The Audi Q5 TDI.
The Audi Q5 TDI.
Image: Supplied

What is automotive luxury you might ask? A definition of luxury I like is “a state of great comfort or elegance, especially when involving great expense”. I have always believed all premium cars felt the same, at least in terms of build quality and materials, but that turned out to be far from correct.

Recently, I had the opportunity to drive four crossover SUVs - the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Jaguar E-Pace and Lexus NX F-Sport - and was pleasantly surprised by the differences between them.

AUDI Q5 TDI

The Q5 is one of the most well engineered and comfortable SUVs on the market. It exudes refinement. The vehicle I drove wasn’t a highly specced one but came with a relatively wide array of bells and whistles, such as the panoramic sunroof which made the car feel airy and light, and the digital Virtual Cockpit with a 12.3 inch display first introduced in the TT in 2014 but which still has a futuristic look.

The Q5 is solid and it drove like a sedan, carrying its weight well. The 2.0 litre engine with 140kW and 400Nm of torque makes it no slouch, although there is a bit of turbo lag when you accelerate.

The build quality is impressive, particularly the leather trim and well-padded foam in the dashboard and around the instrument cluster. The ergonomics are excellent and items like the aluminium gear lever exude quality craftsmanship.

Luxury of space also comes in spades here, including the rear seats. The boot is roomy at 550 litres with the rear seats up.

With a base price of R754,500, the Q5 is not cheap but Audi is one of world’s premium brands and it shows.

BMW X3 XDRIVE20D

The third- generation BMW X3 is hands down the most impressive vehicle of the four. My first interaction with the X3 - the key fob - set the tone for the rest of the car. It is chunky, solid and of high-quality brushed aluminium. The build quality and luxury feel of the vehicle are second to none.

BMW X3 xDrive20d.
BMW X3 xDrive20d.
Image: Supplied

The exterior design is modern and should be fashionable for a while. The interior is sumptuous, with finishes in leather, aluminium and high-quality plastic in some areas.

The test model came with a long list of optional extras, such as the panorama glass roof and head-up display that shows essential information, like speed and cruise control, on the windscreen so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road.

The graphics in the infotainment system feel futuristic and fresh and are arguably the best in this segment.

It has a plethora of impressive safety features, including adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assist.

Then there is the BMW gesture control. I thought it would be one of those gimmicks to sell cars that doesn’t work, but it does. The optional sport seats for the front passengers wrapped me in total comfort and the rear ones are as good. Your expensive bags can be comfortably accommodated in the cavernous boot. The optional Harman Kardon sound system is amazing.

The 2.0 litre diesel is fairly frugal on long-distance drives and the 140kW/400Nm makes it no tortoise on the open roads. It was also very comfortable on bumpy dirt roads.

This highly refined and sophisticated German model is manufactured here in South Africa and exported to the world. BMW has produced a very good vehicle in the X3 and you would be hard-pressed to find a SUV to top this.

The price starts at R690,200 but the optional features included in the model I drove pushed it to R954,814, which is not pocket change.

JAGUAR E-PACE

One of the most hotly anticipated compact premium SUVs has finally landed in South Africa. The E-pace is distinctly Jaguar, with a strong resemblance to the F-type, but in a more compact SUV style. However the rear third of the vehicle looks a bit squashed from the side.

Jaguar i-Pace.
Jaguar i-Pace.
Image: Supplied

One area that particularly impressed me is the optional safety features. I know these can push the price to stratospheric heights but sometimes you have to pay a little extra for important things and these are worth it.

The luxurious leather and a smattering of shiny brushed aluminium give the interior of the E-pace an air of sophistication. Cowhide abounds here. The seats are comfortable and the vehicle is spacious enough to accommodate five adults of average build without worrying about cramps and deep-vein thrombosis on long drives.

The 10-inch touchscreen infotainment system is an impressive piece of tech that allows you to seamlessly connect your mobile device with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. Intelligent voice controls can be accessed via a steering wheel button that allows you to focus on driving without being distracted by fidgeting with the system.

There were many optional features, such as the head-up display, adaptive headlights and adaptive cruise control. 

Overall, the craftsmanship is good but one thing that is disappointing is the annoyingly jerky transmission. This becomes especially obvious and uncomfortable when changing down.

The Wi-Fi facility is impressive. I have never been in a car with this functionality before and it came in handy when surfing the web for F1 updates and using the car as a hotspot.

My overall impression of the E-pace is Jaguar has hit a sweet spot when it comes to the arresting design, good finishes and up-to-date tech that is both functional and futuristic.

LEXUS NX300 F-SPORT

In South Africa, Lexus doesn’t have as much market share as other luxury marques but the NX300 F-Sport could change that.

Lexus NX300 F-Sport.
Lexus NX300 F-Sport.
Image: Supplied

With its unique design, the NX has the best looks of the four vehicles I tested. The angular and sculpted lines give it presence, reminding me of an F-22 Raptor fighter jet. It is refreshing to find a manufacturer that is pushing the envelope when it comes to design.

The build quality is good but I felt it was not as solid as its German counterparts. The door panels started reverberating when I increased the volume on the sound system, which was not the case with the others. The all-new 10.3 inch infotainment system has excellent resolution but the haptic feedback-enabled touchpad didn’t work as well it should. It just didn’t feel as refined as one would expect in a premium car.

However, when it comes to the practical side of things, Lexus has nailed it. The cabin of the NX is well put together, even if the ergonomics leave some room for improvement. The heated and cooled seats were great and the wireless charging pad for devices came in handy.

The ride quality is firm, but not unbearably so. When I drove on the dirt road to my son’s school and switched back to the smoother M1, I came to appreciate how quiet, smooth and refined the NX actually is.

Lexus deserves credit for the high level of specification of its vehicles. Their products are packed with features and the facelifted NX is no different. The fact that the vehicle comes with an array of standard features that are options on many of its rivals is also a big bonus.

VERDICT

Luxury definitely doesn’t come cheap, as these SUVs show. However, it is not about the expense but rather the reassurance that these solid, well-built vehicles drive exceptionally well; have airy cabins; state-of-the art technology and are fitted with sumptuous leather, warm woods and cool, modern, brushed aluminium, all of which convey a sense of comfort and elegance.

The German SUVs provided a more refined, elegant sense of luxury than their Japanese and British rivals, though. That doesn’t mean Jaguar and Lexus didn’t do a great job but the Germans just do it better in every department.

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