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2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD (Ford)
2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD (Ford)

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Can you have it all in an SUV? Add to ...

Cato and Vaughan: I’m looking to replace a Subaru Outback I bought new in 2006. At the time I obsessed over handling, safety and interior space. Overall I’ve been happy, but as Meat Loaf said, “two out of three ain’t bad.” The Outback was the perfect “more-than-a-car, less-than-an-SUV” option, with tight handling, responsive steering and perfect safety scores.

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Emerging downsides, as our two children get longer and we take up hobbies that consume inordinate amounts of space, are the limited rear-seat room and cargo capacity (with seats up). Last winter, I also burnt out the clutch. Our ideal auto now seems to be something with the same good handling and safety record, but more room for four passengers, six in an occasional pinch, and better cargo capacity than the Outback. I’d consider diesel or a hybrid, anything that may be more economical.

Finally, four-wheel drive is required, as my activities all involve getting as far into the bush as possible. I don’t want a full-size SUV (which would meet all of my needs) because my downtown Toronto residential street-parking is bad enough already. My attempts to narrow this down produced the Toyota 4Runner and the Dodge Durango, with the Nissan Pathfinder and Ford Explorer trailing due to space considerations. At this point, though, I’m more confused than ever. – Dave in Toronto

Cato: Look at what we have here, Vaughan. A fan who, like you and the Mitt Romney, loves Meat Loaf. Remember when the big boy was singing the U.S. anthem on stage with the Mittster? The look on his face reminded me of you.

And then this shocker: a disaffected Subaru owner? Usually we only hear from potential Subaru owners who have just found out that sticker prices in the United States are lower than in Canada.

Okay, Dave, my first piece of advice. Forget the 4Runner. It’s a truck-based SUV and totally inappropriate for you. If you want a Toyota crossover, you want a car-based Highlander and you can get it as a gasoline-electric hybrid, too ($43,400 base).

2013 Dodge Durango SXT AWD
 

Vaughan: Are you finished? Because I am exhausted by keeping up with your witticisms. I will say that Cato, who I often refer to as Meat Loaf II, is right about the 4Runner and Highlander.

So let’s continue down the list to Dodge Durango. I used to hate these things – the previous model was a big, horrible truck. You had to swing a swimming ladder over the side every time you wanted to get in or out.

But the new one starts as a Mercedes platform (remember the doomed Daimler-Chrysler merger of equals?) with a Dodge body on top. It drives so much better than any truck and has a magnificent interior. You hardly ever see them on the road, which is a shame, and you, Dave, were wise to zero in on it.

Cato: Vaughan is correct. The Durango is unappreciated, but then some of that is Chrysler’s own fault. In Canada, for instance, the only models given marketing muscle are the Ram pickup, the minivans (Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country) and the Dodge Journey crossover. If Chrysler threw some ad money at the Durango, perhaps shoppers would notice.

They certainly will notice the Pathfinder. The 2013 model, Dave, not the old truck-based rig that when last I checked was moving off dealer lots with $8,000 in incentive money plastered on the roof. The new Pathfinder is a winner and you should take it seriously, Dave.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD
 

Vaughan: You’re appealing to my frugal side, Meat Loaf II, er, I mean Cato. The Pathfinder is the Nissan version of the upscale Infiniti JX – at a $15,000 discount. At least when you compare the standard $44,900 JX with AWD to the starter front-drive Pathfinder $29,998).

This JX is a superb combination of style, technology and fuel economy and gives long-suffering Infiniti a great vehicle in a popular segment. However, save your dough, Dave, and buy the Pathfinder. It’s infinitely (get it?) more comfortable than your old Subie and, while it wasn’t really built to go “as far into the bush as possible,” it will probably get you home.

Cato: For you, Dave, you need to forget about the Explorer and concentrate on the Ford Flex.

Vaughan: Ah, the Flex. Ford has improved it enough to change my mind. For 2013, Ford added major sex appeal in styling, engines and technology. It doesn’t look like a hearse any more. The re-done Flex had a good solid stance and a non-conformist appearance – especially with a black or white roof and contrasting body colour. Dave, you’ll like its spaciousness and perhaps its distinctiveness. You can certainly get the Flex with AWD drive for pushing into the bush. On the other hand, you might try therapy.

Cato: Ah, the charm of Mitt Romney. That’s you, Vaughan.

*****

HOW THEY COMPARE

 

2013 Dodge Durango SXT AWD2013 Ford Flex SEL AWD2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL AWD

Wheelbase (mm)

3,0422,9942,900

Length (mm)

5,0755,1255,008

Width (mm)

1,9241,9271,960

Track, front (mm)

1,8011,7261,768

Engine

3.6-litre V-63.5-litre V-63.5-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

290/260 lb-ft287/254 lb-ft260/240 lb-ft

Drive system

All-wheel driveAll-wheel drivePart- and full-time four-wheel drive

Transmission

Five-speed automaticSix-speed automaticTwo-speed CVT

Curb weight (kg)

2,2292,1031,987

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

13.0 city/8.8 highway12.2 city/8.6 highway9.5 combined

Base price (MSRP)

$39,295$39,099$37,698

Source: car manufacturers

Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which airs Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.

*****

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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