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Old-school SUVs may be about as popular these days as mortgage-backed securities, but no one can deny that these vehicles still appeal to consumers looking for extra interior and cargo room, towing capability and a combination of carlike handling and trucklike utility. And while the number of super-sized SUVs has dwindled, the car-based crossover SUV subcategory is one of the fastest-growing vehicle segments. Here we don't separate SUVs from crossovers -- and in some instances the distinctions between the two are negligible -- but instead divide the entire category by price range.
Just because you're shopping for an entry-level SUV doesn't mean you shouldn't expect a few frills and creature comforts along with bang for your buck. Two of our picks are economy crossover stalwarts, while the third is a recently refreshed and highly improved model. What they have in common are carlike driving manners, plenty of interior room for passengers and cargo, and good value.
We chose the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 because they best exemplify these traits, with the CR-V adding cool technology and a comfy interior and the RAV4 third-row seating and a bit more power. The Chevrolet Equinox also gets the nod for its smart styling both inside and out, roomy interior, and smooth and quiet ride. Any of these three low-cost crossovers is great for small families or first-time buyers.
Crossovers also dominate our next category, and bumping up the price by $10K nets the buyer increased cabin and storage space without sacrificing carlike performance. With seating for seven and surprisingly sophisticated handling for a vehicle its size, the Mazda CX-9 is a repeat pick and perennial favorite at this price point. The Volvo XC60 is a new crossover from the Swedish carmaker known for safety and offers an innovative collision-avoidance system for stop-and-go city traffic as well as solid driving feel and a dash of European flair.
With room for eight passengers and poised composure on the road, the Chevrolet Traverse is another GM hit in the crossover category. It should be noted that its corporate cousins, the Buick Enclave and GMC Acadia, share the same platform -- and by default the accolades for the Traverse.
At this price, buyers get into luxury crossover and SUV territory, and amenities and interior room significantly expand. This is exemplified by our two disparate picks: the Audi Q5 crossover and Toyota Sequoia SUV.
The Q5 combines Audi's reputation for no-nonsense high-performance and understated style with the German automaker's increasingly progressive but practical in-cabin electronics. The Toyota Sequoia represents all that's good about driving a true SUV: tons of interior room for occupants and their accoutrements, excellent towing capabilities and a high perch. Unfortunately, it also embodies the downside of owning an SUV -- namely miserable gas mileage.
If you want the best SUV money can buy, you'll certainly find no lack of luxury and performance in this category. Our picks epitomize two ends of the high-end SUV spectrum. With its impeccable performance, ample interior indulgences and long list of electronic amenities, the BMW X5 still rules the roost among luxury SUVs. Our only knocks against the X5 remain its meager third-row seating space, a ride that some may find too firm and dubious off-road credentials.
If interior space and heading out into wide-open spaces is what you're after, the Toyota Land Cruiser will more than fill the bill. It's one of the most capable off-road vehicles available but it also has refined on-road characteristics.