Built on a light-truck chassis, most SUVs, thankfully, don’t have the interior of a truck. Things are posher and more refined, which they should be, as SUVs are actually operated as a family vehicle. But some of the things that made the SUV famous do include those truck properties: high ground-clearance, high seating-position, etc.
The name “SUV” wasn’t even common until the early ‘90s. People used to call such a vehicle a "4-wheel drive" and a "station wagon," and some countries even used to refer to one as a "jeep." These were off-roading vehicles that were derived from some military vehicles. While it’s common to associate the power of an SUV with male drivers, originally, soccer moms were your SUV owners. They were tired of driving minivans and seemed to enjoy these powerful, different vehicles. While they still give a decent profit margin, back at the peak of the craze, the profit margins were astonishingly high: an average of $10K per SUV in the late ‘90s and the early ‘00s. Wikipedia states Ford made about $18K per Ford Excursion, while the Ford Focus didn’t even allow Ford to break even on the base model. The economy and the cheap fuel only supported the growth.
Well, SUVs continue to be a popular vehicle choice. Not all are equally liked by the public, though. Ready to see which ones are and which ones aren't?
“CR” stands for "Consumer Reports;" “C/D” for "Car and Driver."
20 Stud: Jaguar F-Pace
The turn signal of one of these is pretty neat, especially when it’s seen in the context of the entire rear design. The grille is where I think Jaguar could've improved, as it looks simple and bland. The hood has those curvy lines that easily remind you of the BMW’s design, meaning, it looks respectable enough. The car could've definitely improved its base powertrain, as the 180 HP, while being decent, isn't nearly enough. Nonetheless, the interior is where the qualities chime in.
The gauge cluster looks nice, and one of the cool features is that it tells you how much fuel you have left in terms of percentage!
The interior is soft and well appointed; the trunk has plenty of cargo area. It’s a solid car.
19 Stud: Bentley Bentayga
If you want your back to be warm but your rear to be cool, that’s totally fine. And if you also want to get a massage—and not any type of massage, but different types of massages—that’s also fine. Whatever your heart reasonably desires, the Bentayga probably has it. Those luxuries aren't it, though. Want to go to a tailgate party? Take the Bentayga and unfold the tailgate seats; you’ll be sitting on leather, of course. Want to load something heavy on your Bentayga? Press the button to lower the frame. And if you thought that was it, then you’re in for a surprise. The car has more than 600 HP and similar lb-ft of torque, so a four-second 0-60 shouldn’t be a surprise. There, it also has the performance. Look at the picture for the exterior aesthetic.
18 Stud: Toyota Highlander
If you thought I was going to list only high-end SUVs, then brace yourself for a change. Here's the Highlander, a car that uses the same platform as the Toyota Camry. This mid-size SUV has a lot of “just right” features. Let’s start with the exterior. Every side of the car looks good, particularly the stylish rear. It has an I4, but things aren't limited to just that; various V6s are easily available.
And while the engine is strong on the roads, it’s not particularly strong on your wallet; fuel economy is another "just right" feature of this car.
The ride is pleasantly compliant, and the cabin provides a wonderful experience also. Sales of the Highlander have only increased since 2009, with 2017 allowing 215K units to find new driveways.
17 Stud: BMW X3
Here’s a compact SUV that not only doesn’t look out of shape but also looks like it was well designed. BMW probably hears out what its designers have to say. In production since 2003, the X3 is currently in its third generation. It's offered in both petrol and diesel, I4 and I6. C/D said in its review that the car is “good at nearly everything.”
While C/D tested a pricier X3, even the base model would probably hold true to that statement. One of the complaints about this car was its “staid”—respectable, but unadventurous—looks. When a complaint is a compliment, then you know the car is good. The car has a stylish cabin and the hood has a serious engine. It’s a total marvel.
16 Stud: Audi Q7
Well, here’s the magic of Audi. The car has a lot of things that you can be appreciative of. First, look at that top-notch exterior. It has a highly refined and distinct exterior, giving that sharp yet calm look. The interior is very elegant. Check it out in the broad daylight, and you’ll come to enjoy German technology at its best. And even when the sun is down, the cabin looks magnificent with its various lights and shiny materials. You're going to find a decent amount of room in any car in this category, but the Q7 also adds a good cabin. On top, the powertrain is more than powerful. The base engine, a 2L turbo four, provides 252 HP, but 333 HP is also a reality.
15 Stud: Jeep Wrangler
The Wrangler is one of the most hardcore jeeps out there. The year 2018 brings to you a completely redesigned model year. The Wrangler has so many features and so many trims that it’s difficult to describe everything in one paragraph, but let’s take a shot at a few features. The top, for instance, can be removed easily.
Some trims even allow the front bumper to be removed easily.
The new one features circular lights—some halogen, some LED. And if you look closely, you’ll note it doesn’t have a Jeep logo. Doug Demuro asked one of the designers and was told Jeep is using the grille as the logo. That’s a pretty neat look that Jeep has going with the new Wrangler.
14 Stud: Volvo XC90
When you see these SUVs on the road, you realize they're handsome not only in pictures but also in real life. The Volvo grille is simply mesmerizing. It’s not complex like that of the Camaro SS, but it’s sharp enough to give the entire car a dashing look. Get inside one, and you’re bound to find yourself awash in luxuries and comforts.
The visibility is ubiquitous; the handling is appreciated; the steering wheel is firm; the infotainment system is posh and highly responsive; and the center armrest is cushioned, cozy, and comfortable.
There are so many trim levels that the price ranges from $47K for the base to $105K for the most upscale level, and even the top one is worth the money. The XC90 is a really likable SUV.
13 Stud: Maserati Levante
This is one of the most good-looking cars out there. For real, take a look at any angle, and you’ll appreciate the design. The front is just exceptional, with its unique grille and squinting headlights. And then, the sides give you that crossover look, which is also aesthetically pleasing. Of course, adding to all this is the unique and formidable Maserati logo itself. The car is beautiful from the inside, too. Take the steering wheel, for instance. It’s not clustered at all yet has all the functions that you’d normally need, so no need to take your hands off the steering wheel. And how does the Levante achieve that? By placing some of the buttons on the underside of the steering wheel. The price might be a little on the high side, though.
12 Stud: Mazda CX-9
The craze is real for this one. Built since the mid-2000s, this car is currently in its second generation. It has several good aspects that are commendable. Consider the fact that it’s a three-row SUV but still provides a respectable amount of power at 250 HP. Even the 0-60 time is more than desirable at 7.2 seconds, as I’d imagine no one is in a rush to rapidly haul a vehicle full of kids, dogs, and equipment. But it’s there in case needed. After giving you those numbers, you might think the CX-9 is built for family racing, but no. It’s made for practicality. It’s a sporty SUV, but it’s not meant for actual sports. It’s meant to safely carry your little ones back and forth and for you to take it for a drive when desired.
11 Stud: Lamborghini Urus
Here’s an SUV that blurs the boundary between practicality and sports. It’s here to change your perception—your world—about what an SUV should be like. It’s not easily affordable with a price tag of $200K, but be certain: it’s a highly competent car—just the exterior shows that.
It’s a low-slung, ferocious vehicle that, despite being an SUV, looks like a sports car. And the performance only backs that up, as the V8 produces over 600 horses.
And the interior is insane. Everything is as posh as you can imagine—or maybe not that posh, as this is Lambo’s first time. The cabin is really busy—some of the controls are governed by huge metal knobs—but that only adds to its charisma. It’s a phenomenon for a car enthusiast to experience.
10 Dud: Buick Encore
Buick has the exceptional gift of making any of the vehicles in its lineup look ugly. It’s a compact SUV but looks like an inflated BMW i3. Because of the way Buick designed the car, the front seems to be nonexistent, and when you do perceive a bonnet, you realize why you don’t like it: it’s bulbous.
These cars were launched in 2012, with markets across the world, including South Korea, Spain, and Russia.
But looks aren't everything, folks. True, but with a 153 HP I4, it really doesn’t have much of a powertrain to boast of either. With 177 lb-ft of torque, the 0-60 time is languid at best at 8.4 seconds—and it’s not even like this is a big vehicle. It’s really hard to sell these cars.
9 Dud: Subaru Crosstrek
The exterior of this car looks okay; I don’t have much negative to say here. It’s the powertrain that's weak. The car’s length comes out to be 175.8 inches, the width 71.0 inches, the wheelbase 104.9 inches, and the height 175.8 inches, but for some reason, the engine only manages to pump out a lowly 152 horses and an even lowlier 145 lb-ft of torque. So, what does all that mean? It means the car’s 0-60 time is 9.2 seconds, which is slow, in case it wasn’t clear. Just to give you an idea of how slow that is, it’s a little over half the 0-60 time of the 1997 Ford Aspire. The interior is uninspiring also. Perhaps it was the low base price of $23K that got you interested, but overall, there are other options to consider.
8 Dud: Dodge Journey
The Journey has a tough journey. In production since 2009, the car hasn’t changed much in 2018. And while I might've given a different speech were that a human’s behavior, I’m going to criticize Chrysler for not coming up with any significant upgrades in the Dodge Journey. If you look at a decade-old Journey, you’re forced to realize what I mean. I’m not sure how the Journey is able to keep up with rivals.
The V6/six-speed Journeys are fine, but the rest (four-cylinder/four-speed) are just not competent enough to act like an SUV.
The only good thing about this car is the random hidden room for storing small items, such as a tablet or laptop. Besides that, even the interior with its three-row seats isn't adult-friendly.
7 Dud: Second- And Third-Generation Ford Explorer
These cars were monstrous, inefficient, and even unsafe. The second generation brought about the Firestone tire controversy, which claimed several lives, jobs, and billions of dollars. And then, there was the third generation, which, while not having any tires from the Firestone, still wasn’t trusted by the public. In fact, U-Haul didn’t trust the fifth-generation Explorer until one year into production; U-Haul didn’t permit drivers with the Explorer to haul a U-Haul trailer. Apparently, the rear bumpers were weak. Worst yet, when the “Cash for Clunkers” program was active in 2009, the 1998 Explorer was the top returner. Funds were depleted so quickly that Congress had to allot the program a larger budget, with the nation losing billions of dollars through it. It was hard to do much with so many Explorers (wikipedia.org).
6 Dud: Nissan Pathfinder
The mid-size truck is derived from the Nissan’s pickup-truck platform, meaning, unless something was done differently, the SUV isn't going to be a mind-boggling vehicle either.
It's been in production since 1990, and while it used to be a rugged off-road ruffian, over the years, it's become a family car.
The curved sides of the SUV look okay, but from the front and the rear, it’s bland. The engine and the power are so-so, so the price is what might've captivated you; after all, even the higher trim levels are less expensive than those of counterparts. But then, you start seeing reliability issues with the car. You realize the warning lights for the passenger airbag have been on for days. You read somewhere else that the vehicle jerks and vibrates. You realize from other drivers that the transmission doesn’t act properly—and it goes on and on (newsday.com).
5 Dud: Jeep Compass
This one isn't too far away from how the Buick Encore looks, considering the globular front, although it still looks slightly better than the Encore. But the globular shape isn’t the only thing, for the grille isn't aesthetically pleasing, either. I understand it’s a crossover, but the Compass, in particular, gives you a very unwarranted congested and compact experience. So, you really are out of luck if your kids are growing at a rate faster than expected. So, that was the interior; let's dive into the powertrain. The power is around 180 HP, which will cause the car to struggle if your family is a bit on the heavy side. And with a 1000 lb towing capacity, it’s best to stay realistic with the SUV’s capabilities. In other words, don’t expect magic.
4 Dud: Suzuki Samurai
When the 1986 model year hit the US market in 1985, the car caught on popularity like a fire in the wild; one individual after another was trying to get a hold of the car. It was one of the best off-pavement vehicles available, as it had a light design yet had a 4WD layout. What that means is that it didn’t sink into the soft ground and was nimble as a cat (a non-fat cat, at least). Perhaps, that was its greatest weakness also. It turns out the car had an inclination to roll over.
CR stated the Samurai was “unsafe and prone to rollovers.”
Well, Suzuki tried to fight back and sued CR’s parent company. But it seems CR had no dog in the fight.
3 Dud: Dodge Nitro
This car looks a little boxy and Jeep-like, but I’d go on to say those are some of the good features because, besides that, it doesn’t have anything else. The very first thing that got pulled out of the market was its TV advertisement. Remember the dog getting electrocuted after peeing on the front wheel? Well, the public didn’t like that, so Dodge quickly retracted the advertisement. And while the car actually made a respectable impression the year it was launched, things only went downhill after the Great Recession. A total of 17K Nitros were sold in 2009, and three years after that, the model was electrocuted for real. The car had an underwhelming motor, and even the interior seemed cramped.
2 Dud: Hummer H2 and H3
The H1s look nice. Inspired by the Humvee, the H1 was a good off-road SUV. It was directly related to a military vehicle and acted like it. But then, you had the H2 and the H3, brought on by the early success of the H1—that and the milieu of the early 2010s. The economy was doing exceptional, meaning, gas prices were low. And this was the era when America was encouraging biggest and “baddest” vehicles to hit and dominate the market.
These vehicles were huge—and those who drove it knew that they weren't necessarily looked favorably upon for driving a monster truck, but they just didn’t care.
And when the economy took the turn for the worse, driving a car that needed refueling every other fifth mile got old.
1 Dud: GMC Envoy XUV
You couldn’t tell what you were looking at with the Envoy XUV. It had a retractable roof that was allegedly supposed to help with the cargo area, but all that did was create a hazard for all with all the surrounding breakable glass windows. Have you seen a pickup truck that puts out heavy-weight items near windows that shatter? Not really. So, that’s why this Envoy XUV, being neither a good SUV nor a decent pickup truck, failed. Plus, the design of this thing is one of the most detested things that you can find in a vehicle—just look at how the body widens towards the back. Even if there was a use for these things back in the days, those days are gone. A pickup is the way to go.