It’s easy to spend big bucks on a winter-worthy, family-hauling SUV. But auto manufacturers have responded to the economic downturn, expanding the bottom end of the luxury utility niche as more people are looking for performance, comfort, and value when hitting the road for their outdoor adventures. These three vehicles each start at less than $50,000, loaded with style and power.
A little more than a decade into its run, the Volkswagen Touareg is still top of the VW family food chain, with good reason. It’s a handsome, ever evolving, and incredibly capable five-seater that’s luxurious but not at all ostentatious, and it’s sized to be a lot of fun to drive. Today’s Touareg can be purchased with a range of efficient engines, including a 280-horsepower V-6, the popular 29-mpg 3.0-liter turbodiesel, or even a supercharged, 333-horsepower gasoline-electric hybrid. Boasting one of the biggest full-cabin sunroofs in the business, it scores high on style points.
Touareg’s not-so-distant cousin, the Audi Q7, continues its role as Quattro AWD’s most substantive test platform—a seven- seater with 72.5 cubic feet of cargo room and all the grip and go of a snowcat. Power choices include two supercharged V-6 engines and a 240-horsepower turbodiesel, each optimized with an eight-speed transmission.
The Q7 can be ordered up with some flashy new exterior packages, including the blacked-out Sport Style with its 21-inch wheels. Onboard wi-fi will help keep everyone connected, and Google Earth maps and amazing travel information provided through the MMI navigation system will keep you on mission.
And you don’t have to get an Escalade or Tahoe to enjoy some serious style from General Motors. The GMC Acadia Denali is a glossy and accomplished premium variation of the standard Acadia crossover. Deluxe touches such as aluminum sill plates, LED headlamps, and real mahogany interior trim add vibe to this seven-or-eight-passenger all-season cruiser. The Acadia Denali’s standard engine is a 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6; goodies such as the SmartSlide rear seats, the ColorTouch entertainment interface, and a special noise- beating acoustic treatment make it a surprisingly refined yet not impossibly gargantuan winter operator.
2015 Audi Q7
Base price » $47,700
Highway mpg » 22
Ski-car nicety » Adaptive air suspension
2015 Volkswagen Touareg
Base price » $44,570
Highway mpg » 23
Ski-car nicety » Heated rear seats
2015 GMC Acadia Denali
Base price » $46,825
Highway mpg » 24
Ski-car nicety » Automatic intelligent AWD
SMART DRIVER; SMARTER CAR » Everyone’s seen a giant 4WD SUV in a snowy ditch, evidence that technology alone does not make you invincible. Happily, even standard automobiles are now loaded with computerized systems designed to keep you safe during winter drives, provided you work in concert with those tools and still equip your vehicle with decent, seasonally rated tires. Antilock braking (ABS) and traction control are critical to avoid skidding wheel lockups and also to gain bite at the right time. Despite what you may have been taught, pumping the brakes now actually defeats the car’s computer; let the ABS do its thing. Traction control is also automatic. Electronic stability control (ESC) instantly reacts in an emergency, like a sudden swerve, subtly engaging the brakes to keep the car pointed in the right direction. You might, however, have to switch off the traction control if your car is totally stuck and you have to resort to old-fashioned rocking to get free. Remember those days?