The Acura RDX quickly gained everyone’s attention with its punchy power delivery.
handling of these crossovers on the roads of Southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula—which includes hilly switchbacks, open boulevards, and the gnarled, slow-motion landslide known as Portuguese Bend.
Whether it was on city streets, in the desert, or on the highway, it was easy to choose a winner in terms of performance. The RDX quickly gained everyone’s attention with the way it corners, its punchy power delivery, and the smoothness of the 10-speed automatic. It’s not the quickest of the group, but it’s the one that handles best. “I love the supportive, comfy seat, the contour and weight of the steering wheel, and the directness of the steering,” Walton said.
With four driving modes available (Comfort, Snow, Sport, and Sport+), drivers can enjoy the different settings depending on the road conditions. The RDX resets to Sport every time it’s turned on, but it’s easy to switch to a different mode via the enormous rotary knob in the center console. Like its name suggests, Sport+ is the most lively of all, as the software refines the response of the steering and suspension while the engine revs to higher rpm. The RDX took 6.6 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph and completed the quarter-mile test in 15.1 seconds at 92.9 mph.
The good powertrain communication we enjoyed in the RDX was missing in the QX50. The Infiniti’s variable-compression engine is a technological marvel, but it is poorly mated to a CVT, which mutes power delivery. “There are at least three things changing all the time— gear ratio, turbo boost, and engine compression—and they are each fighting over who takes the mic,” Walton said. “They only all come together and agree what to
do at wide-open throttle. What a mess.” Ayapana shared this feeling, saying that the throttle response has a “lurching, slingshotlike delivery.” We also complained about the suspension, noticing far more vibrations inside the cabin than when driving the RDX or XT4 over the same pavement. “I found bumps and impacts I didn’t know were there,” Walton said. Regardless, the QX50 was the quickest of the group, taking 6.3 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph.
Things got a little better with the XT4, though Walton described its ride as “flinty.” Ayapana liked the responsiveness of the steering but said that it lacked road feel. He enjoyed the transmission’s reaction to throttle inputs. Yet the three of us found ourselves opting for the paddle shifters for a sportier experience. Despite the XT4 being the smallest crossover of the mix, we noticed a lot of body roll, which lost the Cadillac points in terms of handling. This was the tweener with less power and more heft, with a weight-to-power ratio of 16.7 lb/hp—the worst in the group.
There are several methods to achieving in-car connectivity. With dual screens, touchpads, and even simpler interfaces, Acura, Cadillac, and Infiniti have followed different paths to please their customers.
Walton, Ayapana, and I all liked how Cadillac handled its business with an updated version of its once-pilloried CUE system. It behaves like a smartphone and has modern graphics. Through an 8.0-inch touchscreen, occupants can use their phone via Apple Carplay or Android Auto, or they can use the navigation system to get around. The infotainment system responds quickly, and it’s easy to get to where you want without frustration—you can use your fingers to zoom in or out. With a straightforward layout, Cadillac paid attention to the technology. After all, some buyers place an intuitive infotainment system higher on their must-have list than, say, handling.
Such contemporariness is missing in the QX50’S nav system and its outdated graphical interface. Infiniti opted for a dual-screen layout, leaving the top screen for the nav system and the bottom for infotainment. But it’s a missed opportunity. The clunky user interface is “a glaring weakness in an otherwise decent cabin,” Ayapana said. Walton complained about the many options to control the two screens: steering wheel buttons, touchscreen, hard buttons below the touchscreen, and the push-knob controller. “In a hurry, I never know what to do to change something,” he said. We were also disappointed to find that the QX50 offers neither Apple Carplay nor Android Auto. Even though the QX50 is relatively new, the fact that Infiniti failed to provide this useful technology made us wonder what the product planners were benchmarking. In a retro
Acura, Cadillac, and Infiniti have followed different paths to please their customers.
touch, the QX50 is the only one in the group that offers a CD player—great for folks who prefer a higher-quality audio source, albeit in a ponderous form factor.
With a touchpad cursor that mirrors the screen above, Acura has the most avant-garde infotainment setup in the group. But the interface still needs some refining. How easily you can control a touchpad might depend on which generation you belong to. The younger folks on our staff found the infotainment system easier to use than did the mature group at the office—yet both groups concluded that the haptic touchpad was distracting, as you have to take your eyes off the road to follow the cursor on the screen. Sure, the screen is mounted on the highest point possible on the center dash, but even then it’s hard to know where each icon is located. Apple Carplay also takes more time to navigate, as you have to swipe your finger across the touchpad to move the cursor to where you want it. Android Auto is not available. However, Acura’s voice control was a good redundant option, and it understood my commands even with my strong Spanish accent.
When you’re buying a crossover from a luxury brand, you expect the best. And that includes safety mechanisms. Offering Acurawatch as standard across the lineup, the RDX comes with collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and road departure mitigation. Only the Acura had been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety at the time of this story’s closing; it was given the prestigious Top Safety Pick+ award, scoring “Good” in all categories.
Our Infiniti came with the Proassist package, a $550 option that adds backup collision assist, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert, and distance control assist, which helps maintain safe following distance without cruise control enabled. The Cadillac carried the Driver Assist and Driver Awareness packages, which add adaptive cruise control, forward and reverse automatic braking, front pedestrian braking, forward collision alert, lane keep assist with lane departure warning, and intelligent high-beam headlights—for $1,870.
Walton enjoyed a stress-free drive in bumper-tobumper traffic with the safety tech of the RDX, including adaptive cruise that works all the way to a full stop. “It slows more gently and accelerates faster than some other systems I’ve tried,” he said. The QX50’S Proassist system, a step below the top-trim Propilot Assist package, doesn’t bring the full semi-autonomous experience to the QX50. Yet the adaptive cruise control followed the car in front with no hiccups. We least liked the XT4’S lane keeping system, which had a difficult time keeping the Caddy centered between the stripes.
All three SUVS bring something special to the table. Acura takes the lead on handling and safety, Infiniti offers outstanding design and superb interior space, and the Caddy’s infotainment system takes the user experience to the next level.
Mainstream crossovers are about transport. But upgrading to a premium brand puts a bit more emphasis on looks, performance, connectivity, safety, and a pleasant interior experience. Whether you’re starting a family or transporting your grandchildren, for $50,000 you also want a vehicle that makes you feel special. In this tweener segment, there’s only one SUV that delivers on all those traits. n
We’re not in love with the Acura RDX’S exterior design, but we agree it has a sporty presence on the road.
With a nav system that looks like it’s a decade old, the Infiniti QX50’S cabin leaves a bittersweet taste.