What has seating for seven, cargo room to spare and enough power to tow your boat or trailer? If you said minivan, it’s time you started thinking outside of the box. Sports utility vehicles are the people-moving alternative that blends space and style without feeling like a major compromise. And it seems that a great many Canadians agree.
SUV sales across Canada have been surging lately and nearly four out of every 10 new vehicles sold are either an SUV or a crossover. This issue, we ask our auto experts to take a look at some moderately priced SUVs to see which offer the best bang for your buck.
BEST DEAL: Toyota Highlander
$33,555 – $47,180
A popular choice for its good looks and legendary Toyota dependability, the current Highlander was introduced for the 2014 model year and should get a mini makeover soon. “It has the most loyal owners of any SUV I know and it performs competently and overall satisfies as a family fun-wagon,” says Nika Rolczewski. Though it shares some parts with the more luxurious Lexus RX 350, the Highlander is a better people mover with three rows of seats that can accommodate up to eight passengers. Although a little more pedestrian than its costlier cousin, the Highlander still impresses with refined road manners and comfy interior. Power is delivered by a 3.5-litre, V6 or the only hybrid engine in this group. Ron Corbett says the XLE model is the best value overall while the Limited version is overpriced.
2nd: Kia Sorrento
$27,695 – $47,095
Although a little smaller than the Highlander, the Sorrento has some real power in its V6 configuration and the lowest price point in its four-cylinder version. There is also a sporty turbocharged model among the 10 variants available. “There’s a wide array of engine choices for every day urban driving or serious towing,” says Tim Dimopoulos. Like most Kia vehicles, even the least expensive version comes standard with a good number of useful features. On the road, Corbett says the Sorrento has a “resilient ride and tidy handling,” but the braking distance is a bit excessive and the pedal feel is soft. The interior has a traditional, sporty feel to it while the exterior styling is attractive but not really a standout. Like most of the models compared here, the third row is best left for children or Cirque du Soleil performers.
3rd: Nissan Pathfinder
$31,598 – $47,398
The Pathfinder made a grand transformation four years ago when it emerged from its formerly boxy truck into a curvaceous family carrier. Jil McIntosh calls it “arguably one of the handsomest SUVs on the market” and Nissan must agree because the four-year mark is typically time for a comprehensive makeover but no such plans have emerged. Like the Sorrento, the Pathfinder also boasts an impressive tow rating of 5,000 pounds but its continuously variable transmission (CVT) may not be up to the job, according to some owners who have reported problems. Inside the cabin, passengers are treated to an attractive and practical interior, but Corbett says the second row of seats is too low for adults to be comfortable and the third row is predictably cramped for full-sized humans. A hybrid version of the Pathfinder is no longer offered, leaving a 3.5-litre, V6 as the only engine choice.
4th: Honda Pilot
$37,488 – $52,688
Like the Pathfinder, the newest iteration of the Honda Pilot has smoothed out it straight lines to present an all new face that resembles a Honda CRV on steroids. “Unlike its rather utilitarian looking predecessor, the Pilot is more elegant and upscale looking this time and is ready to do battle with competitors,” says Corbett. Consumers seem to agree, since the new version debuted last summer, dealers have been having a hard time keeping up with demand. As with the Nissan, only a single V6 engine is offered, but it gets high marks for delivering smooth power and decent fuel economy. Inside, Petrina Gentile says the Pilot is “spacious and comfy with lots of smart storage compartments.” Legroom is ample in the first two rows and even the third row is reasonably easy to access if still a little cramped for adults.
5th: Ford Explorer
$31,239 – $53,343
Second only to the Pathfinder in terms of longevity, the Explorer has been around for a quarter of a century and the current model is six-years-old, but with a host of new updates for 2016. Chief among those changes is the introduction of a new, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine available on both two-wheel and all-wheel-drive versions. The new engine packs a big punch with slightly better fuel economy, but if you intend to tow anything our experts say you’re better off sticking with the V6 engine, which comes in standard or turbo versions. Other improvements for 2016 have brightened up what Corbett says was “a cheap and dark cabin,” while the Explorer’s road manners garnered mixed reviews ranging from “big and cumbersome” to “very well-honed ride-handling compromise.” The XLT model is best value here while the Limited and Titanium versions are pricey.
Rod Cleaver is the publisher of Autoreviewsonline.com.
Ron Corbett is the automotive editor at the Automobile Protection Association.
Tim Dimopoulos is the host of the Automotive Report on 680 News.
Petrina Gentile is the car contributor for Canada AM.
Nika Rolczewski is an automotive columnist and car enthusiast.