Sport-utility vehicles are available in a wide range of prices and sizes, ranging from small models not much bigger than subcompact cars to extended-length giants based on pickup-truck hardware. Midsized models typically provide the best balance of interior space, fuel economy, and engine power. Smaller SUVs are often less expensive and get better fuel economy, but they have less passenger and cargo space. Larger models provide more room and towing capacity but get poor gas mileage, are less maneuverable, and have a significantly higher overall ownership cost.
Why Buy an SUV?
SUVs appeal to a wide range of drivers. They provide versatile cargo-carrying space (although generally not as much as minivans), a driving position higher than that of passenger cars, varying amounts of towing capacity, and, in models with three rows of seats, the ability to carry seven or eight people. With an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive system, they also provide extra traction in slippery conditions and the ability to tackle at least moderate off-road terrain. But because of their taller height, SUVs as a class are not as nimble as passenger cars and can roll over more easily in emergency-handling maneuvers. Generally, their added weight and higher profile compromises fuel economy compared with a minivan or wagon, which can often provide a suitable alternative.
How do you choose? It all depends on what you need or want from your SUV purchase.
Thinking About The Size Requirements
The best place to start when making this critical decision is what you need from an SUV in the first place. Thinking about more than just the size alone, what is your list of must-haves with this SUV? Will it be your primary vehicle? Do you see yourself using it to haul a lot of people or cargo around?
Will it go off-road or be used for road trips?
The size of the SUV largely influences how much passenger and cargo space you have to work within your vehicle. If you know roughly how much room you will need for both the usual trips around town or on vacation, this will help you judge whether a specific SUV model will be large enough. The size of your family is a great place to start since you will likely need a single transport for the entire family most days.
Overall performance is another area that can help you decide between small, medium, and large SUVs. This area is tricky since most SUVs come with terrific engine and drivetrain options these days. Still, full-size SUVs tend to offer more powerful options such as V8 engines since they have more mass that must move around. The most important to think about in terms of performance is fuel efficiency. Many SUVs can guzzle down a gas tank rather quickly. If you need something that is more efficient, a smaller SUV may be the way to go.
Finally, think about the general feel and handling you want from the SUV. How the SUV drives is largely dependent on its size, particularly the length of its wheelbase. Larger vehicles will not turn as well as smaller crossover SUVs. For urban environments with a lot of traffic and challenging parking spaces, a tighter turning radius can reduce more headaches and driving dangers at the same time.
On The Smaller Side
It is easy to think that a full-size SUV is your best bet to get everything you want or need from the vehicle. Larger SUVs do have many advantages, but you should not discount the benefits of going smaller when it comes to your next SUV purchase. Small, crossover SUVs have several distinct advantages that are similar to how cars and small trucks handle and perform on the road.
Many crossover SUVs excel during daily commutes with more fuel-efficient engine options and better maneuverability than their larger cousins. Some engines like inline four-cylinders and V6 options are better suited for crossovers because of the lighter chassis that does not take as much to get up to normal cruising speed. This saves money at the gas station since you are using less gas over the same period of time.
The handling of a smaller SUV is more similar to a car, making this a great option if you want a smaller transition or learning curve from smaller vehicles. You will not have to relearn how to park the SUV or worry about judging acceleration and braking distances correctly with a larger vehicle. This can make it much easier to enjoy the ride right out of the gate.
Look into safety features.
As with any car purchase, a high safety rating is definitely a good selling point. Don’t hesitate to ask a salesperson for detailed information on safety features and ratings of a car you are interested in. Alternatively, you can do the research yourself online.
- In Kelley Blue Book’s list of the 35 best safety rated SUVs of 2016, the Acura MDX, Acura RDX, BMW X3, and the BMW X5 took the top spots.
- If you have children, you might also want to look into the child seat attachment availability in the backseat. The 2016 Volvo XC90 was rated the best car for families in 2016 by U.S. News due to its safety ratings, handsfree liftgate, stylish appearance (for those Dads who definitely don’t want to be caught in a Mom-mobile!), and its large cargo capacity.
Features to Consider
Small SUVs usually have 4-cylinder engines, sometimes with a turbocharger. While a lot of these small SUVs are quick, some offer poor performance, particularly when climbing hills or when fully loaded. Midsized SUVs typically come with V6 engines that typically provide a decent balance of fuel economy and power. There are some large and midsized models which come with V8s too that can deliver powerful acceleration and are better for towing something heavy. But the additional cylinders have a negative effect on fuel consumption.
Manual transmissions are rare when it comes to SUVs although they can be found in some of the smaller models. Most auto transmissions also have a manual mode which offers similar functionality as regular manual transmissions while removing the need to press the clutch.
All SUVs come with either AWD, 4WD, or 2WD. Most truck-based SUVs come with rear-wheel drive whereas crossovers are mostly front wheel drive. AWD or 4WD provide power to all the wheels but aren’t the same. AWD models stay engaged and distribute power to all wheels intelligently. 4WD includes low-range gearing that is great for tackling off-road terrains, like rocks or steep descents. AWD is fantastic for adverse weather and moderate off-roading.
Most SUVs come with wide doors and sufficient head clearance which makes it easier to enter and exit them. But since their clearance is higher than cars’, it can be difficult for short people or children to get into them. Third-row seats are very difficult to access in some SUVs. If you think you’re going to be using the third row a lot then make sure you get a model that has wide rear doors.
Any SUV can carry five people with ease. Some full-sized and midsized SUVs come with third rows which increases their capacity to 7 or 8. But these seats are usually tight and can only fit children. Plus, a lot of the three-row SUVs offer very little in terms of cargo space whenever the third-row seats are being used. Most can fold flat into the rear cargo floor when they aren’t being used which increases the luggage space.
Whether you’re buying a new SUV or a used SUV, it’s pivotal for you to conduct proper research and keep all of the features in mind so that you choose the right model. Don’t forget to follow this up with sound negotiation techniques!