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Dear Kelley Blue Book Canada: Luxury SUVs on a budget

The Challenge: Finding a luxurious midsize 3-row SUV at a non-luxury brand price

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Back in the late-1990s, if consumers were looking for a combination of a luxury sedan married to the utility of an SUV, their choice was limited to luxury brands like BMW, Mercedes-Benz or Range Rover.  But with the recent migration of automotive technologies to lower-priced vehicles, Canadians can now equip many of the latest luxury SUV convenience features, infotainment technologies, performance and safety gear in less expensive mainstream brand models. 

More than just offering similar features, the majority of our five Dear Kelley Blue Book Canada contenders below can offer the features, technology, safety, interior build quality and refined ride and handling characteristics normally associated with the higher-end SUVs wearing luxury badges. But which one is the best if you are looking for a luxurious midsize 3-row SUV at a non-luxury brand price? 
 

The Contenders 

 

2020 Dodge Durango 

Sharing a Mercedes-Benz-derived platform with the 2-row Jeep Grand Cherokee midsize SUV, in the 3-row 2020 Dodge Durango SUV, you’ll find room for up to seven passengers, a generous amount of high-tech infotainment (the Durango’s Uconnect 4 system features a large touch screen, easy-to-figure-out controls and smartphone integration), driver assists, and a unique set of V8 engine options. 

 

Durango starting prices begin at $46,495* CDN for the 293 horsepower (hp) V6 SXT and ends with the 475-hp $74,995 SRT. With an air about it—that seems higher in quality than most rivals—the deluxe Durango Citadel model is our pick for budget-oriented luxury SUV buyers. With the optional ($2,900) 360-hp 5.7-litre V8, the $62,395 CDN Citadel comes with such luxuries as heated/ventilated front seats and heated 2nd-row seats with Nappa leather, a 9-speaker stereo, 20-inch wheels, and an 8,600-pound max tow rating. 

 

2020 Hyundai Palisade 

While its styling suggests an SUV from Hyundai's Genesis luxury brand, the all-new Palisade is a stylish midsize 3-row SUV with a mainstream price. A robust standard feature list, enticing base price, and eye-catching style give the Palisade potent allure versus the competition. So, where some basic SUVs are indeed "basic," it is possible to buy the least expensive Hyundai Palisade and be happy. 

 

You can get an 8-passenger, front-wheel-drive (FWD) Palisade for as little as $38,699 CDN. It comes with such niceties as the Hyundai SmartSense suite of safety tech and a heated steering wheel. But if you want to max out the Hyundai's luxury/value quotient, we suggest the aptly-named $54,199 CDN 7-passenger Ultimate model, which adds Nappa leather seats, a head-up display, massive 12.3-inch digital instrument cluster, and 20-inch alloy wheels. Plus, there's Hyundai's 5-year/100,00-kilometre comprehensive warranty for extra peace of mind. 

 

2020 Mazda CX-9 

Arguably Mazda’s best example of the brand’s luxury-on-a-budget ethos is the 3-row CX-9 midsize SUV. Even the base $39,900 CDN GS model offers amenities like 3-zone climate control, keyless entry with push-button start, LED headlights, a power driver’s seat with lumbar support, heated front seats, heated outside mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, 7-inch colour touch-screen display with a rotary controller, a rear-view camera, and 18-inch wheels. 

All CX-9s are equipped with AWD and powered by a 2.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 250-hp. Overall, the attention to detail in the CX-9 exudes quality and craftsmanship. But the topline $51,500 CDN Signature model competes well with costlier luxury SUVs. Amenities include Nappa leather-trimmed seats, Santos Rosewood-trimmed interior, second-row Captain’s chairs, luxurious interior colour choices, and 20-inch alloy wheels. 

 

2020 Subaru Ascent 

If you think the latest safety technologies are the select domain of luxury SUVs, the mainstream-priced 2020 Subaru Ascent is an AWD midsize 3-row SUV worthy of consideration. While some competitors offer partial or fully optional driver assists, Subaru’s EyeSight is standard on every model (which starts with the $36,395 CDN Convenience version). EyeSight includes pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-departure and sway warning, and a head-up display warning. 

All Ascents come with a Subaru WRX-inspired 260-hp, 2.4-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. Standard niceties include 3-zone climate control, seat heaters, and a panoramic moonroof. For the full-on luxury-SUV-on-a-budget experience, try the topline $50,995 CDN Ascent Premier. Luxury goodies include ventilated front seats, the Smart rear-view mirror that uses a camera to show you what’s behind your vehicle, blind-spot detection, reverse automatic braking, rear cross-traffic assist, a front-view monitor, and auto high-beam assist. 

 

2020 Volkswagen Atlas 

If you think a German-engineered 3-row midsize SUV is out of your budget, the recently introduced Atlas offers plenty of features and driving characteristics normally associated with luxury SUVs that cost thousands more. The Atlas has a comfortable ride quality approaching that of a luxury vehicle, yet still displays control and composure when the corners come along. However, the cabin still mixes simplicity with class. The high-quality plastics help in this regard. Plus, there’s VW’s  4-yr/80,000 km warranty. 

 

The base, FWD $36,740 CDN Atlas Trendline comes with a 235-hp turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. Standard gear is generous, with a rear-view camera, autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian monitoring, and a 6.5-inch touchscreen with CD player and smartphone integration. But if you’re looking to be pampered further, on top of the mid-level AWD $49,940 CDN Atlas Highline’s 276-hp 3.6 6-cylinder engine, the topline $53,590 Execline adds a 13-speaker audio system, 360-degree camera, and park assist. 

 

The Winner 

A luxury vehicle can be defined in several ways. For instance, the Dodge Durango offers a unique range of powerful V8s. The Mazda CX-9’s interior is top-notch. The Subaru Ascent offers a healthy amount of safety tech, and the Atlas delivers an intangible German engineering experience.  

However, the 2020 Hyundai Palisade, with its upscale styling, loads of features, and an extended factory warranty, is our pick if you are looking for a luxurious midsize 3-row SUV at a non-luxury brand price. 

If you’re in the market for a new vehicle and have a unique buying request, please contact KBB.ca at KBBSupport@coxautoinc.com.   

 

*Manufacturer Suggested Retail Prices as of April 2020. 

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