I am considering not buying out my 2011 BMW X5 diesel because we need more room with our two kids and a nanny. I am looking at the bona fide three-row seaters on the market and would value your input on their relative strengths. I am considering a Ford Flex or a Toyota Highlander. – Sean in Calgary
Vaughan: The crossover craze continues. Just when I thought these gas-guzzling monsters were headed for extinction, sales take off. Sean says a BMW X5 isn’t big enough. It’s huge. This guy wants the Exxon Valdez Commemorative Edition of something.
Cato: Size matters. Why is that a revelation? We live in Canada, the second-largest country in the world. Take off the Toronto goggles to see all of Canada. It’s a big place, as Sean from Calgary will tell you.
You live in a packed corner of Toronto, suffering an urban crush which has planted the seeds of your Toronto-centric viewpoint. But the Seans of Canada see things in a wide-open-spaces way. Big and proud of it. Proof? Large SUV sales in Canada are up 21 per cent this year, while intermediate SUV sales are steady and strong.
Sean, I am intrigued that you want to up-size by going down-market from the X5 to a Flex or a Highlander or something else that sells for half as much as the big Bimmer. What does that say about you and BMW? BMW has priced itself off your shopping list.
Vaughan: Sean is a smart fellow. I like the Flex, a true “sport-tank.” For a hulking monster, it has a non-conformist appearance that, especially with a black or white roof and contrasting body colour, has made it a hit in California.
The Flex is like a moving van behind the front seat with 1,225 litres of cargo room with the seats folded. Yet it shoots off the line like a dragster if you get the 3.5 litre EcoBoost V-6 cranking out 365 horsepower to all four wheels. I could never beat 12.8 litres/100 km in my extensive highway driving, but it sure was fun passing slower, smaller cars.
Cato: Whoa! You’ve put Sean into a super-pricy Flex, the Limited AWD version that tops out at nearly $50,000. That’s a pretty fancy rig, right down to its perforated leather seats and the monster EcoBoost turbo.
But Sean could go with a more modest Flex, even a front-driver that is just as big inside, but stickers for $30,499 before discounts. The 287-hp V-6 is strong enough and thriftier, asking for just regular fuel rather than the EcoBoost with its premium fuel demands. If nothing else, Sean, get your Ford hearse – ah, Flex – in the basic, less expensive SEL AWD mode. That one is $39,099 to start. A useful alternative to the BMW and half the money.
Vaughan: Or a Highlander. It just scored well enough in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests to earn a Top Safety Pick + rating. The Highlander redesign certainly made the third-generation Highlander look better – especially inside.
That third row seat is only kiddy-sized, although you’ll be comfortable up front. Don’t expect it to drive like your too-small X5, because it does not. The Highlander does come with a rear-view camera, but it’s an option you’ll pay more for – along with necessary extras like blind spot monitoring and heated power mirrors.
The Highlander is not particularity exciting or interesting, but for safety and comfort and predictable driving dynamics it’s fine for three adults and two small kids.
Cato: And reliable. Toyota is generally reluctant to introduce new or unproven technology, thus the V-6 in the latest version is the same V-6 sold in the old one. It’s been around forever, so if there ever were any bugs, they’ve been worked out. You can get a nicely equipped Highlander for less than $40,000.
Vaughan: For other candidates, the first one I’d suggest is Land Rover Range Rover Sport. This aluminum-bodied beauty is a step up even from your highly-regarded BMW.
Cato: Ah, no. Sean is going all economical on us and the least expensive “Sport” is $73,990. Forget it.
Vaughan: Cato, how sensible of you. Shocking
Cato: Which brings me to Hyundai’s excellent Santa Fe XL. At $34,999 to start, minus at least $2,000 in factory discounts, Sean is looking at a powerful (3.5-litre V-6, 290 hp), useful rig with a ridiculous list of features, excellent handling, cabin and cargo room and good fuel economy. My first choice.
Vaughan: It’s the Flex for me, then Highlander.
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.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2014 Santa Fe XL AWD
2014 Toyota Highlander LE AWD
2014 Ford Flex SEL AWD
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
11.8 city/8.0 highway using regular fuel
11.5 city/8.2 highway using regular fuel
12.2 city/8.6 highway using regular fuel
Source: car manufacturers
If you have questions about driving or car maintenance, please contact our experts at email@example.com.
Follow us on Twitter @Globe_Drive.
Add us to your circles.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter.