Across the auto industry, the popularity of trucks and SUVs continue to soar. We've had an opportunity to drive several 2017 SUVs — many of them premium models — and came away mostly impressed by the state-of-the-art when it comes to Sport Utility Vehicles. Here are our impressions:
2017 Honda CR-V AWD Touring
Base start: $46,92,045, as tested: $34,050. 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder, AWD. MPG: 27 city, 33 highway.
For 2017, Honda modernized the look of the popular CR-V, giving it a bolder profile and more angular lines. But under the hood, the CR-V got a complete makeover in all but the base model, with the new 1.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder engine that was first introduced in the redesigned Civic. It helps the SUV get slightly better fuel mileage — which was already strong — at 27 city and 33 highway for the all-wheel-drive models. Inside, the CR-V has also been updated with, most notably, an touch screen that dispenses with the annoying slide control and brings back a volume knob. Honda boasts of more rear legroom; a longer wheelbase (by 1.5 inches) surely helps in that regard.
GMC Acadia AWD Denali
Base start: $46,920, as tested: $52,185. 3.6-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic, AWD. MPG: 18 city, 25 highway.
GMC has softened the brutish look of its vehicles and the Acadia — especially in the top-level Denali trim — is now a sleeker, chrome-trimmed SUV that will stand out in the school car line. Despite being a midsize SUV, the Acadia has three-row seating and can be a family's primary vehicle if you can make do with an extremely snug "way-back" seat. In contrast to the handsome exterior redesign, Peter found the interior lacking in luxury feel or look, which is surprisingly considering it's a Denali. The engine choices are a base 2.5-liter 4-cylinder or the 310-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 with Active Fuel Management. The latter powerplant is standard in the Denali and upper Acadia trims, and we suspect it will be the choice of most buyers. We liked the SUV's overall car-like driving demeanor, but outfitting a Denali with available options such as rear-seat entertainment can push the price well north of $50K for a midsize vehicle.
Jeep Cherokee Overland 4x4
Base start: $37,695, as tested: $43,730. 3.2-liter V-6 with stop/start, 9-speed automatic transmission, 4x4
The Jeep Cherokee was one of the original go-to SUVs, but have fallen behind in the competitive market. With the new generation, parent company Chrysler redesign the Cherokee to stand out among the crowd with a more futuristic look. The front grille still has the familiar seven slots, but sits high. Slender headlights swoop out and back into a squint. The 3.2-liter V-6 is lively and performs much better with a 9-speed automatic transmission. The interior is also improved with better quality materials and finish: Our tester had premium leather seats. The Cherokee's strength is its off-road capabilities. With the Selec-Terrain traction control system and a rugged build, it can take you where most street-bound crossovers can't.
Base start: $47,650, as tested: $63,735. 2.7-liter V-6 Ecoboost, 6-speed automatic transmission
The MKX, a midsize SUV based on the Ford Edge, has a quiet interior with a host of available tech features and turbo V-6 engine option. The cabin of our tester had Terra Cotta leather seats combined with wood trim that looked rich and upscale. But the rest of the cabin was somewhat lacking in luxury: hard plastic surfaces and cheap feel to the buttons. A couple of nits: The seats were firm and a uncomfortable. Also, Lyra wasn't fond of the "funky moustache" grille. The rear, however, is attractive with distinctive horizontal lights.
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Base start: $30,790 , as tested: $44,685. 3.5-liter V-6, CVT
Base start: $43,100, as tested: $56,095. 3.5-liter V-6, CVT
The Pathfinder and the QX60 are essentially the same SUV, with the Infiniti, of course, being slightly more luxurious. Both seat seven, which not all midsize SUVs do. Both feature Nissan's athletic 3.5-liter V-6, which we've liked in other Nissans we've driven. It's coupled with a CVT, which early adopter Nissan has managed to refine so as to be fairly unobtrusive. Both SUVs have comfortable rides and attractive interiors with plush seats and easy-to-use controls, but we were left with the impression that Nissan is lagging behind the competition in the midsize segment. If we had to choose, we'd opt for the fully loaded Pathfinder over its premium cousin.
Base start: $34,650 , as tested: $43,735. 3.7-liter V-6, 7-speed automatic, RWD
While we like the QX50's car-like handling, we feel the same way about it that we do the Nissan vehicles above. Said Peter: "A few years ago I thought Nissan and Infiniti interiors were cutting edge, but now they just look familiar. That's not a bad thing, just a sign that a redesign may be in a order." Again, we like the stout V-6, although it suffers in the MPG department compared with turbo 4-cylinder that powers many SUVs. We also found QX50's cargo area to be on the small side.
Base start: $73, 395 , as tested: $96,500. 6.2-liter V-8, 8-speed automatic transmission
Beyond its sheer size, the Escalade announces itself with a massive three-bar chrome grille framed by stacked headlamps armed with five "light crystals." Despite the size, the Escalade offers a smooth ride — thanks to the magnetic ride control and a powerful V-8 engine. The Caddy seats seven in plush leather seats, but there's not much more space for luggage. Lyra wasn't fond of the configuration with second-row captain's chairs that would put three in the third row. If you have to fold down the third row, that leaves seats for only four. In this case, an extended version of the Escalade would work better. Our tester was loaded with tech features, both for safety and entertainment. Lyra's son hooked up a gaming console to the entertainment system (16 Bose speakers) and, with an onboard Wi-Fi connection and an overhead screen, enjoyed online games during a road trip.