- At Business Insider, we’ve reviewed many, many SUVs.
- We’ve been generally impressed with the versatility, luxury, performance, and technology of these formerly derided vehicles.
- Some of the best SUVs we’ve tested include the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, the Volvo XC90, and the Jaguar F-Pace.
SUVs were once disgraced as gas-guzzling horrors that rode like trucks and couldn’t hold a sporting candle to proper performance cars.
That’s all changed, in one of the biggest reversals of fortunes in the history of the auto industry. Cheap gas and changing consumer preferences have doomed the sedan and the sports car, while SUV sales have boomed for years.
So to meet surging consumer demand, automakers are selling a lot of utes. We’ve tested many of them over the past few years, ranging from very small cute utes to large full-size family haulers.
For the record, I’ve referred to the as-tested price for all these vehicles, but like most media outlets, we typically don’t sample the base version of a car or truck. So if you’re in the market for an SUV, a good rule of thumb is that you can probably buy one of the vehicles for less.
Alfa Romeo Stelvio
In our review of the $US53,000 2018 Stelvio, we wrote: “We think the Stelvio is a really stunning crossover SUV. It can stop traffic and turn heads.”
We added: “In the end, the Stelvio shows that the Italians can do a capable ‘everyday’ luxury SUV … without sacrificing that which makes Italian cars special.”
We tested a $US65,800 2018 Audi SQ5, and I had this to say: “The Audi SQ5 is splendid. It’s still my favourite luxury SUV in this performance segment.”
We also sampled the less sporty Q5, a pleasing ride – just not as much as the SQ5.
“I think it’s an intangible thing, but I like the SQ5 way, way more than Q5, and I think the Q5 is terrific,” I wrote. “The SQ5 is simply better. It’s worth the money. Audi has always done a great job with the Q5. And it followed that with the SQ5. With the 2018 model, the excellence marches on.”
The $US69,000 2017 Audi Q7 that I tested was very impressive.
“My family of five is a stern judge of seven-passenger luxury SUVs, and they adored the Q7,” I wrote.
I added: “It will make family life much, much easier, as seven-passenger SUVs tend to. It will do so in quiet style. And for that reason, the Q7 has accomplished its mission perfectly.”
Ben Zhang checked out a 2018 Bentley Bentayga with an as-tested price of $US245,845 – and while he concluded that “objectively, the Bentayga is a great vehicle,” that’s “fast, powerful, luxuriously appointed, and can handle a corner about as well as one could reasonably expect for a large SUV,” ultimately he thought the ultraluxe ute was overpriced and iffy when it came to the design.
Still, it’s a Bentley! So if price is no object …
The 2016 X1 xDrive28i, priced at about $US44,000, that I sampled struck me as a perfectly adequate starter Bimmer that didn’t impress quite as much the brand’s other vehicles.
I wrote that it was “a reasonably appealing entry point to the brand.”
“It looks OK. It drives OK. It’s a BMW. And it isn’t a sedan.”
We weren’t nuts about the 2018 BMW xDrive 30i’s overly harsh yet very Bimmerly ride. But overall, we enjoyed the SUV.
“This is also the best-looking X3 ever,” I wrote in my review. “The overall design really drew me in and made me want to drive the car, even if I knew my back would complain later.”
I added: “It’s a good SUV. It might not be worth almost $US58,000. But there is a BMW premium, and it’s supposed to come through when you step on that gas. And in that respect, although the xDrive 30i isn’t easy to live with, it’s a blast to drive.”
The 2018 BMW X5 xDrive 40e tipped the cost scales, as tested, at $US74,000. It was a plug-in hybrid version of BMW’s flagship midsize SUV.
“Apart from a slightly over-stiff ride, which is nothing new for BMWs, the X5 40e is an absolutely first-rate SUV,” I wrote in my review.
“I’ve personally always been rather fond of the Audi Q5, which goes head to head with the X5, but a week with the Bimmer reminded me of why BMW has such a great reputation. The X5 is tremendous, the hybrid tech simply adds a nice extra perk in improved fuel economy.”
BMW X6 M
Set the Wayback Machine to 2015 and witness my intimidated bafflement at this pugnacious sport ute.
“The BMW X6 M is definitely one of the weirdest cars I’ve ever driven,” I declared.
“The X6 M is a potent piece of hardware,” I added, marveling at its engine.
“The V8 cranks out 567 horsepower – over 100 more than the Corvette Stingray! Why? Another 93 equestrians and you’re talking about a Corvette Z06. Add three more horsepower and you’ve got a Ferrari 458. The X6 M does the 550-horsepower Range Rover Sport SVR 17 horsepower better. This is a mighty Wagnerian poleaxe of a motor. One doesn’t want to argue with it.”
So yeah, a boss ride.
“It also ticks off every imaginable luxury box,” I said. “The infotainment system is BMW’s and still hard to use, but it does everything it’s supposed to do … The seats have many adjustable positions, and they are heated and cooled. The rear seats are quite nice, and the rear climate controls, for what it’s worth, are the best I’ve ever seen.”
The $US31,000 2017 Buick Encore actually beat the BMW X1 in a comparison of small utes.
“The Encore is quite the overachiever,” I wrote.
“It can’t match the X1 for power or driving, but then again, it’s a Buick and not a Bimmer. And while the X1 doesn’t perfectly translate the ultimate driving machine into a small package, the Encore is Buick enough to trace a line back through its brand legacy. The Buick also feels more premium inside, while the X1 gives off a vaguely compromised vibe, even though the materials are on their face of a higher quality.”
A $US45,000-ish 2017 Envision – made in China – was my chariot for a run to the Detroit auto show a few years back.
In my review/road trip, I wrote: “The Envision has that Buick thing – it drives well without making a big deal out of it.
“This isn’t a car that you ever felt compelled to push,” I added. “And that’s good because it makes you a safer driver. The available heated-and-cooled seats and the steering wheel heater are icing on the cake.
“Crossovers saved Buick after the financial crisis when the brand was on the brink of extinction. Ironically, Buick made it through because GM needed a strong brand in China, where Buick has always been popular. With the Envision, China paid Buick back when Buick needed it most.”
The 2018 Enclave Avenir – and upscale new trim level for Buick – stickered at $US59,000.
“Admittedly, the price tag might cause some prospective buyers to pause, but what we have here is essentially the best version of just about the best crossover that Buick can build,” I wrote in my review.
“The obvious question is, ‘Is it worth the money?’ The answer: Yep. But bear in mind that it’s still a Buick. If a bolder, sportier SUV is what you crave, the Enclave Avenir might not be the best choice. That said, it offers enough class and capability to give more prestigious luxury brands something to think about.”
Zhang and I tested two 2017 XT5s: one that cost $US58,000, and another that stickered at $US64,000.
We weren’t universally enthusiastic about the SUV, but we concluded that “for the most part the XT5 is a solid offering in its segment.”
“Compared with the competition from Acura, Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, and Audi, its interior truly sets it apart,” we said. “This is absolutely, positively the vehicle that Cadillac needs now. And from what we hear, it’s off to a good start.
“And it’s about time Caddy got its act together with this genre of vehicle, easily the fastest-growing in the luxury marketplace. Nice work, but with some room for improvement.”
I’ve driven the Escalade numerous times in the past few years, most recently putting a 2018 model up against the revamped Lincoln Navigator in a battle of the Very Large Luxury SUVs.
My $US103,000 tester won that contest.
“I just still like the Escalade better,” I wrote. “Some of this is due to my preference for big V8s in my big SUVs. The Navigator’s turbo V6 is powerful and capable, but the Escalade’s motor is a satisfying beast. It is more crude than the Navigator’s. But it somehow makes me feel more alive … I’m going to enjoy the current Escalade and its arrogant charms while I can.”
Of our nearly $US34,000 tester, Danielle Muoio had this to say: “Overall, the Equinox is an affordable and sturdy car for an everyday driver looking for a solid amount of space. It has great mileage and is comfortable enough for a long haul.”
She was particularly impressed with the MPGs: “When it comes down to the essentials – price, mileage, and driving capabilities – the SUV has perfectly reasonable specs to run with the CR-V, RAV4, and Rogue. If anything, it slightly edges out most of the competition when it comes to mileage.”
I took my entire family and our dog on a short road trip in the Chevy Tahoe RST, a special, higher-performance version of Chevy’s full-size SUV – and the brand’s second-biggest ride, behind the Suburban. It tipped the cost scales at over $US70,000.
“The Tahoe, now in its fourth generation (it’s been around since 1992) has genuine offroad credibility, making a good choice for country-dwelling folks with trailers to tow and trails to negotiate,” I wrote in my review. “But it’s also a powerful and pleasant freeway cruiser, as we discovered.”
A few years back, I took the Escape on a road trip to between New Jersey and Detroit, with a return stop at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland.
“I’ve tested the Escape before and have always been really pleased with its combination of versatility, pep, technology, and – to be honest – potential to absorb with aplomb the everyday punishment of being a daily driver,” I wrote at the time.
“Due to the popularity of compact SUVs, Ford is very lucky to have the Escape in the portfolio. It’s an excellent ‘default’ vehicle for many people, especially anyone living in the Northeast or Upper Midwest.”
I tested a $US55,000 2017 Explorer and had this to say about it: “The Explorer isn’t cheap, but given the substantial array of features, comfortable and roomy interior, robust performance, towing and off-roading capability, and technology, it’s a solid deal. In many ways, this SUVs competes very favourably against overtly luxurious vehicles.”
I added: “Two decades is a long time to keep it real in the SUV game. But the 2017 Explorer could justifiably be called better than ever.”
I was wildly impressed with the 2017 GMC Acadia Denali with all-wheel drive. (Denali is GMC’s upscale trim level.) This maxed-out midsize crossover, which shares a platform with the new Cadillac XT5, stickered at $US52,185.
“The midsize crossover is an incredibly competitive segment – one of the most important for automakers doing business in the US and increasingly in China,” I wrote in my review. “But the Acadia Denali doesn’t approach with a lack of confidence. It’s almost as if this SUV has nothing to prove, but goes ahead and proves it anyway. This is stealth luxury.”
The 2018 all-wheel-drive Terrain Denali I reviewed was priced at a well-optioned $US44,370.
“Compared to Terrains of the past, the second-generation vehicle is smaller and lighter,” I wrote.
“The downsizing is a positive, as the all-new Terrain is a breeze to drive: stable, relatively quiet, but also manoeuvrable, with easy steering, responsive brakes, a firm but not stiff suspension. You can sense that if you took it offroad it would be able to manage some rocks and trails, so long as you didn’t push your luck.”
The 2017 Yukon Denali I sampled came in just over $US80,000 and was as big as could be, in the extended length XL trim level.
“Quiet and comfortable, the Yukon Denali gives the driver a commanding view of the road and power on demand, as well as driver-assist features such as lane-departure warning and forward-collision alert, along with an excellent adaptive cruise-control system,” I wrote of this big guy.
The vehicle also laughed while swallowing up my family of five and all their stuff.
The 2017 CR-V that Muoio tested tipped the price scales at about $US34,000 in Touring trim.
“Overall, for anyone looking for a reliable SUV, the CR-V is a good choice,” she wrote.
“The driver-assistance package definitely takes it to a new level, and it’s a comfortable ride for the everyday driver. The main lacking aspect of the vehicle is its navigation system, but if you can overlook that or prefer to use your phone anyway, the CR-V is not a wasted purchase.”
The 2017 Sahara Wrangler I tested came in at $US38,000 with a nicely optioned sticker.
Still, nicely optioned doesn’t mean this total throwback was iffy on the ruggedness.
“Over a week, I grew to enjoy the Wrangler for what it is: a loveable brute,” I wrote.
“A dog by my side would have been a natural addition. I could imagine never, ever worrying about washing the Jeep. It would only look better with dents, dings, perhaps even rust, scratched paint, encrusted with crud. Part of the investment you’d make if you bought a Wrangler would be in unselfconsciousness. And that could be worth it.”
Jeep Grand Cherokee
“The base 2017 Grand Cherokee with rear-wheel-drive starts at $US30,395 while the top-of-the-line SRT 4X4 edition comes with an asking price pushing $US70,000,” Zhang wrote in his review. “Our well-optioned Summit with four-wheel-drive starts at just under $US54,000.”
He added: “It’s infinitely charismatic personality more than makes up for its shortcomings. So, if you’re in the market for a well-appointed American SUV with unimpeachable off-road credentials and a stonking great motor, look no further.”
Our 2017 $US72,000 test vehicle “was extremely well kitted out, as they might say across the pond,” I wrote in my review of the jaw-droppingly gorgeous F-Pace.
“Ultimately, the F-Pace is perhaps the finest debut in the segment since the daddy of them all, the Cayenne,” I added.
“The Cayenne ultimately proved that brands with high-performance in their veins could construct compelling people-haulers. But truthfully, I’d say the F-Pace is better. The Cayenne has been for some time the finest SUV built by human hands on planet Earth. But F-Pace could give it a run for its money.”
Land Rover Discovery
Zhang reviewed the 2017 Discovery HSE Luxury in a chic silicon-silver paint job.
“The Discovery starts at $US49,990, while our high-spec HSE Luxury test car starts at $US63,950. With options, our test car left the showroom at $US64,945,” he noted.
He added: “With the new Discovery, Land Rover has its next big hit. The brand’s new-found style has not compromised substance.
“Sure, the Discovery is still big and heavy with a kink or two that’s yet to be worked out. But, as an overall package, the new Land Rover is fantastic. It’s spacious, incredibly comfortable, has great cargo capacity, a gutsy engine, plenty of technology, and Land Rover’s go-anywhere four-wheel-drive system. It simply does everything you need a large premium SUV to do. What more can you ask for?”
I was dazzled by the upward-of-$US100,000 Levante, which I was fortunate enough to sample when it launched.
I thought it was brilliant.
“This was easily one of the best luxury performance crossover SUVs to hit the market in 2016 and worthy competition for the Cayenne,” I wrote at the time. “Maserati set a tall order for itself with that one, but they appear to have pulled it off.”
“Our test car tipped the cost scales at $US28,500, and it had pretty much everything you could ask for (and pay for off the options lists),” I wrote of the Mazda CX-3, my favourite cute ute.
“In normal driving, the CX-3 is just terrific,” I added.
“I motored around the suburbs of New Jersey and made several jaunts into New York City in the week I sampled the vehicle. The bottom line is that although you aren’t going to feel like you’re in a Lexus, you are inhabiting an experience that’s about 10,000 miles above what we used to endure with inexpensive cars.”
“Our well-equipped, machine grey, all-wheel-drive ‘Signature’ test car came in at $US45,215,” I wrote in my review of the Mazda CX-9.
“I actually know a few family types who own and adore the CX-9, so the word is obviously out regarding its allure,” I added. “Mazda isn’t as big of a player in this segment as Honda or Toyota, but Mazda has engineered and designed an excellent offering that worth a close look and a test-drive.”
I concluded: “So there you have it. The Mazda CX-9 is everything you could want in a sub-$US50,000 three-row crossover, plus a little bit extra in the form of some nice Mazda driving dynamics.”
Zhang donned the car-reviewer hat to check out the 2016 CLC300 4Matic, which came in a matte “Magno Dakota Brown” paint job and was priced at $US64,530.
“With the new GLC, Mercedes has, more or less, a winner on its hands,” he wrote. “It’s stylish, comfortable, and offers more performance that one would expect from a four-cylinder crossover. Mercedes has a few kinks to iron out. But after dominating for the better part of a decade, the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 had better watch their backs!”
“We recently borrowed a $US35,400 MINI Cooper S Countryman ALL4 … and used it to conduct life in suburban New Jersey,”I wrote in my review of this offbeat SUV.
“Although this is the Big MINI, it’s fairly small as SUVs go,” I said.
“Put it next to a regulation MINI Cooper and it looks large (and for this updated model, it actually was slightly increased in size). Park it next to Chevy Suburban and, well, you know … it’s a small-ish thing. That said, the Countryman does provide a nice middle ground between a compromised compact luxury SUV and a bulkier midsize vehicle.”
I added: “I felt cool driving around in it, and not quite as fussy as I have in some of MINI’s smaller rides.”
Lexus RX 350
“Lexus loaned us a $US60,000 RX 350 F-Sport version, with all-wheel drive, and we tooled around in it around for a week,” I wrote when I sampled this most important vehicle that Lexus sells.
The 2016 RX 350 “was one of those cars that tested out exactly as expected,” I added. “OK, the design is going to be a bit much for the ‘burbs. But otherwise the crossover that started it all is holding up its responsibilities admirably.”
“Our well-optioned 2018 4×4 Reserve trim level tipped the price scales at $US90,000,” I wrote of the all-new Navigator when I checked it out.
“With the new Navigator, following the debut of the flagship Continental sedan, Lincoln has nearly completed its comeback in the luxury market,” I added.
“Navigator was an important part of this process, and Lincoln has basically done everything right. The classic has been updated, gracefully, without sacrificing its functionality. It now stacks up much better against the Cadillac Escalade, and Caddy will be under pressure to keep pace.”
We’ve sampled various versions of this hot-selling crossover. Muoio took a spin in the 2017 Nissan Rogue, in SL Premium trim, costing $US31,310.
“All around, the Nissan Rogue is a comfy crossover SUV with great visibility and lift above the road,” she wrote. “It comes available with some sweet tech perks that more than make up for the added price. It’s a great car for the everyday driver looking for something with a bit more edge than the typical crossover.”
There was even a special one-off “Rogue Dogue” version than we tried.
Zhang jumped behind the wheel of a 2018 model year Platinum 4WD edition, fully optioned and priced at $US47,840.
“While the overall styling, execution, and material quality aren’t on the same level as something from a luxury brand like a Lexus or Mercedes-Benz, our Pathfinder Platinum interior appointments felt quality and solidly put together,” he wrote in his review.
“Its luxury won’t blow you away, but the cabin is nice enough to make living with the Pathfinder on a daily basis a pleasant experience. At the same time, it’s plebeian personality won’t fill you with overwhelming anxiety if everyday life happens to blemish the leather or wood.”
“Our test car started at $US86,445 but cost $US96,295 with options,”Zhang noted in his review of the Turbo with Performance Package, “the most expensive version of the Macan on sale.”
“The Porsche Macan Turbo with Performance Package is one of the most impressive SUVs I’ve ever encountered,” he wrote, adding: “But at $US96,295 with options, it’s freaking expensive.”
So yeah, you get what you pay for here. Zhang advocated buying a cheaper version of this Porsche SUV.
The 2017 Subaru Forester that Muoio reviewed was the Touring Version priced at $US31,295.
“Overall, the 2017 Subaru Forester remains a solid bang-for-your-buck option if you’re looking for a sturdy crossover,” she wrote, echoing the view of numerous owners for whom there is no choice better than Subaru’s legendary anti-SUV.
Zhang sampled a 2018 Tiguan SEL Premium 4Motion, priced at $US38,950.
“In baseball terms, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan isn’t a grand slam, but it is a bases-clearing triple,” he wrote in his review. “So, almost as good.
“With more room, more features, better fuel economy, and more competitive pricing, VW has gone a long way in fixing the previous Tiguan’s many shortcomings.”
Tesla Model X
The Model X is an all-electric SUV from the most closely watched carmaker on the planet. And it ain’t cheap, at least not when it came to the fully loaded P100D I took on a family road trip and that most likely cost about $US150,000.
“The Model X is Tesla’s offering for American families: a stylish SUV with seating for up to seven plus cargo space for gear and room for a pet,” I wrote in recounting our journey.
“It checks those boxes while looking like a spaceship with a dramatic extended windshield affording a view of the sky, falcon-wing doors, and all-electric propulsion. It can also, at the P100D trim level – which means it has a 1oo-kilowatt-hour battery pack and a dual-motor all-wheel-drive system – streak from zero to 60 mph in about three seconds.”
We tested a 2017 Platinum all-wheel-drive RAV4, priced at $US36,150.
“Overall, the Toyota RAV4 feels luxurious – for a mass-market compact SUV – without breaking the bank,” Muoio wrote in her review.
“Its size could either be its biggest asset or biggest drawback, depending on what you’re looking for. I’d recommend the RAV4 for anyone looking for a safe car with good cargo and passenger capacity. But it’s a bit behind the times on the technology front.”
“The 2018 Volkswagen Atlas is a German take on the mid-size American crossover SUV,” Zhang wrote in his review of the SUV – which we actually checked out twice, in SEL Premium with 4Motion trim at $US49,000, and the V6 SE with 4Motion for a tad under $US40,000.
“Embracing Americana is the smartest thing Volkswagen has done in a long time,” Zhang concluded. “While it hasn’t completely shed its German heritage, the company finally delivered an off-roader with the power, space, and practicality which caters specifically to the largest and most lucrative SUV market in the world.”
Our tester was a 2018 XC60 T8 E-AWD Inscription – nicely optioned, stickering at $US71,590 – and I spent a few days driving around the New Jersey suburbs and New York.
“The ride is stable and our car could embrace its sporty side quite easily without turning into a sports car,” I wrote in my review. “Somehow, the turbo-supercharger-electric motor setup doesn’t drive itself crazy, and the XC60’s suspension is sharp enough to make pitching into curves fun. Wind and road noise are minimal.”
I added: “Volvo has really bolstered its position in the midsize-crossover segment and now has a lineup of vehicles that can match up segment by segment with everything in the luxury realm. The vehicles are less quirky than they once were, but Volvo is really building on its legendary safety reputation by embracing a particular attitude toward luxury and by advancing the high-tech cause.”
We sampled our 2015 Car of the Year in top-level Inscription trim, which tipped the cost scales at almost $US67,000.
“All in all, the XC90 is a solidly built, well-designed luxury crossover, outfitted with all the technology almost anyone could want,” we wrote. “As a car, the overall package is compelling.”
We added: “While the Volvo might not be as luxurious as a Mercedes G Class or as robust under the hood as a BMW X Series – and we’re unsure of whether its reliability can challenge Acura or Lexus – there’s no doubt that it’s feature- and technology-packed, a joy to drive, and exceptionally versatile and comfortable.”
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