The continued success of sport utility vehicles in all their variations is changing the way we drive forever. Technological advancements such as driverless vehicles and electric-powered transport trucks aside, there is a cosmic change going on that few sedans will ever recover from. With this as the backdrop, may I present you with my Fave 5 sport utility and compact utility vehicles currently in the market. Why? Because these are the only vehicles everyone seems to desire at this time and like Ford recently stated when they announced they would soon stop making cars, we are here to give the people what they want!
This is not to say these are the best of the best in the grand pantheon of all things utilitarian. Rather, these are five that I have chosen from my recent weekly test drives, with the hope you might find this list helpful when considering your next SUV or CUV purchase. Adventure in any one of these vehicles would be well worth the investment.
2018 Subaru Outback 3.6R Limited
Subaru is renowned for designing automobiles that offer exceptional symmetrical full-time all-wheel drive capabilities and five-star safety ratings. They are, in fact, the only automaker whose entire line-up meets the highest standard for safety. Any list of the best SUVs’ should start with, or at the very least include, Subaru. My choice for their best is the 2018 Outback 3.6R Limited.
A sport utility wagon, this model is slightly refreshed for model year 2018. Sitting higher off the ground than most cars, it commands respect with rugged good looks and a style that feels familiar; like a favourite sweater or your best pair of hiking boots. Lower body cladding and round front fog lights combine perfectly with metallic paint and bright chrome accents.
Inside, the outdoorsy theme continues, with an equal amount of sophisticated elegance. Lighter coloured stitching on the seats and door panels adds impact, while both front and rear occupants have room to stretch out and relax. The gauge panel is easy to read with white on black gauges and an 8” touch screen provides quick access to a host of features including Apple Car Play and Android Auto.
Engine performance is smooth and progresses efficiently as you accelerate on to the highway. I would prefer a stronger engine, but it is hard to complain too much with a 3.6L 24-valve DOHC V6 engine underfoot. Matched to a CVT transmission, it delivers 256 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque.
In real world driving, it is more than enough engine to satisfy, but given the $40K plus price tag, my hope is the next gen model will offer a little more power. Overall this is an SUV/CUV you will enjoy for many years. It can take you anywhere on or off the road in complete safety.
Base MSRP: $41,295.00
Price as tested: $41,295.00
2018 MINI Cooper S E Countryman ALL4
At first glance, this might appear to be a misguided choice for a Fave 5 sport utility vehicle list. But understand that while it may look like a car, the MINI Countryman is every bit an SUV with all-wheel drive and good storage capacity to boot. In fact, it may be the best compromise you could want in this segment with its stellar good looks, BMW-like road prowess and cool sense of style. Plus, it’s easy to get in and out of, a fact that not all sport utility vehicles can lay claim to. Oh, and it’s a plug-in hybrid. Bet you didn’t see that one coming.
A 1.5L 3-cylinder gasoline engine develops 134 horsepower. Working in combination with an electric motor and 7.6kWh lithium ion battery powering the rear wheels, it produces a total output of 221 horsepower and 284 of torque. Zero to 100 km/h takes 6.8 seconds. It feels quick on its feet, something you expect from a MINI and this hybrid doesn’t disappoint. If there is a downside, electric power will only take you 19 km down the road; great for city drivers, not so great for country lovers.
Exterior styling is all MINI, which in my opinion means it looks great! Oval headlights are trimmed with bright chrome as are the door handles and electric plug-in receptor. Like the Subaru Outback, the MINI’s fog lights are round and aggressive, lower body cladding protects the car from unwanted stone chips when you go off-road.
Inside, this MINI looks and feels like the rest of the line-up, which for the most part means it is fun and rich in appearance. Toggle switches control the start/stop, eDrive and traction control on/off. In the center, round knobs adjust the HVAC system, while a central round screen accesses the various drive configurations (Max eDrive, Auto eDrive and Save), as well as navigation, music and more. A thick steering wheel, comfy seating for four-maybe five in a pinch, is all the excuse you need for an epic road trip.
Base MSRP: $43,490.00
Prices as tested: $48,440.00
2018 Toyota Highlander Limited V6 AWD
If comfortable room for a mobile tactical force (think office carpool), or a family of five plus pets and all the fixing’s is on your radar, consider the 2018 Toyota Highlander as one of the best. It is large, both inside and out, and carries with it Toyota’s assurance of quality and longevity. It may not be the most over-the-top when it comes to outward appearance but given its capability, it has the look and quality that should stand the test of time; especially in Shoreline Blue Pearl with a black leather interior.
Power comes in the form of a 3.5-litre V6 matched to a direct-shift 8-speed automatic transmission. It delivers 295 horsepower and 263 lb-ft of torque. This is a big vehicle to move down the road effectively and in my opinion the V6 struggles at times to make things happen as quick as I would like, but overall it is a solid performer. All-wheel drive in this Limited offers exceptional year-round traction.
It would be hard to refer to a full-size SUV as being sleek; a design trait Toyota vehicles are typically not known for. But as big as it, the 2018 Highlander is just that. Yes, the front nose is very much in your face with its cascading straight lines of black and chrome, but from the side, it is easy to see a little Lexus creeping into the overall look and feel. 19” black chrome clad alloy wheels are an excellent compliment to the exterior design.
Inside, leather and satin metal provide an elegant, though somewhat understated appearance that is both functional and comfortable. Grey woodgrain accents the dash and door panels, a JBL 12-speaker audio system provides exceptional sound and the center console features logical knobs, buttons and a touch-screen interface. There is even a CD player, surprise, surprise. Seats are very comfortable throughout and storage is no issue, especially when only five occupants are onboard. This is a road trip worthy SUV if ever there was one.
Base MSRP: $50,645.00
Price as tested: $50,645.00
2018 Jaguar F-PACE S AWD
The Jaguar F-PACE has quickly become a must-see item for many luxury SUV buyers. Take a drive through any of the nice neighbourhoods and you are sure to spot an F-PACE or two in the driveway. Priced to start at just over $50,000, it looks the part and performs as you would expect any Jaguar off-road capable vehicle to drive- with cat-like precision.
At the top of the range is the 2018 Jaguar F-PACE S. It features a 3.0L supercharged V6 gasoline engine that develops 380 horsepower and 332 lb-ft of torque. Mated to an 8-speed ZF automatic transmission with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters, it accelerates from 0-100 km/h in 5.5 seconds and reaches a top speed of 250 km/h. By comparison, the BMW X5 M below is only 1.3 seconds faster and costs twice the price. If paying almost $70,000 for an SUV could ever be considered a deal, the F-PACE S is it.
Outside, the lines are muscular with a hint of elegance. Jaguar has morphed over the years to offer simpler, more refined and aerodynamic shapes with their vehicles and the F-PACE reflects this. With a gross vehicle weight of 2,500 kg, it feels light on its feet and surprisingly more sedan-like than SUV. Large, black grilles are featured prominently up front, the rear is less dramatic but no less attractive. Our test vehicle highlights optional 5-spoke 20” gloss black wheels.
Inside, simple sophistication is still the key design element. Two-tone leather seating provides this F-PACE S with an added level of sportiness. Easy on the eyes round gauges offer the obvious speed, torque, fuel economy and more. The center stack provides a touch screen for the audio system, below this is a more traditional layout of buttons for the HVAC system.
A three-spoke steering wheel is crammed with switches to help keep your eyes on the road, plus it features thumb grips to make it easier to hold on while driving through a corner at higher speeds. Storage space overall is excellent, as is seating for up to five. This is one Jaguar you can confidently take to the cottage, track or both. Now that would make for a great weekend getaway!
Base MSRP: $68,500.00
Price as tested: $77,052.00
2018 BMW X5 M Black Fire Edition
At the extreme end of the price and performance range, although there are SUV’s priced much higher such as the Bentley Bentayga, Lamborghini Arus and Rolls-Royce Cullinan to name a few, the 2018 BMW X5 M Black Fire Edition is a rare treat for the senses. It provides everything you expect from a high-performance BMW on a paved, winding country road, but is equally happy to chew up dirt and spit rocks without breaking a sweat when needed. Assuming, of course, you don’t mind washing all that dirt and dust off its glistening black body and 21” M light alloy double spoke design wheels. Bring a toothbrush.
A 4.4L V8 gasoline engine delivers a gut-pounding 575 horsepower and 553 lb-ft of torque. Matched to an 8-speed M Steptronic automatic gearbox, this X5 M hits 100 km/h in a mere 4.2 seconds and reaches a top speed limited only by the skill of its driver and the sanity of safe speed limits. The sound of the M TwinPower turbo engine is magical. If fuel wasn’t so expensive these days, I would be content to accelerate in short bursts at every opportunity just to hear the pop, brap, crackle sounds of self-indulgence.
Inside, the kick to your gut continues, but this one is all about over-the-top luxury. Black leather hides feature contrasting red seams, anthracite grey accents the headliner, and piano black graces the door sills, center console and almost everywhere else your hand is likely to touch. It is a sensory overload only an M Series BMW could bring to the party.
Room for four is perfect, five can fit, but really, do you want to carry the extra weight and sacrifice handling? Go with four, head back to pick up the remaining person, drive as two to where you are going, and arrive happy. Plus, you will still beat everyone else to party with so much power available and have five memorable experiences to share. Regarding storage, it is a regular-sized X5 in dimension, so trunk room and storage pockets throughout provide exceptional carry-on capabilities. If extreme performance is your idea of a fun SUV, the 2018 BMW X5 M Black Fire Edition is your ride.
Base MSRP: $112,400.00
Price as tested: $134,500.00