NEW YORK, April 17 — While Americans have not taken up camping or off-roading at a prodigious rate, SUVs have become the vehicles of choice in the United States. The appeal is in the rugged look, a high seating position and a knack for swallowing cargo.
Of course, driving over 100 vehicles annually, it’s my duty, as the video auto reviewer for The New York Times, to inform you that nothing beats a minivan for practicality and utility. There. My responsibility is fulfilled.
I’m often asked which SUV is my favourite, but picking just one is impossible. So let’s do five in various sizes and prices, along with a runner-up in each category.
I’ve provided the base price for each vehicle. The Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy averages are listed for the range of powertrain choices.
I’m also not including the excellent truck-based SUVs from General Motors (the Chevy Suburban, Tahoe and GMC Yukon) because most families don’t need their extreme capabilities, but if you are someone who does, put them on your own list.
Kia Soul: US$16,995 (RM74,803)
The boxy Soul owns the small affordable crossover segment. A cavernous interior with impressive headroom is perfect for tall people looking for a compact ride. Even hamsters can appreciate the quality cabin materials and elegant touch-screen interface.
I advise skipping the base version for the more potent 4-cylinder engines found in upper models. The top-shelf Exclaim model has a turbocharged engine and the best fuel economy. The well-rounded Soul has comfortable driving dynamics and seats five average-size adults fairly comfortably. It is also available as an electric vehicle.
Kia’s big miss here? The Soul doesn’t have all-wheel drive. If that’s a must, the Subaru Forester is nimble and nearly as cubic. Average EPA mileage: 27 to 28 mpg.
Honda CR-V: US$24,985
When it comes to five-passenger family crossovers, the CR-V is the one to beat. The new fifth-generation model looks familiar, while gaining a newfound sense of style with rich-looking taillights. The vibe in the cockpit appears a full grade more expensive now.
Once again, skip the base model. An additional US$2,600 buys a more efficient and powerful turbocharged 4-cylinder. It also adds the Honda Sensing safety technology suite with adaptive cruise control and automatic braking with pedestrian detection. The CR-V drives nicely, is fairly quiet and has the back seat room and cargo space small families crave. It lacks a panoramic glass roof and heated rear seats found on others in its class. Unless you live in Canada. Seriously.
I’ve seen the next-generation Chevrolet Equinox, but have not driven it. Its sleek styling, upmarket interior and a blizzard of amenities earn it my nod for runner-up. Average mileage: 27 to 30 mpg.
Porsche Macan: US$48,850
In the premium segment, the Macan is a force to be reckoned with. To think people once thought Porsche SUVs were a bad thing. It’s handsome inside and out, but more important, the Macan is a passionate dance partner on a twisty road. Ditching a Cayman for practicality reasons? Don’t fret. The Macan’s sporty rear-drive characteristics can make drivers forget it’s a crossover.
The base turbocharged 4-cylinder does the 0-60 sprint in 6.3 seconds. I drove the faster turbo V-6 version, and there are always the GTS or Turbo models for even more velocity. Porsche proves practical transportation can be a thrill to drive.
It can also be pricey. Optioning a Macan to the US$70,000 level is breathtakingly easy. And the Mercedes-Benz GLC300 has a roomier back seat and a lovely interior. Average mileage: 19 to 22 mpg.
Mazda CX-9: US$32,460
Buyers gravitate to three-row crossovers to avoid the stigma of minivans. For style mavens, it’s tough to beat the CX-9. The lithe sheet metal puts some premium brands to shame. Go with the top-shelf Signature model at about US$45,000, and chunks of rosewood and real aluminium grace the cabin.
The future of powertrains — a turbocharged 4-cylinder — motivates the Mazda. No worries; power off the line is fine. A bonus? The family friendly CX-9 is the driver’s choice for slicing through corners. Careful not to make the children carsick.
The CX-9 lacks a panoramic roof, and its tidier size keeps the third row on the tighter side. For a little more elbow room, check out Toyota’s Highlander, which also comes as a hybrid. Average mileage: 23 to 24 mpg.
Audi Q7: US$49,000
For luxury in the three-row segment, Audi’s Q7 gets my nod (though it nearly came down to the excellent Volvo XC90). True, the Q7 is understated to the point of anonymity, but few interiors offer better craftsmanship.
Power is provided by either a turbocharged 4-cylinder or a supercharged V-6. The big Audi feels light on its feet. There are bank vaults that are not this solid. It’s stuffed with safety technology, including Traffic Jam Assist, a semiautonomous driving feature that keeps the Q7 within its lane and in pace with the cars ahead while the driver reaches back to retrieve dropped Sippy cups and iPads.
Shoppers will find it effortless to run the price up near US$70,000. But hey, there are Porsche Macans that cost more. That sort of makes the Audi a bargain. Average mileage: 21 to 22 mpg.
So those are my top five. My best advice for selecting a vehicle? Test-drive at least three models and brands before buying to make sure it is the best vehicle for your needs. Notice how one manufacturer does not dominate my choices? They should not dominate yours either. — The New York Times