Test Drive Review - Mid-Size SUV Edition!

The wife and I are on the hunt for a new mid-size SUV to replace her 2004 Lexus RX330 that was totaled recently. While we would love to have another Lexus based on the good luck we had with that one, it’s a bit out of our price range. Even used ones command a premium. In fact most of the used SUV’s we looked at weren’t far off a new vehicle in price.

So we researched the options out there and narrowed the short list down to the Subaru Forester XT, Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, Honda CR-V EX-L, and GMC Terrain SLT. Here are some initial impressions based on test driving each.

Also, before diving in, I’d like to make a confession to the whole Oppo community. I don’t know if it’s living in NoVa or owning that Lexus, but I’ve softened up a bit. I’m starting to pay more attention to things like interior quality instead of just raw performance. Also, this car will be primarily driven by my wife, so she set down some requirements based on her Lexus experience, including heated leather seats and Nav.

Subaru Forester XT: Biggest let down of the bunch. I loved my 04 WRX back in the day and wanted to love this one. I expected that we’d drive it, fall in love, drive the other ones out of a sense of duty to do our due dilligence, and then go back and buy the Subaru. Boy were we wrong. The XT has a few things going for it - it handles well, had an expansive greenhouse with great visibility, and that lends to a big, open feel, and Subaru’s awesome symmetrical AWD system. However the sins are numerous and hard to cover up. From a driving standpoint, the CVT absolutely hamstrings the engine and kills the fun. It’s actually the quickest of the bunch on paper but somehow feels the slowest. But that can’t compare to the relative abysmal interior. It’s full of cheap looking switches and dials, like someone made it out of parts from the Radio Shack going out of business sale. And the leather feels cheap and the way it’s upholstered reminds me of someone throwing a blanket over their couch to cover up the mustard stains when they know company is coming. I feel like this would have been a really premium car 10 years ago, but it’s like Subaru just hasn’t quite manage to keep up with the time. Overall it was just hard to see the value in the $38k window sticker price.

Honda CR-V: The Lexus RX330 of the midsize, mainstream SUV crowd. It’s a safe, boring, frugal choice. It also looks like a fat fish and has one of probably the top 5 ugliest production wheels ever. I feel like the interior is slightly above average, besting the the Subaru, equaling the Terrain, and not quite as good as the CX-5. The drivetrain was a surprise, the little 1.5L Turbo 4 was shockingly peppy and the CVT tuning was good. It wasn’t by any means fast but it felt like it was struggling much less than the Subaru XT despite being down 80 hp. Overall I don’t have much negative to say, but wasn’t blown away either, and the $31k sticker price feels about right. The dealer we talked to was also shockingly aggressive in pricing (I didn’t think there was that much room in a Honda). If our finances were tighter I think it would be a good, frugal choice.

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CX-5: The surprise hit of the group! I can’t say enough good things about this one. We drove a loaded Grand Touring and it was nice, probably slightly better than the Honda. One gripe, though, is that the screen felt like someone just glued an iPad to the dash, and not really “integrated” into the car. The Honda actually had a similar issue but not quite as bad. Beyond that, the leather was nice, controls user friendly, and it had a lot of convenient features. Driving it felt amazing, it’s a puffed up sports car, like someone accidentally over-inflated a Miata. Steering is crisp and direct feeling, and the 2.5L Skyactiv engine feels snappy and responsive. The 6 speed transmission shifts firmly without being jarring. Overall it’s a great little SUV and at $33k I think it may be the best value here balancing utility, fun, performance and price.

The GMC Terrain: Make SUVs Utility Again. If I were doing this a year ago I wouldn’t have considered a Terrain as I thought they were butt ugly. I love my GMs but I just couldn’t. However, the 2018 redesign is handsome and packs some great features and options. I love the fold flat front seat which allows it to swallow 8' lumber with ease. With the 2.0L turbo engine and factory trailering package it can tow 3500lbs, more than the Mazda’s 2000lbs and Honda and Subaru’s 1500. Speaking of, the 2.0L engine and new 9 speed transmission allow it to go 0-60 only 1/10th of a second slower than the Forester XT, yet it does so with minimal drama. This one doesn’t feel “fast”, it just feels “confident”. Another highlight was the interior - it’s another step in the right direction for GM who is almost always derided for interior quality. It feels a little cheap for the price but is still quite comparable to the Honda and Mazda. One thing I love is the push button transmission that frees up the center console. My gripes with the Terrain boil down to GMC’s pricing scheme. Things that are standard on the other SUVs are options on the GMC, yet you never see one on the lot without these options. That artificially jacks up the price, so then GM offers lots of rebates to knock the price back down to be competitive with other brands.

So those are my quick impressions. Mrs Snuze and I made out decision:

With any luck, this is the one! I talked to my dude today, sent him the VIN, and he’s going to work up some numbers and see if he can get it from the current dealer up in PA. I’m glad we waited until August 1st to see the new financing offers from GM, the rebates are much more aggressive and bring pricing more in-line with it’s competitors. In fact, we are moving up to a lightly optioned Denali package. One of the key considerations for us, as new home owners, was utility. I like the fold flat front seat, and we made sure this one had trailering. I was going to buy a truck before the Lexus was totaled. Buying the Terrain with trailering package and a small utility trailer will accomplish anything I need a truck to do and save me from buying a 3rd vehicle and all the associated costs.

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Unfortunately I have to leave tomorrow for work and won’t be back till next week. The suspense is killing me, I want my Terrain now!