Practical and affordable: Ford Escape
Ford’s compact Escape crossover SUV offers a variety of engine options, an excellent driving experience, and a responsive Sync 3 infotainment system.
Practical and premium: Volvo XC90
Volvo takes aim at German luxury and hits its mark with well thought-out Sensus Connect tech, clever amenities and Swedish style.
Sport driving: Porsche Macan
Porsche’s smallest crossover SUV delivers performance that lives up to the Porsche crest — especially the Macan Turbo with 400 horsepower.
High capability: Chevrolet Tahoe
An old-school SUV fit to handling big hauling and towing jobs thanks to its rugged body-on-frame construction, yet also able transport passengers in comfort.
Small SUVs, defined
Without a doubt, the fastest growing segment in the automotive industry is crossover SUVs. Their booming popularity stems from the versatility to carry people and cargo, with many offering third-row seating making them ideal for family errands and tackling road trips. The availability of all-wheel-drive on many crossover SUVs also makes them enticing to people who live in areas that experience real winters. And there’s also the anti-minivan crowd who see crossovers as the cooler people-mover alternative.
Sub-compact crossover SUVs like the Mazda CX-3 are becoming more common.
For families of all sizes and needs, there’s bound to be a fitting crossover SUV. The number of options available now rivals the ever-popular sedan, with entries that range from a recent onslaught of sub-compacts, to extended wheelbase models big enough to carry an army of children. And there are even some niche style-statement models if you want to stick out from the crowd.
Typically, crossover SUVs feature four doors and a rear liftgate to provide easy access to the cargo area. The engine sits in front to power the front, rear or all four wheels through an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive system. SUVs traditionally sat on full-frame platforms from pickup trucks, but most of today’s entries use more compliant unibody structures from cars that give up some towing and hauling capabilities in exchange for more comfortable ride quality.
Those shopping the segment have numerous points to consider including size, power, fuel economy, creature comforts, cabin technology, safety and overall capability. Here’s a rundown on what those shopping the crossover SUV segment will encounter today.
If your needs are big, then a Chevrolet Suburban that stretches 18 feet 7 inches may fit the bill with available seating for up to nine, 39.3 cubic feet of cargo space behind the third-row seats, and an 8,000-pound towing capacity for four-wheel-drive versions. On the other end of the spectrum, the subcompact Jeep Renegade may be all that you need, measuring in at 13 feet 9 inches in length with seating for five, and 18.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second-row seats.
The Chevrolet Suburban is nearly 19 feet long, and is capable of towing 8,000 pounds.
It’s important to pick the right size vehicle with interior space that meets your needs. Will all the kids fit comfortably while still having adequate cargo room? Is the third-row going to be for primarily small children or will adult occupants sit there often, too? If you do decide to get a vehicle that’s bigger than you really need, will you be okay with the maneuverability challenges you’ll encounter in tight environments like parking lots?
Compact crossover SUVs like the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue make up a healthy chunk of sales in the class. With passenger volume ranging from 98 to 106 cubic feet, they are in the sweet spot of what typical families require. Those looking for a little more room will want to check out the numerous three-row models like the Chevrolet Traverse, Honda Pilot or Nissan Pathfinder.
Power versus fuel economy
Power options for crossover SUVs range from typical four-, six- and eight-cylinder engines to smaller power plants with turbochargers to save fuel while delivering serviceable power. Then there are diesel, hybrid and full-electric options as well.
On the small end, you’ll find compact four-cylinders such as the 1.4-liter turbo with 153 horsepower in the Buick Encore or the 1.8-liter, 141-horsepower unit in the Honda HR-V. Fuel economy for such engines is usually in the 30 mpg range on the highway for these sub-compacts, but don’t be expecting much towing capabilities.
The Ford Explorer’s available 2.3-liter EcoBoost I-4 is rated at 280 horsepower with an EPA combined fuel economy rating 2 mpg higher than the base V6 engine.
The trend of downsizing engines through turbocharging is catching on, which is on display in the Ford Explorer. A 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder is available with 280 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque and is capable of towing 3,000 pounds. The turbo engine does give up a little in towing capabilities compared to the base 3.5-liter V-6, capable of pulling 5,000 pounds, but the turbo four offers more torque and a combined EPA fuel economy rating of 21 mpg, which is 2 mpg higher than the V-6.
In addition to engine downsizing with boost, there are other green technologies in the crossover SUV segment. There are traditional hybrids like the compact Toyota RAV4 Hybrid that scores a 33 mpg EPA combined fuel economy rating, and plug-in hybrids such as the midsize BMW X5 xDrive40e with an all-electric range of 14 miles and 56 mpg-e combined rating. Look to Tesla and its Model X if you’re interested in pure electric propulsion and 92 mpg-e combined fuel economy rating.
Diesels also make a case in the crossover SUV class, providing a healthy dose of torque and efficiency in vehicles like the BMW X3 xDrive28d, with 280 pound-feet of torque and a combined fuel economy rating of 30 mpg. The Land Rover Range Rover Sport optioned with its diesel V-6 engine makes 443 pound-feet of torque and delivers a combined fuel economy rating of 25 mpg.
For full-size SUVs, the V-8 still sees plenty of work under the hoods of vehicles like the GMC Yukon and Ford Expedition. In the Yukon, a 6.2-liter V-8 with 420 horsepower and 460 pound-feet of torque is available offering max towing capacities of more than 8,000 pounds. That capability does come at the expense of fuel efficiency with four-wheel-drive models good only for a 14 mpg city and 21 mpg highway EPA fuel economy rating.
For the speed demons, there are performance-oriented crossovers like the BMW X5 M with a twin-turbocharged V-8 churning out 567 horsepower with not-so-frugal fuel ratings of 14 mpg city and 19 mpg highway. For an even bigger middle finger to the environment, there’s the Mercedes-Benz AMG G65 with a twin-turbocharged V-12 making 621 horsepower that returns 11 mpg city and 13 mpg highway.
Tech and safety
Like most vehicles, today’s crossover SUVs generally offer Bluetooth hands-free phone systems and USB ports to connect digital music players. Navigation systems are commonly standard on luxury entries, but are available as an option on virtually every crossover on sale today. Some systems are fancier, like the one found in the Audi Q5 offering Google Earth with satellite imagery. Most navigation systems show real-time traffic information to alert of backups and offer alternative routes to avoid trouble areas.
In addition to directions, many infotainment systems can provide additional services and information. For example, through its mbrace system, Mercedes-Benz can let you remotely start your vehicle, lock and unlock the doors, locate your car, and contact roadside assistance. A concierge service is also accessible through an Apple iPhone or Android smartphone to make restaurant reservations and travel arrangements.
Parking safety features on a Ford Escape incuding a rearview camera with dynamic trajectory lines, a rear proximity sensor, and cross-traffic alerts.
The list of available driver assistance technologies, systems that aid in preventing collisions, is also quickly growing. There are systems that alert drivers when they are veering out of a lane, warn about vehicles occupying blind spots, monitor for oncoming rear cross traffic when backing out of driveways or parking spaces, and automatically brake when rapidly approaching stationary traffic.
Convenience features like head-up displays also offer safety benefits, letting drivers keep their eyes on the road more. Adaptive cruise control systems are becoming more widely available to speed up or slow down vehicles to stay with the flow of traffic. Back-up cameras will be a government mandate by 2018, but some automakers have taken it a step further and are offering systems with a 360 degree bird’s eye view around the vehicle, such as in the Infiniti QX60.
Top practical crossover SUV picks
Practicality is a main selling point to crossover SUVs. For a solid all-around player consider the Ford Escape. With a base price of $23,000, the Escape offers front- or all-wheel-drive, three available engine options, and a good range of trim levels with a premium Titanium model at the top with the Sync 3 infotainment system, 10-speaker Sony sound system, and hands-free liftgate. If you’re looking for something in the increasingly hot sub-compact realm, the Mazda CX-3 is strong with goods looks, tight handling and polished interior, with a base price of $20,000.
For a bigger and cushier alternative, the Volvo XC90 is a standout with huge advancements over its predecessor. Starting at $50,000, the XC90 offers two different drivetrain options both based on a turbo and supercharged four-cylinder engine including a plug-in hybrid variant. The new Sensus dashboard suite is a massive upgrade over previous Volvo tech, and the attention to detail in the cabin is impressive in the three-row crossover. Another strong three-row option is the Acura MDX, which starts at $43,000 and is comfortable, quiet, and offers an excellent Super Handling All-wheel drive system with active torque vectoring to improve handling.
Can a crossover SUV be sporty? Consider the Porsche Macan, our top pick for a crossover SUV for handling and performance. It carries a $54,000 base price and will win hearts with performance that is worthy of the Porsche badge, but also offers all-around practicality with its small crossover SUV cabin space. If you spring for the Macan Turbo, there’s no doubt that you’ll be able to have a hoot on your favorite back roads with 400 horsepower on tap. If you’re looking for a bigger visual style statement, a $102,000 BMW X6 M with its fast sloping roofline will garner eyeballs, while its 4-second zero-to-sixty mph time will drop jaws.
Some shopping the SUV market still need an old-school thoroughbred vehicle that can carry and pull heavy loads. While the options aren’t as plentiful as they were in the past, there are still some solid body-on-frame players on the market. The Chevrolet Tahoe’s 5.3-liter flex-fuel V8 can tow 8,600 pounds, while also offering modern amenities like Forward Collision Alert, Lane Keep Assist, heads-up display, Apple CarPlay and 4G LTE Wi-Fi. For something smaller, the last game in town when it comes to midsize body-on-frame SUVs is the Toyota 4Runner, which has a reputation for being nearly indestructible and is worth its $33,000 base price.