It's good to see someone who takes what they drive seriously. That said, people like us can and will find fault with anything ever built, at any price point. "The BMWs" come stripped so people can drive a "label" car without breaking the bank; I want options. VS The MBs were excellent an had "nice packages," but I didn't want to pay the requisite entry fee. So, good luck hunting and I'm glad I'm not selling cars today!I was originally interested in the RX450h, BMW X3 and X5, Mercedes GLC and GLE, and Audi Q5.
The RX450h was easy to eliminate from consideration. The main "positive" is the Lexus badge. There's a reputation for reliability, and that's certainly desirable. Everything else about the vehicle, however, is disappointing. Interior isn't that great. Lexus has really pulled back from using leather and their vinyl alternative looks/feels/smells terrible. The exterior styling is not great, in my book. I know that's subjective, but I think my feelings are shared by most on that topic. The other problem is it's an OLD platform with an OLD engine and is desperately wanting for a redesign. Maybe thats' a positive for an older couple who doesn't want change? For me it was a major negative. The Lexus dealer experience is supposedly amazing, so that would be a positive. I do get the impression most Lexus drivers are older people, so I guess if you don't care about looks, material quality, driving feel, or the latest features and instead just want a "badge" and good dealer experience, then Lexus is worth looking at.
The BMW X3 was also easy to eliminate from consideration. Ventilated seats were not available at all, and that's a must-have feature for me.
The BMW X5 has ventilated seats available so I took one for a test drive. It was okay. Not the "ultimate driving experience" that they want you to think, but it was good. I checked several BMW dealers, however, and I noticed that none of them had well-equipped models. They all had really stripped-out models without the 360 camera and safety tech and no leather seats. I asked and they all said they would order one if I signed a contract, but that they don't stock those configurations because most BMW drivers just want to lease the most expensive model they can afford, for the cheapest monthly payment and to do that they keep the options and trim as basic as possible. I call them "badge bunnies" or "posers". Those people would be genuinely better off in a high-trim Mazda, but they feel necessary to present a false image to the world, so they max out their budget just for a badge. Anyway, I have been burned on dealer orders, before, so it's not something I like to do. Also, it's been my experience that dealers don't negotiate much on orders (they don't have to since you're admitting you can't find what you want, elsewhere, so they have all the power). Ultimately, the BMW was already more expensive than the competition, and I didn't love it any more than others, so it didn't make sense to pay more for it. And that's before taking into account the absolutely abysmal reliability. I went through the service department and asked everybody how they felt about BMW and they all praised the brand; then I asked if they'd buy a new one. They all shook their head "no" and one of them said "only ever lease a new BMW".
The Mercedes GLC was pretty good other than I didn't fit in it. Plenty of headroom and legroom, but the transmission tunnel was shaped such that it cut into my right knee. I drove it a couple miles and decided to cut the test drive short. There is no way I could drive that thing on a long trip. If you're a small person then the GLC is worth looking at, imo. The Mercedes dealer experience is also well regarded, and the vehicles are much more up-to-date and better looking compared to Lexus. I'd definitely go Mercedes over Lexus, personally.
The Mercedes GLE was excellent. It had everything I liked about the GLC but was also a bit bigger and more comfortable. Available features were excellent. It drives well. Dealer experience is excellent. The two downsides were it's a bit pricey, and the Mercedes dealer had several high-trim units on their lot, but they didn't have one that had all the features I was looking for. They could show me one feature on this car, then another on a different one, but they'd have to do a dealer trade or factory order to get me everything I want on one vehicle. I seriously considered doing that, since the GLE was so good, but ultimately I didn't want to pay THAT much.
The Audi Q5 was interesting. Size-wise I wish it was a little bigger, but it was acceptable. The transmission felt excellent. I do like a good wet-clutch DCT. The biggest problem with the Q5 is the lack of power. It's not unsafe, but it's nothing more than adequate. At the salespersons suggestion, I test drove a SQ5 and the engine power was excellent, but you lose the DCT in favor of a traditional slush box automatic, and surprisingly it was one of the worst transmissions I've driven. I've seen GM 4L60E transmission with 200k miles on them that shift better than what Audi is stuffing behind using the SQ5. I also wasn't keen on the lowered stance of the SQ5. On the plus side, it was easy to find a Q5 on a dealer lot configured exactly how I wanted it... But ultimately, I didn't pull the trigger. Reliability reports are mixed. Some say Audi is okay, some say it's not. Everyone agrees it's ultra-expensive to maintain. The biggest factor, for me, was I knew I'd regret the under-powered engine.
I didn't look at the Q3 -- way too small. If you want something that size then look at the Volvo XC40.
Ultimately it came down to Volvo. It was the right mix of "nice" with decent engine power (not excessive, but not underpowered) and an acceptable price. Other than safety, Volvo probably isn't the best in any single category... But as a whole, it's an excellent value for the segment.
BTW, I have a Volvo T5 AWD 6-Manual wagon, and a VW Jetta GLI 2.0T 6-M sedan; both good driving and reliable cars, and both have very few of todays electronic gee gaws, which will only prove troublesome and expensive over time. Maybe you should lease in case the obnoxious, huge touchscreen "infotainment center" starts to get Alien interference. Finally, and this isn't directed at you, necessarily, unless you covet a self-driving car: They are not coming as early as the Silicon Valley squids wish for, and when they do arrive, I'm pretty confident the last thrill in driving will vanish from the realm. Cheers.