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Luxury compact CUV comparison

John LeBlanc compares luxury compact crossovers: the BMW X3, Acura RDX and the Land Rover LR3.

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The original compact luxury crossover, the 2004 BMW X3, rode like it had bricks for springs and concrete for tires.

Its interior made Fisher Price look like Louis Vuitton, and the unconventional styling shocked most Bimmerphiles.

Funnily enough, those looking for a crossover with a BMW badge never noticed the vehicle’s many peccadilloes.

Sales success ensued.

So much so that the X3’s popularity helped bring about not only the current Acura RDX and Land Rover LR2, but also forthcoming compact luxury crossovers like the Volkswagen Tiguan, Infiniti EX35, Audi Q-something and Mercedes-Benz GLK.

With an update of its own for this past year, is the X3 ready to hand over its crown as the driver’s choice in this new automotive class?



THIRD PLACE

2008 LAND ROVER LR2

The littlest Land Rover’s combination of a compliant off-road suspension and its unique Terrain Response – four selectable modes that change throttle sensitivity, stability, traction and hill-descent controls – makes it the off-pavement champ of this threesome.

As part of a roomy, quiet cockpit, the $45,275 LR2 tester’s seats deliver a majestic view down the road, plus long-distance driving comfort.

Down on power in this comparison, at least the Volvo-sourced, 230 hp, 3.2-litre inline-six is silky when caned.

Torque stands at 234 lb.-ft. The six-speed manumatic is responsive enough to simply leave in D.

The combined rating comes in at 11.05 L/100 km. But driven with restrained bravado, the LR2 sipped an as-tested 11.5 L/100 – the best of this bunch.

Despite the “compact” label, it’s the heaviest here and the slowest, doing 0-to-100 km/h in nine seconds.

Slow can also describe the Landie’s steering. Add to that, any quick turns at speed cause excessive listing to the outside of the corner. Push on, and understeer is as sure as a rainy day in England.

Why buy? Price; roomy, comfortable cabin; smooth drivetrain; relaxed ride; off-road prowess.

Why not? Relatively slow; supple ride negates spirited driving attempts.

Non-luxury alternative: 2008 Jeep Liberty Limited, $32,795



SECOND PLACE

2007 ACURA RDX

At two-thirds the cost of the X3, this feature-laden, $41,000 crossover’s value is beyond reproach.

The RDX’s cockpit is sports sedan cozy. One sits low in the driver’s supportive seat, compared to the lofty LR2.

Alternatively, BMW and Land Rover do a much better job of organizing and presenting driver instrumentation and controls than the irritating Acura.

Alert and eager to please is a good way to describe the RDX’s overall driving nature.

The Acura’s quick and informative steering responds quickly when asked to turn in.

Its buttoned-down suspension produces minimal roll, but is extremely harsh compared to the LR2 and the X3.

Based on Honda’s CR-V, the RDX carries a turbocharged, 2.3-litre inline-four, pumping out 240 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of twist.

Having the least number of gears in this trio, Acura has wisely provided steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the five-speed manumatic so one can drive and keep one’s hands on the helm.

Being the lightest vehicle among the three, its 0-100 km/h time of eight seconds splits the BMW and Land Rover numbers.

However, be warned: toe into the turbo – which the RDX’s fun-to-drive nature encourages – and the Acura’s combined 10.85 L/100 km rating plummets to 14.5.

Why buy? Eighty per cent of the BMW’s road capabilities, at 67 per cent of the price.

Why not? Stiff ride; unintuitive cockpit controls; turbo likes the juice.

Non-luxury alternative: 2007 Honda CR-V EX-L 4WD, $34,600



FIRST PLACE:

2007 BMW X3 3.0SI

Starting at $50,900, when loaded with Premium, M Sport and Comfort packages, the X3’s cost of $62,100 may have you crying, “Uncle!”

Part of the X3’s premium pricing can be found under its hood.

Its 3.0-litre straight-six (good for 260 hp and 225 lb.-ft.) is arguably one of the most sophisticated engines in the biz.

It also helps the BMW snap off 0-to-100 km/h runs in seven seconds.

Throttle response is as crisp as a potato chip. And with the only obtainable manual transmission here, a lovely-to-use six-speeder, the X3 has a matchless offering.

The driver’s seat, steering wheel and shifter come right from the 3 Series sports sedan. Otherwise, the BMW’s interior materials have been improved, but still can’t match the Acura’s build quality.

The heavier X3 may not be as nimble as the RDX, but highly tactile and accessible dynamics at speed more than make up for that.

The Bimmer’s accurate steering has plenty of weight and feel. It’s the start of a balanced cornering process where the X3’s front end obediently turns in, followed by neither under- nor oversteer.

Gone is the first-generation X3’s Flintmobile ride. But despite the softening, you’re spared the Land Rover’s sloppy cornering or the harshness of the Acura.

The 10.35 L/100 km combined rating and 13.0 as tested was average for this group.

Is the X3 worth its premium price? That depends on how much you appreciate its driving talents and your ability to pay.

Why buy? Slick mill; available stick; the best balance of ride and handling.

Why not? Nosebleed pricing.

Non-luxury alternative: 2008 Mazda CX-7 GT, $37,295

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