Gentlemen: We are a couple in our 70s who have two Hondas, a 2001 Civic and a 2000 Odyssey. We have been happy with our van, but the Odyssey now has 320,000 km on it. We hope to do a fair amount of road trips and are looking for a comfortable, fuel-efficient vehicle for long-distance travel. Ease of getting in and out is important. We have been reading up on small SUVs or crossovers and are bewildered by the choices. The Ford Escape and the Chevrolet Equinox are two that have caught our eye. My husband has been eyeing Mercedes, but I think that is too much money. We did more than a half-dozen round-trips to the Yucatan in the Odyssey and have crossed Asia and the Middle East by train. We aren't slowing down any time soon and want something that will let us keep exploring. – Hendrika in Burlington, Ont.
Vaughan: What a great letter. See Cato, if you hadn't seized up your joints with all the weight-lifting, you too could be thinking of extensive travel in your fast-approaching 70s instead of twice-daily sessions at the chiropractor.
Cato: Actually, it's the naturopath who's doing wonders for me with glucosamine injections for the joints and magnesium powder to calm the muscles. Like Hendrika – and like lots of my fellow baby boomers who are what the demographers call "young seniors" – there's no slowing me down here. And they've given me an idea: crossing the Middle East and Asia by train sounds like a great way to get rid of you.
Vaughan: Well, 60 is the new 40, so by that math Hendrika and hubby should get many more miles on the clock. As far as minivans go, the Odyssey is as good as they get, but it's big, really big. I think our globetrotters could downsize slightly in the interest of fuel economy.
If I were driving to the Yucatan, as well as body armour, I'd want a diesel. A diesel will deliver a 20-30 per cent reduction of fuel burn, as well as super-smooth highway motoring.
Cato: I have something very specific and important to say about diesels – new product news for Hendrika and hubby. Before I go there, though, I have to ask: What's wrong with a new Odyssey?
The 2012 version may look like it was designed by a disagreeable committee obsessed with Transformer movies, but the ride, handling, reliability and fuel economy – not to mention safety – are all outstanding. Honda has a starter model for $29,990 and at the other end is a $47,090 Touring version with cylinder deactivation for the 248-horsepower V-6 that saves fuel.
Or what about the Nissan Quest minivan? Again, a really great minivan starting at $29,998 for a rig with a 260-hp V-6 and a fuel-thrifty continuously variable transmission. The Quest just finished first among minivans in J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study, so it should be reliable for road trips.
And finally, diesels. Hendrika, Mercedes is going to start selling a diesel-powered GLK crossover later this year, which might be perfect if you want to downsize from a van, get killer fuel economy and keep hubby happy with a new Merc.
Vaughan: I think the GLK is the one of the most comfortable and car-like of all compact SUVs. Merc's done a great job of making it agile and fun to drive while still delivering all-wheel-drive toughness for the heavy going. Merc builds great diesels and great interiors, too. Your minivan days will be over if you try one of these.
Cato: A last idea: consider stepping up to a Jeep Grand Cherokee ($38,195 for the base model with a gas engine today). Great value, rugged but comfortable and reliable, according to J.D. Power.
Vaughan: We have a Mercedes theme going here because with the Grand Cherokee you get all the engineering done by Merc and Chrysler jointly back in the days of the "merger of equals." This latest one has turned me into a Cherokee fan for the first time. Fabulous interior – even nicer than the GLK and with a lower price tag too.
But just as Cato suggested waiting for the GLK diesel – $43,800 for the 2012 4MATIC with gas engine – I'm suggesting Hendrika wait for the diesel version of the Grand Cherokee. It's bound to arrive next year and that would be the icing on the cake.
Cato: Hendrika, the Escape or Equinox – neither seems quite right. Personally, I'd get another Odyssey if I were you.
Vaughan: Well I'm saying their minivan days are over and I'd lean toward the Jeep over the Merc, but I'd wait and see the diesel engine choices when they arrive.
HOW THEY COMPARE
|2012 Mercedez-Benz GLK350 4MATIC||2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo 4X4||2012 Honda Odyssey LX|
Track, front (mm)
|3.5-litre V-6||3.6-litre V-6||3.5-litre V-6|
|268/258 lb-ft||290/260 lb-ft||248/250 lb-ft|
|All-wheel drive||Full-time four-wheel drive||Front-wheel drive|
|Seven-speed automatic||Five-speed automatic||Five-speed automatic|
Curb weight (kg)
Fuel economy (litres/100 km)
|13.0 city/9.3 highway||13.0 city/8.8 highway||11.7 city/7.2 highway|
Base price (MSRP)
Source: car manufacturers
Jeremy Cato and Michael Vaughan are co-hosts of Car/Business, which appears Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. on Business News Network and Saturdays at 11:30 a.m. on CTV.