Review: What car can replace our BMW X3 that has more space for our outdoor lifestyle?


2022 Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport.Daniel Byrne/Handout

My partner and I currently drive a 2017 BMW X3. We love to go hiking, camping, paddleboarding and cycling in Manitoba where we live and across Canada. Prior to the X3, we drove a Jeep Wrangler. The cabin was very loud on highways.

The X3 doesn’t have enough room for our outdoor lifestyle. We have looked at the BMW X5 and the trunk space isn’t materially bigger.

We test drove the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport and thoroughly enjoyed it. The trunk space was also impressively large. We also appreciated the 5,000 pounds of towing capacity for a future camper or boat. We don’t want a three-row SUV because we will never use the third row. We also prefer to drive an SUV rather than a truck because we can lock our gear inside.

What are your thoughts on the VW Atlas Cross Sport, and what other recommendations do you have? – Ed

Mark Richardson: I drove the Atlas Cross Sport recently and was surprised by it. It did almost everything well. I thought it would be pretty boring.

Petrina Gentile: It’s a nice package. It’s spacious inside and the design is sharper than the regular Atlas. But the drive didn’t really excite me. At times, the V6 engine was slow to accelerate.

Richardson: Did you press the Sport button to change the electronic drive mode? It responds faster when you do that.

Gentile: No, I usually prefer comfort mode when driving an SUV. So it makes a big difference?

Richardson: It doesn’t make it go any quicker, but it makes it more responsive by changing the shifting pattern. I left it on Sport and was quite happy.

Gentile: And it does come with standard all-wheel-drive and a towing capacity of 5,000 pounds if you get the more powerful 3.6-litre, V6 engine – perfect for Ed’s active outdoor lifestyle.

Richardson: The Atlas Cross Sport is essentially the same SUV as the Atlas, which has a third row. What Ed is really asking for is a recommendation of the largest SUV possible that doesn’t have a third row.

Gentile: He wants the size of a three-row SUV without having that third row, though he can always just leave it folded beneath the floor. It is a waste to have to purchase it, though.

Richardson: These days, not many SUVs give you the option of buying either five- or seven-passenger seating. If there’s room to put a couple of extra kids into seats, that’s what the market wants. The new Jeep Grand Cherokee lets you choose, though.

Gentile: I like the look of the all-new 2022 Grand Cherokee – I haven’t driven it so I can’t comment on the ride and handling. But it can tow up to 6,000 pounds with its first-ever plug-in hybrid powertrain.

Richardson: Don’t get too excited about the plug-in hybrid. It isn’t available yet, but the new Grand Cherokees are, and there are still some older ones around if you can find them. I’ve also not driven the new model, but I’ve been impressed with the older Grand Cherokee since I drove one across Labrador a few years ago. Very comfortable and very capable. It’s a surprisingly refined Jeep, unlike Ed’s old Wrangler.

Gentile: It’ll definitely be quieter than his old Wrangler.

Richardson: Everything is quieter than his old Wrangler, even whatever you’re driving today with all the windows open. We’ll be savaged in the comments below, however, if we don’t mention Jeep’s reliability record.

Gentile: When it comes to reliability, the Jeep brand falls below the industry average, according to J.D. Power’s 2022 Vehicle Dependability Study in the U.S. The study measures the brands with the fewest reported problems from owners after three years. Jeeps ranks 19 out of 32.

Richardson: That’s an improvement over the years though, right?

In a 2022 study, the Lexus RX vehicle was the highest ranked midsize SUV.Handout

Gentile: It is moving up the rankings, but it hasn’t cracked above the industry average for a while. Looking at 2019 and 2020, for example, it was seventh last on the list. So, it’s improving. But maybe Ed should look at a Lexus RX. In the 2022 study, that vehicle was the highest ranked mid-size SUV. And as a brand, Lexus is above the industry in dependability, coming in sixth out of the 32 brands. Plus, it’s made in Canada.

Richardson: There’s nothing wrong with the Lexus, and it gives you the choice of two or three rows, depending on if it’s the regular-length version or the stretched version, which is 12 centimetres longer. It’s more than $5,000 above the price of the Jeep, though, at $57,500 to start.

Gentile: But it is a more luxurious vehicle. And not to mention, it has an excellent track record for reliability and dependability. But do you think he wants something more mainstream?

Richardson: I think he really wants a three-row SUV and to never use the third row, but let me throw something wild out there he may have not considered: the Hyundai Santa Cruz. You see how I’m thinking here?

The Hyundai Santa Cruz has a locking tonneau cover, as well as a separate locking compartment under the bed.Mark Richardson/The Globe and Mail

Gentile: No, I don’t see how you’re thinking. Santa Cruz is a truck – based on the vehicles Ed mentioned, he wants a two-row mid-size SUV.

Richardson: Ed says he doesn’t want a truck because he can’t lock his things safely, but the Santa Cruz has a locking tonneau cover, as well as a separate locking compartment under the bed. It’s a Hyundai Tucson with more space in the back because the roof has been removed. For the driver and passengers, it’s a comfortable all-wheel-drive vehicle with lots of room for bikes, paddleboards and gear. And it has a tow rating of 5,000 pounds.

Gentile: I’m not denying it’s upscale and looks like a Tucson inside, but it’s still a truck. Even the Honda Ridgeline has a lockable bed. Let’s stick with what he wants, which is an SUV that can tow. We can stay in the Hyundai family – maybe a Santa Fe? It was the highest-ranked mid-size SUV in the 2022 JD Power Dependability study.

The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s largest two-row SUV and it has 2,041 litres of space behind the front seats.Handout

Richardson: The Santa Fe is Hyundai’s largest two-row SUV and it has 2,041 litres of space behind the front seats – that’s 266 litres more than Ed’s X3 and even slightly more than the Grand Cherokee. It’s not as much as the 2,203 litres of the Volkswagen, but it might be enough for him. It starts at more than $6,000 less, too.

Gentile: Towing is a bit less than his 5,000 pounds target. Its 2.5-litre turbo engine can tow up to 3,500 pounds, but he doesn’t have a boat or camper, yet. It may fit the bill.

Richardson: So all in all, I don’t think we’ve changed his mind. I think he’ll be happiest with the Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport that he already knows he likes.

Gentile: Agreed. But it’s always good to have alternatives, right?

What car should you buy? Write to Mark and Petrina at [email protected] and use ‘What car’ as part of your subject line. Emails with different subject lines may not be answered.

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