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2014 Subaru Outback (Subaru)
2014 Subaru Outback (Subaru)

Best of the Lot

Sporty couple needs a rig that will tow their gear Add to ...

We’re a mid-30s couple with no kids. My wife has our small “city car” while I drive the “travel” vehicle. We’re outdoors people who mountain bike, ski and all our travels would be via a vehicle to Canadian and American parks. We’re looking at getting a small travel trailer.

I’m looking at vehicles with a minimum towing capacity of 3,000 pounds, with decent fuel economy. So far, my top three picks are the Subaru Outback 3.6R (just meets minimum towing), the new Jeep Cherokee V-6 Limited (but worried on reliability with so much all-new technology) and the Toyota Tacoma V-6 4x4 Doublecab TRD (no full-size trucks).

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Diesel has crossed my mind, but I’m concerned with the new emission systems (reliability) and long-term costs. – Dan in Calgary

Cato: Dan, wipe that Tacoma off your list. The version you want is heavy and thirsty and Toyota has overlooked serious upgrades for years. On top of that, the TRD Sport Premium package is a whopping $7,315 on top of the $29,600 base price.

If you want a small pickup, wait until the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado comes along next year. That’s the one General Motors unveiled at last month’s Los Angeles auto show. GM has promised to make it vastly more fuel-efficient than the Tacoma with the four-cylinder engine. The Tacoma’s V-6? Thirsty as a goalie in overtime.

2012 Toyota Tacoma
 

Vaughan: Cato, have a heart. Toyota has enough trouble selling trucks without you pointing out the shortcomings of the Tacoma. Remember, lots of Tacomas are built in the $1.3-billion truck plant because Toyota can’t sell enough full-size Tundras to Americans – who really know how to build pickups.

Cato: Which is why I say wait for the Colorado. But as Dan knows, there are other vehicles that can safely tow 3,000 pounds, like that Subaru Outback he mentioned. But the Outback’s tow rating is right at the edge of Dan’s needs. If he gets a bigger trailer, he’ll need a bigger rig.

That said, I love the look of the Outback – strong and not over the top. All Subies are safe and reliable and the Outback drives beautifully – something that does not get the nod it deserves.

The Outback has a low centre of gravity because of the power train: the boxer engine sits low and that puts the all-wheel-drive system near the pavement. And that’s why it feels flat and planted in corners and at highway speeds. On top of that, it’ll last at least a decade and costs an affordable $34,495.

Vaughan: A friend of mine has one and loves it, but he’s a rich ear surgeon.

2014 Jeep Cherokee
 

Cato: Riches in ear surgery? Who knew?

I do know that dragging trailers calls for a diesel engine and that’s what should be in the new Jeep Cherokee, but isn’t. The good news is that the 2014 Grand Cherokee has a diesel available, but only with the most expensive models. I mean, the EcoDiesel V-6 is a $4,995 option on the $57,445 Grand Cherokee Overland. If you can afford it, Dan, you’ll like it.

The smaller Cherokee? The V-6 is a modern engine and it’s mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox. But, and it’s a big but, the 271-horsepower 3.2-litre V-6 is a $1,300 option. And then Dan needs to spend another $495 for the trailer tow package.

Even at that, Dan, double-check the Cherokee’s tow rating with your dealer. I think it comes up light for you needs.

On the other hand, don’t worry about quality. Jeep is the jewel in Chrysler’s crown. The Cherokee’s launch was delayed to make certain everything is right with this new ride. Tested and retested and again tested. Chrysler can’t afford to stumble with this launch.

Vaughan: And the 2014 Cherokee is the best-looking Jeep ever. Cato, remember that time we were at Chrysler HQ and our guide got slightly lost and we wandered by the “secret” part of the design studio?

Cato: Someone forgot to lock out prying eyes.

Vaughan: I was peering around everywhere.

Cato: Snooping.

Vaughan: And I spotted something through a doorway and said, “Wow, look at that.” The public relations person – our guide – yelped, then dragged me away. That was my first look at the Cherokee and it was love at first sight.

Cato: This Cherokee is a big deal. It’s based on a Fiat platform, the V-6 is new and Chrysler types say they delayed shipping vehicles until a power train software issue was resolved. In a nutshell, Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne says the Cherokee is key to Chrysler reaching sales and profit goals. Dan-O, Chrysler is going to get this one right.

2014 Subaru Outback
 

Vaughan: As much as I like Subies, go for the Cherokee.

Cato: Nope. The Outback is the car for Dan. Or wait for the fuel-thrifty Colorado. No one has driven it yet, but I think General Motors has a pleasant surprise coming.

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 Subaru Outback 3.6R

2014 Jeep Cherokee Sport w/trailer tow package and optional V-6

2014 Toyota Tacoma Doulble Cab V-6 with TRD Sport Premium Package

Wheelbase (mm):

2,740

2,700

3,246

Length (mm):

4,800

4,623

5,286

Width (mm):

1,820

1,859

1,895

Height (mm)

1,670

1,681

1,780

Engine:

3.6-litre six-cylinder

3.2-litre V-6

4.0-litre V-6

Output (horsepower/torque)

256/247 lb-ft

271/239 lb-ft

236/266 lb-ft

Drive system:

All-wheel drive

All-wheel drive

Part-time four-wheel drive

Transmission

Five-speed automatic

Nine-speed automatic

Six-speed manual

Curb weight (kg)

1,670

1,834

1,887

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

8.6 city/6.5 highway

9.9 city/7.0 highway

13.7 city/9.8 highway

Base price

$34,495

$27,490

$36,915

Source: car manufacturers

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