Not that long ago, in a galaxy not too far away (sorry…), people bought large, three-row vehicles not out of need, but want.
These were the days of the SUV boom. The heydays of the Lincoln Navigator and Cadillac Escalade.
Whether via rising fuel prices, tumbling economies or just a widespread automotive epiphany, Canadians have since become much more logical in our vehicle choices.
An Escalade become much less cool to own when you’re splashing $150 in gas at it each week.
That said, there are still plenty of people who genuinely need a vehicle with full-size dimensions and seven-plus seats. Minivans will do the job, but are about as cool as tighty-whities.
That’s where crossovers (CUVs) come in. They’re vehicles trying to gather all the best traits of wagons, SUVs and minivans in one package. There’s much choice here, so we picked three divergent entries to give you a taste of what’s in the segment.
Dodge Durango Citadel V6
The $38,195 Durango is much changed from the beast it used to be. Not long ago, it shared a heavy-duty ladder frame with the Dakota pickup truck. Good for towing, but bad for ride, handling and fuel economy. Today, there are lighter, more modern Grand Cherokee guts under here, stretched for duty in our three-row tester. Right out of the gate, the Dodge showed arguably the best all-around road manners of our testers. Impressive when there’s a Honda in the mix.
Moving firmly into crossover territory, the Durango takes on a wagon-on-stilts profile to our eyes. It was a toss-up between the Ford and the Dodge for which had better street presence, with the latter rocking a huge chrome grille and 20-inch alloys. All three testers ended up in my driveway and the neighbours only ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the Durango for what that’s worth (they did the same thing for my new lawnmower, though—just sayin’).
The Dodge does feel decidedly smaller inside than the other two entries here. We still managed a four-day trip to a cottage with two kids and all our gear, but because the cargo area is relatively small and with a high floor, we had items crammed in the second row foot wells, etc.
Our all-wheel drive tester was powered by a 3.6-litre V6 with 290 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s fine power if you’re just commuting and does claim best-in-class V6 towing power, but loaded up, the crossover feels overwhelmed. Not to mentioned fuel economy was well into 13.0 L/100 km (18 mpg) territory.
We think the optional Hemi V8 would be the way to go here. Mated to a transmission with six gears instead of five. With the added muscle to move the crossover out, plus cylinder deactivation to run as a four-cylinder on the highway to save fuel, it may be the more efficient Durango in the long run.
Ford Flex Limited EcoBoost V6
This Ford is a love-it-or-hate-it machine from a styling standpoint. We think it’s a very cool take on the crossover recipe, while others called it a hearse. To each his own, we guess.
Built in Canada and starting at $29,499, the Flex is very nearly a wagon given its long body and low ride height. In fact, those two facets are major pluses for the Ford. Its especially long body means all three rows are quite hospitable, while you can slide your butt laterally into the seat instead of having to climb up or drop down.
The Ford feels like a vehicle built for the Great American Family Road Trip. The ride’s comfortable, the seats are epically La-Z-Boy-minded and there’s tons of tech and infotainment available to keep you safe and connected — heated and cooled seats, the MyFord Touch system with nav. and satellite radio, DVD screens, cross-traffic alerts for help backing out of parking spaces, and more info screens and do-dads than the just-retired space shuttles. Too bad some of the interior plastics feel economical.
Order a standard $29,499 Flex and you get Ford’s 3.5-litre V6. A fine engine, but nothing compared to the optional EcoBoost six. It’s a twin-turbocharged, direct-injection mill, with more horsepower than even the Durango’s V8 (365 hp) and 350 lb-ft of torque. It’s the same engine used in the much-acclaimed EcoBoost F-150 pickup.
Mash the gas here and the Flex will eat up on-ramps with glee. Sadly, fuel economy suffers if you really haul arse all week and to get into an EcoBoost Ford you need to spend $50,000 plus, so shop carefully.
Honda Pilot Touring
This is a machine just skirting the edges of how we define a crossover vehicle. It’s tall, upright appearance mean it looks the part of an SUV, but the fact that there are bits from the Accord sedan making up the Pilot’s backbone means it’s a CUV in our books.
As with most Hondas today, when you climb aboard the $34,990 Pilot, there’s a real sense it’s designed from the inside out to maximize people room, visibility and cargo capacity. There’re copious amounts of all the latter (even with the rear seats up, it has the most cargo room of our trio of testers). Too bad, some of the interior plastics are a bit more MegaBloks than marvelous, but at least it’s all well screwed together.
We wouldn’t call the exterior or interior of the Honda particularly fetching, but from a functionality standpoint, there are few flaws here. Inside, the controls are within easy reach and there’re storage bins just about everywhere. Outside, the square-ish exterior means sorting where the corners of this big ‘ol crossover are is a cinch in tight parking spaces. You can get sat-nav and a backup camera on the Pilot, but it is lacking in the whiz-bang high-tech features that the Ford has, so weighing how much of that stuff you want may sway your decision.
Because there’s Accord sedan parts underneath this rig, the ride is noticeably high quality. There’s not a whiff of sportiness, but the Honda’s always composed as you drive around, never feeling dumpy as vehicles it size can.
Power here comes from a 3.5-litre V6 making 250 horsepower and 253 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a five-speed automatic transmission, which is a gear down on most vehicles in this segment. That said, crunch some numbers and you’ll find the Pilot offers best-in-class average fuel consumption of 10.0 L/100 km. Helping the cause is Variable Cylinder Management, a system which will run the V6 on three or four cylinders when you’re not hustling to save fuel.
That fact that the Honda has the best fuel economy amongst our competitors may come as a surprise to some readers. After all, Dodge just launched the new V6 in the Durango and Ford spends a lot of time waxing on about how frugal its EcoBoost engines are. Research in this segment’s key. Hopefully we started you well down the road to Crossover-ville.