I was on the phone with my mother this morning and (Hi Mom!) we were just talking. In the course of conversation the subject of my sister Cathy's search for a new vehicle to replace her Ford Explorer came up. I decided to call her and see if I could give any input. Input will be all it is, as it's not me buying the vehicle, but her that needs to live with it everyday. Now it's no secret to my readers that I love station wagons and long for the return of the Country Squire. I have fond memories of road trips with my family in my uncle's Country Squires as a child. I'm sure I'm the only one who has these fond memories, the others probably cringe at the memory of the big wagon with all 7 of us and luggage cruising around the North Eastern United States and Canada. But let them work it out in therapy (just kidding, no need for hate mail.)
Now Cathy has had a series of vehicles over the years and while she doesn't hate the Explorer, it doesn't really serve her purpose any longer and she wants something that has a third row seat, car like handling and economy and enough space for her the husband and the kids. Something that can be used all year round, but does not require all wheel drive. All this for the as mentioned target price of $30,00 give or take. Well isn't this what most families want? So I decided to do a little quick research and yes I was biased towards Ford or partner vehicles, but will give every one their fair shake here. I used several web sites in my search including Edmunds (click link above) and www.cars.com as well as www.fueleconomy.gov . So off I went in search of what would fill the needs of an average family, a crossover SUV with front wheel drive and hopefully a DVD entertainment system to keep the younger crowd quiet on long drives. The third row seat bumped a lot of models out of consideration and there is only one Hybrid that fits the criteria. Crossover SUVs only no trucks or minivans.
Now when talking to my sister, she mentioned that the Volvo XC90 would be her ultimate choice if money were not an option. And it is an extremely good choice, so I started there. Now the closest I could get in price for the comparison was $36,000 for the front wheel drive with cloth interior but with enough creature comforts to be livable. Volvo is the benchmark for safety in many people's minds, with a reputation for solid reliable cars and now crossover SUVs. The XC90 is based on the modified S80/V70 chasis and uses the Turbo I-5 making 208 hp. Now I was surprised by only one thing the economy, it's not really great. According to the EPA it's rated at 17 city, 23 highway and 19 combined actually tied for last place in this group.
Now one other vehicle that Cathy wanted to see was the Subaru Tribeca, the only one in the comparison that is not available without all wheel drive. Based on the Legacy Chassis, this is Subaru's answer to families and if you can get past the "styling" ( I think it looks like a pig) it's been reviewed very well. But I thought that the all wheel drive would be a price handicap, but at $33,020 it's not that far off the mark. It's 250 hp turbo H-6 puts it in the higher end of the power range for this group and fuel economy is average for the group too with 18 city, 23 highway and 20 combined ratings. Reviews I've read have said third row access is tight. I'm not a huge fan of Subaru, but this could be a contender.
The Pacifica from Chrysler was also mentioned as a candidate. Now when these burst onto the market they were fetching premiums and praised in the automotive press. But after the initial flurry of activity they were overshadowed by the Chrysler 300 and Dodge Magnum (Which did not make it here, because of the lack of third row seat.) Now the Pacifica is a heavy vehicle and even with it's 250 hp V-6 is not a stellar performer. Also the low roof line in rear makes it a cramped third row. Fuel economy was the tie for last place at 17 city, 23 highway and 19 combined and that's the front wheel drive model, the all wheel drive model is even more thirsty. At $32,930 it came well equiped with leather, moonroof and the DVD system. These can be had for less with lower content, but most dealers order them loaded. I don't see this as really in the running.
Now for the Honda, not requested, but since it shares the platform of the Acura MDX which was and does fit into the price range specified, here it is. With a 244 hp V-6 it's got a bit of get up and go, and of course there's that percieved Honda quality. The Pilot priced out at $33,995 a little high for this group, but within a reasonable bargaining range. Don't let anyone tell you Honda dealers don't need to haggle, cause they do and they will. Nothing stelar about the Pilot, but not bad. Another surprise for me was the economy at 18 city, 24 highway and 20 combined it's not great. The only compelling reason for anyone to buy is the name. It's in the running, but barely.
Now the Toyota Highlander 4x2 V-6 does not stand out in a crowd, especially this one, power rating is unecceptional at 215 hp for the 3.3L V-6 and fuel economy isn't either at 19 city, 25 highway and 21 combined. The price for the non hybrid was$31,055 and that wasn't fully loaded. Not at the top of my list and nothing I could suggest to a friend or family member.
Now for the higher price of $$35,365 you can get the Hybrid version rated at 33 city, 28 highway and 30 combined. For that reason alone people will buy this. For it's the only hybrid with a third row seat. The selling point is the milage, not much else. But I'd test drive it if I was in the market.
Now I know that many people will say that this is because of my devotion to Ford, and they may have a point, but let's really look at this vehicle and see why I consider it the hands down winner. First price, a front wheel drive Freestyle Limited with leather interior, moonroof, all the airbags, traction control and DVD system goes for $32,305 and with rebates and motivated dealers less than that. The "underpowered" V-6 has 210 hp and gets amazingly good milage when compared to this group, being beaten by the Hybrid alone. THe Freestyle has an EPA rating of 20 city, 27 highway and 23 combined. Add onto that the fact that it just recieved the highest safety ratings and it's amazing that these aren't flying out of the dealerships.
If you configure a Freestyle correctly it's possible to get it for well under $30k, but even fully loaded the price compared very well with the others only the non Hybrid Highlander was cheaper, and that didn't have Leather or DVD.
Now I would recomend that my sister drive the Freestyle, and maybe the Highlander Hybrid, but if it was my money it would be the Freestyle. If you haven't seen one, go and test drive it, the vehicle is outstanding in value and utility and now we know in safety and economy.