If you thought the 1990s were the heyday of the SUV, think again. According to the global market research company Euromonitor International, SUV sales made up 22.9% of global light vehicle sales in 2015, which made them the largest automotive segment in the world. In addition, sales of SUVs are expected to more than double by the year 2031.
That's a lot of SUVs, which brings to mind the question: what exactly is an SUV? Unfortunately, there's no one accepted definition of what is or is not a sport utility vehicle. Merriam-Webster says it's "a rugged automotive vehicle similar to a station wagon but built on a light-truck chassis," which is probably as close a description as we're going to get. Things get more complicated, of course, when you add in the different types of SUVs.
The smallest type of SUV is the crossover. According to Autotrader, "a crossover is based on a car's platform, while an SUV uses the chassis of a truck." This makes for better handling and fuel economy but obviously compromises towing capacity and cargo space. Moving up the line, there are also compact SUVs, mid-size SUVs, full-size SUVs, and extended-length SUVs. The point I'm trying to make is that whatever your SUV needs, we've got options, people.
With a brand new crop of 2018 SUVs on the market, how do you know which is the one for you? Here are ten SUVs you can consider for purchase, and ten more that are a hard pass.
20 Purchase: Honda CR-V
There's a reason you see Honda CR-Vs everywhere, and that's because they're just good vehicles, full stop. They're basically the motoring world's equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too.
For starters, the AWD CR-V gives you not only quick acceleration and good handling but also 75.8 cubic feet of cargo space.
The classy exterior hides an elegant interior, as well as a 1.5L turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 190 bhp and 179 lb-ft (good enough for 0-60 in 7.6 seconds and a top speed of 124 mph). The 2018 model is both bigger, lighter, and faster than the 2017 model, and it received a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. All this for only $24,045. No wonder Motor Trend named the CR-V their "SUV of the Year."
19 Pass: Fiat 500X
According to Consumer Reports, the Fiat brand ranks dead last in reliability. Of the four Fiat models available in America, one ranked dead last in its segment: the 500X. So, what you're looking at is basically the bottom of the last place barrel. For starters, this crossover comes standard with FWD. That's right—if you want AWD (you know, so you can do SUV-type driving), you either have to pay extra for the option on the base Pop model or spring for either the middle Trekking model or the top-shelf Lounge model. The 1.6L turbocharged engine produces 160 bhp and 184 lb-ft, but with a curb weight of 2,967 lbs, the 500X feels sluggish. Motor Trend says, "Expect quite a bit of growl during the drive, as well as a bouncy ride with little protection from potholes and other road imperfections." I can think of better uses for $22,234.
18 Purchase: Dodge Durango SRT
Pay attention, Fiat. Whereas the 500X takes 8.6 seconds to go from 0-60, the Dodge Durango SRT does the same in 4.7 seconds despite having a curb weight of 5,510 lbs. Big girl can run, or so the saying goes.
To be fair, this is the SRT model we're talking about, which takes the regular Durango's 5.7L V8 and replaces it with a 6.4L Hemi, boosting the original's 360 bhp to 475 bhp.
The SRT package is an additional $16,700, but for your money, you get stiffer suspension, an anti-roll bar, and eight driving modes (including Sport, Track, and Valet) in addition to the beefed-up engine. The ride will suffer a little from the stiffer suspension, but this Durango is a compromise between the muscle car of youth and the kid-toting, grocery-getting responsibilities of adulthood.
17 Pass: Tesla Model X
I know what you're thinking, but step away from the gullwing doors. Yes, the Model X looks cool with all its crazy futuristic accessories, like the 17" touch screen and the Full Self-Driving Capability (semi-autonomous autopilot). Yes, it's powered by 75 kWh battery pack that produces 518 bhp and has an EPA-rated driving range of 238 miles. Of course, it received a five-star safety rating in all categories from the NHTSA. But there's just one little catch: Consumer Reports rated the 2018 Model X as the least reliable vehicle (among all cars, trucks, and SUVs) on the American market. Specifically, it has problems with the climate system, the body hardware, the paint, and the trim, which doesn't sound too bad. But if you've been paying attention to the news, you might've also noticed that Teslas kinda sorta catch fire. A lot.
16 Purchase: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
To be brutally honest, the $24,510 base model of the crossover Toyota RAV4 isn't a great car. That's why you need to spring for the hybrid version.
Yep, this is the sole crossover hybrid on the market, and even fully loaded, the RAV4 will only set you back around $35,000.
The extra moolah gets you a 2.5L gas engine that works in conjunction with a 50 kW electric motor. AWD is standard in the hybrid models, and if you really do get all the extras, you'll also end up with a continuously variable transmission (which makes the RAV4 even more efficient), a moonroof, fog lights, automatic climate control, and many other goodies. The IIHS has named it a Top Safety Pick, and The Car Connection rated it 8/10 for comfort and quality. What's not to love?
15 Pass: Toyota Sequoia
The current-gen Sequoia hasn't been redesigned in ten years, so if you think the Wii Fit (also introduced in 2008) was the height of technological achievement, then, by all means, get a Sequoia. But if you do, at least spring for the Premium package, which improves the dated interior with leather upholstery. Regardless of which version you buy, you'll end up with the exact same 5.7L V8 engine, which produces 381 bhp and 401 lb-ft; however, it's still rocking decade-old fuel economy numbers (only 14 mpg). Edmunds said it "feels bulky" and called the steering "just adequate." Worst of all, by the time you subtract the fully equipped weight of 6,260 lbs from the 7,300 lbs gross vehicle weight rating, you're only left with 1,040 lbs for all your passengers and their luggage (that's 173 lbs each for six people, including the driver).
14 Purchase: Lexus RX 450H
If you're looking for a way to treat yo'self while telling everyone else that you're really doing it for the environment, then please direct your attention to the Lexus RX 450H. This midsize luxury SUV is the hybrid version of Lexus's popular RX 350. The base model starts at $54,000, but for an additional $4,000, you can upgrade to the F Sport model—which you absolutely should because it gets you a big mesh grille, sport seats, a Sport S+ setting, an electronic gauge cluster, sport-tuned suspension, and many more goodies that I can't list here.
The RX 450H boasts a 3.5L V6 and a 123-kW electric motor; together, they're good for 308 bhp, 247 lb-ft, and 31/28 mpg.
Best of all, according to Kelly Blue Book, "it also leads the class with traditionally high resale value."
13 Pass: Alfa Romeo Stelvio
The Alfa Romeo Stelvio is very tempting. This is the debut year of this compact luxury SUV, which is based on Alfa Romeo's Giulia sedan. As you'd expect from the brand, it's got dramatic Italian styling and performance (Motor Trend called it "a new contender for the best-handling SUV on the planet"). The AWD Stelvio has a longitudinally mounted 2.0L turbo-four engine that produces 280 bhp and 306 lb-ft, which is good enough for a 5.4 second 0-60. It also gets 28 highway mpg if you take advantage of its three driving modes: dynamic, normal, and fuel-efficient passage. The base model starts at $42,990, but if you've got extra babysitting money, there are four upgrade models available, all the way up to the Sport Lusso at $47,490. But are you ready for the bad news? CheatSheet.com ranks it as the number one most unreliable SUV of 2018.
12 Purchase: Land Rover Range Rover
If you're calling me a hypocrite right now because I said to pass on the Stelvio for being unreliable yet I'm saying to purchase the Land Rover Range Rover, you're absolutely justified. But hear me out. Yes, Land Rovers are notoriously unreliable (averaging three recalls per year since 2015), but by now, everyone already knows that. Yet people continue to buy Range Rovers even though they fully realize the frustrations they're in for. That's because there's nothing else quite like a Range Rover. It's got luxury inside and out, and unlike many of the other SUVs on this list, it's actually rugged enough for off-road adventuring (a quality it owes to its military roots). Yes, the price ranges from $88,345-$180,000, but if you have to ask, you're probably not Range Rover material. Hey, status symbols that can drive up the side of a mountain don't come cheap.
11 Pass: Ford Explorer
The Ford Explorer used to be the king of the three-row SUV. But considering that the current gen is in its eighth model year, the Explorer's competitors have definitely had some time to catch up. Now, the problem with the Explorer isn't so much that it's bad, but rather that there are other, better choices. If you do decide on an Explorer, you'll get a choice of three engines: V6, turbocharged four-cylinder, or turbocharged V6. Like several others on this list, AWD is optional (Why is this a thing now? Have automakers forgotten what SUVs are for??).
Rear visibility is a problem, and the model flopped in JD Power's 2018 dependability rankings.
As the final nail in the coffin, Car and Driver states in their review of the Explorer that "those in need of a three-row crossover capable of hauling heavier loads should consider the Dodge Durango." Ouch.
10 Purchase: Mercedes-Benz GLS Class
Mercedes-Benz's flagship SUV is back and better than ever. The GLS-Class is available in three options with three different engines: the GLS 450 has a 362 bhp-producing twin-turbo V6, the GLS 550 has a 449 bhp-producing twin-turbo V8, and the GLS 63 AMG has 577 bhp-producing twin-turbo V8. All of the models come with Mercedes' 4Matic AWD system, and because they gave it 12.5" of ground clearance, you know that, like the Range Rover, the GLS-Class doesn't sacrifice the "utility" in "sport utility vehicle." Unlike the Range Rover, however, you get all this luxurious function coupled with Mercedes's legendary engineering and reliability. Add in a super quiet cabin and 93.8 cubic feet of cargo space (when the seats are folded down), and the Merc becomes a no-brainer choice for those who have the cash.
9 Pass: GMC Acadia
Consumer Reports ranked GMC 26 out of 27 brands when it comes to reliability, and the Acadia is GMC's least reliable vehicle. Still not convinced to pass on it? This midsize crossover model debuted only in 2017, so GMC is still working out the bugs. Its maximum towing capacity (just 1,000 lbs) is shockingly less than many others in its class, such as the Durango's standard 6,200 lbs.
Its standard 2.5L inline-four engine is a 193 bhp wimp; also standard is FWD (*smh*).
According to Motor1, "enthusiastic handling and feedback are not the Acadia’s strong suits." The Acadia starts at $29,000, but you'll nearly double that if you add in all the optional extras (which, frighteningly enough, include many of the safety features that come standard in other new vehicles, such as rear parking sensors, blind-spot warning, and lane-keep assist).
8 Purchase: Subaru Crosstrek
The Crosstrek is all new this year as Subaru has just released their second-gen model with lots of improvements. As part of their new Global Platform, the Crosstrek sits on a refined front-strut suspension with stronger mounting points, and the rear multilink suspension is hitched to a beefier subframe. This makes for a much smoother ride. The interior has also been upgraded, and the size of the hatch opening has grown four inches, which makes it that much easier to load stuff into the 55 cubic feet of cargo space.
The main complaint about the Crosstrek is that its underwhelming engine only produces 152 bhp, but for an extra $1,000, you can upgrade from the standard manual transmission to CVT, which helps pull a bit more power.
But for a base price of $22,710 (and an awesome orange color), it's a solid, affordable buy.
7 Pass: Chevrolet Suburban
According to Consumer Reports, owner feedback is so poor on the Chevrolet Suburban that it has the unfortunate distinction of being the lowest-scoring model in the large SUV class. Specific problem areas were, among many other things, the navigation system, weather-stripping, and power equipment. Chevy was even forced to make three recalls of the 2015 model alone.
But what does that have to do with the 2018 model? Well, nothing in theory, except that it's basically the same disastrous model as the three previous years. It comes with a 5.3L V8 rated at 355 bhp and 383 lb-ft, which gets a mere 15/22 mpg. It received only a four-star safety rating from the NHTSA (which looks fairly good on paper, but safety isn't where you want to accept an average score). Bottom line: for $54,690, you can get better.
6 Purchase: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk
If you heard that you could drive an SUV that has the same 707 bhp 6.2L Hemi V8 as the Dodge Hellcat, what would you say? I'd say, "Shut up and take my money!" As you might guess from its engine, the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk isn't subtle. TheDrive.com even named it their 2018 Best Performance SUV. Skid plates, low range gearing, and 18" off-road tires help the Trackhawk live up to the rugged name of its Jeep ancestors, and with its 68.3 cubic feet of cargo space (with the seats folded down), you'll have plenty of room to carry all your gear. Admittedly, if you want an SUV for luxury rather than performance, your $86,995 is better spent elsewhere. But if you want a trail-eating monster that does what SUVs are supposed to do, look into the Trackhawk.
5 Pass: Infiniti QX80
Because Infiniti is the luxury division of Nissan, the QX80 is basically a Nissan Armada in a prom dress. The model hasn't changed much since last year save for a sleeker exterior, which seems to have either love-it-or-hate-it results. It still has a 5.6L V8 that generates 400 bhp and 413 lb-ft and can tow 8,500 lbs. But in the case of the QX80, its function tends to interfere with its form, which isn't what you'd expect from a luxury anything, especially if its price starts at $65,745.
Since Infiniti updated the exterior rather than the electrical architecture, the QX80 won't accommodate Android Auto or Apple Car Play.
According to Edwards, "the overall look and feel of the cabin aren't as classy," and "shopping around some before settling on this Infiniti is a wise idea."
4 Purchase: Mazda CX-5
It may not be the biggest, the fastest, or the most efficient, but the Mazda CX-5 does a great job in enough categories that it received both a 10Best and an Editor's Choice award from Car and Driver, who call it "a great all-rounder."
The CX-5 has a 2.5L inline-four that produces 187 bhp, good enough for an 8.1-second 0-60 and a 130 mph top speed.
New this year for the compact crossover is cylinder deactivation, which improves fuel economy to 23/29 mpg. Storage space is 59.6 cubic feet with the seats down, and towing is rated up to 2,000 lbs. As far as safety goes, blind-spot monitoring, a low-speed automatic emergency braking system, and rear cross-traffic alert are all standard, allowing the CX-5 to receive the 2018 Top Safety Pick+ award from the IIHS. Not bad for around $25,000.
3 Pass: Mazda CX-9
While the CX-5 was pretty good at a lot of things, the Mazda CX-9 is good at relatively few. For starters, the Mazda brand usually places very high in reliability ratings, but this year, it fell six places to rank 12th. The reason for this? The CX-9. According to Consumer Reports, the CX-9 is the worst model in its class (below even Fiat's SUVs) thanks to issues with its in-car electronics, its body integrity, and its brake system. While it still has the drivability you'd expect from Mazda, it falls short in many areas when compared to its peers. For example, 72 cubic feet of cargo space (with the seats folded down) isn't an impressive number among three-row crossovers. In a related issue, sitting in the third row is a claustrophobic experience. If you're in the market for an SUV, skip over this Mazda.
2 Purchase: Porsche Cayenne
Another Editor's Choice from Car and Driver, the Porsche Cayenne is what happens when a sports car enthusiast confronts the realities of grocery-getting family life. With the base model costing around $65,000, the Cayenne has four different petrol engines available, all eight-speed automatic, ranging from a 3.6L V6 (300 bhp/295 lb-ft) to a 4.8L twin-turbo V8 (570 bhp/590 lb-ft). There are two hybrid variants as well, but definitely pass on those as reviewers seem to agree they're lackluster. As is typical with Porsche, there are many personalization options to choose from, including interiors, trims, and performance upgrades; as is also typical with Porsche, they all cost extra. The main drawback is the relative lack of cargo space (only 62.8 cubic feet with the seats down), but with the handling and the comfort you expect from Porsche, as well as a 7,716 lb tow rating, the Cayenne is a solid choice.
1 Pass: Lincoln MKX
When you tout yourself as a luxury brand, you better make sure your luxury works. Unfortunately for the Lincoln MKX, Consumer Reports has ranked it at the bottom of the luxury SUV pack for the last three years. The fault, according to consumers, mainly lies with a shoddy electronics system (although there was also an airbag recall, if anyone cares about such frivolous matters). The 2018 MKX, in particular, has a reliability score of less than 20, which is apparently the worst the Lincoln brand has ever gotten. To its credit, this midsize, five-passenger crossover is a comfortable, agile vehicle with 69 cubic feet of cargo space (with the seats down), and it received a five-star safety rating from the NHTSA. But its 3.7L V6 engine (303 hp and 278 lb-ft) only gets 17/25 mpg, and for a base price of $42,598, there are more reliable options.
Sources: autotrader.com; cheatsheet.com; edmunds.com