I buy a car about every 15 years – always a new one. My car has to be reliable, since I commonly take it places where a breakdown could be serious and sometimes even life-threatening. It has to have the capacity of a largish SUV, four-wheel drive, reasonable fording depth and lots of ground clearance. It is time to replace my 2002 Toyota 4Runner, which has fit my needs perfectly. I will certainly be trying the new 4Runner. If I were to try two other cars, which would be the best? I expect to spend about $50,000. – Eric
Richardson: Good for you for trying out the new 4Runner. If you're happy with a vehicle and with the dealership, you should always consider its successor. That said, you shouldn't be blind to new possibilities, either.
Lightstone: Well, an obvious alternative to the Toyota is the Nissan and the Pathfinder is a very capable four-wheel drive.
Richardson: Yes, they're peas in a pod, really. You can get a nicely spec'd-out Pathfinder SV Tech for around $41,000 plus tax, but the lease and financing rates aren't too generous.
Lightstone: It's a bit of a yawn, though.
Richardson: Afraid so – there's nothing too exciting about it. It's nice and comfortable and the continuously variable transmission isn't too whiny any more, but if it's me, I want a vehicle that's a bit more special for my money.
Lightstone: I hear "four-wheel drive, wading depth, ground clearance" and the response is always Land Rover. It is, after all, the off-road king. The all-new Discovery Sport is within budget and offers up 60 centimetres of wading depth and is only 32 millimetres lower than the 4Runner in terms of ground clearance. Plus, you get the nifty Terrain Response system that adjusts the drive response to different road and track surfaces.
Richardson: Fifty grand only buys you the most basic Discovery Sport, though. It's listing at $46,222, including freight and destination but not including taxes, so there's no room for any of those extras that most people opt for, such as heated seats, keyless entry and a third row. Just as long as Eric knows before he starts ticking boxes and signing forms. All this tempting stuff that you're told will cost less than a coffee a day adds up quickly.
Lightstone: But you have to admit the Discovery Sport is a contender.
Richardson: I do, but while brand-new Land Rovers are exceptionally nice to drive, they don't hold up well for reliability. They've improved greatly in recent years but are still below average in J.D. Powers' latest vehicle dependability study.
Lightstone: They're way above Jeeps in that study, though, and you love Jeeps.
Richardson: I know. I do. It's an illness. And frankly, I'd rather drive a Jeep Grand Cherokee than a Land Rover. They're similarly priced (though the cheapest Grand Cherokee comes with cloth seats compared to the basic Discovery Sport's unheated leather), but the engine is more powerful. At that basic trim, the V-6 engine makes 295 horsepower compared with the Discovery Sport's wimpy 237-horsepower four-cylinder.
Lightstone: We're losing Eric's main request in our own vehicular obsessions here, Mark. Let's try to focus at least once. The Toyota 4Runner offers a compromise between the two, don't you think? Standard heated front seats with Toyota's artificial leather, off-road capability, much better styling than any Jeep Grand Cherokee I know, Toyota reliability; and while it comes in a bit higher-priced than the base Discovery Sport, it also comes better equipped, so Eric will be less tempted to check extra boxes to add up the dollars.
Richardson: The 4Runner should be Eric's first choice. The problem is that it's old technology compared to the other two – it has not been updated since the stone age.
Lightstone: And there's a good reason for that: It hasn't needed it.
Richardson: Eric, drive all three. But if you end up with the Jeep and things fall apart, don't blame me.
What car should you buy? Write to Miranda and Mark at email@example.com.