Best SUV-CUV $35,000-$60,000:
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport 2.0T AWD SE
Price: (base/as tested) $26,499/$35,299
The new crisply styled Santa Fe, which was AJAC’s pick as winner of this category, puts all comers on the trailer when it comes to value per dollar: 19-inch alloys, heated front and rear seats with heated steering wheel, panoramic sunroof, rear window shades, proximity key, rears-view camera . . . you get the picture. Odd that the LCD screen is so small. The strong 264 hp turbo four and six-speed auto are a good match, but the Santa Fe’s steering and chassis dynamics lag.
Nissan Pathfinder AWD
Price (base/as tested): $29,998/$37,698
This fourth generation Pathfinder moves from tough body-on-frame to unibody construction and in the process becomes a vehicle with a much broader appeal. Not to mention an $8,000 lower price tag. The 260 hp 3.5L V6 and CVT make a fine pair and they deliver best-in-class fuel efficiency. On the road, this seven-seat Pathfinder is quiet, refined and a competent handler. Clever second-row seats that fold forward even with a child seat installed make third-row access a breeze.
Price (base/as tested): $43,990/$43,990
The RDX loses its turbo four-cylinder and spunky attitude for a 273 hp 3.5L V6 and a more mature demeanour. This all-new 2013 model, based on the Honda CR-V, gets better fuel mileage than the outgoing model despite having two more cylinders. Acura wants to draw in an older (read: more prosperous) clientele with this premium compact SUV. It’s a little bigger, the ride is vastly improved and the interior sees a big step up as well.
Price: (base/as tested) $32,995/$42,095
This is the old man of the group, but gets to play again at TestFest because of a significant mid-cycle refresh. As an eight-seater, this is the only true full-sized SUV in the bunch, yet surprises with its agility on the road. The 281 hp 3.6L V6 is a carry-over but the six-speed auto gets some tweaks and the suspension is retuned for a smoother ride. Both the snout and tail get a makeover and the interior is also kicked up a few notches in style and quality. If you gotta go big, the Traverse impresses.
GMC Terrain Denali
Price: (base/as tested): $39,935/$45,665
Another aging GM crossover gets a makeover, but this time it’s not quite so successful. Questionable exterior style notwithstanding, the addition of GM’s strong 301 hp 3.6L direct-injection V6 to this blocky ute cannot overcome its dated feel. At this price point, a chintzy and plasticky interior doesn’t cut it no matter how much stitched leather you throw at it. On the plus side, the front seats are good and back seat legroom is limo grade.
Ford Escape 2.0L EcoBoost
Price: (base/as tested) $37,499/$42,299
The all-new Escape trades in the boxy look for more contemporary styling, and its high-quality interior features a bold design and excellent gauges. While visibility out the back is not very good, the high seating position and low cowl make for a panoramic forward view. The back seats are disappointingly hard and flat. It handles well and the 2.0L EcoBoost is a strong motor, but there is some hesitation before the power comes on when calling for brisk acceleration on the highway.
Lexus RX350 F-Sport
Price: (base/as tested) $44,950/$57,900
While we don’t usually associate Lexus SUVs with sporting behaviour, this mojo-enhanced RX350 reflects the automaker’s recent push to up the brand’s performance cache. Look beyond the successful application of Lexus’ new “spindle” grill, and you’ll find a very luxurious crossover that is willing to play along when you’re feeling frisky. The eight-speed auto responds pronto to paddle shifter inputs, the steering feels connected, and when thrown into a bend the F-Sport takes a set and hangs on. The 270 hp 3.5L V6 is not a powerhouse, especially against 1,970 kg, but it is smooth and willing.
Infiniti JX 35
Price: (base/as tested) $44,900/$58,400
Infiniti’s first mainstream family crossover hits the mark with value, a classy interior and lots of interior room highlighted by easy third-row access. It plays up the luxury but handling comes at the expense of a cushy ride. The 265 hp 3.5L V6 pairs nicely with the CVT, delivering good fuel economy. A unique available feature is rear collision and cross-traffic warning with auto-braking.