Price, does it have to determine what is or what is not the best vehicles in the market? If you have $50,000-$60,000 to spend, can you buy a top-rated SUV and know that it can hold its own when compared to the million dollar lottery winner’s choice? The answer to this question is both yes and no.

There are sound reasons why some automakers charge what they do. But that doesn’t mean buying a Nissan rather than a $100,000+ Range Rover is any less significant. Staying within your means is the first rule to remember when purchasing your next new vehicle and what is best is relative to the price you are willing to pay. On that note, here are my top 3 choices for the best sport activity vehicles in model year 2017. All stack up well against any vehicle in the market, no matter the price.

2017.5 Nissan Murano

The Nissan Murano is not your typical CUV. For one thing, it looks elegant, more like the Maxima than the Pathfinder; as well it is filled with creature comforts. My Platinum AWD test vehicle delivers a driving experience worthy of a fine midsize sedan, but offers the advantage of going off the beaten path should the desire for a little dirt strike me.

Power is more than adequate with the timeless 3.5-litre DOHC V6 engine delivering 260 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 240 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm. Matched to what has become over the years a very good Xtronic CVT transmission, it powers forward with authority, once again delivering a car-like feel rather than a somewhat harsh all-terrain capable ride. A host of standard features include 4-wheel disc brakes, ABS, EBD, BA, plus it features independent front and rear suspension and a full array of interior and exterior safety features.

Inside, a 4-spoke leather-wrapped steering wheel combines with full leather seating, wood panel dash and door accents plus just enough chrome to make it sparkle but not blind in direct sun. Front seats are nicely contoured and offer good support, back seats are roomy enough for 3 adults, though no one over 6 feet would be my recommendation. Storage space behind the back seat is excellent and, of course, the rear seat folds flat should the two of you make a quick stop at IKEA for furniture and hot dogs.

Base MSRP: $44,598.00 (Platinum)
Price as tested: $46,478.00
Related links: Nissan Canada

2017 Porsche Macan

A four-cylinder Porsche, what is this I had to ask when picking up my 2017 Macan test vehicle. It seems sacrilegious to utter the number 4 in the same sentence as Germany’s vaunted sports car and sport utility automaker. I know diesel engines, especially those from Germany, have taken a serious hit on the morality meter recently, but now I am expected to drive a pint-sized gasoline motor in what is most definitely one of the nicest midsize SUV’s in the market. Surprise, it works wonderfully!

With a top speed of 258 km/h, the 2.0-litre 4-cylinder highlights 252 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque at 1,600-4,500 rpm. Matched to a 7-speed PDK automatic transmission, this Macan accelerates from 0-100 km/h in just 6.7 seconds and from 80-120 km/h in 4.8 seconds.

Outside dimensions are similar but smaller than the full-size Cayenne. Inside, the Macan is all business and a whole lot of pleasure. Leather seats with suede inserts look great and feel good as well. The typical 3-spoke steering wheel features easy controls for the audio system, cruise control and phone if equipped. The center console houses a full array of buttons and toggle switches, with blanks for a long list of Porsche options. The base Macan surprises as it feels more like a high-end sport utility vehicle and not the bargain Porsche that it actually is.

Base MSRP: $54,100.00
Price as tested:  $57,185.00
Related links: Porsche Canada

2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Every “best of” list nowadays probably includes at least one hybrid and mine is no exception. The 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid is one of the most capable and sophisticated SUV’s I have driven recently and the fact it is a fuel-sipping hybrid makes it that much more enjoyable to drive in my books.

Power comes in the form of a 3.5-litre 6-cylinder D-4S gasoline engine paired with Hybrid Synergy Drive matched to an electronically controlled continuously variable transmission (ECVT). It delivers 306 horsepower at 5,800 rpm and 215 lb-ft of torque at 4,800 rpm. It feels confident on the road, not hesitant like the early hybrids from a decade ago. Given its size and the capacity to carry a family of five plus several of the relatives, there is more than enough power left over to tow a boat or trailer.

Roomy seating and plenty of storage is a trademark of the Highlander and the hybrid is no exception.  My Limited edition test vehicle came fully loaded with 3-zone independent climate control, power everything, a JBL Synthesis audio system, premium navigation (though Google Maps is superior), a heated tilt/telescope steering wheel with multiple controls and, of course, Toyota Safety Sense. This is a hybrid ready for any adventure you can throw at it.

Base MSRP: $55,990.00
Price as tested: $57,878.47
Related links: Toyota Canada

Conclusion

Choosing one winner out of this list of top 3 is difficult and my heart and head are not necessarily pulling in the same direction. So let me try and break this down using three criteria; style, performance and practicality.

From a styling standpoint, I would choose the 2017.5 Nissan Murano. It looks exquisite from every angle; the shape is uncharacteristically elegant in what is typically a practical looking segment of the market.

When it comes to performance, my heart says the 2017 Porsche Macan because it performs at a very high level, especially when you consider the fact that under the hood resides a 4-cylinder engine.

As for practicality, I drove the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid for a week from Toronto to Niagara, all around and back again on one tank of gas. Given its dimensions, room for all and exceptional level of equipment, the Highlander Hybrid is a solid choice. Any one of these three is an excellent choice, but in the end it’s hard not to choose practical when it also looks good and offers an enjoyable driving experience while saving me a few dollars at the pump. Winner, 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid!

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About The Author

Jeff Voth

Jeff’s stories are published around the world. He has written for Sun Media in Canada since 2005, Bombardier Experience magazine, Cigar Aficionado in the U.S., South Africa’s Live Out Loud and Singapore’s Prestige magazine. As an automotive authority, Jeff has held numerous senior editor positions, including a four year tenure as the Editor-at-large for Yahoo! Autos based in Sunnyvale, California. On a weekly basis, Jeff works closely with brands that include Lamborghini, Rolls-Royce, Ferrari, Genesis and world-famous hotel brands that include The Ritz-Carlton, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Shangri-La Hotels, Four Seasons to name a few. Suffice it to say, Jeff has lived his entire professional life surrounded by many of the best and most exclusive brands in the world. It is this experience as a celebrated journalist and life-long storyteller that Jeff brings to his position as Founder and Editor of exhausted.ca. Life begins at 300 km/h! @jeffnvoth

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