How the best are evaluated: Choosing the car of the year no easy feat
The cars below are contenders in the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada's testing for Canadian Car of the Year. The SUV/CUVs under $35,000 are listed first, followed by the $35,000-$60,000 models, and then the Over $60,000 rigs. The three pickup truck contenders are last.
1. Subaru Forester
$32,495 as tested
As well as having the liveliest performance in this group, the Forester also has arguably the most capable 4WD system. It may be an economy SUV, but the Forester is also very good off-road. With its asymmetrical four-wheel-drive system, light weight and a comparatively high centre of gravity, it will surprise you at how much gnarly terrain it can handle. Yes, it requires premium fuel and doesn’t offer the thriftiest fuel economy in this group, but it’s the best of the bunch, nevertheless.
2. Jeep Cherokee
$33,160 as tested
A robust 3.2-litre V-6 engine and a brand-new nine-speed automatic transmission give the Cherokee the best performance in this group, and its Selec-Trac 4WD system with four separate driving modes will probably get you through thick and thin. Comfy front seats and decent storage, too. But this newest Jeep just doesn’t feel as well screwed together as the Forester and has inferior fuel economy. Bonus points for the Cold Weather Group”options package, which includes a heated steering wheel.
3. Toyota RAV4
$34,835 as tested
Always a strong finisher, the RAV4 has driver-friendly ergonomics and switchgear and is as easy to get along with as ever. Not as peppy or capable off-road as the Forester or Cherokee, it is thriftier on the highway, bigger inside, and gets along quite nicely on regular gas. Also a little more expensive in this trim level than the Forester, but much more affordable without all the bells and whistles. Didn’t take top spot with me because it has inferior NVH (noise, vibration, harshness).
4. Mitsubishi Outlander
$32,498 as tested
What saved this one from the basement was its V6 engine, which gives the Outlander a nice extra dimension of performance. But this is not the most refined V-6 on the market and is actually kind of loud and clattery. Also, the recently restyled body is about as insipid as you can get. All in all, the Outlander, which was redone for the 2014 model year, has been a bit of a letdown. Adequate but uninspiring.
5. Buick Encore
$34,910 as tested
What a disappointment this one turned out to be. It has the highest price tag, mediocre fuel economy and worst than mediocre performance. The turbocharged 1.4-litre four-cylinder engine feels like a hamster running in a wheel, and off-road it can hardly get out of its own way. Yes, it will take you to the cottage, but when you get there, you may want to take the bus home again. Back to the drawing board, GM.
***** Best New SUV/CUV ($35,000-$60,000) *****
1. GMC Acadia Denali
$59,820 as tested
This one kind of surprised me. At first blush, I didn’t think I liked it that much, but numbers don’t lie. It offered the best ride, the smoothest drivetrain, and the lowest NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) levels. This is a comfortable ride with a refined V-6 engine, automatic all-wheel-drive, a healthy 2,359-kilogram towing capability and limousine-quality comfort level. Where it falls a bit short is in its off-road abilities and pricing – it’s too expensive in this trim level.
2. Mercedes-Benz GLK 250 BlueTec
$48,100 as tested
If this one was cheaper, it’d take this category, hands down. But the GLK 250 is considerably smaller than the Denali, and its new 2.5-litre turbo-diesel, thrifty though it may be, is no powerhouse. For everyday use, it’s more than enough, but with a 1,588-kilogram towing capacity, it can’t haul much. But, and this is significant, it has excellent fuel economy – some 5.9 litres/100 km on the highway, and it can go a long way on a single tank of fuel.
3. Hyundai Santa Fe
$42,899 as tested
Typically, the Santa Fe offers one of the highest standard equipment levels in this corner of the market. Its 290-horsepower V-6 engine is also one of the most powerful and gives it a 2,268-kilogram towing capacity. It felt somehow louder and less refined than the Denali, but also had a price tag almost $17,000 lower. Normally, that would have cinched the deal, but at TestFest, price factor is subjective and a vehicle’s merits usually outweigh its affordability.
4. Kia Sorento
$35,395 as tested
The Sorento has almost the same points score as the Santa Fe. No surprise there, since they share many components, including 3.3-litre V-6 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, full-time AWD and standard features such as hill start assist, traction control and vehicle stability management. Strangely though, the Sorento’s towing capacity – 1,587 kilograms – is considerably less than that of the Santa Fe. Maybe that’s why it costs $7,500 less.