1. Compact SUVs: Ford Escape vs. Honda CR-V
The Ford Escape is a solid effort for a compact SUV. With a couple of fantastic turbocharged four-cylinder engines available as options and solid, car-like handling, the Escape is good for anyone looking to move up from a small car to their first larger vehicle. It’s also equipped with a comfortable interior, though it’s not as utilitarian as some others in terms of spaciousness or gas mileage.
The Honda CR-V doesn’t have a bad ride either, though, and with its 24 mpg, ample cargo space, and 185-hp I-4 engine, it has a lot more than that. This car is big enough to get the job done but small enough not to be a huge adjustment, even if it’s not quite as car-like in its handling as the Escape. Add to that the high-tech refresh it recently underwent and you’ve got a solid SUV on your hands. It’s no wonder it’s the top seller in its class.
Winner: Honda CR-V
2. Luxury Compact SUVs: Jaguar F-Pace vs. Porsche Macan
The Jaguar F-Pace is about as sexy as you can make a sport utility vehicle, with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive coming standard. There's plenty of elbow room in the car, and ample space for cargo and the whole package is propelled by your choice of a 340-hp or a 380-hp supercharged V-6. The car offers incredibly responsive steering and a smooth ride. All in all, it's about as practical as a luxury car can be.
The Porsche Macan is similar to its Audi counterpart, the Q5, but it's just...better. Usually "crossover SUV" means "we put some bits from a station wagon on this," but the mad scientists at Porsche seem to have tried to cross-breed an SUV with a hot rod -- and they've just about succeeded. The thing handles like a sports car and comes with a 252-hp turbo four, a 340-hp twin-turbo V-6, or a GTS that boosts the V-6 up to 360-hp. You get all-wheel drive and a seven-speed automatic as a given. Unfortunately, while the Jag's steering is almost too eager, the Macan's steering isn't quite tight enough -- an oddity for Porsche.
Winner: Jaguar F-Pace
3. Subcompact SUVs: Jeep Renegade vs. Mazda CX-3
Both of these subcompacts are among the most affordable SUVs out there, but with a $17,995 MSRP, it’s hard to beat the Jeep Renegade's price. This is only the second year for the little subcompact SUV, and it has a lot of strengths besides the price. It handles well, and the Trailhawk model is great off-road. Unfortunately, the mileage is just so-so, and it’s a little cramped for passengers and cargo alike.
The Mazda CX-3, meanwhile, has fantastic fuel economy for its size. It's also quite nimble, with a comfortable interior. There's not a lot of space for toting in this car, either, and the back seat is a bit tight, but the front seats aren't crowded, which puts it ahead of the Jeep.
Winner: Mazda CX-3
4. Luxury Subcompact SUVs: Buick Encore vs. BMW X1
The Buick Encore packs a lot of luxury into a small package. The tech is great, the interior is remarkably quiet and incredibly comfortable, the ride is smooth, and the fuel economy is almost unparalleled for anything that could call itself an SUV. All that for around $25,000 is a steal. Unfortunately, there isn't a lot of cargo space in the back, and its 138-hp 4-cylinder engine just isn't enough power for this car.
The BMW X1, however, suffers from no such lack of power. Its 228-hp 2-liter four-cylinder comes with an eight-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. The car also sports that tight steering and suspension you'd expect from a BMW. All of that, and you get a surprisingly roomy vehicle, especially for a car this size.
Winner: BMW X1
5. 2-Row Midsize SUVs: Ford Edge vs. Nissan Murano
Once you reach midsize SUVs, a certain expectation of comfort arises. The Ford Edge certainly delivers in this department. It's posh, it's large, it's quiet, and it's loaded with tech. It starts with a 245-hp 2-liter turbo four-cylinder and offers a couple of options up to a 315-hp 2.7-liter twin-turbo V-6. The base model is inexpensive, but light on trim. It's also not that quick off the starting block.
With its sleek lines and angles in places that don't always make sense, the Nissan Murano looks a bit like some sort of landing craft from J.J. Abrams's Star Trek reboot. That look is a bit polarizing, but you certainly won't lose it in the parking lot. Still, the seats are among the most comfortable in the auto industry, the ride is smooth, and the gas mileage is great when you consider the fact that you're in a midsize SUV powered by a V-6 engine. You do sacrifice a bit of cargo capacity, and the rearward visibility isn't stellar.
Winner: Ford Edge
6. 3-Row Midsize SUVs: Honda Pilot vs. Toyota Highlander
The Honda Pilot has seen a complete redesign. There's more room in the cabin, more space in the third row, and more space for cargo. You can actually seat adults in the third row, which isn't a given at all, and the materials for the cabin and interior are more in line with what you'd expect from an Acura. A standard 280-hp 3.5-liter V-6 powers either a six- or nine-speed automatic, with front- or all-wheel drive. The weight's gone down massively, as well. The main drawback here is the price.
The Highlander is just a solid standby choice for a 3-row midsize SUV. It comes with a 185-hp, 2.7-liter four-cylinder or a 270-hp 3.5-liter V-6. You can also get a hybrid that affixes two electric motors to the V-6 for 280hp. It's not as spacious as the Pilot, but it's comfortable, it's quiet, it gets good mileage, and it can tow a lot for its class.
Winner: The two are pretty evenly matched. We're giving this to the Pilot, though it may be a function of its "most improved" status helping it to make a bigger impression.
7. Luxury Midsize SUVs: Porsche Cayenne vs. Acura MDX
The Porsche Cayenne handles like a sport sedan, goes where an SUV can go, and ensconces you in luxury. The base engine is a 300-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 that people nonetheless describe as "middling." You can also get twin turbocharged 3.6-liter V-6s or a V-8 with 520 horsepower and a 173 mph top speed. That sort of speed is exhilarating to think about in most cars; it's a little terrifying in an SUV. Regardless of what you do, you're not going to get great mileage with the V-8.
The Acura MDX doesn't have the "get-up-and-go-" problem that the Cayenne's base engine has. In fact, it's quick to accelerate and agile to handle, all without sacrificing a smooth ride. The mileage is solid for something this size, and it comes with a 290-hp V-6 engine with a nine-speed automatic. The cargo space leaves a little to be desired and the back seat isn't as spacious as it could be, but the Acura is so fun to drive, you'll almost forget you're carting six other people around.
Winner: Acura MDX
8. Large SUVs: Buick Enclave vs. Chevrolet Suburban
The Buick Enclave is a solid choice for carrying eight people. There's plenty of room for passengers and lots of cargo space. The $39,990 price tag on the base model is a little steep, but by the time you reach upper levels of trim you're in the mid-$50,000s, and getting a pretty luxurious vehicle for a great price compared to a Lincoln or an Infinity. A 281-hp 3.6-liter V-6 and six-speed automatic power it to a top speed of 108 mph. The entertainment system features Bose speakers but is hampered by a difficult touchscreen system. The rest of the tech -- Wi-Fi hotspot, USB port, satellite radio, etc. -- is all quite impressive.
The Chevrolet Suburban is one of the largest SUV's out there. It's certainly the largest one from Chevy. Yet the power-assisted steering means it handles better than it has a right to with a 5.3-liter V-8 that doesn't have a ton of power, but is very responsive. The Suburban will actually carry nine people, and it will do so safely and with minimal noise from the outside world. Of course, the gas mileage is dismal, and the turning radius on this 19-foot-long vehicle is frustrating at best.
Winner: Buick Enclave
9. Luxury Large SUVs: Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class vs. Cadillac Escalade
The Mercedes-Benz carries seven people in utmost comfort as smoothly as possible. There are a wide variety of engines available -- you can get everything from a fuel-efficient diesel V6 to a 4.7-liter twin-turbo V8 with 449 hp, though the gas V6s are probably your best bet. Safety features like crosswind stabilization and a forward collision warning system keep your passengers safe, and the new nine-speed automatic transmission is smooth. Of course, keep in mind that you're paying for a Mercedes and for a large SUV, and that adds up in a hurry.
The Cadillac Escalade is a beast with a 420-hp, 6.2-liter V-8 under the hood and driving an 8-speed automatic and rear or all-wheel drive. Of course, with all that power (and a 113-mph top speed) comes some trade-offs. The $73,965 price tag for the base model is not to be trifled with, and the gas mileage isn't stellar. Still, the new transmission -- similar to the one used in Corvettes -- offers seamless transitions and better driveability at low speeds, and the ride is unimpeachable. This car didn't reach its status for nothing.
Winner: Mercedes-Benz GLS-Class
10. Off-Road SUVs: Land Rover Range Rover Sport vs. Jeep Grand Cherokee
Both of these cars have ardent fan bases, and both of them offer good functionality on-road and great capabilities off. The Range Rover comes with a supercharged V6 by default. You can get a turbodiesel V6 and you'll probably want to since the base engine has some of the worst mileage in the vehicle class. If you'd prefer power to mileage, you can try a couple of V8s, including the 550-hp one found in the Range Rover Sport SVR, which can rocket the giant vehicle from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds. All in all, the Range Rover Sport handles well and can handle just about any terrain you throw at it.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee is a legendary off-road vehicle, but it's also a very versatile car that has the option of a diesel V6. The inside is nice, and the car comes with several powertrain setups. Engine options range from the turbodiesel to a 360-hp, 5.7-liter V -8. You can also get three different four-wheel drive setups. The mileage isn't great (though the turbodiesel takes some of the sting out of that) and the engines aren't particularly quiet, but you can't beat the off-road experience.
Winner: Jeep Grand Cherokee