It’s a concept that has long been embraced by automakers – the idea that over time, drivers move up from the compact vehicles that they first started out with into ever-larger and more capable models that better suit their needs and their budget. Perhaps nowhere is this better illustrated than in the crossover, SUV and truck segments of the market. Vehicles in these segments are routinely sorted by their physical size, passenger capacity, or ability to tow a trailer.
Let’s take a look at the evolution from small, compact crossover utility vehicle all the way up to larger pickup truck or crossover and discuss the most appealing features of each class of vehicle.
The 2011 Honda CR-V has long been one of the top choices amongst compact crossover vehicle buyers. Unlike some compact CUVs that attempt to squeeze an additional two passengers into a tacked-on rear row of seating, the CR-V accommodates five occupants with room to spare. The absence of a third row also means that the Honda CR-V offers a generous 35.7 cubic feet of cargo space at all times – a number which expands to 73 cubic feet with the second row folded forward. The base CR-V is equipped with features such as power windows and door locks, a CD player, and reclining rear seats. Higher end models can benefit from a sunroof, dual automatic climate control, and a voice-controlled navigation system.
The 2011 Honda CR-V is powered by a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that generates 180 horsepower and 161 lb-ft of torque. Matched with a five-speed automatic transmission, front-wheel drive editions of the CR-V return fuel mileage of 21-mpg city and 28-mpg highway. All-wheel drive is also available as an option, automatically diverting power to the rear axle when wheel spin is detected.
The 2011 Jeep Wrangler represents the starting rung on the ladder in terms of size in the traditional SUV market. The Jeep Wrangler offers a full frame design that is strong enough to withstand the rigors of trail use, and unlike the CR-V, it is designed to shine more in off-road situations than when plying the pavement. The two-door SUV comes with a four-wheel drive system, solid front and rear axles, and a robust suspension system. Special models can be had that incorporate full skid plate underside protection, an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar, and an even more focused four-wheel drive transfer case.
The 2011 Jeep Wrangler easily powers through the mud and over rock landscapes thanks to the installation of a 3.8-liter V-6 engine under the hood. Good for 202 horses and 237 lb-ft of twist, the engine is managed via the choice of either a six-speed manual transmission or a four-speed automatic. Fuel mileage for the Wrangler shows as 15-mpg city and 19-mpg highway.
The 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited takes the two-door platform of the standard Wrangler and stretches it out so that it offers additional interior space and the convenience of full-size doors for rear passengers. Able to seat five occupants comfortably, and offering up a substantial 86 cubic feet of total cargo space with the rear seats folded down, the Wrangler Unlimited is a larger SUV option that is more attuned to the daily driving needs of families while also maintaining much of the Wrangler’s off-road ability.
Unlike its smaller sibling, the 2011 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited can be had in a rear-wheel drive only trim to complement its four-wheel drive option. The vehicle shares the same 202 horsepower, 3.8-liter V-6 as found in the standard Wrangler, as well as the six-speed and four-speed transmission options. The rear-wheel drive Wrangler Unlimited offers slightly better highway fuel mileage, but other than that the vehicles are equal in terms of efficiency.
The 2011 Honda Pilot is the largest crossover utility vehicle built by Honda, and its high ratings in the passenger (up to seven), cargo (as much as 87 cubic feet), and towing (up to 4,500 lbs) departments place it in good company in its class. The Honda Pilot is a strong choice for families who need a capable, roomy vehicle but who don’t want to step into a full-size, truck-based SUV. The Pilot can also be ordered with a number of luxury features, including a rear seat DVD entertainment system, heated leather seats, a sunroof, and a navigation system that recognizes voice commands.
All versions of the 2011 Honda Pilot are equipped with a 250 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. Also capable of generating 253 lb-ft of torque, this engine sends power to the front or all four wheels (if available all-wheel drive is selected) through a five-speed automatic transmission. Fuel mileage for the Honda Pilot comes in at 17-mpg city and 23-mpg highway, thanks in part to Honda’s cylinder deactivation technology.
The 2011 Honda Ridgeline is in a class all to its own. It is the only mid-size truck available that eschews a full-frame design for the comfort and weight saving inherent in a unibody platform. Borrowing most of its underpinnings from the Honda Pilot, the Ridgeline delivers much of what a traditional pickup has to offer (four-door passenger compartment, five-foot open cargo bed, 5,000 lbs of towing) along with a few things they do not (lockable under-bed storage area, car-like handling and ride).
The 2011 Honda Ridgeline makes use of a 3.5-liter V-6, the same unit found in the Pilot, only this time tuned to provide 250 horsepower and 247 lb-ft of torque. In place of traditional four-wheel drive, the Honda pickup comes with a standard all-wheel drive system. A five-speed automatic transmission is the only available gearbox with the Ridgeline, and fuel mileage checks in at 15-mpg around town and 20-mpg on the highway.
The 2011 Dodge Dakota checks off all of the boxes that most people associate with a pickup truck. Unlike the Ridgeline, the Dakota comes in both extended and four-door body styles (with the latter featuring full-size rear doors), two bed lengths (six-feet, four-inches and five-feet, three-inches), and also offers a tough frame and suspension system that is suitable for off-roading or substantial towing (up to 7,250 lbs). The Dakota additionally features the availability of a four-wheel drive system that is designed to handle low traction conditions with ease.
The 2011 Dodge Dakota features the choice of either a 3.7-liter V-6 engine or an optional 4.7-liter V-8. The former puts out 210 horsepower and 235 lb-ft of torque, while the eight-cylinder trumps that with 302 horses and 329 lb-ft of its own. Transmissions include a four-speed automatic for the V-6 and a five-speed auto for the V-8. Fuel mileage is very close, with the V-6 pulling ahead by one-mpg in the city (15-mpg) and on the highway (20-mpg).
The 2011 Honda Odyssey might seem like the odd man out on this list of crossovers, SUVs and pickup trucks, but the exceptional versatility of this minivan forces it into consideration for anyone who needs a high capacity people hauler or cargo mover. The redesigned Odyssey’s tow-rating might not match that of its larger rivals (3,500 lbs), but its ability to transport eight passengers or as much as 148 cubic feet of cargo places it in the same league as many larger crossovers and sport-utility vehicles.
The 2011 Honda Odyssey is also notable for its frugal fuel consumption when compared against similarly-endowed competitors. The Odyssey’s 3.5-liter V-6 offers gas mileage of 19-mpg in stop and go driving and 28-mpg on the highway when equipped with a six-speed automatic transmission (a five-speed auto is also available). Power is also substantial, showing as 248 horsepower and 250 lb-ft of torque. Minivans might not offer the same outdoorsy, tough image associated with SUVs, but examples like the Odyssey prove that there is definitely a place for this class of vehicle in any conversation on the topic of practical family transportation.