Crossovers:  Lexus & Infiniti Set the Bar,
Hyundai and Kia Come Very Close

The value propositioners are just as keenly interested as their luxury counterparts in filling every gap in the hot-selling compact to mid-size SUV range.  Inspired by brands such as Lexus and Infiniti, they’ve mirrored styling ques, quickened the acceleration, tightened up the cabin insulation and simulated the wood and upholstery finish-out.  To instill confidence in driving a different brand, they include a boatload of standard features and longer warranties.

So first, we look to Lexus and its NX, which sets a bar among small luxury SUVs.  Savvy Driver Nick Smirnis writes:  “Comfort in automobile design is more than materials and touch points, there is an ergonomic and practical quality that Lexus has once again tapped into.  Just because you don’t want the largest SUV, doesn’t mean you need to find one that lacks in other areas.”

While NX starts at $39,500. the NX 450h+ with Luxury trim level in the local media fleet had a final price tag of $62,960 ($55,650 MSRP). 

Slotting between the UX and RX, NX is first in the Lexus line-up to offer a plug-in hybrid. The NX 450h+ has fared well in sales with its standard all-wheel drive, a battery range estimated at 37 miles and the gas engine kicking in to take you a few hundred miles beyond.   Based on Toyota’s RAV4 Prime 2.5-liter inline-four engine and hybrid system, it gets 302 hp taking it from zero to 60 in six seconds, satisfying buyers seeking quicker acceleration.

Nick Smirnis adds:  “Despite its modest size, the NX 450h+ is not a featherweight crossover. Compared with similarly sized CUVs, it’s heavier, more powerful, and loaded with current generation technology. In addition to a digital rear view mirror and digital instrument cluster, it has a 14-inch Lexus interface in the center stack that is configurable with a 360-view parking camera and smart phone integration. However, the vehicle feedback system that feels the most unique is the customizable heads-up display, which can display just about anything you would want without demanding your eyes be taken off the road. It implements particularly well with the safety sensors in providing actually helpful traffic feedback with front cross-traffic alert, compared to the previous iterations of safety technology that merely point out mistakes you may be making. If you like the latest vehicle technology and want to personalize everything about your driving experience, the NX will provide.”

Filling the gap between the compact Tucson and the midsize Palisade in Hyundai’s SUV lineup, the Hyundai Santa Fe fits about where Lexus’ NX does in its brand line-up.  Our tester had the 2.5 L 277-horsepower turbocharged engine, paired with eight-speed automatic and all-wheel-drive.  The new mid-range XRT trim level added black exterior molding on the body, black bumper fascias, black roof rails and cross rails, and dark silver front and rear skidplates. Inside, our test vehicle’s 10.25-inch screen and reclining rear seats with window shades were highlights. Carpeted floor mats were the only option added to a lengthy list of standard features for an all-in price of $35,380.   The Santa Fe plug-in hybrid would be the comparison for NX 450h.  While the Santa Fe PHEV starts at $41,295, the $47,350  MSRP on the Limited trim level would be the comparison against the $62,950 price of our NX 450h tester.

Those seeking a mid-size three-row seven-passenger SUV may look to Infiniti’s QX60 as the luxury bar-setter.  Fully redesigned for 2022, the high points are its modern design with more luxury and new technology with plenty of advanced driver aids .  It comes standard with a 3.5-liter V6 engine paired to a nine-speed automatic transmission, capable of 295 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque.    Pricing starts at $49K going all the way up to $63,250 for the top-of-the-line Autograph AWD tester that we drove.  Very loaded up with standards, the only options on our QX60 were a special lighting package and carpeted floors mats, putting its price at $65,845 all-in.

Previously, there was a more noticeable difference between the luxury brand and Kia’s value priced option, but the 2021 full redesign of Kia Sorento is closing that gap. Sorento is also a three-row seater slotting in size between the Kia’s Sportage and the award-winning Telluride that it is closely patterned after.  With buyers seeing the new Sorento and the Kia brand in an all-new light, some are thinking twice about saving more than $20K when they compare the top-range Infinity with the top range Kia when shopping for three-row options.

2022 Sorento X-Line

Our 2022 Sorento tester was the fully loaded and top-of-the-line X-Line SX-Prestige AWD model sporting the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine outputting 281 horsepower and 311 lb-ft of torque–nearly as much horsepower and more torque than even the Telluride’s V6 engine. Standard features included its 20-inch wheels, a 10.25-inch touchscreen display with navigation, a wireless phone charger, dual-zone automatic climate control, a panoramic sunroof, a power liftgate, a digital instrument cluster, leather upholstery, heated and ventilated power-adjustable front seats, Bose audio system, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, parking sensors and a surround-view monitor.   MSRP was $43,090, with a few hundred dollars in add-ons including special paint, an X-Line Interior Package and carpeted floor mats.  With delivery and handling, its total price was just north of $45K.  And yes, Sorento also offers a PHEV ranging from $45K to$48K.

THE BOTTOM LINE:  Hyundai and Kia offer some nice affordable alternatives that continue to be closer comparisons to the luxury brand vehicles that set the bar.