The 2012 Dodge Durango (Base MSRP: $28,995 to $42,995) is universally lauded by reviewers, who say that a comprehensive 2011 redesign has vaulted the Durango atop the midsize SUV pile. It offers a compelling blend of fresh exterior styling, a stylish and well-appointed interior, comfortable third-row seating, good cargo and towing capacities, surprisingly good driving dynamics, an optional V8 engine and a comfortable highway ride. The only significant gripe that critics have is the car's middling performance from the five-speed automatic that comes with the base V6 option. This will reportedly be addressed in 2013, when an eight-speed automatic transmission becomes standard with the 6-cylinder, according to a Chrysler filing with the SEC. For a full breakdown of what reviewers have to say about the best-reviewed 2012 Dodge Durango (Base MSRP: $28,995 to $42,995), click over to our comprehensive report on this model.
Given the overall strength of the category, a variety of noteworthy runners-up are available as well. Reviewers say the 2012 Mazda CX-9 (Base MSRP: $29,725 to $35,125) is good-looking, roomy and has the best handling of any mainstream (read: non-luxury brand) midsize SUV. The 2012 Toyota Highlander (Base MSRP: $28,240 to $37,195) may be less exciting to look at or drive, but it's a perennial favorite that delivers a smooth ride and good interior versatility. Another familiar face, the 2012 Honda Pilot (Base MSRP: $28,620 to $40,970), is reliable, has smart interior packaging and seats up to eight passengers. Our individual pages on each model go into much greater detail.
When it comes to overall value, no midsize SUV/crossover gets better reviews than the 2013 Kia Sorento (Base MSRP: $23,250 to $33,400). The Sorento is not only attractively priced, it's also one of the best-looking and most competent midsize SUVs available. Standard equipment includes a spacious third-row seat. Fuel efficiency is better than many competitors' at an EPA-estimated 24 mpg combined (for front-wheel-drive models), and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) names the Sorento a Top Safety Pick based on its performance in a battery of crash tests. Read our full report on the 2013 Kia Sorento (Base MSRP: $23,250 to $33,400) to gain additional insight into what reviewers are saying.
The 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe (Base MSRP: $23,225 to $30,925) is priced similarly and earns good reviews -- although not as good as the newer Sorento. A completely redesigned 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe was unveiled at the 2012 New York International Auto Show, and the new car will be offered in both two- and three-row seating configurations. (The latter will replace the Hyundai Veracruz, which is being discontinued after the 2012 model year.) Our full report on the 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe (Base MSRP: $23,225 to $30,925) provides more details on what experts have to say, and our preview of the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe (Base MSRP: $28,090 to $37,045) highlights the significant updates to expect.
The 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander (Base MSRP: $22,345 to $27,895) is another value-priced model, but reviews say it lacks the Sorento's sophistication and overall interior comfort, especially for third-row passengers.
Some might consider luxury SUVs to be the best of all worlds, combining the highest quality materials with elegant design, practicality and lots of power. If any luxury SUV embodies all of these traits, experts say it's the 2012 Acura MDX (Base MSRP: $43,030 to $52,655). High performance is not a problem, thanks to its smooth 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V6. Perhaps even more important in the eyes of reviewers is that the MDX delivers handling to match the power under the hood.
The luxury aspect is well covered, too: Xenon headlights, three-zone climate control and a rear-view camera are among the standard features, while the optional tech package adds such features as a 10-speaker sound system, GPS navigation and an adaptive suspension. Leather seating is standard, and reviews note the use of high-quality materials and switchgear throughout. All-wheel drive is standard, as is a third-row seat, and cargo capacity is admirable compared to other luxury SUVs. In addition, the Acura MDX is priced lower than many competing midsize luxury SUVs.
The 2013 Lexus RX 350 (Base MSRP: $39,310 to $40,710) and the 2012 Porsche Cayenne (Base MSRP: $48,200 to $107,100) are strong runner-up SUVs, for different reasons. The Lexus offers a serene ride, a powerful and smooth engine and a sumptuous interior, plus excellent reliability and safety ratings. The laid-back RX 350 has traditionally focused more on comfort than sportiness, though the addition of a new F Sport trim level for 2013 looks to possibly change that perception somewhat. Regardless, reviews indicate that the RX has never been as engaging to drive as the Acura MDX, and the Lexus doesn't offer a third-row seat, limiting the number of people it can shuttle around to five.
The 2012 Porsche Cayenne (Base MSRP: $48,200 to $107,100) is widely considered to be the best-handling SUV, and it sports a lavishly appointed interior. The Porsche is offered with a wide range of powertrains, from a supercharged V6 hybrid to a monstrous twin-turbo V8, as well as performance-enhancing technology like an active suspension system.
The 2012 Volvo XC60 (Base MSRP: $32,900 to $47,600) also earns praise, primarily for its stylish exterior and elegant interior, along with its engaging turbocharged engine and excellent crash-test results.
All of these models are covered in much greater detail in their individual reports, which can be accessed by clicking the links associated with their names above.
Most reviewers call out the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Base MSRP: $26,995 to $54,470) as their favorite off-road-capable midsize SUV. It isn't necessarily the absolute benchmark for rock crawling and river fording, but its capabilities are undeniable, stemming from its advanced four-wheel-drive options and off-road-minded suspension design. Of greater importance to most drivers, the Grand Cherokee delivers outstanding fit and finish and excellent comfort and behavior on regular pavement. Furthermore, the Jeep Grand Cherokee has a 7,400-pound tow rating when properly equipped. Both V6 and V8 powertrains are available. Reviewers say that for a midsize SUV with so much off-road credibility, the Grand Cherokee is an excellent daily driver as well.
Reviewers also praise the 2012 Toyota 4Runner (Base MSRP: $31,090 to $40,630) and the 2012 Land Rover LR4 (Base MSRP: $48,900). The 4Runner is a truck-based SUV that also excels off road yet remains relatively civil on the road; it's just rougher riding and less dazzling inside than the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Reliability feedback is excellent for the Toyota 4Runner. The Land Rover LR4's off-road ability is outstanding, and it's finished with the upscale materials one would expect from a premium brand.
Experts also heap praise on the updates to the 2012 Jeep Wrangler, the benchmark for off-road capability. The Wrangler gets a new 3.6-liter V6 this year -- the same smooth and powerful engine used in the best-reviewed Jeep Grand Cherokee. On-pavement performance and fuel economy is improved (but the latter is still not great compared to conventional carlike crossovers and SUVs). That said, the Wrangler is genuinely unique. In addition to being a superb off-roader, it's also a convertible (the long-wheelbase Wrangler Unlimited is technically the only four-door convertible on the market). As one would expect, the trade-off for its peerless off-road chops is that drivers will need to compromise somewhat in terms of overall utility, comfort and fuel efficiency.
Our full reviews of the 2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee (Base MSRP: $26,995 to $54,470), 2012 Toyota 4Runner (Base MSRP: $31,090 to $40,630), 2012 Jeep Wrangler (Base MSRP: $22,045 to $29,995) and 2012 Land Rover LR4 (Base MSRP: $48,900) provide additional links to expert reviews and analysis of what reviewers like and dislike.