side of the controls, there are two sweeping swaths of wood trim, which add just enough visual drama to keep the interior from being boring.
The MKT's interior surprised us with its materials quality, including gorgeous hazelnut-colored leather, brown wood, and a deep gray center stack. The MyLincoln Touch system may be unloved for how it works, but its visual simplicity (i.e. lack of knobs and buttons) is a stark contrast to the MDX. The windows and panoramic glass roof let in plenty of light, and the glass is well-laminated to keep wind noise to a minimum.
The clear winner is the JX, because Infiniti's designers made an interior that was functional and beautiful. The car's distinctive exterior design continues on the inside with interestingly shaped door handles and trim strips, and an organic, double-bubble dashboard. Our only gripe was the steering wheel, which was obviously of a lower grade than other Infinitis.
Winner: Infiniti JX
Curb Appeal: Looks Expensive, Is ExpensiveA luxury crossover that costs $10,000 more than a Buick Enclave must also look better than a Buick Enclave, and must come with more brand-name cachet. With that gauntlet set, our cars had mixed results.
The Lincoln MKT's design hearkens back to the brand's halcyon days before World War II, with low sills, a high roofline, and a bustle-back reminiscent of 1940's Lincoln limousines. Noble as designer Peter Horbury's quest may have been, the challenge of fitting 1940s design within a 1990s sedan footprint (it's based on an old Volvo platform) and adding 21st-century functionality proved too much. The front end is low, which is a good start, but the rear doors and windows look overly stretched, and the original MKT Concept's curves and creases have been flattened. The liftgate is a wide, nearly flat sheet of metal topped by a plasticky light bar and a small, rectangular rear window. The MKT is a valiant attempt at reinventing an icon, but it's ultimately let down by its baroque styling.
If the MKT was styled to make a statement, the MDX was styled to speak softly. The car is chiseled and neatly creased, but flared wheel arches add a nice curvy touch. Even Acura's unloved "razor grille" blends well into the MDX's front end and its geometric headlights. We especially like how the triangular rear window gives this three-row SUV a two-row crossover's greenhouse.
The Infiniti JX has a boldly shaped body with a long, curving character line and Infiniti's new hourglass grille. Too bad that your eyes are drawn to its low door handles, stretched rear door, and rear windows, which make the JX look a little bit like a minivan.
Even without flashy chrome trim or dazzling wheels, the BMW makes a bold statement on the road. Its wheel arches bulge out from the side panels and the hood creases to hint at the powerful engine underneath. Unlike the Infiniti, the X5's door handles are located on the character line, which maintains a crisp look, and the rear end is folded and creased to keep the liftgate from becoming a flat sheet of metal, like the MKT's. It looks expensive -- and it is.
Winner: BMW X5