Doctor's Review: Medicine on the Move

October 28, 2021

Infiniti FX-35.

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Crossover attraction

Six cars that combine SUV roominess with sedan fuel efficiency

When Brian Sutcliffe needed a new vehicle to replace his aging Honda Accord a few years ago, coupes and sedans were off the list. Given that he was heading up a family of four, Sutcliffe needed extra “schlepping space” for commutes and weekend outings. As well, he wanted the added security of all-wheel drive for winter but didn’t necessarily want to pay a significantly higher price at the pump for up-sizing.

Over the course of several weeks, the Richmond Hill, ON, entrepreneur began test-driving everything under the vehicular sun. While several sport utility vehicles (SUVs) had their appeal, ultimately they were “too truck-like” and “too gas thirsty” for his liking. Sutcliffe readily admitted that his needs would be well-served by a minivan, yet he dismissed this particular vehicle as being “too soccer mom” for his tastes. Meanwhile, station wagons (or, “sport wagons” as they’re called today) were appealing, but he simply wasn’t enamoured with the choices on the market.

The solution came via a relatively new vehicle category, seemingly tailor-made for his needs and desires: the crossover, perhaps best described as a set of wheels that encompasses the best attributes of the SUV, minivan and wagon all rolled into one.

“I didn’t set out to buy a crossover — I just needed something bigger, but I didn’t want the stigma of a minivan. I wanted to drive something that handled more car-like than an SUV,” says Sutcliffe.

For Sutcliffe, the Toyota Highlander hit the spot. It’s roomy, it handles like a car and it averages 12.5 to 13 litres per 100 kilometre of combined city/highway driving. While by no means a gas miser, such fuel consumption is certainly better than the 17 to 19 litres-per-100 kilometres of gas some large SUVs will wolf down.

Indeed, Sutcliffe was so enamoured with his crossover that he just placed an order for another one — the redesigned 2009 Highlander Hybrid. The added benefits are additional interior space, a third-row of seats (his current model only has two) and a more miserly gas/electric powerplant. In our real-world driving test, the Highlander Hybrid averaged 9.9 litres per 100 kilometres — a remarkable achievement for a vehicle of its girth.

At first glance, many crossover vehicles resemble SUVs, but there are some notable differences. A crossover can be as big as a sport utility vehicle, but, unlike SUVs, they’re based on a car platform, rather than a truck platform. And they typically embrace a car’s unibody construction as opposed to the body-on-frame construction of most SUVs. Indeed, compared to their heavier SUV counterparts, crossovers will handle and stop better, and achieve superior fuel economy, while delivering equal or better acceleration and performance.

As well, most crossovers feature higher ground clearance than cars, and many encompass all-wheel-drive capability. And, while some larger crossovers feature three rows of seats like a minivan, they tend to steer away from other minivan hallmarks such as sliding side doors. Aesthetically speaking, they are also generally far less boxy.

Little wonder the crossover segment is booming these days. For many consumers — especially those with families — the crossover is an ideal blend of size, versatility and power. Here is our rundown of some of the notable crossovers currently on the market.

Best looking

Infiniti FX35

Price: $50,700

Configuration: Two rows of seats, five passengers, all-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 11.8 L/100 km

The skinny: Anyone who thinks that a five-door hatchback can never have sex appeal hasn’t gazed upon the new Infiniti FX35. Where do we begin? Those snazzy air vents behind the front wheel wells that are actually functional (the vents improve aerodynamics by reducing frontal lift as well as aid in engine cooling)? Or that striking black metal grille? Or the awesome headlight cluster? Or one of the nicest rear-ends this side of the Porsche Cayman?

The point is, the FX35 is a beauty from bumper to bumper, especially when sporting a coat of gold-hued paint. And this crossover boogies too, thanks to a lovely 3.5-litre V6 engine that generates 303-horsepower (an increase of 25 ponies compared to the previous model). If that’s not enough pep for you, Infiniti also offers this crossover with a V8 engine, the FX50, which generates 390 horses. Alas, the downside of supersizing the powerplant is the base price jumps to $58,900.

As well, handling is divine, thanks in part to a new, double-wishbone front suspension as well as an upgraded rear-multilink suspension. The refinements give the FX35 almost sports car-like handling capabilities, making this crossover as much a pleasure to drive as it is to gaze upon.

What we liked most: Did we mention its gorgeous lines?

What we liked least: The design of the FX35 represents form over function to a certain degree: thanks to the sharply sloping backside, there’s not a lot of cargo room in the back.

Most powerful

BMW X6 50i

Price: $78,100

Configuration: Two rows of seats, five passengers, all-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 12.2 L/100 km

The skinny: Leave it to BMW to create a crossover vehicle that features sports car-like performance and every luxury accoutrement one could possibly want. Thanks to its 400-horsepower powerplant (a milder version, the 300-horsepower 35i, is also available), this crossover wouldn’t be out of place on the autobahn. It goes like stink and, thanks to its voluptuously-curvy lines, this gorgeous Bimmer is guaranteed to turn heads.

The X6 transmission is a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The drive train features BMW’s Intelligent xDrive all-wheel drive and Dynamic Performance Control. An organic-looking interior is perhaps one of the nicest dashboard treatments on the market — all the materials look and feel exquisite.

Mind you, beauty does not come without a price. The sloping, fastback-style hatch means cargo room and rear-seat headroom is noticeably compromised. The design also means there’s a bit of a blind spot for drivers, although large side view mirrors and a superb rear-camera system helps out nicely when reversing.

What we liked most: In addition to the “oomph” factor that occurs when flooring the accelerator, this vehicle feels rock solid.

What we liked least: Sticker shock alert — given the car’s price tag of $78,100, you’re looking at a six-figure vehicle off the lot once taxes are levied. As well, iDrive, BMW’s dashboard control system, continues to drive us nuts — it’s just so unnecessarily complicated. 

Most innovative

Ford Flex

Price: $34,999 to $42,999

Configuration: Three rows of seats, seven passengers, front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 14.2 L/100 km

The skinny: Print ads for the all-new Ford Flex use the slogan, “Be the talk of the cul de sac.” They got that right. This is easily the most polarizing crossover vehicle on the market thanks to an exterior that essentially looks like a Honda Element on steroids.

The thing is, depending on one’s taste, the Flex is either fantastically funky along the lines of a supersized Mini Cooper Clubman, or it’s outrageously ugly à la not-so-dearly departed Pontiac Aztek. One thing is certain: there’s no middle ground with this vehicle — people either love it or hate it.

For my money, count me in the former group. Despite its boxiness, this Ford has plenty of appeal. The two-tone roof is especially cool, and the chrome door handles, beltline and tri-bar front grille are nice touches, indeed.

But enough about looks — as the saying goes, it’s what’s inside that counts. In this department, Ford has done a superb job in terms of manufacturing a people-mover with style. The made-in-Canada Flex is roomy and comfortable, so there shouldn’t be any legroom or headroom complaints from backseat passengers. Its 262-horsepower 3.5-litre V6 six-speed automatic gives the vehicle surprising pep, considering its size.

What we liked most: The Flex could very well be one of the coolest crossovers on the market.

What we liked least: The only cautionary flag is its fuel consumption (no big surprising given the girth of the vehicle). But if fuel economy is especially important, you might want to wait another model year. The 2010 Flex will feature Ford’s EcoBoost engine, which will give the vehicle added horsepower while improving fuel economy.

Most retro

Chevrolet HHR SS

Price: $28,240

Configuration: Two rows of seats, five passengers, front-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 12.8L /100 km

The skinny: When General Motors rolled out the Chevrolet HHR (Heritage High Roof) in 2005, it made for an aesthetic home run. Yet, although we loved the HHR’s delightfully funky retro lines, after driving it for a week we were echoing the oft-repeated query of former Wendy’s spokeswoman Clara Peller: “Where’s the beef?”

Simply put, the HHR’s base 2.2-litre engine, that generates 143-horsepower, was thoroughly underwhelming, bordering on anaemic. And the optional 2.4-litre 172-horsepower engine was also lacking.

Thankfully, GM paid attention to the discontent and now the Chevy HHR is available in SS (Super Sport) trim. The HHR SS has a 2.0-litre turbocharged engine that generates 260 mares. Wow, what a difference! No long is the HHR one of those “all show, no go” cars.

And kudos to the interior design team: thanks to a sporty two-tone treatment guaranteed to generate compliments. As well, the seats look great and are extremely comfortable.

Granted, the HHR SS is something of a niche vehicle. But for those looking for the triple play of fun, funky and sporty, this crossover certainly excels.

What we liked most: A smooth-shifting 5-speed manual transmission! (Stickshifts are something of a rarity in the crossover segment.)

What we liked least: With the added power, the torque steer is a tad brutal. As such, this is a vehicle that could surely benefit from all-wheel-drive. Also, given that the base price of the plain Jane HHR is almost $10,000 less than the SS model, power-hungry drivers must pay a hefty premium for added performance.

Biggest bang for the buck

Suzuki SX4 Hatchback

Price: $17,195 to $22,695

Configuration: Two rows of seats, five passengers, front- or all-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 9.6 L/100 km

The skinny: With a base price of less than $18,000, the front-wheel-drive Suzuki SX4 is surely a bargain (however, the all-wheel-drive version we tested starts at $22,695). The SX4 is a compact, funky-looking, five-door hatchback, sporting a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 143 horsepower.

While it makes for basic transportation, do keep in mind that the SX4 is definitely the Mini-Me of crossovers. This vehicle is barely larger than a Honda Fit, and while such dimensions will indeed meet the needs of some consumers, the SX4 isn’t really intended for large families with lots to haul. Still, it’s a lot of car for the money.

What we liked most: The price is definitely right.

What we liked least: The SX4 has very limited cargo room when the rear seats are not folded down.

Most fuel efficient

Toyota Highlander Hybrid

Price: $40,920  

Configuration: Three rows of seats, seven passengers, four-wheel-drive

Real-world fuel economy: 9.9 L/100 km

The skinny: The Highlander Hybrid could very well be the closest thing out there to crossover perfection. Fuel economy (9.9L/100km in city/highway driving in our real-world test) is outstanding given its size; the current generation also features more interior room; horsepower has been increased to 270; and, as an added bonus, there’s Toyota’s legendary bulletproof quality.

Also, for such a large vehicle, the Highlander drives as smooth as butter: it may look like a truck but it truly handles like a car.

What we liked most: It’s both bigger and better than the first generation Highlander (2001-2007).

What we liked least: The hybrid model is pricey (it starts at $40,920 while the base-model, gas-only Highlander starts at $37,150.) Buyers will have to calculate if they are going to be doing enough city driving to warrant the price uptick. Also, if you want a leather interior, it’s only available in an ugly grey hue as opposed to black or tan. What’s up with that?

This article was accurate when it was published. Please confirm rates and details directly with the companies in question.


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