SUVs quickly took over for station wagons, and now crossover utility vehicles seem to drawing from SUVs, but there is still robust demand for larger, practical vehicles that can seat numerous people and their stuff. Arguably, there has actually never been a better time to be looking in the SUV market — they’re getting better fuel economy than ever before, while offering stronger performances in just about every aspect.
“Available in 2- and 3-row formats with seating for 5, 6, 7 or 8, the midsize SUV segment offers a wide range of vehicles spanning the gap between the more defined compact and full-size SUV segments,” Kelley Blue Book said, prefacing a list of what it determined to be the ten best midsize SUVs for 2014.
It didn’t say explicitly, but KBB generally uses its value and cost of ownership models on which to make such decisions. Those factors and calculations — which include fuel economy, insurance premiums, maintenance costs, and sticker price — led to the following list of SUVs for your perusal.
10. Ford Flex
Ford’s quirky SUV is meant to form a bridge between SUV and wagon, but it definitely leans to the side of SUV. Its squared-off profile and unique appearance distinguish it from just about everything else in Ford’s lineup, and belies the Flex’s car-like mannerisms that help set it apart from other utility vehicles. “In addition to standout styling that appeals to buyers who aren’t into blending in, the Flex has seating for seven and enough cargo space to carry three surfboards … in the cabin,” KBB pointed out.
9. Kia Sorento
Despite being Kia’s largest SUV offering, the Sorento is still smaller than many of its competitors — yet it still boasts a third-row seat. This makes it particularly appealing for those living in urban environments, as its easier to maneuver and features better fuel economy than others in its class. “Those compact dimensions are paired with big Kia value, thanks to a bevy of features, competitive prices and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty,” KBB said.
8. Hyundai Santa Fe
The Hyundai Santa Fe is closely related to the Sorento, and like the smaller Santa Fe Sport, the full-size SUV “benefits from handsome styling, tons of features and an even more spacious, well-appointed interior.” It can be optioned to seat six or seven people, the latter being standard and the former being available with middle-row captain’s seats. At under $30,000, the Santa Fe has as much versatility as it does value thanks to a bevy of standard features, according to the KBB.
7. Dodge Durango
Perhaps the biggest perk of the Dodge (FIATY.PK) Durango is its class-leading towing capacity, and for some, its distinctly masculine and “truck-like persona” that its rivals seem to lack. Available with a 3.6 liter V6, or a 5.7 V8, the Durango can suite a multitude of needs, but it will be interesting to see if Dodge makes use of the 3.0 liter diesel made available in the Ram 1500 which offers nearly 30 miles per gallon on the highway (at least in that application).
6. Ford Explorer
The Explorer has long been one of the most popular SUVs in the States, and for good reason. “The iconic name remains, but today’s Explorer is more comfortable and more efficient than the truck-based models that forged the category last century,” KBB said. “The engine lineup has evolved, too. In addition to a 290-horsepower V6 similar to what’s offered in its competitors, the Explorer is also available with a more fuel-efficient turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, or a potent 365-horsepower turbocharged V6.”
5. Chevrolet Traverse
The Chevrolet Traverse is relatively new to the SUV scene, but makes a strong case for itself as it is the biggest vehicle in the class and is the roomiest vehicle on this list, according to KBB. It’s especially versatile as well, as it has a folding second row makes access to the way back much easier, and the third row folds flat into the floor when not needed, opening up acres of cargo space.
4. Honda Pilot
From the outside, the Honda Pilot doesn’t look like anything special. It’s not flashy, doesn’t make any distinct statements, and is generally unassuming overall. However, its looks belie an exceptionally versatile cabin that can accommodate up to eight people and offers an exceptionally refined and smooth ride for which Hondas are renowned.
3. Jeep Grand Cherokee
If there’s one thing Jeep knows, it’s SUVs. Given that Jeep exclusively builds SUVs and crossovers, that’s a good thing, and the Grand Cherokee is perhaps the best illustration of this knowledge. In addition to having exceptional off-road credibility, the Grand Cherokee is “both the most rugged and the most refined vehicle in its class,” and it now comes with a more refined look, an upgraded interior and some revised powertrains that include an 8-speed automatic transmission and an available new diesel engine, KBB reports.
2. Nissan Pathfinder
The Nissan (NSANY.PK) Pathfinder not only has a new suit with which to compete, but a couple of very interesting features that help set it apart from its class. It includes an “exclusive Around View Monitor that gives the driver a 360-degree bird’s-eye view of the car in parking situations,” KBB said, which is particularly useful for such large vehicles. It also has a second-row seat that allows for easy access to the third row even, when a child seat is installed.
1. Toyota Highlander
Finally, Kelley Blue Book determined that the Toyota Highlander — which was redesigned almost entirely for 2014 — is still just as easy to navigate around town and even quieter on the highway than its predecessor, despite a larger and roomier cabin that can now seat eight. It’s a multi-tool that does everything well, and with its bolder look, one doesn’t have to sacrifice style for versatility.