There's a thin line between fully-loaded mainstream and premium vehicles nowadays, but buyers are still willing to shell out more money for vehicles that up the ante on interior materials, quietness, performance and brand cache.
The Acura RDX is based off the same platform as the Honda CR-V, but gains more power from a V6 engine. The interior has more soft touch surfaces, more sound dampening materials and more LCD screens. It was also fun to flog around the go-kart course, although I wish Acura equipped the RDX with stickier stock tires that could keep up with the rest of the car.
BMW submitted a X1 xDrive28i to tackle the competition. Dynamically, it's a pleasure to drive around the go-kart course. The Bavarian X1 was the only vehicle in the premium compact class with a rear-biased AWD system, so it was fun to break loose the rear end before the front wheels' grab traction, on and off-road.
Volkswagen's Tiguan is due for a replacement very soon, but the compact CUV is a pleasure to drive. It has the ground clearance of a CUV with all-wheel drive, but shares its athleticism with the hot-hatch GTI. It was a joy around the go-kart course and managed to run through the water feature a couple times at the end of the second day.
The Swedes brought a lifted station wagon to the competition with a V60 Cross Country. Volvo manages to trick buyers into thinking it's a CUV by taking a station wagon, add a few extra inches of ground clearance, plastic body cladding and calling it Cross Country. It's Subaru's formula success with the XV Crosstrek and Legacy Outback, but it works.