2005 Lexus GX 470
2005 Lexus GX 470. Click image to enlarge

by Andrew Welsh

The most popular market segments in Canada are compact cars and compact SUVs. It’s something that distinguishes our market from the U.S. You might think, therefore, that manufacturers are giving up on large, fuel hungry SUVs, while focussing only on the smaller models.

On the contrary, luxury and near-luxury buyers have six new SUVs to choose from in Canada this year: three medium-weights (Nissan Pathfinder, BMW X3 3.0i, Jeep Grand Cherokee) and three heavyweights (Infiniti QX 56, Lexus GX 470, Land Rover LR3). Each of them offers refinement, power and presence.

Nissan’s Pathfinder, for instance, arrives for the first time with body-on-frame construction and a five-speed automatic transmission.

Now based on the Nissan Titan/Armada platform, the full-time four-wheel drive, $36,000-$52,300 Pathfinder has grown in all dimensions. Towing capacity is up 20-percent to 2,722-kilograms, and the added length permits space for a third row seat for occasional passengers.

Power comes from Nissan’s well-regarded VQ 35 V-6 engine, specially tuned for truck applications, and providing 270-horsepower and 291 pound-feet of torque. Acceleration from 0-100 km/h takes a brief 7.9 seconds in this 2,195-kilogram truck.

2005 Nissan Pathfinder
2005 Nissan Pathfinder

2005 BMW X3
2005 BMW X3

2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee
2005 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Click image to enlarge

But the 2005 Pathfinder also offers a luxury interior, navigation system, premium audio, standard 16″ alloy wheels, independent suspension, vehicle stability control and Hill Descent Control as standard or available features. And for a vehicle with significant off-road ability, its highway ride is positively car-like.

BMW counters with its $49,900-$62,300 X3 3.0i. It’s what BMW calls a “sports activity vehicle,” or SAV. The lightweight in this group at 1,825-kg, the X3 is slightly smaller and less expensive than BMW’s luxury X5, but bigger and pricier than something like a Honda CR-V. It tows a conservative 465-kg.

The X3’s 3.0-litre, 225-horsepower inline-six cylinder engine is the same one used in the Z4 sports car, however, so this is an SAV with performance aspirations. Like the X5, it uses an all-wheel drive system called xDrive that moves power to the front or rear wheels as required by means of a centrally located multiple-plate clutch. BMW’s Dynamic Stability Control is standard, and the X3’s huge Panorama Sunroof is a notable option.

For 2005 the Jeep Grand Cherokee receives a complete redesign. Now available with a choice of three engines, a five-speed automatic transmission and new levels of refinement, it, too, has grown in length, height and width.

But even the base $38,900 Laredo, with a 3.7-litre V-6 making 210-horsepower, and 235-lb.-ft. torque (also used in the Liberty), is quick off the mark and quiet on the move.

The top-of-the-line, 330-horsepower $48,695 Hemi V-8 is a real performer, however. This engine propels the 2,112-kg truck from 0-100 km/h in a sports car like 7.0 seconds. It’ll tow a prodigious 3,266-kg.

Depending on the trim level, Grand Cherokees come with a selection of four-wheel drive systems. The most sophisticated, Quadra Drive II, features front and rear electronic limited slip differentials to go along with the standard electronic stability control system. Only the V-6 Laredo does not include a low range for the transmission.

Over the years, the Grand Cherokee has become grand indeed. It’s interior is uncluttered, refined and welcoming. Even so, Jeep hasn’t sacrificed off-road ability.

2005 Infiniti QX56
2005 Infiniti QX56. Click image to enlarge

The biggest vehicle in this group, the $75,900 Infiniti QX 56 is another Nissan vehicle that uses the Titan/Armada truck platform, and is the larger, luxury brother to the Pathfinder. It will take you off-road in style, although buyers are typically more interested in this Infiniti’s massive on-road presence.

It’s amazing how a 2,554-kg truck like this can sprint from 0-100 km/h in only 7.8 seconds, but the 330-horsepower 5.6 litre V-8 with 390 lb.-ft. torque is up to the task. Towing is rated at 3,991-kg. Fuel consumption is substantial.

The QX 56 comes with no option list, as Infiniti delivers this vehicle fully equipped. Such amenities as a DVD entertainment system, luxury leather, rear vision back-up camera, premium Bose audio system, chrome finish wheels, puddle lights in outside mirrors, and side curtain airbags are only a few of the standard features.

On the road, the big Infiniti is easy to drive, but requires careful manoeuvring in tight spaces.

The $66,800 Lexus GX 470 has been available in the U.S. for a while, but is new to Canada. It’s positioned between the RX 330 and the giant LX 470 in the Lexus SUV line-up. Add the Ultra Luxury package for $6,300 and the $73,100 total is closer to the Infiniti QX 56 in price and equipment, although this vehicle is nearer to the Pathfinder in size (this doesn’t mean it’s compact by any means).

Powered by a 4.7-litre V-8 engine making 235 horsepower and 320 lb.-ft. torque, the 2,150-kg GX 470 scoots from 0-100 km/h in 8.1 seconds. It will tow 2,948-kg.

This truck features the full array of electronic and mechanical driveline technologies, making it a highly capable off-road performer. Lexus is known for luxury, however, and the interior environment in the GX 470 a splendid place. Even in “base” livery, the GX 470 impresses. Notable features are the excellent Mark Levinson audio system and the height-adjustable rear suspension.

2005 Land Rover LR3
2005 Land Rover LR3. Click image to enlarge

Gone is the venerable Discovery from Land Rover, replaced with the new $61,900-$67,500 LR3. That’s quite a price hike from its predecessor, but this is an all-new vehicle of exceptional sophistication.

It’s also the heaviest of the heavyweights in this group, carrying 2,629-kg on its electronic air suspension with automatic load levelling and multiple modes.

The 300-horsepower, 4.4-litre V-8 engine makes 315 lb.-ft. torque and is mated to a six-speed electronic automatic transmission. Towing is rated at 3,500-kg and the 0-100 km/h time is 8.7 seconds, the slowest of this group, but still quick for a heavy truck.

This Land Rover feels like it was carved out of a solid block, and has off-road capabilities well beyond most, if not all, other vehicles in its class.

And speaking of class, it looks like a slightly scaled down Range Rover, and is packed with luxury amenities.

Rumours of the SUV’s demise may be premature. These vehicles combine all-terrain capability with luxury and sophistication. As long as there’s demand, manufacturers will ensure that there’s a ready supply.

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