Shopping for a midsize SUV

It's important to evaluate your needs before shopping for an SUV. Think about the type of driving you do, how much power you need, how often you carry cargo or pull a trailer and how many passengers you're likely to carry. Will you ever go off road? The following is what experts recommend shoppers consider when checking out midsize SUVs:

  • Midsize SUVs attempt to balance cargo capacity, passenger space and fuel economy. Most of the vehicles in this class can carry at least five people comfortably --many three-row models fit seven passengers, or even eight -- and still have adequate cargo space, but not quite as much as a full-size SUV. Fuel economy and handling are usually better than for larger SUVs.
  • SUVs are not as nimble as cars. A higher driving position and heavier weight generally mean that an SUV's performance, fuel economy and handling are not as good as a typical passenger sedan or station wagon's. As always, some models perform better than others when it comes to handling, accelerating and braking.
  • Most midsize SUVs are crossovers. When SUVs first became popular, almost all were based on traditional body-on-frame truck platforms. Now, most are based on unibody passenger-car architecture, which puts them into the crossover class. Performance and handling of these models are better than older truck-based designs.
  • Smaller engine options typically provide adequate power and better fuel efficiency. Recent redesigns often include 4-cylinder engine options. Reviewers at enthusiast publications find these less exciting, but often conclude that they are more than adequate for typical buyers and increase fuel efficiency.
  • Truck-based midsize SUVs are typically better at off-road and towing situations, but this is no longer the rule. Truck-based SUVs used to have the advantage when it came to hauling trailers and rock crawling, but many new car-based SUVs have closed this gap. Truck-based SUVs tend to be heavier and have more cumbersome handling, but these are no longer the norm; most mainstream SUVs are now family-friendly crossovers. For even towing capability, look at full-size SUVs, which we cover in a separate report on large SUVs.
  • A minivan may be a more practical, comfortable solution. For maximum passenger and cargo space, the best vehicle may be a minivan, if you don't mind the suburban family image that comes with it. However, most minivans do not offer all-wheel drive (the Toyota Sienna is the sole exception), or much towing capacity.
  • Comfort in the third row varies. Some midsize SUVs and crossovers have easy access to the third row (if so equipped), but kids will probably be more comfortable back there than teens or adults. Full-size three-row SUVs are roomier, but no SUVs have the kind of third-row comfort typically found in a minivan.
  • Some SUVs are two-wheel-drive, which is sufficient for many owners' needs. Crossovers are often front-wheel-drive-based vehicles, while truck-based SUVs are usually based on rear-wheel-drive architecture. All brands offer four-wheel drive or all-wheel drive as standard or optional features. AWD vehicles automatically distribute power to the wheels with the best traction. Four-wheel-drive vehicles allow the driver to engage all four wheels on demand. Low-range gearing is designed for off-road use. Front-wheel-drive powertrains are usually more fuel efficient.
  • Most crossovers aren't meant for serious off-roading. This is due to designs that focus on on-road drivability and comfort. But considering that fewer than 5 percent of SUV owners regularly take their vehicles off road, a crossover's more nimble handling and car-like ride may be an advantage over the heavier chassis of a truck-based SUV.

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