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Volkswagen Touareg TDI

Base and as-tested price $53,575

A repeat winner, after taking home the gold last year as well. And again, I nailed this one. That diesel engine is a marvel; powerful, with a linear power delivery and bursting with torque.

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Not to mention reasonable fuel economy and a full-time all-wheel-drive system that, if required, will take this ute as far into the great unknown as you're willing to go. I also like the eight-speed transmission, which is about as seamless and smooth as these things get.

What sells me on the Touareg is the fact that it does everything well; as well as being a formidable off-road contender, it's a pleasure to drive and can haul groceries with the best of them. It has an upscale ambience about it and will tow up to 3,500 kilograms.

And, with an 85-litre fuel tank, it has a comparatively expansive driving range. It might cost you a few more bucks when it's fill-up time, but you won't have to do it as often as some of its rivals in this category.

Our Comfortline tester also had all kinds of comfort and convenience features, including Sirius satellite radio, a navi system, four power outlets, tire pressure monitoring system and heated seats. That said, this was the most expensive model in this category and more than $15,000 pricier than the base BMW X1, for example. Still, I look for the Touareg to be a serious contender for overall Canadian Utility Vehicle of The Year when the results are announced in February.

Range Rover Evoque

Base price: $46,995; as-tested price: $52,595

Stylistically, this was the most interesting model in this group, with surprisingly agile performance and above-average off-road ability. It was my pick as the runner-up, but only in four-door form. One thing: the Evoque has a rotary dial where the shift lever normally is, which could be off-putting to some consumers.

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Base price $38,500; as-tested price: $42,440

The X1 had the lowest price tag and best fuel economy in this group and, as a sport sedan, makes a decent sport-ute. Yes, it has AWD, but this one is not meant for off-road duty. I also found the four-cylinder engine to be a trifle unrefined and low on power.

Dodge Durango

Base price $37,995; as-tested price: $52,945

Expensive to buy and expensive to operate, the Durango had the worst fuel economy in this group. The 5.7-litre Hemi V-8 may give it all kinds of performance and towing capacity, but the Durango sucks gas like it's going out of style.

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Ford Explorer

Base price $44,199; as-tested price: $52,229

Big, comfortable, roomy, and thirsty. As far as luxury sport-utes go, this is as good as most of its competitors, with one big caveat: interior switchgear and controls. Memo to Ford: Sync and MyTouch don't work and are this vehicle's undoing. Ford should rethink these two.

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