AutoGuide 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year Award

Mike Schlee
by Mike Schlee

Last year AutoGuide crowned the Scion FR-S with our inaugural Car of the Year award. In the coming weeks we will be announcing our 2014 Car of the Year winner, but in the meantime it is time to introduce a new award; the Utility Vehicle of the Year.

With utility vehicles starting to outpace sedans as the most popular models on the road, we’ve seen a lot of really great ones debut over the past year. This new award encompasses all high riding five door vehicles from the Buick Encore to the Infiniti QX80. That means there are a lot of contenders and we have spent countless hours evaluating dozens of entries over the past twelve months to whittle the field down to three finalists.

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Before we get to the finalists, we would like to give a few honorable mentions to vehicles like our long term tester the Mazda CX-5, plus this year saw the launch of the new Toyota RAV4. Both are solid new compact crossover offerings, but neither made it as a finalist.

Next, an honorable mention has to goes to the Swiss Army Knife of SUVs; the Range Rover Sport. We love this SUV and there may be no other vehicle on the market that can match its on-road agility as well as its off-road prowess. But starting at over 60k, and escalating rapidly from there, it’s not really relevant to the vast majority of folks.


Our first finalist is the recent winner of our compact crossover shoot-out, the 2014 Subaru Forester. Subaru has been sticking to a winning formula for decades now when it comes to the compact Forester. Create a boxy, practical shape, add a terrific all-wheel drive system and offer the choice of naturally aspirated and turbocharged four cylinder engine choices.

The Forester’s square shape leads to great sightlines all-around and the driver sits up high with a clear view of the road ahead. Ride comfort and NVH are great for this class and the amount of technology, like the Eye Sight system pedestrian detection system and

Harman Kardon audio unit, are unexpected at this price point. Inside, however, there are signs of cheapness like a radio and heated seat buttons that look like after thoughts and a few materials that are a bit down market for a $30,000 vehicle.

The new CVT with the base engine provides seamless operation and avoids any hanging rpms. The Forester is an incredibly easy to drive vehicle that is not only practical, but also sips fuel like a compact car. In fact, it was the most fuel efficient compact crossover in our shootout. Unfortunately, this is not enough to win our 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year Award.


  • PRICE RANGE: $21,995 – $32,995
  • ENGINES: 2.4 L four-cylinder, 170 hp, 2.0 L turbocharged four-cylinder, 250hp
  • TRANSMISSION: Six-speed manual, CVT
  • FUEL ECONOMY (CVT): 24 MPG city / 32 MPG highway


Our second finalist is the heavily revised 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. One of the few true SUVs released this year, the Grand Cherokee continues to offer a balance between luxury and rugged off-road capability. In fact, we found the interior of the Grand Cherokee to be nicer than those found in some more expensive luxury crossovers.

All models now come equipped with a new eight-speed automatic transmission that helps improve acceleration and fuel economy. All-wheel drive is also standard and under the hood there are four engines to choose from including the amazingly efficient 30 MPG EcoDiesel and the ludicrous 470 hp SRT model.

Perhaps more than even utility the Grand Cherokee offers customers choice. Unfortunately choice comes at a cost. With entry level models starting at under $30,000 the top-trim stickers for more than double that.

The outside features revised front and rear styling including nicely sculpted LED lighting. The interior is also much improved with a new 8.4-inch touch screen featuring Chrysler’s amazingly easy to use Uconnect system as well as a 7-inch screen for the main dash gauge.

As much as the Grand Cherokee has improved for 2014, there are some refinement issues with the drivetrain, it still drives a lot more like a truck than most consumers are likely to want and, as mentioned, it can get rather pricey. Although it is a solid refresh, it is still not enough to win our 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year award.


  • PRICE RANGE: $28,995 – $63,660
  • ENGINES: 3.6L v6 290 HP, 3.0 L Turbo-Diesel 240 HP, 5.7 L V8 360 HP, 6.4L V8 470 HP
  • TRANSMISSION: Eight-Speed Automatic
  • FUEL ECONOMY (RWD DIESEL): 22 MPG city /30 MPG highway


If the Range Rover Sport is the Swiss Army Knife of SUVs, then the MDX can claim this title amongst crossovers. Labelled by many as a luxurious minivan of sorts, the MDX is much more than that. For those looking to upgrade from their Odyssey, Sienna, Pilots or Highlander, the MDX has always been a logical choice offering nearly the same level of practical in a more stylish, luxurious package.

For 2014 Acura has done it again building a three-row utility vehicle that combines space, luxury and style all at a price that is not out of this world. But, with the new MDX, Acura took things a step further and improved the efficiency as well. By stripping out 275 lbs. compared to the old MDX, Acura has been able to downsize the engine for improved fuel economy. Replacing last year’s 3.7 L V6 is a new 3.5 L V6 with variable cylinder management. Making 290 hp and 267 lb-ft of torque, the new engine is matched to a six-speed automatic and is officially rated at 18 MPG city and 27 MPG highway for all-wheel drive models which is up an incredible 6 MPG on the highway compared to last year’s model.

Live somewhere warm and want even more efficiency? For the first time ever, Acura is now offering the MDX in front-wheel drive only configuration that bumps fuel efficiency to 20 MPG in the city.


With added lightness also comes a sportier flair. The MDX has always been known for being one of the better handling three row crossovers and Acura has only improved this for 2014. The Honda luxury division claims its now eight seconds faster around the Nurburgring, which might be irrelevant for taking your kids to soccer practice, though you might appreciate the more engaging drive when the little ones aren’t around.

Inside, the MDX is still a great place to be featuring all of the latest technological wonders like adaptive cruise control, lane keep and a choice of two rear entertainment systems. The sound system is great, the front two rows of seats are comfortable and all materials are high quality.

A true sign of understanding the target audience for this vehicle Acura even looked after the little things, integrating manual window shades in the second row. Workable for privacy, their real purpose is in shading second row passengers – in particular the smaller ones strapped down to their child seats.


To top it all off the MDX comes at a price that, when compared to what German competitors are offering, is a downright bargain. Starting at $42,290 it can get pricey at $56,505 for a top trim model but well-equipped versions can be had for under 50k.

People always ask us what’s the best all-around vehicle. The 2014 Acura MDX is certainly one of them. And for that reason it’s also our 2014 Utility Vehicle of the Year.


  • PRICE RANGE: $42,290 – $56,505
  • ENGINES: 3.5 L V6 290 hp
  • TRANSMISSION: Six-Speed Automatic
  • FUEL ECONOMY (FWD): 20 MPG city /28 MPG highway

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Mike Schlee
Mike Schlee

A 20+ year industry veteran, Mike rejoins the AutoGuide team as the Managing Editor. He started his career at a young age working at dealerships, car rentals, and used car advertisers. He then found his true passion, automotive writing. After contributing to multiple websites for several years, he spent the next six years working at the head office of an automotive OEM, before returning back to the field he loves. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA). He's the recipient of a feature writing of the year award and multiple video of the year awards.

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