5. Jeep Grand Cherokee
$52,215 as tested
If your cottage is out in the boondocks or you really do like to get into the wild and woolly, this is the rig for you. With a proven 4WD system with four settings, and things like hill descent control, hill start assist and trailer anti-sway control, the Grand Cherokee should be able to get it done. It’s also got a healthy 2,812-kilogram towing capacity. Problem: it’s too pricey, and around town, at 12.4 litres/100 km, it sucks up the gas.
Best New SUv/CUV (Over $60,000)
1. Porsche Cayenne
$74,300 as tested
One of the more “affordable” models in this group, the Cayenne won me over with its engine. This rendition of Porsche’s turbo-diesel is good for 240 horsepower and a healthy 406 lb-ft of torque. It is a beast in a tuxedo, with tremendous pulling power. It also felt livelier than the other turbo-diesel – the GL350 - and less cramped inside. More importantly, it was some 10 grand less with close to the same horsepower output and towing capacity.
2. BMW X5
$94,900 as tested
The most expensive model in this category; that’s why, despite its identical score to the Cayenne, it took second place. But if you want to add performance and handling to the equation, it’s definitely the pick of the litter. Among other things, it has a 445-horsepower V-8 engine and a limited slip differential, which the GL350 lacks. It makes a difference. And surprise: I actually managed to get along with BMW's switchgear and machine-driver interface.
3. Mercedes-Benz GL350 BlueTec
$83,400 as tested
Despite its total score, the GL350 actually placed closer to the top of my list than it would appear. Towing capacity is 3,402 kilograms and interior accoutrements are second to none. Civilized, upscale, powerful and accommodating, with very competitive fuel economy, and a full roster of comfort and convenience features. Love this iteration of Mercedes’ turbo-diesel engine as well, but no limited-slip differential, and something with this kind of price tag should have one, without question.
4. Range Rover Sport
$85,140 as tested
This one scored high for me in the “subjective value” category, and its identical score to that of the GL350 is just a coincidence. Like the X5, it requires premium fuel but lacks the snap of its German rival. But that doesn’t mean it’s a slouch in the performance department – towing capacity is 3,500 kilograms. But the Range Rover Sport will go through a tank of fuel lickety-split, quaffing 12.6 litres/100 km in town.
5. Acura MDX
$60,860 as tested
The MDX had the lowest price tag, but with some 290 horsepower on tap, that’s just not enough grunt to keep up, and the MDX lags behind just about every other vehicle in this group. Towing capacity is a paltry 1,588 kilograms. That said, standard equipment level is extensive, as is the level of refinement. The MDX is a gamer, but Acura should have fielded one with fewer options, which would have put it in a more appropriate category.
6. Buick Enclave
$62,220 as tested
Like the MDX, the Enclave is in over its head here. It lags behind in performance, handling, braking, and just about everything else. Pitting it against a Cayenne, for example, is a ridiculous mismatch and the only area it did well in was comfort level and peripheral visibility. But 288 horsepower and 270 lb-ft just doesn’t cut it in this crowd. Towing capacity – 2,045 kilograms – exceeded that of the MDX, however, which is a good thing.
***** Best New Pickup *****
1. GMC Sierra
$56,365 as tested
This one took top spot mainly because it had the lowest price tag of the three trucks in this year’s contest. I liked the side running board for ease of access, and the 856-kilogram payload capacity was considerably higher than that of the Ram 1500. The 5.3-litre V-8 engine has less horsepower and torque than the Ram 1500, but standard equipment level was higher and the Sierra offered better fuel economy, though not by a huge amount.
2. Chevrolet Silverado
$60,645 as tested
The Silverado is basically identical to the Sierra, but this one came with a price tag some $4,000 higher, and it wasn’t demonstrably better-equipped. That said, it did feature a bigger V8 engine – 5.3 litres versus 6.2, and, consequently more power and more towing capacity, though not by much. The other price you pay for a bigger engine, of course, is reduced fuel economy, especially in town. But 60 grand-plus large is an awful lot to pay for a truck.
3. Ram 1500
$57,965 as tested
A couple of things about the Ram bugged me. One, it didn’t have side running boards; two, the traditional floor shift lever has been replaced by a dash-mounted knob. This makes slow-speed manoeuvring a pain. The 395-horsepower Hemi engine is a delight, but that shift knob has got to go. As well, it had a substantially smaller payload than the other two, so the Ram 1500 is essentially a toy as opposed to a workhorse.