Vaughan: “I don’t want to think about it, I just want a new SUV.” The default choice is the top-selling, Canadian-built, luxury crossover RX 350. Sex appeal is low; but for reliability, quality and comfort, it’s a slam dunk. There are all sorts of options and then you can get the F-Sport ($57,900) – merely lipstick on the pig. Why try to make a Porsche Cayenne out of white bread? The RX 350 is all about a comfy, quiet interior, decent driving, killer quality, top safety, middle-of-the-road reliable luxury. No wonder they build it in Canada.
Range Rover Evoque
Vaughan: Everybody loves the Evoque’s styling – except me. To my eye it looks squashed, especially at the rear, yet it’s selling so well they can’t make enough of them. It has given Range Rover its most fuel-efficient model that still drips with premium cues. For example, the interior is pure luxury; however it’s on the small side. I like the risky decision to sell a premium SUV with a four-cylinder engine. It’s a Ford-based, 2.0-litre, 240-hp turbo with direct injection. It costs around fifty grand and it has Range Rover written large on both ends. That’s cachet.
Vaughan: Here’s one of the surprises of the year. I had low expectations of the Benz GL, which competes with the Cadillac Escalade and Lincoln Navigator. Although it weighs in at 5,500 pounds, the new GL has computer-assisted traction, stability, steering and ride control to make you feel you’re in a nimble, lighter vehicle. The stability and the silence of the vehicle at left-lane highway speed are eerie. It feels like you’re riding in the first-class carriage of a European high-speed train. It’s a lot of money per copy; for you zillionaires, it’s worth it.
Cato: Repeat after me: sport-utility vehicles are first, and above all else, practical, functional vehicles. The newest RDX is just that, unlike the youth-oriented and highly twitchy and utterly failed rig it has replaced. This new SUV perfectly represents the new Acura formula: subdued looks, simplified but comprehensive technology, a gentle ride and traditional power (here, a V-6). Honda used to treat Acura as nothing more than a place to sell better-equipped Hondas, raking in fat profits and disappointing too many consumers. But the sad old days of budget luxury at Acura are no more.
Cato: If you want a big, luxurious crossover wagon with three rows of seating, then you can spend massive money on the Audi Q7 – pretty and with a diesel engine option – or you can spill thousands less on the Infiniti JX. It has a rich interior, a smooth exterior, loads of gadgets and decent fuel economy. We like the JX a lot, though in Canada it’s a niche player. At least it says something about Infiniti: there is life at Nissan’s luxury brand, despite signs to the contrary. The JX is quiet and smooth. It can tow, though a diesel would be better than the gas-only offering. And it’s safe. Big and safe. We’re expecting more and better things from Infiniti. If the JX is any indication, underachieving Infiniti is not about to become a historical footnote.