2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups
2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups
2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups
2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups. Click image to enlarge

Review and photos by Autos.ca Staff

Every fall, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC) organizes its Canadian Car of the Year (CCOTY) and Canadian Utility of the Year (CUOTY) vehicle testing: TestFest. At TestFest we test dozens of new models, from the economical and affordable Mitsubishi Mirage and Nissan Versa Note up to exclusive prestige vehicles like the Merc S-Class and Land Rover Range Rover, or adrenaline-inducing sports cars like the new Corvette Stingray and Jaguar F-Type.

Today we cover the SUVs, crossovers and pickups, a source of big sales volume, growth and profits. Like small and intermediate passenger cars, these are the segments most relevant to Canadian consumers, and as such we give them pride of place at Autos.ca. Each of these categories is reviewed by one of the voting members judging that category, who will share their insights and prognostications.

Category: SUV/CUV under $35K, Mark Stevenson

Contenders Price as tested
Buick Encore $34,910
Jeep Cherokee $33,160
Mitsubishi Outlander $32,498
Subaru Forester XT $32,495
Toyota RAV4 $34,835

The SUV-CUV segment, especially toward the lower end of the price scale, has been one of acute interest to automakers and consumers for a number of years. Choices in this ultra-competitive segment are usually based on intangibles such as personal styling preferences and word-of-mouth reliability versus the raw data. Potential buyers will write off a model due to it being ugly before even looking at the numbers or going for a test drive. So, playing your cards conservatively in this segment – as has been the ethos of the Toyota RAV4 – is usually the best plan.

This year, five models were entered by their respective companies. None were traditional SUVs and all were powered by either turbocharged four-cylinder or V6 engines, except for the conservative RAV4.

GM’s entry, the 2014 Buick Encore, was quite nippy around the “cottage trail” built for the test. Its shorter wheelbase and turbocharged 1.4L four-cylinder engine (the smallest of all competitors) gives its handler the feeling of driving something compact, unbecoming of a Buick. It lacks power (which could change soon) but is a solid choice in the segment if you really crave a brown-on-brown interior.

2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups
2014 AJAC CUOTY SUVS, Crossovers and Pickups. Click image to enlarge

The new Cherokee, sporting the new, smaller 3.2L Pentastar V6 and unique nine-speed transmission is an incredibly important product for Jeep. Polarizing styling has worked for some in the segment (Nissan Juke), but it is usually paired with something exciting under the hood. While the new V6 delivers the goods, the nine-speed transmission is a disappointment. At no point during the drive could we engage the last cog in the box, effectively turning the nine-speed into an eight-speed with some added weight.

Mitsubishi had two entries, the Outlander being their big wagon competitor this year. Unfortunately for the diamond star marque, the Outlander is too little, too late. The V6 is rough, cabin noise is high, and everything feels… old. If this were TestFest 1995, the Outlander would win. But, in 2013, it’s outclassed by almost everything else. Mitsu is steadily becoming the automaker from the Land of the Setting Sun.

The conservative torchbearer RAV4 has ditched the V6 and is four-cylinder only for 2014. In AWD Limited trim, the Toyota is… good… which is as good as we can really say. The suspension is taut (maybe a little too taut), the interior is bland, and it was the only competitor to bottom out on the “cottage trail” due to a low-hanging exhaust. But, nobody will fault you for buying one as the RAV4 is the safe bet for quality and reliability for those just looking for a little extra ride height and cargo space.

The fifth competitor this year comes from Fuji Heavy Industries – the Subaru Forester XT Touring. If you want fun behind the wheel, this is where you want to spend your money. Its turbocharged engine turns the well-built, well-sorted, tall wagon into a family hot rod. Be prepared to use those grocery hooks – you’re going to need them! The interior is good but not perfect. Yet, as a total package, the Forester makes sense. We just wish you could buy it in proper wagon form.

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