The SUV has become a staple of the American car scene. It’s great for hauling groceries, vacationing with the family or traveling off-road.
Bankrate breaks down the options in this class of car based on these critical questions, and chooses the best three models in each criterion. It’s up to you to pick the sports utility vehicle that’s best for you.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
Starting MSRP: about $19,100
Classified as a compact SUV, the Suzuki Grand Vitara comes in rear-wheel drive, or single- or four-mode, full-time all-wheel drive, which sends power to all four wheels for improved traction. The four-mode, all-wheel-drive system offers true off-road capability with a limited-slip center differential. It also allows for flat towing — all four wheels on the ground — behind an RV without accumulating miles when in the neutral position. The Grand Vitara is powered by a 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine or a 230-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6, and it features an independent suspension.
Standard features in the five-seater include automatic climate control, illuminated steering wheel controls, side-impact and side-curtain air bags with rollover protection, antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution and electronic stability control. A side-curtain air bag inflates the full area of the window to protect your head from hitting the window or frame pillar in a side-impact collision.
Starting MSRP: about $20,300
While Subaru’s Forester featured more of a wagon design in the past, the current generation of the Forester is larger and priced right, making it a strong competitor in the compact SUV segment.
The five-seater features standard all-wheel drive and comes with a choice of two engines: a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder or a 224-horsepower, 2.5-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder. Standard safety equipment includes antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control, active head restraints, front- and side-impact air bags for front-seat occupants and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors for both rows of seats. Standard comfort and convenience features include tilt steering, a 60/40 split-folding rear seat with center armrest and an MP3 input jack.
Hyundai Santa Fe
Starting MSRP: about $21,700
The mid-size, five-seat Hyundai Santa Fe remains one of the best values in the segment and comes well-equipped.
All Santa Fe’s have MP3 jacks, steering wheel-mounted audio controls and connectivity for Bluetooth, USBs and iPods, so you can listen to your favorite tunes from your MP3 player. Standard safety features include antilock brakes, electronic stability and traction control, active front head restraints (which help to reduce whiplash in a collision) and front and side-impact air bags for front-seat occupants, and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors for both rows of seats. The Santa Fe comes with a choice of two engines: a 175-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 276-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, while all-wheel drive is an option on all models.
Land Rover Range Rover Supercharged
Specs: 510 horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8
Land Rover’s Range Rover (about $94,300) always has been known as a performer on road as well as off, and the supercharged model is no exception. This top-of-the-line Range Rover is powered by a 510-horsepower, 5.0-liter V-8 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission. Full-time four-wheel drive is standard and includes Land Rover’s Terrain Response system, which adjusts the suspension to the driving conditions, and an electronic stability control system called All-terrain Dynamic Stability Control, which is effective during on- and off-road driving. Other standard features include three-zone climate control, navigation system, Bluetooth compatibility and antilock brakes as well as side-impact, side-curtain and driver’s knee air bags.
Specs: 400 horsepower, 5.6-liter V-8
The Infiniti QX56 (about $56,700) is powered by a direct-injected, 400-horsepower, 5.6-liter, V-8 engine that offers a 10 percent improvement in fuel economy over last year’s model thanks to its new pairing with a seven-speed automatic transmission.
Redesigned for 2011, this full-size SUV seats up to eight in three rows, though the third row will be tight for some passengers. Slightly longer and wider than the previous model, the QX56 comes well-equipped with standard features such as leather upholstery, power and heated front seats, a power-reclining third-row seat that folds flat into the floor, active front head restraints, antilock brakes and electronic stability control as well as front-impact, side-impact and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensors. It comes in rear- or four-wheel drive and can tow up to 8,500 pounds.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Specs: 360 horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8
Redesigned for 2011, the Jeep Grand Cherokee ($38,300) now has many luxury options and a redesigned rear seat that provides increased legroom as well as cargo space. The standard engine is a 290-horsepower, 3.6-liter, V-6 engine, while the 360-horsepower, 5.7-liter V-8 is optional. It is available in rear- or four-wheel-drive.
The Grand Cherokee features air suspension that provides nearly 11 inches of ground clearance and allows the driver to select suspension and drivetrain settings to suit the road and his or her comfort tastes.
There is a choice of three- and four-wheel-drive systems. Standard features include air conditioning, power windows, mirrors and locks, steering-wheel-mounted audio and cruise controls, side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes, and electronic stability and traction control.
Ford Escape Hybrid
Fuel economy: 34 city/31 highway mpg
While there are a few hybrid SUVs, it’s the Ford Escape Hybrid (about $29,900) that stands out in terms of fuel efficiency. Powered by a 155-horsepower, 2.5-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine and paired with an electric motor that’s mated with a continuously variable transmission, the Escape Hybrid achieves an EPA-estimated 34 city/31 highway mpg as a front-wheel-drive model and 30 city/27 highway mpg in its all-wheel-drive configuration.
Standard features of this five-seater include cruise control, audio system with a six-disc CD changer, capless refueling system, side-impact and side-curtain air bags, antilock brakes and electronic stability control with rollover sensors.
Fuel economy: 17 city/24 highway mpg
A full-size SUV with seating for seven, the Ford Flex (about $29,000) still logs terrific fuel economy thanks to its aerodynamics and its EcoBoost engine. The 355-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 EcoBoost engine delivers V-8-like performance while getting 16 city/22 highway mpg.
It is available on the SEL, Limited and Titanium trim packages, with all-wheel-drive. A 262-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine, which gets 17 city/24 highway mpg, is standard on front-wheel-drive models. Standard features include a third-row seat that folds into the floor, dual-zone climate control, steering wheel-mounted climate and audio controls and interior ambient lighting.
Fuel economy: 17 city/23 highway mpg
You’ll be riding in the lap of luxury without compromising fuel economy in the Lincoln MKT ($44,200). The 355-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine delivers V-8-like performance thanks to direct injection and turbochargers, while still getting 13 city/23 highway mpg on front-wheel-drive models and 16 city/21 highway mpg on all-wheel-drive models.
This full-size SUV seats six or seven, depending on seating selected, and features high-quality interior materials, including standard leather seats. Other standard features include power-adjustable pedals to accommodate shorter drivers so they don’t need to move the seat as far forward, heated and cooled front seats and rain-sensing windshield wipers.