Deciding on a large SUV

Nearly all large SUVs available today are based on truck platforms and therefore offer many advantages when it comes to ground clearance, towing capacity and off-road ability. Only buyers who require one or more of these qualities will be best suited with a large SUV. Despite advances in road manners, many midsize car-based SUVs offer equal or better cargo capacity, up to three rows of passenger seating, decent towing capability, and better ride and handling.

The experts say that the following points are important to consider when shopping for a large SUV:

  • Consider whether a midsize crossover or SUV would be more suitable. Most experts note that today's midsize crossovers and SUVs may make more sense than traditional truck-based SUVs. Bigger, car-based, midsize SUVs and crossovers can hold as many passengers, fit more cargo, have more comfortable rides and have better and more efficient packaging than large truck-based SUVs. Large SUVs would be a good choice for buyers who need top-tier towing capacity or heavy-duty underpinnings for lighter off-road applications.
  • If heavy towing is a must, check model specifications and seek reviews that test the towing experience for a given model. Some large SUVs tow more than others, and if you've got serious hauling to do, pay attention to towing capacities and available towing packages that can improve the towing experience. For instance, the 2012 GMC Yukon can be optioned to tow more than 8,000 pounds, but some trim levels without certain options are rated to tow 5,200 pounds. When comparing, consider what you need to tow and, if applicable, how much cost the necessary options would add to the base price if they aren't included already.
  • Expect truck-like performance. According to reviewers, this is less of an issue than it used to be; many large SUVs have good performance considering their immense size. That said, large SUV acceleration, braking and handling will trail most smaller SUVs, station wagons and minivans.
  • Large SUVs have poor fuel economy. Large SUVs excel at towing and heavy-duty applications because they have beefy frames and powerful, thirsty engines. Large SUVs typically average between 13 and 16 mpg in combined fuel economy, as tested by the Environmental Protection Agency. Highway fuel economy barely exceeds 20 mpg in best-case scenarios, and fuel economy while towing is significantly lower than regular city or highway fuel-economy ratings. There are a few large hybrid SUVs available (covered in a separate full report), but any advantages in fuel economy that they deliver is accompanied by significantly higher base prices.
  • Interior packaging varies. Typically, large SUVs can seat seven or eight passengers depending on available seating configurations. If you need to carry the maximum amount of people, the 2012 Chevrolet Suburban can fit nine passengers when optioned with a front bench seat. Pay careful attention to what experts say about the seating set-ups. Models like the 2012 Toyota Sequoia offer seats that fold into the floor, other models have power folding and sliding rear seats, but some like the 2012 Chevrolet Tahoe and 2012 GMC Yukon require you to remove the seats from the vehicle in order to get maximum cargo capacity. Also, reviewers note that some models have cramped rear seats.
  • Some crossovers have as much space as large SUVs. Whereas once if you wanted to haul more than 100 cubic feet of cargo, a large SUV was one of the only options, newer midsize crossovers can often carry as much or more than many large SUVs and do so while offering more comfort and better fuel economy. For maximum cargo space, consider a minivan as well; many offer unbeatable cargo capacity. Bigger on the outside doesn't always mean bigger on the inside.
  • Two-wheel-drive models cost less, tow more. Two-wheel drive models (typically rear-wheel drive) generally have a lower base price and slightly better fuel economy. Two-wheel drive models also have higher tow ratings. While two-wheel drive is sufficient for the majority of driving scenarios, available four-wheel drive provides maximum traction in inclement weather and viable off-road capabilities. Traction control, electronic stability control and off-road technology like hill descent control are available on many models.
  • Consider resale value and ownership costs. Large SUVs can be expensive to own and operate. Not only do they have relatively high base prices, they also can be expensive to insure and can depreciate quickly. Fuel cost is also a factor. Sites like Kiplinger.com and Kelley Blue Book both specialize in assessing the relative values and ownership costs of all cars, including large SUVs. Experts point out that large SUVs can be harder to sell when fuel prices rise.
  • Large luxury SUVs combine truck-like characteristics with style and luxury. Large luxury SUVs provide the cargo carrying and towing capabilities of large SUVs with the technology and style of the best luxury sedans. If you need to tow and have seating for seven or eight people, and cost is not a factor, there are a variety of attractive large luxury SUVs to choose from. They are expensive, though, ranging from the mid-$50,000 range to $80,000 and above.

Large SUVs Runners Up:

2012 Chevrolet Suburban (Base MSRP: $41,995 to $57,890)

5 picks including: About.com, ConsumerGuide.com…

2012 Chevrolet Tahoe (Base MSRP: $38,530 to $55,850)

4 picks including: ConsumerGuide.com, FuelEconomy.gov…

2012 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class (Base MSRP: $61,570 to $85,300)

3 picks including: ConsumerGuide.com, FuelEconomy.gov…

2012 GMC Yukon Base MSRP: $39,860 to $57,780

3 picks including: ConsumerGuide.com, FuelEconomy.gov…

2012 Ford Expedition Base MSRP: $36,530 to $52,330

2 picks including: ConsumerGuide.com, FuelEconomy.gov…

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