SUVs have taken over the roads. In 2016, there were more SUVs on the list of the top 20 best-selling vehicles in the US than there were cars or trucks. And that trend shows no sign of reversing. Twenty years ago, driving an SUV meant a huge sacrifice in fuel economy and ride quality to get all-wheel drive and roominess. Today’s SUV buyers need not make those sacrifices—SUVs (and crossovers, which are SUVs riding on car-based platforms) have become nearly as nice to drive as comparably priced sedans, and plenty of SUVs now provide fuel efficiency above 25 miles per gallon (mpg).
But with so many SUVs and crossovers on the market, it can be hard to choose. Here are the best in each category…
Best affordable compact SUV/crossover: Nissan Rogue Sport.
The Rogue Sport, which debuted this May as a late addition to the 2017 model year, is a slightly downsized version of Nissan’s popular Rogue SUV. It’s not only $2,000 to $3,000 less expensive than the Rogue, it’s also more agile and fun to drive. And like the Rogue, it’s well-made and compellingly styled. The major drawback is cargo capacity—the Rogue Sport provides a modest 23 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats (61 cubic feet with rear seats folded down). The price starts at $23,710 for an all-wheel-drive (AWD) model (front-wheel-drive versions also are available). The two-liter, four-cylinder engine delivers 24 mpg city/30 highway.*
Best overall SUV/crossover bargain: Honda CR-V.
The CR-V is the best-selling SUV in America for a reason—no SUV gives you more for your money, especially following a refresh for the 2017 model year. The CR-V is classified as a “small” SUV, but it feels roomy inside and offers 39.2 cubic feet of very functional cargo space (75.8 with the rear seats folded down). It isn’t the sportiest SUV, but handling is good (and the ride is comfortable). It also isn’t the most luxurious SUV, but it certainly feels and looks more upscale than you would guess from its reasonable price. It is fuel-efficient, too—the base LX model delivers 184 horsepower (hp) and 25 mpg city/31 highway…the EX model, 190 hp and 27 city/33 highway. Prices start at $26,285 for an AWD LX and $29,035 for an AWD EX. Front-wheel drive versions also are available.
Most fun-to-drive SUV/crossover under $30,000: Mazda CX-5.
The CX-5 is the obvious choice if you want the functionality of an SUV, the affordability of an economy car and a vehicle that’s a joy to drive. It’s not exceptionally powerful—the CX-5’s 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine produces 187 hp—but its driving feel and handling make drivers feel “in control” in a way that competitors can’t match. And it tackles tight corners with much more verve than you would expect from a reasonably priced five-passenger SUV. It’s also perhaps the nicest-looking SUV in its price range…and a redesign for the 2017 model year added some impressive advanced safety features such as an automatic braking system designed to prevent certain frontal collisions. Fuel economy is 23 mpg city/29 highway. Manufacturer’s suggested retail price starts at $26,285 with AWD. Front-wheel drive versions also are available.
Best SUV/crossover for bad weather: Subaru Outback.
Subaru has specialized in all-weather AWD vehicles for decades, and that experience shows. The Outback is an especially good bad-weather choice. Its 8.7 inches of ground clearance is unusually generous even for an SUV, and that comes in handy when the snow starts to accumulate. And its AWD system includes advanced features such as “Active Torque Vectoring,” which provides better control when turning…“Hill Descent Control,” which takes over braking on steep declines…and “X-Mode,” which is designed for particularly extreme conditions.
The Outback is being “refreshed” for the 2018 model year, and when 2018s hit showrooms by late summer 2017, buyers will get more attractive, bolder styling, a quieter, more upscale interior and a wider range of safety options such as headlights that swivel to light up bends and corners. Pricing and fuel economy for the 2018 were not announced as of May, but the 2017 started at $26,520 and delivered 25 mpg city/32 highway. The Outback already was a great vehicle for 2017, so if a dealer offers a very good deal on a leftover, don’t feel that you have to wait for a 2018.
Best affordable hybrid SUV: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid.
The RAV4 is not exciting in looks or handling, but it is among the most reliable and sensible compact SUVs on the market—and for high-mileage urban drivers, the hybrid version makes particular sense. That’s because with a starting price of $29,990, the hybrid is not unreasonably expensive—yet its fuel-efficiency of 34 mpg city/30 highway can reduce operating costs significantly.
Best midsize SUV: Volkswagen Atlas.
A new model, the 2018 VW Atlas is a midsize SUV with full-sized SUV seating and accommodations. It offers seating for seven or 96.8 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows folded down, yet it is surprisingly agile and carlike to drive. It’s available with a fuel-efficient four-cylinder engine that delivers 18 mpg city/25 highway or with a 3.6-liter V6 with 280 hp and fuel-efficiency of 17 mpg city/23 highway. The Atlas starts as low as $34,425, but if you want an AWD with a V6, prices start at $37,715.
Most fun-to-drive SUV over $30,000 (but not wildly expensive): Porsche Macan.
The Macan manages to combine the famously fun driving dynamics of a Porsche with the functionality of a small five-seater SUV. It’s not quite like driving Porsche’s legendary 911 two-seater sports car…but close enough for most people, much cheaper and has 53 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded. Prices start at $48,850. To get that price, you must “settle” for the base model featuring Porsche’s two-liter turbocharged 252-hp, four-cylinder engine, which can launch the Macan from 0 to 60 miles per hour (mph) in just a hair over six seconds. Fuel economy with the base engine is 20 mpg city/25 highway.
Best for full-sized luxury: Lincoln Navigator.
The Navigator, a three-row SUV, previously fell well short of competitors such as the Cadillac Escalade, but it has been completely redesigned for the 2018 model year and will offer over-the-top luxury and a tremendous amount of cargo and passenger space. The interior is sophisticated, covered in an impressive amount of leather and full of high-tech features and creature comforts. There’s in-car Wi-Fi, a high-end 20-speaker audio system, an advanced “head-up” display that projects your speed and other info onto the windshield and comfortable 30-way adjustable massaging front seats. The Navigator’s 3.5-liter engine produces 450 hp. The 2018 Navigator is expected to reach the market this fall. Fuel-economy figures are not yet available, but based on Ford’s admirable engine technology, it should be reasonable for a vehicle this big and powerful. Don’t be surprised if the starting price is more than a thousand or two higher than the 2017 Navigator’s $64,710.
Best if you want power and performance—and you don’t mind a high price: Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk.
If you can’t decide between a muscle car or an off-road-capable SUV, the new 2018 Trackhawk could be the solution. Its supercharged 6.2-liter V8 engine delivers 707 hp, making it the most powerful production SUV in the world, besting even ultra-pricey offerings such as the $230,000 Bentley Bentayga. According to Jeep, the Trackhawk can go from 0 to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds. Yet this also still is a Jeep Cherokee, so when you get bored with hurtling your Trackhawk down the road, you can take it off-road. The Trackhawk is expected to reach showrooms this fall. Pricing and fuel efficiency have yet to be announced, but it might cost in the neighborhood of $80,000. If you are worried about fuel efficiency, this probably isn’t the vehicle for you.