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In this report

Large SUVs excel at towing and carrying people and cargo

Despite generally declining sales due to a combination of market factors, the large SUV still holds a unique and practical niche in the automotive landscape. In the recent past, consumer desires have shifted toward more economical SUVs that emphasize interior and on-road comfort, and automakers have responded by offering larger, midsize car-based SUVs that aim to meet those demands. Even so, large SUVs continue to offer unique truck-like capabilities and excel when it comes to combining superior towing capacity with roomy cargo space and passenger comfort.

Large SUVs can be had at prices starting in the mid-$30,000 range up to $80,000 and beyond. It is no surprise then that models run the gamut from family-friendly utilitarian to ultra-luxury, high-tech workhorses. Since large SUVs are generally derived from their respective manufacturers'  truck platforms, they have tough frames and suspensions that are well suited for towing heavy loads and/or hauling several passengers as well as cargo while delivering ride comfort that belies their utilitarian underpinnings. The models discussed in this report all feature three seating rows (some more practical to use than others). Most models tow more than 5,000 pounds; many have capacities that are substantially higher. Cargo space is generally good, especially with the second- and third-row seats folded, delivering capacity approaching 100 cubic feet (or more) in some models.

Of course, there are important trade-offs to consider with large SUVs, particularly when compared against the current crop of midsize, car-based SUVs. First, large SUVs get poor fuel economy; they're big and heavy. This is an important consideration as gas prices exceeding $4.00/gallon are already a reality in some regions and are likely to become the norm throughout the spring and summer of 2012. This not only makes large SUVs expensive to operate, it also affects resale values, especially if fuel prices remain high. And while today's large SUVs deliver plenty of comfort, when compared against popular midsize crossovers (many of which also offer three-row seating), the large, truck-based models are still more cumbersome when it comes to parking, and they don't handle as well as their smaller, more efficient midsize cohorts.

If heavy towing and/or off-road capability isn't important to you, a midsize SUV or crossover makes more sense. These lighter vehicles generally have powerful, yet more fuel-efficient drivetrains and sacrifice little in the way of passenger or cargo capacity due to more efficient packaging. If carrying passengers is of utmost importance, minivans like the Honda Odyssey are better still as they are generally more roomy than the biggest midsize crossovers while offering car-like ride quality and fuel economy.

It is for all those reasons that automakers have focused their efforts on developing and improving their small and midsize SUV offerings. This is evident when looking at the large SUVs on sale today. Many models haven't been updated recently and remain largely unchanged from redesigns that took place between 2007 and 2009. Given the overall stagnation in activity in the segment, there aren't many recent comparison tests involving large SUVs. Individual model reviews are more readily available, however, and since many of these vehicles are unchanged for years, some older comparison tests are still valid.

ConsumerReports.org is an excellent source for automotive reviews as it provides in-depth, hands-on testing and survey-based reliability and owner-satisfaction data. Edmunds.com provides comprehensive reviews and analysis on how models stack up against a variety of alternatives. Inside Line, Edmunds.com's enthusiast website, produces quality reviews and valuable long-term test results. Automobile Magazine, Motor Trend and Car and Driver also provide comprehensive coverage. Motor Trend's Truck Trend pays particular attention to towing capabilities and off-road abilities, and is a particularly good source for large SUV reviews.

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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