2011 Ford Explorer
2011 Ford Explorer; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

Article and photos by Peter Bleakney

Spring is in the air. The last traces of snow are gone. The crockuses are timidly peeking out of the cold dirt. (You folks in BC are free to gloat.) This is the time when those with summer properties are gearing up for another season. Here is our pick, in no particular order, of the ten best vehicles to take to the cottage.

2011 Ford Explorer

Ford’s “reinvented” Explorer is just that: for the first time in its 20-year history, Ford’s iconic SUV now utilizes unibody construction (versus pickup-based body-on-frame) which brings it into the 21st century with regards to refinement and on-road dynamics. In fact, this seven-seater leaps to the head of the pack at this price point for full-sized SUVs. Power comes from a smooth 290 hp 3.5-litre V6 coupled to a six-speed auto.

While front drive is standard, you’re going to want the $3,000 all-wheel-drive upgrade. This includes all-new Terrain Management, a system we first saw on the Range Rover a few years back. A rotary dial between the front seats calls up four settings: Normal, Mud/Ruts, Sand, and Snow. Each optimizes the functioning of the engine, transmission, braking and traction control for the selected road condition. You also get Hill Descent which handles the braking and throttle on steep descents. All you do is steer.

The interior is elegant and well constructed, and depending on how much you want to spend, can be optioned up with heated and cooled perforated leather, rear seat DVD, powered third row seats, Ford MyTouch interface, killer audio, auto parallel parking… the list goes on. Even so, the base front-wheel-drive model at $29,990 shows the same smooth ride and uncanny quiet at speed.

With the $500 Tow Package, the 2011 Explorer will pull up to 5,000 lbs. No V8 is offered, but later in the year a 237-hp EcoBoost turbo four-cylinder will be available in front drive only.

2011 Infiniti QX 56
2011 Infiniti QX 56. Click image to enlarge

Infiniti QX56

Yes, it’s massive. Yes, it looks like a beluga whale. Yes, it will come in on the wrong side of 80 grand when equipped with the $8,000 Technology Package that adds an extra layer of visual, dynamic, safety and luxury features like 22-inch wheels and a clever hydraulic body motion control system. But if you have to go big, this is a sweet ride.

While the new QX56 is still a traditional body-on-frame SUV, there is nothing truck-like in the way it glides down the road. Once hoisted into the exquisitely crafted cabin featuring heated and cooled front seats, outward visibility is very good. The QX has a reasonably tight turning circle which helps with manoeuvrability – as do the standard rear-view camera, front and rear park assist, and around-view monitor that gives a bird’s’ eye view of the vehicle at parking speeds.

The 400-hp 5.6-litre V8 and 7-speed manumatic transmission combine to make an exceptionally smooth and quiet powertrain, and Infiniti claims a 10 per cent improvement in fuel consumption over the outgoing model. Still, at around three tonnes, it’s a thirsty puppy.

With a maximum tow rating of 8,500 lbs, the QX56 will easily haul the Chris Craft up to the lake. And you’re guaranteed exclusivity, as Infiniti only expects to move about 200 of these this year in Canada.

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