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Wheels Magazine

Wheels Canada:Fun, frugal or full-sized?

These five sport trucks each serve a specific target

Published June 10, 2013

Here are five SUVs we have no hesitation in recommending:

Ford Explorer/Explorer Sport

The Explorer has come into its own in the past few years. As drivers gravitate to the car-based comfort of crossovers, those who still want a true truck are looking for exactly the combinations of options that the seasoned Explorer provides.

It’s a bit bigger than the Edge, smaller than the huge Expedition, but technically a full-sized SUV that seats up to seven. It’s quiet and comfortable and offers three engines, including two turbocharged EcoBoost motors with four and six cylinders.

The larger EcoBoost motor, which powers the more expensive Sport, delivers 365 hp and 350 lb.-ft. of torque, while returning fuel consumption of 13.2 L/100 km in the city and 8.8 on the highway. Those are remarkable figures for such a powerful engine.

It’s fun to drive, too, with a six-speed automatic transmission and responsive handling.

Mercedes GL

The big GL is our most expensive choice, but it provides a very capable and comfortable ride for seven, while swaddling its driver with computerized safety systems.

One of the most dramatic is Cross Wind Assist, in which sensors detect if the sides of the SUV are being struck by strong winds. The GL’s computer then applies the brakes on the appropriate side to help keep you in your lane.

There are three engines available in Canada, including a 3.0 L V6 turbocharged BlueTec diesel motor and two gas-powered 4.7 L V8s. The diesel is the best of the three.

The GL is a pleasure to drive and belies its very large size. Steering is light, maybe too light for some, making it easy to drive up over the curb and onto the lawn when visiting friends. That’s probably the only off-road driving it will ever experience.

Chevrolet Tahoe/Hybrid

Chevy’s Tahoe is a traditional SUV that’s designed for hard work and muscle flexing.

It’s not the largest in the brand’s line-up — that would be the massive Chevy Suburban — but it seats up to nine people if you opt for the available front bench seat. It’ll still be comfortable for all, with thick leather and a well-finished interior.

There’s only one conventional engine: a 5.3 L V8 that makes 320 hp and 335 lb.-ft. of torque. That’s enough to support a towing capacity of up to 8,500 lb. (3,800 kg), which will cover most horse trailers and boats. A trailer brake controller is an option, as is a Z71 off-road option with a skid plate and heavy-duty shocks and springs.

Fuel consumption is respectable for a vehicle of this size. All-wheel and two-wheel drive both report the same figures: 9.4 L/100 km on the highway and 14.3 in the city, for a combined figure of 12.1.

If you’re really concerned about fuel and power, there’s a hybrid available with a 6.0 L V8 that makes 332 hp and tows up to 6,200 lb. (2,800 kg). It’s a full two-mode system, so it will operate on just electric power or just gas power, or both if it needs extra oomph for hills or passing. Its combined fuel consumption is 9.4 L/100 km.

Mitsubishi Outlander

Mitsubishi’s compact SUV is completely revised for this year and its third generation comes with a slew of options and a pair of engines.

The four-cylinder feels underpowered but the V6 is the engine to choose. It’s the only six-cylinder in the Outlander’s compact segment, and is especially popular among drivers who like to tow boats and trailers but do not want a large vehicle.

It’s not designed for driving through the jungle or desert, but the Outlander is quite capable of handling rugged cottage roads, which is all most buyers want. Why pay for Hill Descent Control if you’ll never use it? Just put the Outlander in low gear and it’ll get you there.

But if you want some of the modern high-tech safety systems, the new model has them as options, including forward collision prevention and lane departure warning. It’ll cost you, of course, but even in the mid-$30,000 price bracket, it will be good value.

VW Touareg

This is the most enjoyable to drive of our five choices, especially if you choose the 3.0 L turbodiesel that is torquey and responsive. It’s also the most frugal: the diesel uses 6.8 L/100 km on the highway, 11.2 in the city.

The Touareg is still a large and heavy five-seater, but it feels directly connected to the road in a way that the Chevy, Mitsubishi and Mercedes, with their lighter steering, are not concerned about.

It’s luxurious inside, but then it’s not cheap, and it comes complete with all the driving aids and options you expect from a vehicle at this price.

Ford Explorer / Explorer Sport

PRICE: $29,999-$47,299

ENGINE: 3.5 L V6, 2.0 L I4 turbo, 3.5 L V6 turbo

POWER/TORQUE: 290 hp/255 lb.-ft., 240/270, 365/350

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 13.8 city/ 9.8 hwy., 11.8/8.4, 14.7/10.7

COMPETITION: Dodge Durango, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota Highlander; Honda Pilot, Nissan Pathfinder, Chevy Traverse

WHAT’S BEST: Sport is fun to drive, clean and uncluttered cabin, much-improved MyTouch/Sync.

WHAT’S WORST: Dated looks, touch controls can be tricky to operate, second row needs more space.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: Sport is significantly different in power and handling from the regular Explorer.

Mercedes GL

PRICE: $73,700-$95,900

ENGINE: 3.0 L diesel V6 turbo; 4.7 L V8

POWER/TORQUE: 240 hp/455 lb.-ft., 429/516

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100km: 11.9 city/8.6 hwy., 15.7/11.2

COMPETITION: Audi Q7, BMW X5; Cadillac Escalade, Infiniti QX56

WHAT’S BEST: Very safe, very comfortable, very capable.

WHAT’S WORST: Very expensive, gas engine thirsty, really light steering removes road feel.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: The even-more-powerful 550 hp GL63 AMG will arrive in showrooms soon.

Chevrolet Tahoe/Hybrid

PRICE: $49,930-$72,175

ENGINE: 5.3 L V8, 6.0 L V8 and 300-volt hybrid

POWER/TORQUE: 320 hp/335 lb.-ft., 332/367

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 14.3 city/9.4 hwy., 10.1/8.4

COMPETITION: Ford Expedition, GMC Yukon, Toyota Sequoia, Nissan Armada

WHAT’S BEST: Tough and capable, looks good, no-nonsense truck

WHAT’S WORST: Third row doesn’t fold flat, interior dated, tricky to reach third row.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: Front bench seat allows for nine passengers total.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander

PRICE: $25,998-$35,198

ENGINE: 2.4 L I4; 3.0 L V6

POWER/TORQUE: 168 hp/167 lb.-ft., 230/215

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 9.0 city/7.0 hwy.; 10.9/7.8

COMPETITION: Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Chevy Equinox, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport

WHAT’S BEST: Lots of safety options, good looks, easy to access third row.

WHAT’S WORST: 4-cylinder motor underpowered, whiney CVT with smaller engine, cramped third row.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: Only V6 engine available in the segment.

2013 VW Touareg

PRICE: $49,675-$63,800

ENGINE: 3.6 L V6; 3.0 L diesel V6 turbo

POWER/TORQUE: 280 hp/266 lb.-ft., 240/406

FUEL CONSUMPTION L/100 km: 12.3 city/8.8 hwy., 10.8/6.7

COMPETITION: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Land Rover LR4, Mercedes-Benz M-Class.

WHAT’S BEST: Fun to drive, frugal diesel, well-finished interior.

WHAT’S WORST: Pricey and limited packages, no third row, tough to spell.

WHAT’S INTERESTING: All models come with an eight-speed Tiptronic gearbox.

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