Just for you, we rank these five high-riding, all-wheel drive machines in order of preference.
Mainstream brands saw the opportunity to create uplevel versions of their products and sell them at higher prices. On the other hand, luxury brands exploit their prestigious logos to develop lower-end vehicles, assuming people will buy a reputation instead of all-out extravagance.
The meeting point seems to be a price range of around $40,000 to $50,000. Within this bracket, you can choose a sport-utility vehicle between the two types mentioned here. We gathered five such SUVs, although if every model we invited had accepted to come to the party, the total attendance would've been double. And if you prefer calling them crossovers, go ahead.
The guest list thus includes the mainstream-brand Ford Edge Sport AWD and Mazda CX-7 GT AWD as well as luxury-brand Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC, Volvo XC60 T6 AWD and Acura RDX Technology.
After countless hours of testing, driving, sitting down, observing, arguing and taking notes, we came to the conclusion on what's the best SUV of the bunch. Obviously, we didn't include a prestige factor in our scores, since that's up to you, the buying public.
Just for you, our valued reader, we rank these five high-riding, all-wheel drive machines in order of preference, although no one of these can be called a loser.
5th place: 2009 Ford Edge Sport AWD
We all agree that the Edge deserved better than to finish last. But the scoring ended up real close, and once again we have to realize that when we organize comparison tests, we have to make tough choices.
Dynamically, the Ford Edge behaves itself well, but it's the second-slowest of our matchup.
In this group, the Ford Edge is the most extroverted. To our knowledge, it's the only truck to roll off the assembly line with 22-inch wheels as standard equipment, and they look just right on the Edge. The SUV's road-hugging body kit also contributes to its Hot Wheels® appearance and we conclude that the Ford is by far the looker of our quintet.
And yet, we were surprised to see that the ride quality doesn't suffer too much despite the massive but thin-sided gumballs. But the stubby Edge feels and drives like a bigger truck; those who feel the need to trade in their Expedition for something smaller will be happy.
The Edge's dashboard drew high marks for its straightforwardness, but the climate control buttons are too small and are located too low on the centre stack. The SYNC multimedia system got a unanimous thumbs-up for its flexibility, its powerful voice-command capability and easy Bluetooth hookup. The front seats are comfortable but lack lateral support. However, passenger and cargo space are tops in our group.
Dynamically, the Ford Edge behaves itself well, but it's the second-slowest of our matchup. The 6-speed automatic is slow to shift, no doubt trying to maximize fuel economy. And every little bit counts, since the Edge averaged 15.4 L/100 km. At wide-open throttle, the SUV is pretty noisy.
At $40,699, the Edge Sport AWD isn't a screaming deal, especially when it's equipped like ours and costs over $47,000. The Edge is all about appearance and character, although the Sport model is a little too exaggerated for us. In our humble opinion, an Edge SEL or Limited makes better sense. But it's nice to gather a little attention once in a while.
"Gobs of style and an imposing presence, but lacks a little sportiness." -Marc Bouchard.
4th place: 2009 Mazda CX-7 GT AWD
We admit that we fell in love with the CX-7 when it was launched in the fall of 2006. Today, we still like it a lot, but the honeymoon is over. This change of heart is caused by more competition as well as some little irritants.
Very predictable, the steering of the CX-7 is the best of the bunch.
Off the bat, our test truck was the slowest of the group, which surprised us a little. Its recorded 0-100 km/h time of 9.7 seconds is a least a second off the pace we were expecting. According to our sound meter, only the Edge was noisier during full-throttle acceleration.
Worse, its fuel economy average during our test was surprisingly high, at 16.5 L/100 km. Now, the CX-7 never was a fuel miser, but it's the most fuel-addicted SUV in our group. We're starting to think that our test vehicle might not have been 100% healthy.
On the other hand, the CX-7 is the most dynamic of the group. Its steering is the best of the bunch, very predictable, although the on-center vagueness means you'll be correcting your trajectory often. The CX-7 also has the best brakes.
If you're a Mazda fan, you all know that facelifts for the CX-7 and the CX-9 are coming our way for the 2010 model year. That won't be a bad thing, since this Mazda is starting to look out of fashion. The interior still looks modern, although quite plasticky compared to the other four rivals here. The dashboard layout is excellent, however.
We applauded the CX-7's cargo space and very low liftover height, and rear-seat passenger space is quite good. The Mazda benefits from an excellent driving position. Unfortunately, fat A-pillars reduce frontward visibility.
We've grown fond of other SUVs since the CX-7's launch, but that doesn't prevent it from remaining an interesting choice. It might not have a prestige badge and seems a little less refined, but the trade-off is a fully-loaded price of just over $40,000, the most affordable of our group.
"Even if it seems old for some of us, I still think it's pretty sharp. Its elegant and unique shape sets it apart, even though its eccentricity naturally makes it age more rapidly." -Luc Gagné.
3rd place: 2009 Acura RDX Technology
The RDX is the most unusual of the bunch. Some like its looks, some don't. Like the CX-7, Acura's small SUV has a design that is aging, if only because there are newcomers in its category.
The RDX was the most fuel-efficient of the quintet during the comparison test.
It's the same thing inside. The cockpit in our test vehicle had a peculiar mix of beige, charcoal and silver, and the dashboard's shelf-like design won't win any awards. And in typical Acura fashion, the RDX is plagued with a fussy centre stack that hosts a gazillion buttons; after a while, though, a certain layout logic sets in.
This Technology model is equipped with a navigation system, but its voice command setup is far from intuitive. The RDX also has the most complex Bluetooth connectivity procedure for our cell phones and Blackberries.
Front-seat space was deemed adequate and the front seats were considered very comfortable and supportive. Rear-seat occupants will be at ease but would prefer having a little more legroom, and cargo space is better than in the CX-7 and GLK350. The Acura's sound insulation is quite good, which means you clearly hear the turbocharger every time it spools up, which some find rather amusing.
Performance-wise, the RDX checks in. Zero to 100 km/h takes 7.8 seconds, and the turbo intervenes with the subtleness of a kick in the butt with steel-capped boots. Unfortunately, the best acceleration times weren't recorded using the paddle shifters, as the 5-speed auto in manual mode has a mind of its own and still changes gears by itself.
The Acura was one of two SUVs in the test that still had its winter tires on; braking performance and manoeuvrability suffered accordingly. Yet the RDX's ride was still judged as stiff around town; we know by previous drives that it gets worse with performance all-season rubber. It benefits from sharp handling, thanks in part to its reactive all-wheel drive system.
On a more positive note, the RDX was the most fuel-efficient of the quintet during the comparison test, recording an average of only 9.8 L/100 km. We recalculated our numbers several times to make sure, as we were expecting a much higher result.
"The RDX is in search of an identity. Yet if you want performance but need the space, this Acura will serve you well." -Michel Deslauriers
Front-seat space was deemed adequate and the front seats were considered very comfortable and supportive.
2nd place: 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC
The GLK's base price is probably what spurred the creation of this comparison test. Its $41,800 MSRP seems affordable both by Mercedes-Benz and by luxury SUV standards. A side-by-side evaluation with rival SUVs would determine if the GLK is a worthy machine to wear a Mercedes logo.
With the GLK350, the dash to 100 km/h was recorded in 7.2 seconds with the manual mode.
On the outside, the GLK350 looks good, resembling a mini G-Class, with squared-off shoulders and angular proportions. It's svelte and seems smaller than it really is. On the other hand, we were a little disappointed with the interior styling; like in the C-Class, the cockpit feels cold and corporate. Fit and finish, however, is beyond reproach.
One thing that really bugged us is the fat door sills; you can't climb out without rubbing your leg on the rocker panel. You all know what your pants will look like during the winter months.
The centre stack switchgear also drew some criticism. The climate control buttons are small and located too low, while the radio display didn't impress much. The rear bench is accommodating for two adults, but three across is pushing it a little. The cargo area is the smallest of the bunch, but the hatch opening is wide and the power tailgate operates quickly.
The GLK's V6 doesn't feel very punchy, but it didn't prevent the SUV from posting the lowest acceleration numbers; the dash to 100 km/h was recorded in 7.2 seconds with the manual mode, while offering the quietest cabin at wide-open throttle. In addition, the Mercedes' fuel consumption is reasonable, averaging 11.9 L/100 km.
Still wearing its winter tires like the RDX, braking performance suffered a little. Dynamically, the GLK's overboosted steering lacks precision on twisty roads, although it's less of a problem on the highway. The Mercedes doesn't handle as sharply as the CX-7 and RDX, but its ride is more than acceptable.
The GLK350 is an attractive SUV that has a personality which has yet to be identified. Is it a truck or a high-riding C-Class? Probably the latter, but its square-jawed shape ensures that truck buyers will find something that will please them. Unfortunately for the Mercedes, another contender here surpassed it in the final scoring.
"Mercedes chose to give the GLK350 the look of a true 4x4, not a futuristic and streamlined vehicle. And it seems to work!" -Luc Gagné
1st place: 2010 Volvo XC60 T6 AWD
The XC60 is the home run Volvo needed to rejuvenate its model line-up, and couldn't come at a better time. Apart from its bronze color that didn't win any fans here, the XC60 drew praise in just about every aspect.
The XC60's base price of $45,495 is the highest of the group, but reasonable considering its equipment content.
Stepping inside, the cockpit impresses with a high level of fit and finish and tasteful colours and textures. The driving position is excellent and occupant space is generous front and rear, while cargo space is second in this test, just behind the Ford Edge.
A peculiar move by Volvo was to place the navigation system buttons behind the right-side steering wheel hub, which caused one of the staff (who shall remain anonymous) to ask for help, not knowing how to get past the disclaimer screen. It works, feels awkward, but works.
We applaud the fact that Volvo will install City Safety camera device as standard equipment on every XC60 it will sell; the system is limited in its usefulness for now, but like any progressing technology, future revisions will improve the system. Other nice touches include A-pillars that are cleverly thin so the driver gets a better view of street corners.
The XC60's performance couldn't match the GLK350's, despite offering the most powerful engine in our group. This loaded tester is the heaviest SUV among them, but still recorded a 0 to 100 km/h time of 7.8 seconds. Braking was second only to the Mazda. As for fuel consumption, it averaged a respectable 12.5 L/100 km.
Dynamically, the Volvo can throw its weight around quite a bit, helped by the optional adjustable suspension that offers a noticeable difference between Sport and Comfort modes.
The XC60's base price of $45,495 is the highest of the group, but reasonable considering its equipment content. However, our loaded test vehicle's total MSRP is $60,585, which is too much for us and way over our $50,000 price cap, so we didn't put certain options into consideration in the final scoring. We'd be just about as happy with a no-options XC60.
"The Volvo is very comfortable and offers a level of fit and finish that stands out" -Bertrand Godin
The Volvo XC60 gets our nod for pushing all the right buttons. The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 pleases with its macho look and refinement. The Acura RDX is a sporty luxury SUV that offers a high level of driving dynamics and low fuel consumption. The Mazda CX-7 is the most affordable and boasts the most playful character. The Ford Edge is the visual statement of the gang, and the one with the all-you-can-eat attitude.
It looks as though we could have the makings of a second take on this comparison test.
So what about prestige? After the test, we concluded that it's not because there's a luxury badge on a vehicle that it's necessarily better; you might debate that the final scoring contradicts this, but we voted on each vehicle for its competence, not its pedigree.
There are several other SUVs that easily could've been included in this test, such as the Audi Q5, Nissan Murano, Lexus RX 350, Infiniti EX35, BMW X3, Subaru Tribeca and Lincoln MKX. It looks as though we could have the makings of a second take on this comparison test.
Acura RDX Ford Edge Mazda CX-7 Mercedes-Benz GLK Volvo XC60 Base Price ($) 45,100 40,699 36,095 41,800 45,945 Price as Tested ($) 45,100 47,349 37,655 45,300 60,585 Acura RDX Ford Edge Mazda CX-7 Mercedes-Benz GLK Volvo XC60 Engine Turbo 2.3L 16V L4 3.5L 24V V6 Turbo 2.3L 16V L4 3.5L 24V V6 Turbo 3.0L 24V L6 Transmission 5-speed auto w/manual mode 6-speed auto 6-speed auto w/manual mode 7-speed auto w/manual mode 6-speed auto w/manual mode Power (hp) 240 @ 6000 265 @ 6250 244 @ 5000 268 @ 6800 281 @ 5600 Torque (ft-lb) 260 @ 4500 250 @ 4500 258 @ 2500 258 @ 2400 295 @ 1500 Acura RDX Ford Edge Mazda CX-7 Mercedes-Benz GLK Volvo XC60 0-100 km/h (sec) 7.8 9.4 9.7 7.2 7.8 80-120 km/h (sec) 6.5 6.7 6.8 5.6 5.8 Quarter mille (sec @ km/h) 15.8 @ 136 16.6 @ 132 16.9 @ 133 15.2 @ 144 15.6 @ 144 Braking 100-0 km/h (meters) 49* 42 41 47* 42 Fuel Consumption (L/100 km) 9.8 15.4 16.5 11.9 12.5 *These vehicles were equipped with winter tires. Vote Results Acura RDX Ford Edge Mazda CX-7 Mercedes-Benz GLK Volvo XC60 Styling 73.4 74.7 72.2 76.3 82.5 Accessories 78.0 79.0 78.3 76.0 78.5 Space and access 75.0 80.5 75.0 73.5 76.0 Comfort 74.1 73.1 77.5 81.6 81.9 Performance 76.6 70.9 65.9 80.3 77.8 Driving dynamics 71.6 71.3 79.4 79.1 80.3 Safety 75.3 76.3 74.7 79.1 80.3 General Appreciation 75.0 72.5 75.0 76.3 80.0 Acura RDX Ford Edge Mazda CX-7 Mercedes-Benz GLK Volvo XC60 Final Result 74.8 74.4 74.7 76.3 78.9