Dodge Grand Caravan
Cato: That’s the official price, but ignore it. You should be able to get at least an $8,000 discount on the Grand Caravan, so this is all about the deal. We’re talking less than $20,000, then, and that’s shocking. You cannot buy a more functional family vehicle for less money. Stow ’n Go seats, storage cubbies, nooks and crannies to tuck away your odds and ends, cup-holders galore. Yes, you can spend $30,000 or $40,000 on a minivan, but it won’t be any more functional that this. Chrysler is readying a new minivan strategy, one that will likely see the Grand Caravan go away in favour of some sort of crossover, leaving only the Chrysler brand with a minivan of some sort. Details to come in the next year, we’re told. In the meantime, if you need a practical and affordable family ride, this is it. Can your ego afford it?
Cato: The GLK has been a stunning success in Canada and around the world, and for good reason. The design is all Mercedes, all lines and creases and shapes. The GLK is affordable, with prices starting in the mid-$40,000s. The GLK is technologically advanced, too. Best of all, Mercedes is planning on a diesel version of the GLK, set to arrive in a few months’ time. Audi’s Q5 will not be sold with a diesel before at least 2013. BMW’s X1 and X3 will not be sold with a diesel anytime soon, either. So, if you want the range and the torque of a diesel in this somewhat compact package, the GLK is it. You’ll want this for cottage/cabin runs and you’ll love it. The GLK diesel is the answer to the question a whole lot of owners have been asking for some time now.
Cato: The biggest Mini has four real doors, proper seating for four, and optional all-wheel drive. Ian Robertson, BMW AG board member for sales and marketing, says it makes sense to add a big Mini that will bring to the brand “a lot of different customers because this car has a lot more flexibility. The Mini Countryman is our answer to the needs of customers who were looking for a bit more Mini.” We agree. But forget all about the front-drive Countryman that lists for considerably less than $30,000. Get the all-wheel-drive version. You’ll spend a few thousand more, but that gives you all-weather and most-roads capability. And also spend a little bit more for the turbocharged version, with power north of 180 hp. Call this one the full-function Mini.
Vaughan: The 2013 Escape is a total change from the 2012 version, which had kicked around since 200l. This compact crossover has changed from a truck to a car, has become a bit bigger and a lot crazier with its wild styling and leading edge interior. All will come with four cylinder engines and most with front-wheel drive. The chassis was designed in Europe to deliver crisp, car-like handling rather than pickup truck harshness. This is a refined, sophisticated Escape that Ford believes is worthy of its higher price.
Vaughan: Everybody sells a compact family mover, but Mazda has raised the bar. SkyActiv is the Mazda buzzword for all the technologies it’s using to improve fuel economy and cut emissions, wind resistance and mass. New engines, transmissions, lightweight construction – the works. And it does work. The CX-5 is a terrific crossover that’s a pleasure to drive without ruining your day at the gas pumps. Front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a six-speed automatic or six-speed manual. When Ford dumped Mazda, Mazda got serious about doing things its way. So far, so good.
Subaru XV Crosstrek
Vaughan: Subie’s clever. All it sells is all-wheel drive vehicles and everybody knows that. So if you’re after a compact SUV and want traction at all four corners, you’re bound to check out a Subaru. The XV Crosstrek is the crossover version of its well-regarded Impreza hatchback. The four-cylinder boxer engine is far from overpowering but works best with the CVT (continuously variable transmission). This one will get you to the grocery store around the corner or to the cottage in a blizzard. Attractive enough, the Crosstrek is really sold on its practical all-wheel drive capability.
Cato: The $29,998 is what stands out most. That price for an SUV (sport-utility vehicle) with a V-6 engine and three rows of seats – standard – is eye-popping. If you’re watching your bucks, take note that the Pathfinder shares its mechanical underpinnings with the Nisan Murano SUV, Quest minivan and Infiniti JX SUV. In some ways the Pathfinder is a JX on the cheap. Thankfully, Nissan has scrapped the old Pathfinder’s pickup truck frame for car-like construction. Gone is the fat. What we now have is a big SUV with decent handling and acceptable fuel economy. Nifty feature: the EZ Flex Seating System: a tip-up seat design allows access to the third row without removing an installed child seat. By the way, the cabin seats seven and come standard with a four-inch display in the centre of the instrument cluster. It loads you up with information. If you want a truck-like SUV, go elsewhere. Car-like? Here you go.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Cato: Crossovers are wagons that look like traditional truck-based SUVs and do many of the chores that minivans did before they began to grow so profoundly passé. Crossovers keep growing more popular despite the fact they do minivan jobs at a higher price. Image matters in the suburbs. The Hyundai Santa Fe has been reinvented for 2013 and it’s slick but not overly so. The available all-wheel-drive system has been improved, too. Only four-bangers are being offered, the base one 190-horsepower with the turbo at 264 hp. Fuel economy is up and so is cabin space. This Hyundai has lost some weight, which helps handling and fuel economy. The most important piece of this puzzle is pricing and it remains unchanged.