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Compact sporty SUV reviews

New fuel-efficient engines shake up our Ratings

Consumer Reports magazine: September 2012

The BMW X3 and redesigned Acura RDX earned their spots in our Ratings of compact sporty SUVs by going in different directions.

The X3 has been powered by six-cylinder base engines since its inception in 2004, but BMW opted to go smaller for 2013. It replaced the previous 3.0-liter inline six with a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The new engine ekes out 1 mpg better overall fuel economy than the old one. And although the turbo four is not as refined as the six, it delivers the same 240 hp and comparable acceleration. The cars offers precision handling and a taut ride as well as a quiet and plush interior.

By contrast, Acura dumped its rough and thirsty turbocharged four-cylinder engine in favor of a more refined 273-hp, 3.5-liter V6. The larger engine not only performs better but also contributes to a respectable fuel economy of 22 mpg overall.

The RDX had been a weak spot in the otherwise competent Acura lineup; the previous version wasn’t refined and had a stiff ride. But the engine has been upgraded, and the cabin is roomier and more user-friendly. And the RDX is priced to move, costing much less than the competition.

Addition and subtraction. Until recently, the Audi Q5 was the top-rated vehicle in this category. We originally tested it with the 3.2-liter V6. And though the base engine later became a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder, the Q5 2.0T is still a good choice, with enjoyable handling and a well-trimmed interior. Optional for 2013 is a potent 3.0-liter supercharged V6, with a 3.0-liter V6 turbo­diesel and hybrid expected later.

Rounding out our foursome is the Cadillac SRX, which dropped its old 3.0-liter V6 and optional 2.8-liter turbo V6 for a larger 3.6-liter V6 that gets 18 mpg overall. Despite a power increase, the heavy SRX feels sluggish. Its revised suspension tuning hurt its emergency handling performance.

Prices for these cars range from $36,605 for the RDX to $44,595 for the BMW X3 xDrive28i.

Buyers interested in smaller, sporty SUVs might also consider some moderately priced options. We recently bought a Ford Escape, redesigned for 2013. We haven’t finished testing it, but we’re finding that at higher trim levels, the Escape provides unique features, a quiet cabin, sporty handling, and a solid feel. The nimble Volks­wagen Tiguan shares the Audi Q5’s turbocharged four-cylinder engine, but it costs thousands less. Other alternatives are uplevel versions of the Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.

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