Choosing whether to buy an SUV or a crossover vehicle to satisfy your need for a practical vehicle can be a tough choice. It can sometimes be even more difficult to decide what direction you should head in when you factor in that the leading automakers each produce compelling models that fall into both categories. With such an embarrassment of riches to choose from, it helps to stay objective about the strengths of each particular vehicle you are considering and then judge how those characteristics stack up against each other.
Let’s take a look at one SUV and its crossover vehicle from each of Ford, Chevrolet and Toyota and get the lowdown on how to decide which of these options might be best for your own unique situation.
01. 2011 Ford Explorer
Last year the 2011 Ford Explorer would have found itself in the SUV column, but a complete redesign has firmly established the venerable nameplate as a true crossover vehicle. Moving the Ford Explorer into crossover territory allows it to play up a number of new strengths, including a sedan-like ride and better fuel economy. The vehicle is also wider and longer than the SUV it replaces, which means that it doesn’t give up anything in terms of passenger or cargo room (up to seven for the former and as much as 80 cubic feet for the latter). The crossover’s 282 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 offers up a credible 17-mpg city and 25-mpg highway in front-wheel drive trim, and all-wheel drive is available as a traction-adding option.
02. 2011 Ford Expedition
The 2011 Ford Expedition is the only traditional truck-based SUV left in the Ford lineup. Sharing its chassis with the Ford F-150 pickup truck means that the Ford Expedition offers similar levels of towing prowess, with 9,200 lbs of hauling capability on tap. Interior room is also generous, housing eight passenger seating and an enormous 108 cubic feet of total cargo space. The Expedition is also available in an extended EL edition that adds another 22 feet of interior storage to that figure. The heavy body-on-frame construction and large, 310 horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 engine exact their toll on fuel economy for the full-size SUV, with its EPA rating showing as 14-mpg city and 20-mpg highway. Like the Explorer, four-wheel drive can be added to the Expedition.
03. The Verdict
While there is definitely some overlap in terms of passenger capacity, it’s pretty clear that the Ford Explorer and the Ford Expedition are aimed at two different crowds. The Explorer is perfect for urban-dwellers who need more space than a sedan can provide, but who don’t want to get behind the wheel of a minivan. The Expedition, on the other hand, offers a plus-size interior and the kind of grunt that helps it achieve a tow-rating that is 4,200 lbs more than that of the Explorer. This makes it a better vehicle for drivers with a regular need to haul a heavy load and who don’t mind paying a fuel penalty to do so.
04. 2011 Chevrolet Traverse
The 2011 Chevrolet Traverse is a full-size crossover vehicle that drives a lot smaller than it looks. The ability of the Chevrolet Traverse to shrink around the person sitting behind the wheel is part of its charm, making it more maneuverable than many other vehicles its size despite it being gifted with available seating for eight passengers as well as a whopping 116.4 cubic feet of cargo space. Fuel mileage for the Traverse’s 281 horsepower, 3.6-liter engine checks in at 17-mpg city and an easy-to-swallow 24-mpg highway, and all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive represent the large crossover’s drivetrain choices.
05. 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe
Like the Chevrolet Traverse, the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is big – but in a different way. Whereas the Traverse is able to conceal much of its bulk thanks to its car-like platform, the Chevrolet Tahoe wears its dimensions like a badge of honor, making the most of its rugged frame to offer good off-roading ability (when equipped with optional four-wheel drive and the Z71 package) and excellent towing capacity (8,500 lbs). The Tahoe also comes with three rows of seating for as many as eight occupants, 109 cubic feet of cargo space behind the front two positions and a 5.3-liter V-8 engine that generates 320 horsepower. Fuel mileage for the SUV is a thirsty 15-mpg city and 21-mpg highway, but buyers can choose a hybrid model of the Tahoe and take advantage of much improved fuel consumption figures.
The Chevrolet Traverse and the Chevrolet Tahoe are a fairly even match on paper when it comes to passenger and cargo space. The real differences between the full-size crossover and the big SUV start to emerge when taking a look at the approach that each of these vehicles takes on its way to these stats. The Tahoe’s rectangular truck shape and 3,000 lb towing advantage make it a preferred choice amongst those who need their SUV to get down and dirty – and occasionally work for a living – in addition to tackling people moving duties. The Traverse’s more modest fuel use, good all-around power and much more nimble feel from the driver’s seat make it easier to live with on a daily basis for the majority of tasks.
07. 2011 Toyota Highlander
The 2011 Toyota Highlander makes no bones about its place as a mid-size crossover that is intended to steal from both the wagon and the minivan segments in terms of its cargo space (95.4 cubic feet) and passenger capacity (up to seven). The Toyota Highlander also comes with available all-wheel drive and a four-cylinder entry-level engine that values efficiency over pure thrust. Its 2.4-liters of displacement produce 187 horsepower and offer up fuel mileage numbers of 20-mpg city and 25-mpg highway. Those seeking all-wheel drive will need to go with the more powerful but slightly less frugal at the pump 3.5-liter V-6, which puts out 270 horses and returns 18-mpg city and 24-mpg highway.
08. 2011 Toyota Land Cruiser
The 2011 Toyota Land Cruiser is a veritable institution, a continuation of a long line of off-road champions that has gradually morphed into a comfortable tarmac cruiser. The top of the line SUV from the Japanese automaker, the full-size Toyota Land Cruiser doesn’t just offer full-time four-wheel drive and an 8,200 lb tow rating, but it also comes with luxurious interior accommodations for eight in addition to 82 cubic feet of cargo space. The Land Cruiser’s 5.7-liter V-8 churns out 381 horsepower and humbles fuel pumps with its 13-mpg city and 18-mpg highway rating.
Of all the vehicles compared here, these might be the two that are so clearly targeting different types of drivers. The Toyota Highlander is the prototypical crossover: big inside, tall on the outside and with two fuel efficient engine choices. The Toyota Land Cruiser is a luxury yacht wrapped around the bones of a Sahara-crosser, an icon in today’s pavement-focused SUV market and the most expensive vehicle to wear a Toyota badge. If you’ve got a big budget, want to tow 8,200 lbs and need the ability to ford the occasional river, go with the Land Cruiser. For everyone else, the Highlander is a safe bet.
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