A car, an SUV or something else entirely? These rides defy easy classification, but all combine roominess with style

CASEY WILLIAMS  | Auto Reviewer

Lincoln MKX
FORD VERSUS FORD | Having difficulty deciding between the Ford Edge and the similar Lincoln MKX, above? Both boast technological skill and a sense of luxury.

One of my favorite wines is Conundrum: California white grapes blended with hints of fruit and vanilla make you ask, “What is this wondrous stuff?” It’s light, complex and delicious to drink.

The following crossover vehicles will elicit a similar query — “Is it a car, an SUV or just a wacky take on the VW Microbus?” Just don’t drink and drive.

Kia Sportage
BIG THINGS IN LITTLE PACKAGES | A compact SUV? The newly styled Kia Sportage has the best of both worlds.

Kia Sportage

Riddle me this: What looks like an Audi Q5 that took a tour of Asia and came back looking as fine as an Alfa Romeo? Kia’s hot new Sportage. “Look at my fabulosity, then get in line to buy me!” it screams.

Crossovers may not mow down forests, but they are not wanting for on-road comfort or interior space. Engineered from the same bits as the popular Hyundai Tucson, Sportage announces the future with detailed styling, LED running lamps and electronic AWD. From behind the wheel, the tight steering and firm suspension remind you more of a sport sedan than tall wagon.

Kia UVO, co-developed with Microsoft, links audio, phone and navigation through a cool touch screen. Bluetooth and USB ports connect devices to the car’s controls with ease. Sportage achieves 22/31-MPG city/hwy from a 176-HP four-cylinder engine (a 2.0-liter turbo engine generates 270 horses!).

Prices start at $18,295, including a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty, eliminating any questions about value.

Ford Edge/Lincoln MKX

One’s most perplexing challenge may be deciding between the updated 2011 Ford Edge or the equally-fresh and similar Lincoln MKX crossovers.

Ford’s Edge slips a handsome smooth body, but flaunts a bolder face and preppier attire. New for 2011, the Sport model rides on 22-in. wheels, models a tuxedo black grille and looks angrier from every angle. Spirits awaken to a 285-HP 3.5-liter V6 as standard or a 305-HP 3.7-liter V6 in Sport models. A 2.0-liter EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder engine comes later to settle the quandary of performance vs. fuel economy.

Edge and MKX are loaded with technology that includes radar-enabled adaptive cruise control, collision warning with automatic brake assist, blind spot warning with cross-traffic alert and touch interfaces for audio, navigation, climate and phone. It’s also the first vehicle to use iTunes Tagging, which allows passengers to “capture” a song they hear on the radio and download it later from Apple when their iPod is docked. Sweet.

MKX continues the glitzin’ with a new exterior that echoes the MKS large sedan with a split wing grille and sculpted front fenders. Interiors feel more expensive with a smooth dash and MyLincoln Touch that adjusts volume and fan speed with the wave of a hand.

Prices start at $27,220 for the Ford and $39,145 for the Lincoln. Equal parts car and SUV, the Edge and MKX are a fruity cocktail of sport and luxury.

Mercedes R350
TEUTONIC STATION  WAGON | Mercedes’ North American-assembled R350 is a wagon with Benz beauty.

Mercedes R350

It may be a mystery why Mercedes felt the need to introduce a domestically built mini-van, but it is butched up for 2011 with a new GL-style grille and manly paint colors. Given its German parentage and American assembly, the R-Class may be the furthest evolution of a species that began with VW’s original mini-van.

A flowing profile inspired by the CLS “moon car” shrouds interiors fitted with six seats as standard, seven optional — perfect for docking the tribe at your favorite club or musical tribute. A nuclear blast couldn’t take out the standard MBTex vinyl. Bluetooth, USB ports and Harman/Kardon audio keep all in a high state of glam. Pre-Safe technology anticipates accidents and adjusts safety systems in preparation.

American R350s come with a BlueTEC clean diesel V6 engine or 3.5-liter gas V6. The former generates 210-HP and 400 lb.-ft. of torque for easy cruising and EPA ratings of 18/24-MPG city/hwy. Gas V6 engines produce 268-HP and achieve 14/19-MPG city/hwy. All R-Class models come standard with 4MATIC AWD. Air suspension is optional.

The biggest conundrum of all is, “What the hell is the R-Class?” It has the profile of a large wagon, interiors comparable to a mini-van, and luxury cabin with more space than an S-Class — a crossover that is exactly what you want it to be. Still an enigma, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place.

Prices start at $50,240.

This article appeared in Dallas Voice’s DRIVE! Supplement November 5, 2010.