November 3, 2009
2010 Subaru Outback 3.6R (top, by Chris Chase); 2010 Volkswagen Touareg TDI (middle, by Jil McIntosh); 2010 Lexus RX 450h (bottom, by Jil McIntosh). Click image to enlarge
While I’d recently tested an Outback and had come away very impressed, its win here surprised me. I had fully expected the Toyota Venza to win, but instead, it finished last, behind the second place Chevrolet Equinox. Subaru had the foresight to enter the PZEV (partial zero emissions vehicle) model of its Outback, which earned it points in the emissions score, and it earned highest points in the subjective value scoring.
Volkswagen’s win here was the biggest surprise of my week, not because the Touareg isn’t a nice truck, but because it was one of the most expensive entries in the group that felt like the lightest on standard features. However, it scored well in subjective value and fuel consumption, though its acceleration numbers were slower than average. The Audi Q5 and Mercedes-Benz GLK 350 4MATIC finished a close second and third, respectively, and it’s worth noting that only thirty points separated first and last place – a small margin in a seven-vehicle category. The also-rans here, in order of finish, were the Lexus RX 350, GMC Terrain, Volvo XC60 and Acura ZDX.
I had called the lower-priced RX 350 to take the SUV $35,000-$60,000 category, mainly because it’s an established model with a strong reputation. But while that gas-only model wasn’t good enough to win there, the hybrid version proved a stronger contender, and prevailed over the Lincoln MKT and Cadillac SRX, which tied for second place, and the Audi Q7 TDI and Acura MDX, which placed third and fourth, respectively. The RX 450h win was based mostly on its fuel consumption ratings, which are much lower than those for any other vehicle in this group. Surprisingly, the Q7 TDI scored lowest in the fuel consumption criteria, as its combined (city and highway) rating of 12.8 L/100 km was notably higher than the group average.
I predict the Outback will win Canadian Utility Vehicle of the Year honours for its combination of comfort, refinement and size, plus its availability with Subaru’s super-clean PZEV engine. Plus, this prize typically goes to a relatively mainstream, mid-priced vehicle. The voting will be close between the Outback and Volkswagen Touareg, though, mostly thanks to the VW’s diesel engine.