Modernized and refined

Large utility vehicles keep technology and fuel economy top of mind

May 31, 2018
by David Miller

From the April 2018 print edition

Large utility vehicles play a vital role for many businesses. Fuel prices may have put these large transporters in jeopardy, but when minivans aren’t an option, large and mid-size SUVs can be the perfect choice for transporting a number of people with ample cargo space. Newer three-row models have surfaced over the last few years with added technology and fuel economy in mind. In addition, interiors have been refined for comfort and luxury, while still retaining that toughness with enough towing capability for most hauling jobs. Here’s a list of some of the top mainstream large and mid-size three-row utility vehicles available in the marketplace.

Nissan Armada
The Nissan Armada, now in its second-generation, is built on the same platform as the Infiniti QX80 and Patrol—the global name for this full-size SUV. The Armada maintains that truck-like toughness with a body-on-frame construction that has an impressive towing capacity of 8,500lbs (3,856kg). Under the hood is a direct injected 5.6-litre V8 that produces 390hp and 394lbs-ft of torque mated to a seven-speed automatic transmission geared for improved fuel economy ratings. Its refined interior featuring leather seats creates a value offering when compared to the QX80. There are similar plush touches and technologies including standard navigation, heated from seats for the first two rows, dual power seats and power lift gate, that only get better as you move up trim levels.

Hyundai Santa Fe XL

The Hyundai Santa Fe XL is your value-laden choice starting at $32,199. It’s sizable, comfortable and simply a great deal with a six- or seven-seat configuration. Over the past few years, it may have lost some steam to more excitingly designed vehicles, but that will all change with a new 2019 Santa Fe. For now, the 2018 Santa Fe XL delivers most of the necessities minus that eighth seat and a little less room and cargo compared to its competition. It boasts a healthy but not thrilling 290hp 3.3L V6 engine with a six-speed gearbox that’s enough to transport a load of people smoothly without a lot of fuss, but a higher-than-average fuel economy rating. To get premium features the Luxury trim is the choice at $42,299. That includes a panoramic sunroof, leather seating and an eight-inch touchscreen with navigation.

Honda Pilot
Honda made some extreme changes in 2016 to the style and look of its hot-selling Pilot—up 22.3 percent at the end of 2017 in year-over-year Canadian

sales. Gone is its boxy and mundane past and in its place is an in-style, slicked-back silhouette similar to its rivals with plenty of power and fuel efficiency deriving from its 280hp 3.5L V6. The Honda Pilot is considered a mid-size SUV, but is at the top of the heap for interior volume and cargo space, more in-tune with the rest of this list. In the second row, consumers will have the choice of comfort or maximizing occupancy with optional Captain’s chairs or a standard bench (that can sit up to eight). Entry into the third row is aided by push button access that slides and tilts the seats. There’s a bonus with Honda’s standard suite of safety technology.

Volkswagen Atlas
The Atlas is a big part of Volkswagen’s SUV push with Canadian sales starting as a 2018 model year vehicle. It’s built off of Volkswagen’s new MQB platform with a chiseled and aggressive frame, reminiscent of the Ford Explorer. Powering the Atlas is a smooth and responsive 3.6L V6 that makes 276hp and 266lbs-ft of torque mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission with triptronic paddle shifters. The size of the Atlas isn’t felt when moving, as it handles the road with precision and balance, much like the rest of the Volkswagen lineup. Drawbacks are found on the inside with a lacklustre environment and slightly high fuel economy numbers. Captain’s chairs are an option for additional comfort.

Chevrolet Tahoe
The Chevrolet Tahoe doubles the GMC Yukon sales in the US, but in one of the auto industries greatest anomalies, it’s currently outsold by the Yukon in

2018 Chevrolet Tahoe RST

Canada. The Tahoe starts at a modest $58,365 for the four-wheel drive version ($3,000 less for 2WD) and can perform just as admirably as the Yukon with a smooth and effortless drive without all the bells and whistles. The Tahoe is a body-on-frame behemoth that can tow up to 8,600lbs (3,900kg) from its 355hp V8. It fits up to eight passengers that can also enjoy the same 4G LTE Wi-Fi pleasures as the Yukon. A plethora of USB ports and power outlets are available to add to its driver safety technologies.

Ford Expedition
After 20 years, Ford is going through a generational change for its full-size Expedition SUV. With the segment increasing in competitors it’s the perfect time to change design, features and capabilities. The new Expedition is based off the F-150 pickup platform with an all-aluminum body on top of its front structure that results in a lighter mass by 300lbs (136kg) and best-in-class fuel economy. Under the hood is a twin-turbo V6 that produces up to 400hp mated to a new 10-speed automatic transmission that’s super quiet on the road. Like most full-size SUVs, the Expedition comes with a spacious interior including three-row seating for up to eight passengers. Occupants will be treated to plenty of soft touch materials and premium touches including a sliding and reclining second row for easier access and additional legroom. The driver can fold the third-row headrest automatically from the front seat for better visibility and time saving.

Toyota Sequoia
Another truck-based full-size SUV is the Toyota Sequoia. It’s been a decade since its last generational change, and it might have to wait a lot longer due to a significant refresh for its 2018 model. The refresh provides a more polished front fascia and an additional TRD Sport package that comes off more aggressive. Despite its sub par fuel economy rating, the Sequoia is a capable SUV possessing power, comfort and an adaptive air suspension. Powering the Sequoia is another V8, this one of the 5.7L variety producing 381hp and 401bs-ft of torque. Standard features include a host of LED lighting, power moon roof, leather seating and Toyota’s suite of safety technology for a starting price of $60,190. It falls a bit short in towing capacity with a maximum of 7,100lbs (3,220 kg). Cargo space is abundant for the Sequoia and a top-selling point.

Mazda CX-9
The Mazda CX-9 adds a design-friendly option to the three-row SUV segment. Now in its second generation, the CX-9 gets treated to Mazda’s SkyActiv platform and engine. The latter uses a 2.5-litre four-cylinder SkyActiv-G engine to propel the ute up to 250hp and 310lb-ft of torque matched to a six-speed automatic transmission with available all-wheel drive. Similar to Mazda’s model range, the CX-9 receives exceptional forward motion styling that makes this three-row SUV appear smaller than it actually is. Its curves and angles bring a refreshing look to the segment that’s complemented by a simplified yet sophisticated interior that features an infotainment screen that sits front and centre on the dash. At a starting price of $36,400, the Mazda CX-9 is one of the better deals out there.

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