Over the years, SUVs have grown from fairly basic truck-based vehicles to include car-based crossovers, mid- and full-size SUVs and luxuriously appointed mansions on wheels. Rather than separate this general segment out by individual body types, we divided them up according to price ranges. Within these ranges, you'll find both crossovers and truck-based SUVs from domestic, Asian and European manufacturers.
In this price range, you'd expect to find some pretty straightforward crossovers that lack the creature comforts we've all become accustomed to. You'd be wrong on both counts, as we've picked two well-equipped crossovers and one very competent off-roader. All of these vehicles offer a wide range of versatility and strengths in their given fields without breaking your budget. For our crossover picks, we chose the 2009 Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 -- both of which are excellent, car-based utes with roomy cabins and impeccable city driving manners. The Honda CR-V has a refined interior and seating for five, while the Toyota RAV4 offers third-row seating (albeit cramped) and a more powerful V6 engine. Either of these SUVs is an excellent choice for a growing family.
For those looking for adventure off the beaten path, we also chose the truck-based 2009 Toyota FJ Cruiser. This midsize SUV for a small SUV price delivers a lot of bang for the buck. Known for its astounding off-road prowess and nostalgic styling, the FJ Cruiser offers the kind of utility no crossover can deliver.
Fittingly for this price category, the choices have moved past small crossovers in favor of the large crossovers with increased passenger seating and cargo space. For 2009, we chose the GMC Acadia, Hyundai Veracruz and Mazda CX-9 which, despite their added size, all maintain a decent amount of carlike driving ease. Both the Veracruz and CX-9 allow seating for seven, with the CX-9 offering just a bit more room for the rearmost passengers. The GMC Acadia, however, has spacious seating for up to eight adults. It should be noted that inclusion of the Acadia also indicates our selection of its rebadged GM cousins, the Buick Enclave, Chevrolet Traverse and Saturn Outlook.
All of our choices in this price range are powered by V6 engines and are offered in a wide range of trim levels. The Veracruz and CX-9 are quite a bit less expensive than the Acadia, which is only available under $35,000 in its base trim level. All of our picks are also available in front- or all-wheel drive, with the fully loaded trim levels of the AWD Veracruz and CX-9 just peeking above the $35K boundary.
At this price limit, we find the pricier luxury brands' interpretation of an SUV. Leading the way is the 2008 Lexus RX 400h , which is the only hybrid-powered vehicle among our SUV picks. This selection is notable for its V6 power with four-cylinder fuel economy, carlike handling and luxurious interior. Our other pick is the 2009 Porsche Cayenne which, at this price point, is only available in the base model trim with a manual transmission. What the Cayenne does deliver, though, is Porsche's legendary handling (even for an SUV), performance and cachet. Though the Lexus and Porsche are both all-wheel drive, both specialize in transporting well-heeled city dwellers in style.
When price is no object, our picks for SUVs get whittled down to two German marques. Starting with the 2009 BMW X5, with its impeccable handling, prodigious power, wide range of amenities and luxurious interior, this midsize premium SUV sets itself apart from all others in its class. Drawbacks are few and include a ride quality that may be a bit too firm, lack of off-road capability, cramped third-row seats and BMW's fussy iDrive system. The X5 is followed closely by the 2009 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class, which offers more room, gobs of power and the option of an off-road package. All of this naturally comes with a hefty price tag and, in direct opposition to the BMW, some may find the ride a bit too wallowy and soft. Both of these choices embody luxury, style and performance for SUVs, with just a hint of elitism.