If you're thinking lush, wooded meadows and cool mountain breezes, forget it. Anza Borrego is low-desert territory, bordering on the Golden State's largest, saltiest lake, the Salton Sea. It's accessible from the west via Highway S-22, a ribbon of curvy, smooth asphalt that descends from over 6000 feet to just 150 feet above sea level. Since the majority of our selected crossovers will serve off-road duty no tougher than the occasional dirt parking lot, we put extra emphasis on road manners. In this test of driving etiquette, Lexus and Mercedes reveal themselves to be highly uninteresting corner-carving conversationalists.

"There is no steering feel at all; you feel completely disconnected from the road," says Mortara of the RX 350. "The GLK's chassis is easily one of the best -- poised, controllable, grippy -- but all the enjoyment of exploiting it is ruined by the worst steering in the group. It's as lifeless as King Tut," avers St. Antoine.

Kiino concurs, "Even with the sport package, the RX is not meant for twisty roads. Way too sloppy, offering too much mass, too much roll, and linear but numb steering feel. Plus, the stability control cuts in really early." As for the GLK, "Steering feel is way too light, sloppy, and uncommunicative -- the worst I've experienced in a Benz," he says. One is numb, the other lifeless. How then might the XC60 fare?

"They usually feel gluey, but this steering rack imparts a nicely weighted sensation and is probably the best I've experienced in a Volvo," says Kiino. Overall handling is impressive from this high-riding Swede; despite nine inches of ground clearance, the XC60 corners flat and holds on tight. St. Antoine is more impressed with the Volvo's giddyup, "Where did all this go come from? Engine pulls really hard; perhaps not as smooth as the others, but the power is really compelling," he continues. Mortara notes the willing engine, but wishes for smoother delivery: "Plenty of power and torque, but it's very non-linear. The turbo spools and drops off very quickly, which makes for a jerky drive."