Why does everyone want a slice of that SUV pie?


Once, not all that long ago, if you wanted a car that was fun to drive, practical, hardy, safe, and comfortable, then you’d probably find yourself having to own two or three different vehicles. Luckily, that is no longer the case, thanks to the introduction of new body styles and technologies. Among these, the SUV or crossover is one of the most versatile, which explains why vehicles like the Ford Escape, Chevrolet Trax, Mazda CX-30, Kia Telluride are selling so well in the USA. Essentially built on the same platforms as sedans or hatchbacks, these machines stand a bit taller and focus on delivering optimum levels of passenger and cargo capacity. But thanks to their roots, they still retain the ability to be engaging drivers or luxurious cruisers.

A recipe for success

As with any classification, high-riders fall into a variety of categories from compact through to full-size, but they generally share a number of features regardless. Those that succeed in this segment ensure that they can comfortably seat at least five passengers without compromising trunk space. At the very least, you should be able to go about your daily errands, such as grocery shopping, without needing to fold the rear seats down. The most capable can even manage to do so with the kids’ school bags and mom’s yoga mat in the trunk. 

Subsequently, when you do fold down the back-row seats, you are presented with an enormous cargo hold that can easily handle much heavier workloads. Unfortunately, many of these vehicles are focused on affordability and competitive fuel economy, which is why they often rely on low-displacement turbocharged engines. While this is generally enough to put a zip in your step and provide a little fun, it means that they may struggle when overladen with cargo. Luckily, it isn’t uncommon for alternative engine options to be provided, though you’ll have to pay a little more.

As with all things, compromise is required if you want the best of multiple worlds, but SUVs can often get by without losing too much. Larger variants often boast throaty V6 power plants that can easily move them, full or not, around town. These motors are also able to threaten the dominance of the pickup truck market with their ability to tow considerable weight and even go off-road when needed. Not every model lives up to the sport or the utility aspect of the moniker, but the best options combine these perfectly with the comfort and safety.

Lofty air suspensions are quite common in the segment, especially on the more luxury-focused nameplates. Even without such, crossovers offer impressive ride comfort thanks to their body-on-frame construction. This also has safety benefits, and you’d be hard-pressed to find an SUV that scored poorly with the NHTSA or IIHS. Combine this with the suites of driver-assistance features that so many automakers are equipping to even their base-model offerings, and you truly have a recipe for success on the US market.

Season to your taste

There are actually quite a few impressive vehicles to choose from within this classification, allowing for a lot more variety and making it easier to find something that fits your needs perfectly. Before taking a closer look at some of the top rankers, here are just a few of the names you should consider adding to your short list:

  • Kia Seltos
  • Toyota RAV4
  • Hyundai Venue
  • Kia Telluride
  • Audi e-tron
  • Cadillac Escalade
  • Kia Sorento

Salt and pepper – just the basics

If you find yourself strapped for cash, you needn’t settle for something less than you deserve. No, don’t take out a second mortgage; instead, consider one of the many capable subcompact crossovers for sale right now. 

Kia is particularly skilled at delivering an inclusive package with a low MSRP. The Soul is a prime example at around $18k, with the Seltos not trailing too far behind at around $22,000. Both are eminently practical, but the latter is a bit more fun to drive and even gets better mileage figures at 29/34/31 mpg. It also has a bit more room for junk in the trunk, with 26.6 cubic feet on offer, easily beating out its closest rivals. It comfortably seats five, but if you want to ensure their safety you may want to consider one of the mid-tier trims. If you place a premium on fun, the Turbo and S Turbo kick things up a notch with a 175-horsepower inline-four that doesn’t sacrifice comfort or handling.

Saffron – the best of the best

There is no shortage of options if you have the cash to spare, especially since the premium brands have started to take the segment seriously. Some of the best choices include the BMW X5 to X7, the Audi e-tron, and the Volvo XC60.

A perfect fit for a growing family that wants to move with the times, the e-tron is an all-electric SUV outfitted with the latest technology. The interior is attractively appointed with top-grade materials including genuine leather with wood inlays. Some more economy-focused rivals may present buyers with more trunk space, but 28.5 cubic feet is nothing to sneeze at, and the comprehensive safety and infotainment suites more than make up for any shortcomings in these areas. Unfortunately, we often equate luxury with power and performance, and this is where the Audi falls short of other German rivals. It places comfort and convenience above all else, and this is where it truly shines.

Nutmeg – getting back to nature

If you prize rugged dependability, then a true SUV that doesn’t shy away from getting dirty or doing some real work will suit you best. These often build on the underpinnings of pickup trucks, but even something a little more stylish, like a Land Rover Range Rover is happy to play in the mud. Other examples include the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, and Toyota Land Cruiser.

The Ford Expedition is a great option from the local market. It’s a bit on the pricey side thanks to its large size and diverse capabilities, starting at around $50k, but few can match it at what it does best. Much like its kin, the F-series pickup, it boasts some of the pest towing capacities in the segment, maxing out at 9,300 lbs when properly equipped. It also has the confidence to venture off the beaten path with a ground clearance of 9.8 inches. Naturally, all that extra weight means it needs a durable powertrain, which is where the twin-turbo V6 comes in with its 375 hp and 470 lb-ft of torque. Inside, it is rather spacious, but lacks the upscale materials of some competitors, and if you want the best features, you had best be prepared to pony up some extra dough.