Sport Utility Vehicles, or SUVs, are the most popular type of vehicle sold in America today and it's no surprise. There's plenty of room in these stylish vehicles for the entire family, plus all the gear you need to take you anywhere you want to go. Unlike the off-road vehicles SUVs were bred from, today's sport-utes are designed to be comfortable driving both on- and off-road. While off-road adventure may not be in your vacation plans, having a vehicle with higher ground clearance and four-wheel drive can come in handy in certain types of weather or if you'd like to take the family camping a little off the beaten path. We took a look at your five favorite mid-size SUVs and assessed each one for their strengths and weaknesses. See how they stacked up below.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Base Price: $25,975
Price as Tested: $30,255
If this were a beauty contest, the Dodge Durango would be the hands-down winner. The week we spent behind the wheel of this beauty yielded more appreciative looks than any other SUV we tested. Its flared fenders give it a unique look, but the 4.7-liter V-8 engine is what provides the power. Our test vehicle, an SLT 4x4, came equipped with a hefty 235 horsepower 4.7-liter V-8 engine and automatic transmission. With the heavy-duty towing package, it became the heftiest of the bunch with a whopping 7600-pound towing capacity. Despite the fact that it was only a few inches longer than the Ford Explorer, the Durango had 18 cubic feet of additional cargo space, with all the rear seats folded-a real boon if you need to carry a lot of stuff. On the inside, it was easy to get comfortable in the Durango. The gray cloth interior seats 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.
Ford Explorer XLT
Base Price: $23,290
Price as Tested: $30,285
Celebrating its tenth birthday, the Ford Explorer is consistently one of the top-selling SUVs. Of the vehicles we compared, the Explorer has the most unique features, including adjustable accelerator and brake pedals and a reverse sensing system that beeps when something is behind you while you are backing up. Despite the six-way adjustable seat, this author (a 5'6" woman) couldn't adjust the seat low or forward enough to drive comfortably without being too close to the airbag- so the adjustable pedals should be a top consideration for many small drivers. Our test vehicle, an XLT four-wheel drive model, offered the optional 302 horsepower 5.0-liter V-8 and automatic transmission with a 5,000 pound towing capacity. On the inside, low windowsills provided great visibility. The column shift, however, was so long that it interfered with the power/volume knob of the stereo when the driver reached for the controls. The rear liftgate offered the capability to put down just the window section, which was a nice option. Standard features on the Explorer include a 160 horsepower, 4.0-liter V-6 engine with five-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, power mirrors, windows and locks, dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, roof rack and a theft deterrent system.
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Base Price: $26,570
Price as Tested: $38,495
One look at the 2000 Jeep Grand Cherokee says on-road style versus rugged off-road adventure, but the fact of the matter is that this model is perfectly capable in either setting. Restyled for the 1999 model year, the Grand Cherokee gets high points on its numerous convenience and comfort features. Our test model, a Limited, came with a 235 horsepower, 4.7-liter V-8 engine and an automatic transmission and 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. Standard towing capacity is 2000 pounds and goes up to 5000 pounds with the optional towing package. Creature comforts on the Jeep Grand Cherokee are plentiful, particularly on the Limited version. Both models 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. The Grand Cherokee Limited adds dual climate controls, new, softer leather seating and an upgraded stereo with CD player among other features. Nice touches include 10-way power front seats on the Limited, which offer driver-side memory linked to the seat position, driver's side mirror and radio.
Base Price: $17,349
Price as Tested: $26,148
The marketing surrounding the Nissan Xterra targeting young, active drivers with a zest for adventure has worked. Even when driving our test model on errands around town, I felt ready to conquer the highest mountains. Nissan has taken a "bare bones" approach with the Xterra, which is what made it our least expensive test vehicle of the group. Our model, a Solar Yellow 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. If you want a plush interior, you won't like the Xterra. Designed to be very durable and easy to clean, the interior is comfortable, but simple, and thoroughly lacking in plushness. This is a great benefit if you don't want to worry about the kids making a mess on the upholstery. The austere interior does have some drawbacks: compared to the other vehicles we tested, the Xterra had the most amount of road noise in the cabin. Rear seat entry and exit was a bit awkward, due to the high step-in height and narrow door bottoms. Standard features on the base model, the XE, include a 146 horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission, dual airbags, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, air conditioning and an AM/FM/cassette. 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, which starts at $22,549.
Base Price: $21,938
Price as Tested: $31,486
Just like we've come to expect from Toyota, our test 4Runner was high in quality. Dashboard controls and cloth seats all received top marks, as did the 183 horsepower, 3.4-liter V-6 engine in the SR5 model we tested. In the ECT Power mode, the shift points are changed to allow for a greater power boost. This feature came in handy, particularly when entering the highway. Unfortunately, driving with the ECT Power on noticeably decreased gas mileage. The 67.5-inches tall 4Runner felt a bit top heavy, but the high seating position gave a commanding view of the road and even around some other trucks and SUVs. The 4Runner, last redesigned in 1996, is in need of an exterior makeover, although Toyota has not made an official announcement as to the year of the next redesign. Despite its slightly boxy look, the Toyota proved to be well mannered both on- and off-road. Standard features include auto-off headlights, dual airbags, three power outlets, an overhead console with built-in storage for a garage door opener, a power rear window and a split folding bench seat in the rear. The top-of-the-line 4Runner, the Limited, adds leather seating, power windows, door locks and seats, built-in fog lamps and an upgraded stereo among other features.
AutoMinuteTM is a registered trademark of autobytel.com inc. This information is for educational and entertainment purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon for legal or technical advice. This information is for consumer use only, not for commercial reprint.