Hi, guys: My father is a 67-year-old who currently owns a 2010 VW Golf TDI (wagon). He loves the VW and the diesel (the fuel economy), but recently he finds sitting low in the Golf causes him severe discomfort in his legs over long trips. In an ideal world, he would buy a VW Tiguan TDI as it is higher off the ground, but unfortunately this model does not exist in Canada, yet. He has narrowed his new car choices down to the Toyota Highlander Limited (V-6, AWD) and the Acura MDX (base model). You can probably tell he will only buy well-reviewed, reliable cars. With that in mind, can you make a suggestion between the two models, or suggest other similar vehicles (diesel gets you bonus points) in the $40,000-$60,000 range. – Struan in Moncton, N.B.
Cato: Well this is just so obvious. Our man Vaughan has been singing the praises of the reinvented Mercedes-Benz ML BlueTec ($59,400) since getting his first taste in the summer. This diesel SUV fits the bill perfectly.
Over to you, Vaughan. Montana? You were in Montana for the test drive, correct? Did you get to Greg Norman's ranch? Or Ted Turner's? I can see you in hip waders, fly-fishing, with the flys pinned to your hat.
Vaughan: I skipped Norman because all his ex-wives were there. Turner's place has big, smelly bison everywhere and, Cato, you should know the fishing is better in Oregon. Therefore I spent my time diligently testing the new ML and it is very good. The interior is the best anywhere.
Cato: The diesel engine is sweet – proven technology. Most of the SUVs Mercedes sells in Canada have a diesel engine and in the ML it's rated at 240 hp and a stunning, stump-pulling 455 lb-ft of torque.
Vaughan: It'll cut your fuel bill 25 to 40 per cent versus a comparable gas engine and that's no small matter. I'm looking at the Weekly Pump Price Survey from MJ Ervin & Associates/Kent Marketing Services. This week in Moncton, a litre of regular is going for $1.21.4 versus $1.29.8 for a litre of diesel.
In Toronto, diesel is cheaper than gas. So move to Toronto. However if you stubbornly stay in Moncton, Struan, you'll pay seven per cent more for diesel over gas but save 25-40 per cent on the road on your fuel bill – and with far, far better performance out of the Mercedes diesel versus the Toyota and the Acura.
Cato: Don't the Irvings refine diesel out there near Moncton? Seems to me I've been through the refinery. If so, why the big price gap? I mean, the diesel is local.
There's that and something even more important: That Mercedes – nice as it is, wonderful as the interior is, spectacular as the diesel performs – costs a bundle. It's priced right at Struan's limit and a lot more than either the Highlander or the MDX.
I mean a lot more. Thousands more. More than he'll save at the pump even after a decade of driving diesel.
Vaughan: Struan's a lawyer. He can afford it.
Cato: You, my Warren Buffet disciple, simply cannot ignore the numbers. That base MDX may list for $52,690, but ignore that price. Acura Canada has slapped on an $8,000 factory-to-dealer rebate, which brings the "real" price down to $44,690. You can buy a lot of diesel fuel for the $15,000 price difference between the Acura and the Mercedes.
Vaughan: Yes, but the ML's performance is so much better and the German SUV looks so much better. Who designed that wild-looking MDX? It's …
Cato: It's reliable, though, and a Top Safety pick. The Acura Super-Handling AWD is an advanced system that moves torque side to side at the rear wheels, too. Very good, very high-tech. And the 300-hp V-6 is just fine.
Vaughan: Not as torque-y as the Mercedes: 270-lb-ft for the Acura, after all. Not even close.
Cato: Which brings us to the Highlander. Again, a Top Safety Pick, very reliable and Struan can really save big if he goes with the base Highlander at $35,750, V-6 and all-wheel-drive included.
Really, Vaughan, this is all Struan's senior citizen father needs and it's nearly $25,000 less than the Mercedes.
Vaughan: How can you even compare the two?
Cato: Easy. Struan asked about them. You brought up the Merc, not him.
Vaughan: Actually you mentioned it. However, Struan's father should be treated to a vehicle with some style – not some run-of-the-mill Toyota SUV, but a proper Mercedes. I'm sure sonny-boy has the billable hours to pay for it.
Cato: Yes, but he'll pay even less than the $35,750 if he goes with the Highlander. Toyota Canada has a $500 factory-to-buyer incentive in play to sweeten the deal and he can combine it with 1.9 per cent financing for three years. I don't know how he can walk away from the Toyota.
Vaughan: Easy. He can drive away in the Mercedes.
HOW THEY COMPARE
2012 Mercedes-Benz ML350 BlueTEC
2011 Acura MDX base
2011 Toyota Highlander base
3.0-litre V-6 turbodiesel
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
10.5 city/7.3 highway
13.2 city/9.6 highway
12..6 city/8.7 highway
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Send your questions for Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan to firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Fridays at 8 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.