Two SUVS meet expectations with perfect ride and cargo hauling
Anyone who follows this column is aware that we are grand fans of SUVs because of what they offer their owners - generally comfortable ride qualities (up to seven passengers), standard or available AWD and 4WD systems, and exceptional cargo space.
One of our recent tests involves the three-row 2018 Mazda CX-9 Grand Touring edition, third of four trim levels. This AWD model is a loaded CX-9 version that provided a comfortable ride over several hundred miles of in-city and highway driving in two states. Our fuel economy for the weeklong test was 25.2 MPG overall (EPA/DOT ratings are 20 MPG/city and 26/highway).
The i-ACTIV AWD system on the CX-9 is a predictive AWD package that monitors multiple issues, from outside temperature to throttle and braking actions. In good weather it assists with stability and in poor driving weather provides optimal traction and grip. We drove in both road conditions and the CX-9 provided us everything we needed.
An enhancement to the overall handling of the CX-9 is the G-Vectoring Control on the SKYACTIV-Vehicle Dynamics system. Basically, it adjusts power and shifts weight when cornering so the SUV rides smoother regardless of what is being hailed.
Power on the CX-9 comes from a 2.5-L SKYACTIVE-G DOHC four-cylinder engine that produces up to 250 HP. The aluminum alloy power plant is mated to a reactive six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift and Sport Mode. Overall, it’s a superb powertrain combination.
The Grand Touring is loaded with standard equipment (only two options on our tester, a cargo mat for $100 and Soul Red Metallic paint for $595) and our favorites include 20-inch wheels with 20-inch all-season tires for extra grab; heated front seats, steering wheel, and outside power mirrors; rain-sensing windshield wipers; eight-inch color display with a rearview camera; an exceptional 12-speaker Bose audio system; and safety systems that include blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, Smart Brake Support, and more.
Other likes include a classy and comfortable interior that features leather-trimmed seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, aluminum trim elements, and a three-zone climate control system. Our only dislike was the navigation system that would not engage as desired.
With a tow capacity of 3,500 pounds and Trailer Stability Assist, the CX-9 offers up to 71.2 cubic feet of cargo capacity. It has an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ crash rating. Our tester had an MSRP of $42,270 (base CX-9 model begins at $32,130).
Another Toyota SUV gets high marks
The Toyota Highlander SE model is new for the 2017 model year, as is a more powerful V-6 engine, as well as an eight-speed automatic transmission. There are also new safety features. The SE is one of eight Highlander models that includes three hybrids.
The new 3.5-L DOHC V-6 is a 24-valve direct-injection Atkinson-cycle stop/start engine with Variable Valve Timing-intelligent (VVT-i). It produces 195 HP at 6,600 RPM and a torque rating of 263 lb.-ft. at 4,000 RPM. The engine is paired with an eight-speed direct shift Electronically Controlled automatic Transmission-intelligent (ECT-i) with a snow mode and uphill/downhill shift logic.
Combined fuel economy is rated at 22 MPG (20/city and 26/highway) and we were about on target with just more than 23 MPG with lots of highway driving and some in-city transit.
The Highlander SE model has a sport-tuned front suspension with MacPherson struts and a sport-tuned double wishbone multi-link rear, both with stabilizer bars. The system provides safe and solid handling characteristics.
Safety is paramount on the Highlander, which has a 5-Star overall score. Like most Toyota models, standard on the Highlander is the Toyota Safety Sense-P integrated safety systems that include lane departure, Dynamic Radar Cruise Control, Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian Detection, and more. Also standard is the Star Safety System, a suite of six systems ranging from stability and traction control to Smart Stop Technology. There is also blind-spot monitoring in the SE.
Our likes on the Highlander SE include fog lamps, projector beam halogen head lamps (very helpful as the dark hours of fall are upon us), power tilt/slide moonroof, power liftgate, backup camera on an eight-inch display, an enchanting Entune Premium audio/navigation system, and comfortable seating.
Perhaps our most likeable feature on the Highlander SE is the Dynamic Torque Control AWD system that works in conjunction with a high-speed interactive management system and the stability control system. It employs an electromagnetically controlled coupling in the rear differential that monitors and controls torque between front and rear wheels. We found it worked well in our season’s first snow.
Though rated for seven-passenger seating, the third row seat is really limited to small children or cargo.
Cargo capacity is another plus at up to 83.7 cubic feet. Towing is rated at 5,000 pounds and there are few changes for the 2018 model year.
Our Highlander SE tester had a MSPR of $41,150 and had only one option - a rear seat DVD/BluRay entertainment system for $1,810.