Dodge Durango vs Ford Explorer vs Toyota Highlander vs Nissan Pathfinder vs Honda Pilot vs Kia Sorento vs Chevrolet Traverse

Jonathan Yarkony

Excitement. Adrenaline. Passion. Drama.

You won’t find those here in this third of our series of Crossover Comparisons in the past year.

We started with the sales-chart dominating compact class, which has taken over as Canadians’ favourite go-to everyman’s car over the humble compact sedan. Then we tackled the growing subcompact crossover class, which try to offer similar utility in an urban-friendly and economical size. Now it’s time for the middleweights: mid-size, three-row crossovers with seating for six or seven and everything a family on the go to replace their faithful but stigmatized minivan.

While there’s nothing wrong with a minivan in our eyes, crossovers are where the money is, so companies spare nothing to put a strong product forward and capture the attention of moms, dads, grandparents and people with lots of friends. And it shows, with crossovers offering increasingly improved driving dynamics, surprising efficiency and clever packaging along with a hint of that rugged all-weather mastery that incited the SUV craze in the first place.

But which one best hits the mark? We collected as many as we could to see for ourselves what brand delivers the best family shuttling experience and what unique strengths (and weaknesses) each of these vehicles demonstrates.

Each of these mommy/daddy buses lands at under $50,000, even after destination charges, with only several thousand separating our most affordable to the priciest. However, we recognize that many times it is the monthly or bi-weekly payment that is the true bottom line shoppers look at, so we’ll provide a quote on current deals we were able to score online in case that influences the appeal of any given model.

Our comparison centred around our long-term Kia Sorento, which has impressed us at every step of the way, and was robbed at AJAC’s testfest, losing out on the Utility Vehicle of the Year hardware to the fun-but-not-very-practical-for-more-than-a-few-shoeboxes Mazda CX-3 (our previous long-term tester – We sure know how to pick winners here at The Kia offers a balance of feature-laden value at $45,487, but has its driving and interior come far enough along to eclipse favourites from Toyota and Honda?

Honda had the freshest crossover of the bunch, the Pilot freshly redesigned for 2016 with sleeker looks and a modern yet typically practical Honda interior. But would its human machine interface survive the day (and Jacob’s wrath)? It was notably the cheapest in our test, its $43,465 EX model offering a great value proposition for a familiar and trusted utility.

The Toyota Highlander has impressed us ever since its 2014 redesign, which, although fairly ordinary on the surface, delivered a sturdy, steady vehicle with an impressive interior that seemed to offer just the right mix of practicality and comfort to earn it the nod in a head-to-head matchup with the Hyundai Santa Fe XL, the winner of our previous big comparison of three-row utes. Our Highlander was the Limited AWD that landed at $48,805, but would it have enough appealing features to justify its price?

Sadly, the Santa Fe XL was unavailable to defend its crown, arriving a mere few weeks too late to participate despite a refresh and early launch of the 2017 model. Mazda’s new CX-9 is another strong contender due to arrive this summer, but was unavailable for our test.

We were also very pleased to welcome SUV from each of the Big Three, Chevrolet’s Traverse (a $46,380 1LT AWD), which is admittedly in the twilight of its generation, the recently refreshed Ford Explorer ($48,039 in XLT AWD trim with the 3.5L V6), and Dodge’s Durango looking badass in its Blacktop Package ($47,280 for the SXT AWD with the V6 Pentastar).

Finally, if there was a dark horse in this race, it was Nissan’s Pathfinder, which only lost out in our last comparison because we had the limp hybrid rather than the stellar V6 that turned up this time. The Pathfinder was a fully loaded Platinum model with a full array of driver aids and luxuries at $48,893 (the priciest of the bunch, if you’re keeping track).

Mother Nature blessed us with a fresh layer of snow for our photos, so we also got to see the AWD in action, and despite some of them being shod in all-season rubber, none of them missed a beat on the warm and sunny driving day. In the end, we found that each of the vehicles in our test would be a trusty family chariot, some catering to outright cargo practicality or flexibility, while some would pose a fair substitute for luxury vehicles of recent vintage, while the winner, of course, did a little bit of everything well.

Connect with