by Bob McHugh

This week the Canadian Car of the Year spotlight shines on those go-anywhere sport utility vehicles. Although it would be interesting to know how many will actually get their wheels dirty in the hands of owners, the contenders for Best New Compact, Intermediate and Luxury SUV’s were put through a punishing off-road course at the “Test-Fest” journalist evaluations in Ontario. So, this week I’ve added an off-road score to our mini-reviews.

Like we’ve done for the past three weeks, we invite your comments and would like you to join in the car judging action on the BCAA web site at the British Columbia Automobile Association web site. Send your comments about the contenders for this year’s Car of the Year, along with your name and location, to The Car of the Year Internet fun poll results will be published each week, along with a selection of reader comments.


Compact Sport Utility Vehicle

Honda CRV:

A new body, improved safety features, a larger and more powerful engine, and just a modest increase in price. The overall shape is the same but it’s a little longer and wider with crisper styling lines, a chrome accented front grille and multi-reflector type headlights. There’s 8-percent more room in the redesigned interior with taller and wider seating and a unique dash-mounted parking brake. A larger 2.4 litre i-VTEC engine has impressive power band, can deliver 160-horsepower, uses less fuel and produces fewer exhaust emissions.

Base Price: $26,900 As tested:$27,500 (estimate)
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 10.0 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 41.5 metres

Off road score: 7.53
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 11/8.6 city/highway

2002 Honda CR-V
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Jeep Liberty 4×4:

If you like how it looks on the outside, you’ll love the inside. Beyond it’s handsome styling, Liberty also delivers on its Jeep heritage, it’s an extremely capable off-roader (highest marks on the off-road course). Two engines and two four-wheel-drive systems are offered. A 2.4 litre (150-horsepower) and a 3.7 litre V6 (210-horsepower) provide the power. Command Trac a part-time system and Select Trac a full-time system (option with V6) are the 4×4 systems. An innovative single action rear door handle opens both the swing-out gate and a flip-up glass window, at the same time.

Base Price: $22,880 As tested:$36,545
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 10.0 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 46.0 metres
Off road score: 8.45

Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 14.6/11.1 city/highway (3.7-litre) city/highway

2002 Jeep Liberty Limited
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Saturn Vue:

The company that dares to do things differently is at it again. The VUE is the first space-frame constructed SUV with dent-resistant polymer body panels and a continuously variable (automatic) transmission (CVT). The two engine choices are a 138-horsepower twin-cam four-cylinder engine and a 181-horsepower dual-overhead camshaft V6. It also has a four-wheel independent suspension and comes with two- or four-wheel-drive.

Base Price: $29,225 As tested:$29,875

Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 9.5 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 46.0 metres
Off road score: 7.58
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 12.6/8.6 city/highway

2002 Saturn VUE
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Suzuki XL 7:

Suzuki is a founder of the smaller sport-ute set and the XL-7 is basically a stretched version of its Grand Vitara, hence the XL (extra large) designation. Its (strong, but heavy) body-on-frame construction is more truck-like than the many new competitors in this class. A 2.7-litre V6 engine can pump out 183 horsepower and it uses a part-time 4WD system, with a Low range. Originally released as a seven-seater, new for 2002 is a five-seat version.

Base Price: $31,995 As tested:$31,995
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 10.5 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 44.2 metres

Off road score: 7.43
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 13.8/10.9 city/highway

2002  Suzuki XL-7
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Intermediate Sport Utility Vehicle

GMC Envoy:

The mid-2001 released Envoy comes with a silky-smooth all-aluminum 4.2-litre inline six-cylinder engine with a 270 peak horsepower rating. The new chassis has eight cross-members and full-length hydroformed side rails, which helps give the Envoy’s body an ultra-stiff 23-Hertz rating (according to GM). A longer wheelbase, extended length version of Envoy, the XL, with seating for seven, will also be available early next year.

Base Price: $41,275 As tested:$42,600
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 9.3 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 46.9 metres
Off road score:7.67

Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 15.4/10.2 city/highway

2002 GMC Envoy
Photo: General Motors
Click image to enlarge

Ford Explorer XLS:

The redesigned Explorer has a wider stance, a longer wheelbase and a new fully independent rear suspension. Although its overall length and height is the same, the new chassis with “portholes” for the rear axle shafts allows a lower step-in height, larger door openings and enough extra interior space for an optional third row seat.

Base Price: $37,500 As tested:$44,855

Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 10.4 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 42.7 metres
Off road score: 7.58
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 15.3/10.9 city/highway

2002 Ford Explorer
Photo: Ford
Click image to enlarge

Nissan Xterra SE SC:

The new-look Xterra also has a supercharged V6 engine option. It’s dramatic looking front-end with round headlights has a power bulge in the hood that matches the “flying-V” grille. The supercharged 3.3-litre V6 needs premium fuel, produces excellent low-end pulling-power and up to 210-horsepower. This option package also comes with 17-inch wheels and leather interior touches.

Base Price: $33,298 As tested:$34,498
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 9.8 seconds (manual)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 43.9 metres

Off road score: 8.15
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 15.5/11.8 city/highway

2002 Nissan Xterra
Photo: Nissan
Click image to enlarge

Luxury Sport Utility Vehicle

Audi Allroad:

A delightful blend of German touring car and SUV, the Allroad is a luxurious cross-over wagon based on the Audi A6. An electronically controlled pneumatic height-adjustable suspension provides four ground-clearance levels and automatic load-leveling. A twin-turbo 250 horsepower, 2.7-lire V6 engine provides power to the quattro all-wheel drive system, through a 6-speed manual or a Tiptronic automatic transmission. Allroad has seating for seven and roof mounted side curtain airbags in addition to seat-mounted side airbags.

Base Price: $62,165 As tested:$68,695
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 7.8 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 42.4 metres
Off road score: 7.0

Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 15.4/10.5 city/highway

2002 Audi Allroad
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Cadillac Escalade:

The super-sized and luxurious Escalade comes with seating for eight, a new fully-boxed chassis and a 6.0-litre Vortec V8-engine that can provide 345-horsepower. The new heavy-duty 4-speed automatic is designed for serious trailer pulling and even comes with its own instrument panel temperature gauge. Other interesting high-tech additions include the road sensing StabiliTrack suspension and a park-assist system.

Base Price: $72,700 As tested:$72,700

Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 8.0 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 43.3 metres
Off road score: 8.0
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 20.4/14.5 city/highway

2002 Cadillac Escalade
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

Mercedes-Benz ML 500:

The ML 500 replaces the ML 430 in the M-class line-up for 2002. There are subtle changes to the exterior and interior but the big change is, of course, the new 5.0 litre V8 engine that really boosts the ML’s low-end pulling capabilities. New safety features include drop-down side curtain air bags, a park assist system and Xenon headlights. There’s a new centre console, addition climate controls for the rear passengers and it comes with a larger gas tank.

Base Price: $65,250 As tested:$66,775
Acceleration (0 to 100 km/hour): 7.9 seconds (automatic)
Braking (100 to 0 km/hour): 38.7 metres

Off road score: 8.0
Fuel Consumption (litres/100 km): 16.8/12.8 city/highway

2002 Mercedes-Benz ML 500
Photo: Bob McHugh
Click image to enlarge

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