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Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000

With the Macan, we finally have a Porsche that actually drives like a Porsche. In the mid-priced category, the Toyota Highlander stands out.

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Finally a Porsche that actually drives like a Porsche

In the context of the Automotive Journalists Association of Canada Canadian Car of the Year awards, considering which is the best new SUV/CUV over $35,000 means spanning two official categories: one for vehicles priced between $35,000 and $60,000, and another for those $60,000 and over.

Judging these this year was tough because it was really a matter of comparing apples and oranges in both cases.

In the mid-priced category was a Toyota Highlander, which actually has a base price of less than $35,000 but checked in at $40,195 as tested, up against the much larger Chevrolet Tahoe ($59,460 as tested) and two brand- new contenders, the Lincoln MKC crossover ($54,170) and the relatively diminutive Mercedes-Benz GLA 250 ($45,175).

Get a group of four people together and you could easily end up with four different picks for top spot. The person who enjoys driving a large truck like a Tahoe will never be completely satisfied with one of the smaller vehicles, and the brand-conscious buyer who realizes he can have a Mercedes-Benz GLA in his driveway for less than $50,000 will run away from the other options laughing.

Decision-making here therefore becomes about which entry does the best job of accomplishing its own goals while meeting the needs of the majority of consumers with less than $60,000 to invest.

And that’s why — to even my own surprise — my pick is the Toyota Highlander.

It’s not flashy or exciting, but the Highlander checks all the right boxes for driveability, ergonomics and off-road capability. It can seat as many as eight passengers without the bulk of the pickup truck platform that the Tahoe is built on.

And it considers the practical needs of families by incorporating features like Toyota’s EasySpeak, which projects the driver’s voice through the rear speakers for those moments when the kids need to be informed that you’ll be turning this thing right back around if they don’t keep it down back there.

Every entry in this category brings something unique to the table — the Tahoe has its aforementioned girth and brute strength, the MKC has a very thought-provoking interior design and the GLA is a blast to drive.

But line these vehicles up and it’s the Highlander that Mom is going to be happiest in while taking Jimmy, his three friends and their hockey bags to practice. And it accomplishes this at $5,000 less than the next closest in price to boot.

Toyota Highlander Test Fest

In the $60,000-plus category, all of these same considerations come into play but a modicum of cachet enters the equation. Manufacturers need to bring something special to the table here, and they did so in spades with this year’s three entries: the Mercedes-Benz GLA 45 AMG (the sportier sibling in the GLA family; $64,890 as tested), the GMC Yukon XL Denali ($82,275), and the Macan, Porsche’s brand new foray into the crossover segment ($62,030).

Again, each of these has its reasons for standing out. The Yukon is, as one would expect, clearly head and shoulders above as far as off-roading is concerned. And the GLA AMG is a crossover in the technical sense but would be absolutely bonkers fun on a racetrack.

But here, as before, it’s well-roundedness that wins the day. My top choice, in this category and in both categories combined, is the Porsche Macan.

It’s rare to find a vehicle that truly delivers everything at once, but Porsche accomplishes that here by putting super sport and off-road drive mode buttons — and a hill descent assist button, too — on the same centre console.

Granted, the Macan is not a completely perfect race car or off-roader, nor is it really meant to be. But it’s decisively more than good enough on both ends of that spectrum to make just about anyone happy short of professional road or rally racers.

More importantly, it’s a Porsche that actually drives like a Porsche — which, some would argue, is a feat that Porsche’s Cayenne SUV and Panamera sedan fall short of accomplishing — and that you can fit your family into, and that you can have in your driveway for a relatively reasonable price.

Add all of that together, and the result is that the Porsche Macan is most definitely a people-pleaser and, by extension, a big-time winner.

Chevrolet Tahoe Test Fets

  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
  • Test Fest: Best new SUV/CUV over $35,000
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