2001 Suvs: Kings of the Road
|Compare six of the best-selling mid--sized SUVs|
Mar 17, 2005 19:41:50|
16 ( -2 -12.5% )|
Sport Utility Vehicles, or SUVs, are the most popular type of vehicle sold in America today. And unlike the off-road vehicles SUVs were initially bred from, today's sport-utes are designed to be comfortable driving both on- and off-road. Two of the six vehicles we reviewed here are actually built on passenger car platforms.
Christened "Truck of the Year" by the 2000 North American Car and Truck of the Year jury, the Acura MD-X marks Honda's luxury brand's entry into the SUV market. Designed to compete against the Lexus RX300 and the Mercedes-Benz ML320, the 2001 Acura MDX (which stands for "multi-dimensional") is a seven-passenger luxury SUV, which starts at $34,850, while our fully-loaded test model with touring package and navigation system came in at $39,450. Acura's strategy to rise above its competitors was to create a four-wheel drive system that didn't sacrifice weight or fuel efficiency, yet still met off-road needs. The system, which Acura calls VTM-4 (Variable Torque Management), has four modes that operate electronically through the range, engaging the four-wheel drive instantaneously when necessary. The all-aluminum, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine produces 240 horsepower and 245 pound-feet of torque and meets California Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (ULEV) emissions standards. The Acura MDX comes with a host of luxury features as standard equipment including leather seats in the front and second rows with power heated seats in the front as well as keyless remote entry, moonroof, cruise control, AM/FM/cassette stereo with CD-player, power windows, mirrors and door locks. The only options are the Touring package and the DVD-based Acura Navigation System, which offers the interesting feature of leaving electronic "bread crumbs" to allow the driver to retrace the route when traveling off-road.
The sexy Dodge Durango has turned out to be a showstopper among vehicles in this class. Its unique styling makes it a head turner, but its performance is what keeps its owners happy for the long haul. The 235 horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 is the standard engine, but a 245 horsepower, 5.9-liter Magnum V-8 is also available. The larger engine offers a 7,600-pound towing capacity, while the Durango R/T version (which features the 5.9-liter engine) offers a more performance-oriented experience, including quicker off-the-line acceleration and a sport-tuned exhaust. The 2001 Dodge Durango, which starts at $27,650, received a new interior look with a redesigned instrument panel, interior trim, overhead console and steering wheel. A dual climate control system is now standard, while heated, eight-way power front seats, a rear air conditioner and heater are all optional. The gray leather seats of our test SLT model with four-wheel drive (priced at $33,875) offered plenty of room, although the optional third row seat is handy feature that is more appropriate for children than adults. Standard interior features include power steering, cruise control, dual airbags, power mirrors, doors and locks, remote keyless entry, AM/FM/cassette, rear anti-lock brakes and front air conditioning.
After a decade of being the best-selling SUV on the market, Ford decided to redesign its Explorer for the 2002 model year, which went on sale in March 2001. While the changes included a refined exterior design, including a lower ingress and egress as well as a lowered lift gate to ease the storage of items in the cargo area, the most notable changes in the new package are those that can't be seen. Although still a body-on-frame design, the chassis has been fully boxed, making it 26 percent more stiff in bending and an amazing 350 percent stiffer torsionally than the previous model. At the same time, ride and handling have been improved with the addition of an independent rear suspension, making it one of a few SUVs to have such a feature. The new all-aluminum, 4.0-liter, V-6 engine has been improved to offer 210 horsepower at 5,250 rpm and 250-foot pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The optional 240 horsepower, 4.6-liter V-8 offers all-aluminum construction and an overhead cam design. Interior features of the Explorer, which has a $24,620 starting price, have been thoughtfully refined. The most prominent, the optional third-row seat, was designed to be folded flat with one hand, making for easy loading even if your arms are full. Radio buttons and other frequently used controls have been repositioned to be in the driver's line of sight. Even the coat hooks were redesigned for use with the wider, plastic clothes hangers that are more common today. Our Eddie Bauer edition 2002 Explorer was priced at $32,460.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
The Jeep Grand Cherokee may have the styling cues and the convenience features of a luxury SUV, but this mid-size sport ute is actually a rugged off-roader fully capable of conquering the Rubicon Trail, one of the most challenging off-road trails in the U.S. For 2001, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is now offered with a 4.7-liter, V-8 engine and additional towing features. The majority of changes for this model year are to the Grand Cherokee's Laredo package, which now includes a body-color license brow and lift gate handle, body-side stripe, fog lamps, 17-inch, seven-spoke wheels and brushed aluminum moldings on the upper instrument panel. The 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee features a full-time four-wheel drive system that can be used under all driving conditions. Quadra-Drive transfers nearly 100 percent transfer of torque to one wheel, allowing the vehicle to regain traction, even when all other wheels are stuck. On the creature comforts side, all Grand Cherokees, which start at $27,865, come with a tilt wheel, cruise control, a split folding rear seat, power windows, mirrors and door locks, a roof rack and a theft-deterrent system. An overhead console contains a trip computer, compass and outside temperature gauge as well as map lights. Our test model, the Grand Cherokee Limited, which was priced at $38,230, adds dual climate controls, leather seating and an upgraded stereo with CD player, 10-way power front with driver-side memory linked to the seat position, driver's side mirror and radio.
Nissan has taken a back-to-basics approach with its Xterra, targeting young, active drivers with a zest for adventure. This popular SUV is largely unchanged for the 2001 model year, with a revamped dashboard that improves instrument visibility, a new AM/FM stereo with six-disc in-dash CD changer and steering-wheel-mounted audio controls. New colors on tap for 2001 include Gold Rush, Just Blue and a limited run of Mineral Blue. The Solar Yellow that made the Xterra famous is also available. With a $17,999 base price and a $26,698 price for our test model, the Xterra falls in the lower-priced end of the vehicles in the group. Our model, an SE with a 170 horsepower, 3.3-liter, V-6 engine, four-speed automatic transmission and four-wheel drive, offered a towing capacity of up to 5,000 pounds. The base engine, a 143-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard with a five-speed manual transmission and has a towing capacity of up to 3,500 pounds. Power-assisted steering and four-wheel ABS are standard equipment on all models. The somewhat austere interior of the Xterra is designed to be durable and easy to clean, but has substantial road noise as a result. Standard features on all Xterras include a five-speed manual transmission, dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and an AM/FM/cassette with six-disc CD changer. Features like power doors, windows and mirror, remote keyless entry, manual sunroof, cruise control, the cool-looking roof rack and tubular step-rails, first aid kit and fog lights are all standard on the SE model.
In a field filled with sport-utilities, the 2001 Toyota Highlander, which starts at $23,515, stands out in the crowd. This mid-size SUV has all the capabilities and cargo space of a truck, yet with the ride and handling characteristics of a car. Based on the Toyota Camry platform, the Highlander is actually slightly shorter than its sedan sibling, yet has more interior space than its brother, the Lexus sport-ute, the RX300. On the road, the Highlander is a pleasure to drive. Powered by either a 155 horsepower, 2.4-liter, dual overhead cam, four-cylinder engine or a horsepower, 3.0-liter, dual overhead cam V-6 engine, the Highlander is available in both front and full-time, four-wheel drive. All Highlanders are equipped with a four-speed automatic transmission with a special mode for driving in snow. Our test model a Limited edition with four-wheel drive, priced at $26,495, had the V-6 engine, eight-way power adjustable front seats, automatic digital climate control, an outside temperature gauge, an upgraded audio system, remote keyless entry with anti-theft features, six-spoke aluminum wheels with full-size spare, integrated fog lamps, heated mirrors, daytime running lights and auto on/off headlights. With seating for five, the 2001 Highlander has two bucket seats up front and a bench with seating for three in the rear. The rear seat has a 60/40 split, allowing either or both sections to fold flat if additional cargo space in necessary. Standard equipment on all Highlanders includes air conditioning, premium audio with AM/FM/cassette/CD, cruise control, tilt steering wheel, digital quartz clock, height adjustable headrests, two auxiliary power outlets and an overhead console with eyeglass compartment.
Copyright 2001, Tara Baukus Mello.
Copyright 2000, Tara Baukus Mello.