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SUV slugfest: Dollars and sense vs. comfort and space

2010 Audi Q7 TDI


Dear Car Guys:

Help! My friend Marion and her husband are battling over a new car and she doesn't know where to turn. I thought you guys could help avoid a war. They both want a stylish SUV, but Marion says comfort and space are most important. Bill says the lowest price is what they should be after. You get the picture. Anyway, they are down to three SUVs that will serve their growing family and all the gear that goes with the busy teen years. They're looking at an Acura MDX, Lexus GX460 or Audi Q7. Can you help restore peace?

G in Toronto

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Cato: I can see Dollar Bill's point about the MDX. Acura Canada is in full blowout mode. Leftover 2010 MDXs are loaded up with a $6,000 factory-to-dealer rebate. Six grand off the $51,990 base price! A penny pincher like Vaughan would love that, too.

Vaughan: I do, but Ol' Bill will have to negotiate that money. The $6,000 is something between the factory and the dealer. Acura dealers don't just put six Gs on the hood without a fight.

Cato: The MDX is certainly a deal, but Dollar Bill's Mrs. will be riding around in a wildly-styled SUV. I mean, the sheet metal is all creases and angles and that grille is a perfect fit for the snout of a Klingon War Bird.

Vaughan: Six thousand bucks, Cato. Bill is a frugal man with an eye for value and 46K for an MDX isn't bad value.

Cato: Yes, but that's for a gasoline-powered Acura. The Q7 starts at $57,700 for the diesel and I'd argue for the oil-burner in this or any big SUV - better torque, more range per tank of fuel and ideal for long-distance, family travel. The diesel engine will last forever, too.

Vaughan: Now I face a dilemma; I'm a diesel lover but I shop for value.

I wonder if I'd spring for the Audi.

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Cato: Well, you and Bill should consider this: Audis are holding their value tremendously well. What Bill and family pay extra up front will come back to them when they trade in three or four years from now.

Vaughan: If they trade in.

Cato: Here's betting they will. Even if they don't, five, six, seven years from now the Audi with a diesel engine will be worth more than the gas-powered Acura with the crazy design.

And another thing: the Q7 has a much cleaner, much more attractive cabin.

Vaughan: Agreed. Acura is consumed by the need for buttons and knobs everywhere. It's all very confusing. Simplicity, Cato. We all crave simplicity.

Cato: Yes, and the Q7 has simple, straightforward controls. The ride quality is superb - quiet and controlled and there is great outward visibility. My big concern is reliability. In Consumer Reports most recent reliability study, for instance, Audi was still below average.

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Vaughan: Reliability should not be an issue with the Lexus GX460, Cato, although there was a recall that had to do with the electronic stability control system. Lexus upgraded the system - and the whole vehicle in 2010.

Cato: I like the look of it, but not enough to pay a big price premium. Vaughan, a value guy like you must recoil at the price: $68,500, to start.

Lexus has slapped on a $2,000 factory-to-dealer incentive to keep things moving. Still pricey, though.

Vaughan: And the GX is not terribly spacious. Seems to me that for an extra $10,000-plus, the GX should offer something really spectacular. And it doesn't.

Cato: Well, it looks good, drives well and should prove to be reliable. But, yes, I can't find the "wow" factor. Sure, it's rugged; that comes from the GX's Toyota 4Runner roots. It's just not enough to justify a $10,000 leap.

Vaughan: Cato, weird as the MDX looks, a great deal is a great deal. Six thousand dollars is a lot of dough and it's on an MDX with a starting price thousands less than the Q7 and GX460. And I bet Bill could beat them down more.

Cato: The Q7 is my recommendation. The tipping point is the diesel engine. I would not buy any SUV with a gas engine. Period. And the Q is the best looking of these three, inside and out. It's the keeper.

Vaughan: I'm afraid I agree. Good luck convincing Dollar Bill.

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.

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