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Is BMW's small SUV the best choice for this couple?

2011 BMW X1 xDrive28i

Tom Kirkpatrick/BMW

Dear Jeremy and Michael: My wife and I love driving the standard BMW 3-Series we bought new in 2001. But it's aging and so are we. Our needs have changed and I started looking at a small SUV. I read several articles about the X1 when it was first released and waited for BMW to bring it Canada. Well, the X1 is finally here but it looks as if the choice of models will be limited, as with the 1-Series. Should I give up on the BMW drive and feel and consider alternatives such as the Audi Q5 or the Mercedes-Benz GLK?

- Richard in Perth, Ont.

Cato: Yes, Dick, consider the Q5 ($41,200 base). I just got a note and photo from a doctor friend of mine, an anesthesiologist in Toronto, who took my advice and bought a Q5 - trading in his Acura RDX in the process. If he didn't have a lovely wife, he'd marry the Q, I think. He can't understand why he ever bought the Acura, too.

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And while you're at it, forget the over-priced X1 ($38,500) and instead set your sights on a BMW X3 ($41,900 base), which is just $3,400 more and much bigger, roomier and built in North America.

Vaughan: Wait. Halt. Full stop. Cato hit on the issue here, though he probably doesn't know it. I draw your attention to a minor counter-force, namely the world's biggest trade which is the global currency market.

Our pathetic little loonie, in spite of the re-election of a Chinese-like Harper dictatorship, is riding high. Oh alright, maybe that helped.

But the point is, the global currency market says you should pay less for any of those German luxury boats, yet the manufacturers say you should pay more. The U.S. greenback is in the toilet but still … Still, the U.S. prices are well below what you'll pay in your rock solid Canadian bucks.

As Cato has unwittingly pointed out, the X3 is a better buy in Canada than the X1 because the X3 is built in the American south and the X1 is imported from Europe. The currency issue is at work here.

Cato: Perhaps. We don't actually know what the X1 would cost in the United States because the Americans won't get it until at least the end of this year, perhaps next year. The Americans would rather sell the X3, anyway.

But we do know the pricing difference for the X3 in Canada versus the U.S. Down south the base model xDrive 28i starts at $33,810 and the turbocharged xDrive 35i begins at $37,765, according to Edmunds.com. In Canada: $41,900 for the 28i and $46,900 for the 35i.

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Vaughan: As Cato so rightly points out, having dug up the dollar figures, even though the X3 is built in the NAFTA zone, the currency trade isn't working as it should. I find Cato annoying, but he has followed this business long enough that when facts stand in the way of a good story he is occasionally forced to recognize the facts - even if it takes some time for him to see them. That will be the last compliment I pay him this decade.

But there's the point, Ricky. Before you blow all the extra dough on a currency trade that's going against you, go shopping for some made in Canada, Canadian dollar-based product. The Chevy Equinox, built in Ontario, and the Ford Edge, built in Ontario, are both right up there in quality and drivability - is that a word? - with the expensive Euro stuff.

Cato: Our friend Vaughan almost knows it all, but not quite. The Edge is a decent alternative to the X3; you'll get much, much more crossover for the money, Dick.

The Equinox, not so much. It's not quite in the same league as the Edge. So now, Dick, we've got you test driving the X3 against the Edge. Make sure you play with the Ford's electronic gizmos; the voice controls actually work.

Vaughan: The X1 is definitely my choice of the Bimmer sport-utes, not the X3. I haven't had much seat time with it, but it did impress me greatly; for me it's just the right size. But the currency trade is too big a hill to climb.

Cato is right to say the Audi Q5 is a gem, but it's so popular that the dealers won't give you a dime in discounts and I like discounts.

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The GLK, on which I have discovered discounts, is probably my favourite of the lot. It drives like a comfy Mercedes C-Class sedan with a squared-off Kubelwagen look.

Cato: I'm going with the good doctor, whose recommendation - unlike Vaughan's - is based on what he did with his own money - bought a Q5. So our top three: the Edge, your currency hedge; the Q5, delightful, but no discounts; and the GLK, Vaughan's Kubelwagen. Try the others, if you like.

*****

HOW THEY COMPARE



2011 BMW X3 28i xDrive

2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 4MATIC

2011 Audi Q5 2.0T Premium quattro

Wheelbase (mm)

2,810

2,755

2,807

Length (mm)

4,648

4,525

4,629

Width (mm)

1,881

1,840

1,880

Height (mm)

1,661

1,698

1,653

Engine

3.0-litre inline six-cylinder

3.5-litre V-6

2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged

Output (horsepower/torque)

240/221 lb-ft

268/258 lb-ft

211/258 lb-ft

Drive system

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

all-wheel drive

Transmission

eight-speed automatic

seven-speed automatic

eight-speed automatic

Curb weight (kg)

1,865

1,850

1,895

Fuel economy (litres/100 km)

11.0 city/7.8 highway

13.0 city/9.3 highway

10.6 city/7.7 highway

Base price (MSRP)

$41,900

$43,500

$41,200

Source: car manufacturers

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About the Author
Senior writer, Globe Drive

In 25 years of covering the auto industry, Jeremy Cato has won more than two-dozen awards, including three times being named automotive journalist of the year. Jeremy was born in Montreal and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. More

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