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2013 Nissan Pathfinder (Nissan)
2013 Nissan Pathfinder (Nissan)

The cream of the crop

Listed: 6 SUVs to consider Add to ...

Sales of intermediate crossover SUVs have exploded, according to auto research firm DesRosiers Automotive Consultants.

Sales of vehicles such as the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL and the Toyota Highlander have surged 62.2 per cent since 2007. That growth will level off, according to forecasts, but the segment is plenty big regardless.

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In a Canadian new-vehicle market of 1.6-million to 1.7-million in annual sales, DesRosiers expects intermediate crossover SUVs to account for about 148,000 in sales or 16.4 per cent of the light-truck market. DesRosiers expects sales to hover in that range until at least 2017.

Car companies covet buyers here because they are wealthy, well-educated and willing to spend $30,000-$40,000 on a largish vehicle that has room for the kids or grandkids, not to mention a whole lot of stuff.

Hyundai expects the No. 1 group of Santa Fe XL buyers to be a mid-40s professional couple with two-to-four kids and a household income of around $137,000. A second target group is comprised of retirees with grandchildren whose income is not as large – $85,000-$100,000 – but who have significant assets and a desire to stay busy with family and friends. Both groups say they don’t often need a wagon-like rig with three rows of seats, but they need that extra row often enough to justify owning a vehicle with one.

Enter the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL, and an impressive roster of rivals. Here’s a look at six top-of-the-line models with some serious appeal to about 150,000 Canadians every year:

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe LWB
 

2013 Hyundai Santa Fe XL Luxury

Price: $39,199

Engine: 3.3-litre V-6 (290 hp/252 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 2,268 kg

Cool features: The rear window sunshades are a feature not available on many vehicles in this group. Small thing, unless you have a kid in a child seat with the sun beating into the back seat. This version of the Santa Fe XL also has heated rear seats, a huge panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel and even hill descent control for those rare times you find yourself crawling down a off-road pitch.

In a nutshell: What a sharp-looking rig this is. The design has just enough creases and corners to catch your eye. The cabin has space for a hockey team and, if you get the seven-passenger version, there’s a seat for the backup goalie – as long as the goalie is also the driver.

2013 Ford Explorer
 

2013 Ford Explorer XLT with 202A Package and moonroof

Price: $42,849

Engine: 3.3-litre V-6 (290 hp/252 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 907 kg (2,268 option)

Cool features: Mirror turn signals, hill descent control, projector headlamps and a panoramic sunroof all are part of the package.

In a nutshell: The Explorer looks truck-like, but underneath is the requisite car-like construction to improve road manners and fuel economy. You can get the Explorer with a powerful but smallish turbocharged four-cylinder. Here we have one of the better-handling rigs in this class.

2012 Toyota Highlander
 

2013 Toyota Highlander V-6 with Sport Package and sunroof

Price: $40,075

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (270 hp/248 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 2,268 kg

Cool features: We like the 40-20-40 split-folding second-row seats, the driver knee airbag and the windshield wiper de-icer.

In a nutshell: The research is dead clear about the Highlander: it’s the most reliable rig in its class. But the design is a few years old now and the road manners run to the soft side. Toyota sells an excellent hybrid version if “green” concerns dominate your decision-making.

2012 Honda Pilot EX-L 4WD.
 

2013 Honda Pilot EX-L

Price: $43,190

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (250 hp/253 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 907 kg (2,041 option)

Cool features: Wireless audio streaming built-in audio memory top the list of nifty gizmos.

In a nutshell: The boxy Pilot feels big and heavy, but it is among the most reliable in this mix. It’s pricey for what you get but everything is well put together, though.

2013 Nissan Pathfinder
 

2013 Nissan Pathfinder SL with Premium Package

Price: $40,798

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6 (260 hp/240 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 2,268 kg

Cool features: The heated steering wheel and heated rear seats are standouts, as is the easy-entry system into the third row. There’s a panoramic sunroof, too.

In a nutshell: Nissan has managed to squeeze impressive fuel economy out of a crossover wagon with three rows of seats. The design is conservative, but handsome enough. Ride quality is at the top of the class. The CVT transmission isn’t for everyone, unless fuel economy is paramount.

2013 Chevrolet Traverse LTZ
 

2013 Chevrolet Traverse 2LT with Leather Package and sunroof

Price: $46,680

Engine: 3.6-litre V-6 (281 hp/266 lb-ft)

Maximum towing: 907 kg (2,359 option)

Cool features: Turn signals indicators in the mirrors and a panoramic sunroof stand out here.

In a nutshell: The Traverse has been relatively unchanged for several years now, though the 3.6-litre V-6 is pretty new to this rig. This is a crossover SUV that feels a bit heavy, more like a truck than these others. Reliable and the design has held up well.

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