Crossing paths in the Cars.com fleet of cars were two compact luxury SUVs that have an interesting relationship. One, the BMW X3, was meant to take advantage of a gap in the luxury SUV market, and many automotive journalists thought the effort from BMW was a tad rushed. The other SUV, the Acura RDX, was developed with one thought in mind: Beat the X3 in every way. BMW added a few new bells and whistles this year, including some minor plastic surgery inside and out. But can it fight off the newcomer?
Kelsey Mays and I took them both on, and here’s what we made of the new rivalry.
DT: I like me a BMW as much as the next all-American car guy, but the RDX has some attractive angles, especially the rear. Around back, the X3 surrenders the macho look it has from the front and loses the battle for me.
KM: I’m not crazy about either car. The RDX looks sharp until you see the bumpers, which, together with the oversized fenders, make the Acura look bloated. The Bimmer isn’t much better. Its European lines look pieced together, with one panel wedged against another. The rear end, for example, has five separate sections between the window and the lower bumper. Still, I prefer its classic look to the overdone RDX, so I’ll give it a weak nod.
DT: I drove the RDX a lot more than the X3 — some Suburban Dad took it for a night — but the BMW’s 3.0-liter inline-six-cylinder felt more muscular at all times, and even in our faux drag racing the jump it got on the RDX was extreme. The RDX’s turbo is still a fun little engine, though, and on its own would actually sell me on the car. I also think it felt the most like a sports car, if that’s possible in an SUV.
KM: While the X3 outruns the RDX, its six-speed automatic could use some work. It consistently shifts into second way too early — possibly an anomaly with our test car, but a concern nonetheless. Ultimately, the X3’s direct steering and nimble chassis response won me over. Despite its cutting-edge all-wheel-drive system — which kept the tires impressively grounded through a series of twisty turns — the RDX’s steering response almost felt sloppy in comparison.
DT: The leather in the BMW is far classier than the Acura and gives a better feeling of luxury, but it should. The X3 starts for around $5,000 more than the Acura. I didn’t like either navigation setup, but the Acura won because it actually worked, while we couldn’t get the X3 to cancel a past destination even after reading the instructions in one of the 10 included manuals — the RDX only had six. The seats were comfortable in both, and there was surprising leg and headroom in the second rows of seats as well. BMW lost a point for putting its auxiliary plug behind the center console, making it nearly impossible to reach while driving.
KM: I found the X3’s cabin formal and inviting. Materials quality is flawless, though some of the controls could use better execution. The RDX’s all-black interior is more exciting, but it’s overwhelming in some areas — the stereo, for example, has enough tiny labels to require a new eyeglass prescription. The X3 offers a skosh more legroom in back, while the RDX’s rear seat sits higher for better forward visibility. I wanted to give the X3 the overall nod, as it’s simply in another class for cabin quality. But it’s in another price class, too. For the cash I save, the Acura suits me just fine.
DT: No question the $32,995 Acura whoops the BMW’s base $38,000 price tag while delivering an exciting driving experience all its own. When you consider the test X3 had so many options its sticker topped $47,000, and the Acura goes fully loaded with navigation for $36,500, it’s clear which car will win over your accountant. Even the most spoiled of car buyers probably would take that $50K elsewhere, even to the larger BMW X5. The Acura is a lot of car for the money, while the BMW is a lot of money for the car.
KM: Our loaded X3 included all the spoils of luxury — heated rear seats, 16-way power adjustment up front, a heated steering wheel and a panoramic moonroof, all of which the RDX lacked. But the Acura provides value in a way the BMW can’t touch: It has most of the goodies one would expect in a sensible luxury SUV, plus a decent engine and plenty of safety features. And it costs $5,000 less than the cheapest X3. Dollar for dollar, Acura wins this one.
You can compare the Acura RDX and BMW X3 to other cars in their class using Cars.com’s new comparison tool. Check it out here.
The Urban DINK: Acura RDX