Used Luxury SUVs to Avoid and What to Buy Instead

You can get upscale accommodations and space while avoiding the headaches from an unreliable model

2013 Acura RDX
Acura RDX
Photo: Acura

A used luxury SUV can give you the comfort, technology, and safety features in an upscale package for less than the cost of a new model, and even less than some new mainstream SUVs.

But be careful not to buy the wrong model or you’re likely to deal with a very unluxury-like experience: an uncomfortable ride, maddening controls, a cramped interior, and expensive out-of-warranty repairs. There’s no need to give up on your desire to own a luxury SUV; you just need to pick the one that won’t leave you fuming.

That’s where Consumer Reports’ auto experts come in. We put all of these models through our road-test evaluations when they were new, so we know how they perform. Plus, we collect data from CR members in our Annual Auto Surveys, so we can tell you how many problems a model has had compared with the average problem rate for all vehicles of the same model year.

This allows us to present models that are popular in their category but aren’t good choices to buy. Then we present two alternatives:

  • A better choice: Another vehicle that's widely available and has better reliability and owner satisfaction ratings.
  • An “under-the-radar” alternative: A model that didn't sell as well—in case you aren't concerned with following the crowd—but is still reliable and satisfying.

The better choices and under-the-radar alternatives are vehicles recommended by Consumer Reports, meaning they scored well in our road tests when new; have good reliability; were available with key advanced safety equipment such as forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB), and blind spot warning (BSW); and performed well in crash tests.

If you’re a CR member, this article and the list below are already available to you. But if you haven’t signed up, click below and become a member to access the list and all of our exclusive ratings and reviews for each vehicle we buy and test. Joining also gives you full access to exclusive ratings for the other products our experts evaluate in several categories, including electronics and home appliances.

Sign up for CR’s Cars email newsletter to be notified when we post our latest road-test results. If you’re a used-car shopper, you can click through to the model pages for information on these vehicles from older model years.

Consumer Reports members also can search our Used Car Marketplace for vehicles for sale in their area, sorting by the factors that matter most. The listings include CR reliability and owner satisfaction ratings, and most vehicles include a free Carfax report.

Though the second-generation X3 impressed us with its sporty handling, composed ride, eight-speed automatic, and nicely finished interior, it’s been problematic for owners. Reliability of the 2013-14 models is well below average, and owner satisfaction isn’t very good, either. If you do take a chance and buy an X3, you’ll find supportive seats, easy cabin access, a tasteful but understated interior, and a manageable size. Note that the iDrive control system takes some getting used to, and the electronic gear selector is a bit unintuitive at first.

The Better Choice

The 2013–15 RDX is a more mainstream and refined compact crossover SUV than its predecessor. The RDX doesn’t push the envelope in styling, handling, or interior quality, but it’s benign, comfortable, and easy to live with. One high point is its smooth and powerful V6 that—when combined with the six-speed automatic transmission—manages a very respectable 22 mpg overall. Handling is sound but not especially agile, and the ride is a little stiff. Controls are unusually simple, but interior ambience is rather plain-Jane for a supposedly luxury-class vehicle. Further, not many upscale comfort and technology features were available for this version. Nevertheless, the RDX proved competent all-around, was well-equipped for the money, and has excellent reliability.

The Under-the-Radar Alternative

The CX-5 is a competitive and more entertaining alternative, and the Touring and Grand Touring trims are quite luxurious. Handling is taut and agile, with quick, well-weighted steering that makes the Mazda fun to drive. Power comes from a responsive 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine that got 25 mpg overall. The 2013 through 2019 models all have excellent reliability ratings, but try to get the redesigned 2017 or 2018 if you can: FCW and AEB were standard in 2017, and BSW became standard in 2018. Figuring out the infotainment system, which is controlled by a knob on the console, takes some time.

Stylish and sporty, the Q5 feels solid, is rewarding to drive, and has a plush, quiet cabin. It delivers handling agility that inspires confidence and makes it fun-to-drive. However, some of that driving will likely be to and from your mechanic, as the Q5 has subpar reliability, with problem areas particularly in the areas of engine, engine cooling, the fuel system, and the electrical system. The ride tends to come across as firm initially, but proves to be absorbent when needed and steady when cruising. The base four-cylinder turbocharged engine and eight-speed automatic racked up a commendable 21 mpg overall and provided decent performance. The seats are firm, but prove extremely comfortable and supportive.

The Better Choice

The XC60 is pleasurable to drive but not as sporty as some competitors. The ride is a little stiff, but handling is responsive and secure at its limits. The 3.0-liter turbo six-cylinder performed well in our tests, but got a mediocre 17 mpg overall. A 3.2-liter six-cylinder was also available. The cabin is attractively finished with high-quality materials, the seats are well shaped and comfortable, but rear legroom is a bit tight. Look for a version that has the optional BSW and the technology package, which included FCW.

The Under-the-Radar Alternative

This generation RX is very similar in size to the Q5, making it a good alternative. It doesn’t have the same sporty handling as the Audi, instead bringing a more plush and soothing driving experience. Ride comfort is a strong point and the cabin is quiet. Inside is a well-finished interior with comfortable seats and room for five. Cargo room is on the modest side and rear visibility is not ideal. The infotainment system, uses a convoluted mouselike controller that interfaces with the center screen for audio, phone, and navigation functions.

The 2011-12 Enclave was a competitive—but not top-scoring—three-row SUV when it was new. But weaknesses include its rear visibility, awkward placement of some controls, and unimpressive fuel economy of 15 mpg overall from the 3.6-liter V6 engine. In addition, the six-speed automatic transmission was hesitant to downshift. Time has shown that these model years also have well-below-average reliability. On the plus side, we found the ride to be comfortable and quiet, the powertrain smooth, and handling to be secure and agile for such a big vehicle. In addition, fit and finish is excellent and the third-row seat is roomy enough for adults.

The Better Choice

Well-rounded and highly desirable, this generation of the seven-seat MDX consistently outscored European luxury SUVs that cost thousands of dollars more. We like the MDX's refined powertrain, quick acceleration, responsive handling, and controlled ride, but road noise is louder than we'd like. The 3.7-liter V6 belts out plenty of power and, combined with the six-speed automatic, returned 18 mpg overall on premium fuel. Interior fit and finish is impressive, and the first two rows of seats are very comfortable. But the third-row seat is tight for anyone but kids. Look for an MDX with the optional rearview camera; it became standard in later years. The dashboard's array of buttons can be daunting at first. Both FCW and BSW were available, so look for a model that has those safety features.

The Under-the-Radar Alternative

Overall, the CX-9 is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s quiet and agile, and has a nice interior with attractive trim. The third-row seat is small but relatively easy to access. Handling is taut and agile, plus the ride is firm and steady, yet comfortable. Braking distances are a bit long, though. The 60/40-split second-row seats slide fore and aft for greater second- or third-row legroom. The CX-9 uses a smooth and refined 3.7-liter V6 and six-speed automatic, but this combination returned only 16 mpg in our tests. The optional BSW system works well. The biggest negative is that the CX-9 did poorly in the small-overlap crash test performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. If your budget allows, the 2016 model has better fuel economy, is roomier, and did better in crash tests although, as the first year of a redesign, it only has average reliability.

There’s no doubt that this generation of the XC90 is a very nice vehicle, with a flexible and comfortable interior, seven-passenger seating capacity, and a long list of safety features. But reliability is not a strong suit, with every model year since 2016 either below or well-below average in our survey, which means buying a used model is likely to be an expensive proposition. Base models have a 250-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder turbo, driving either the front or all wheels. Our tested 316-hp, turbocharged and supercharged version delivered decent punch and returned 20 mpg overall. Handling is commendable, but the ride is stiff. The interior is quiet, plush, and modern, with super comfortable seats. Another negative is that audio, phone, navigation, and some climate functions are controlled through an unintuitive touch screen infotainment system. Unless you find one with a lot of time left on an extended warranty, it’s best to pass on the XC90.

The Better Choice

The X5 has a smooth ride, but lacks the crisp, agile handling of the previous generation. Still, it’s enjoyable to drive and hustle along twisty roads. The standard six-cylinder engine offers the best blend of performance and fuel economy. Most X5s came with the optional Premium package, so look for one built with the then-optional backup camera. The Driver Assistance Package included FCW, city-speed AEB with pedestrian detection, and LDW; Driver Assistance Plus added BSW. The 2017 model has well-above average reliability, but the 2015 and 2018 models are also reliable options, depending on your budget.

The Under-the-Radar Alternative

The GX shares a platform with the Toyota 4Runner and is a body-on-frame design with a live rear axle like you’d find on a pickup truck. While this gives it excellent off-road capabilities, it also means the SUV has a more trucklike ride and handling qualities. Still, the ride is comfortable and quiet, although uneven pavement can cause a side-to-side movement and handling feels ponderous in corners even at moderate speeds. The GX has three rows of seats and can accommodate eight. The 4.6-liter V8 engine is powerful, but we got just 17 mpg overall. Interior fit and finish is impressive. Full-time 4WD, a hill-descent feature, and a system that prevents rollback on steep ascents help make it competent off-road. Reliability for the 2016 model year is above average, while the 2017 and 2019-21 model years have excellent reliability. Look for a model that was built with the optional BSW.

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Jon Linkov

I owe my career to two fateful events: my father buying a 1965 Corvette and my purchase of an Audi A4 rather than a Chevy Tahoe. The Corvette jump-started my love of cars, and the Audi led me to automotive journalism, track days, and amateur car repair. In my free time I cycle as much as possible, no matter the season.