At this stage in the game, most automakers can put together some fairly good-looking sport-utility vehicles. But taking things to ye olde next level can be tricky, since designers still have to maintain a recognizably SUV-ish silhouette or there would be no point in distinguishing cars from crossovers and the like in the first place. As a result, it takes a true automotive artiste to create a design that both stands out from the crowd and appeals to it, but that’s exactly what’s been accomplished with the five selections that make up Autobytel's list of best-looking SUVs for 2012.
With its long, flowing hood and subtle curves, the Infiniti FX has been called the Jaguar E-Type of crossovers, and even if it doesn’t quite live up to those high standards, it’s certainly one of the best-looking sport-utility vehicles on the market today. The 2012 model also gains the new Infiniti grille and a redesigned front fascia that provide an added edge to the FX’s appearance—by way of some new curves. Notice, for example, how the shape of the headlights helps point your attention to the front of the FX, but doesn’t exactly parallel the creases at the corner of the vehicle’s hood. Similarly, the front fog lights provide a visual echo of the dual exhaust tips, but, again, without simply duplicating the look.
The inside benefits from much attention to detail, too. The Infiniti logo is front and center on the steering wheel in a way that makes it look like a pure design cue, while the sharp right angles and crisp lines at the perimeter of the center stack provide a well-done contrast to the FX’s generally curvy appeal.
Of course, not only is the Infiniti FX one of the most good-looking SUVs of 2012, it also is one of the most fun to drive, offering a standard 325-hp, 3.7-liter V6 (new for the 2013 model year) or a 5.0-liter V8 capable of 390 hp.
Another of the best-looking sport-utility vehicles of 2012 that eschews the typical blocky look of the SUV segments is the new Ford Escape. The Escape wears the automaker’s kinetic design language for a fresh appearance that almost seems to draw from the Porsche Cayenne. Now, although some folks may consider that a negative, it’s clear from the sales figures—of both vehicles—that a significant chunk of buyers enjoy the look. The Escape does a better job of mixing in traditional SUV touches, however, with sharply sculpted flanks, robust wheel arches and a bolder, more vertical face. It also displays a very intricate design for its front fog lights, which look more like decorations than actual lights.
From the driver’s seat, you get a dual-level center stack of controls in a sort of inverted triangle shape that seems to flow up and out of the gearshift, and the seats themselves have a tailored, premium design in both leather and fabric. (Said seats also rely on a bio-based polyurethane foam for green-conscious customers who want one of the best-looking sport utility vehicles in the country.)
And the new Ford Escape also looks pretty good at the gas pumps, thanks to its available 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine that enables EPA marks of up to 23 mpg city/33 mpg highway/26 mpg combined.
Despite their added size, which you might think would provide more room for artistic expression, most of the best-looking sport-utility vehicles in America are not of the three-row variety—but the Buick Enclave is. The stylish Enclave helped set a new direction in design for Buick when it first launched, and recent upgrades have kept it at the top of its game.
Inside, the Enclave has been spruced up with a new instrument panel, climate controls, and ambient lighting, and it gets an added dose of sophistication from its now-stitched door trim. Of particular note in the cabin is the top binnacle in the center stack, which holds an analog clock and climate vents. Buick designers framed it in chrome trim so that it now presents a classic arched-window shape for an eye-catching example of old-school elegance.
The brand also thoroughly enhanced the Enclave’s exterior with restyled fenders, front and rear fascias, and rocker moldings, as well as a new, more imposing grille with stronger (but fewer) vertical bars. Like any viable entry among the nation’s best-looking SUVs, the Enclave gains LED running lamps and taillamps, while Buick also has massaged the vehicle’s headlamps to better fit its new front end.
Showcasing an appearance that has seen few significant changes over the past 70 years, the Jeep Wrangler remains a classic amongst the best-looking SUVs of 2012. The Wrangler looks just like the highly capable rock-crawler that it is, boasting big off-road wheels, very vertical sides, exposed hinges and latches, flared wheel arches, and an undisguised front bumper. It all adds up to the kind of rugged good looks for which the SUV segments were originally known, and remember, owners also have a lot of leeway when it comes to modifying the Wrangler’s appearance: It offers removable hard and soft tops, removable doors, a fold-down windshield, and plenty of accessories from Mopar.
But while the outside of the Wrangler remains instantly recognizable, its current cockpit would shock Jeep owners from the early days. The fully modernized cabin features soft-touch materials, a clean and ergonomic switchgear layout, heated front seats, a premium seven-speaker sound system from Infinity, and the Chrysler Group’s award-winning Uconnect technology.
Jeep knows something about making the best-looking SUVs look even better, too, as evidenced by the many special-edition models that have been released. Among them: This year’s Wrangler Freedom Edition, created to honor members of the U.S. military. It includes a number of military-style graphics but just three available exterior colors—red, white and blue—but the best feature is the $250 contribution that Jeep will provide to military charities for each one purchased.
The sharp-angled and ferocious look of the current Kia products has been a major factor in their success, and—in a key difference between the brand and its corporate sibling Hyundai—the design language looks just as good on Kia's crossovers as it does on the car side of its business. Take the Kia Sorento, a standout choice as one of the best-looking sport-utility vehicles of the year. With its dynamic stance and crisp lines, the Sorento is one of those vehicles that captures a sense of motion even when standing still, a trait magnified by its proportions. The contrast between its relatively short daylight openings and tall sides accentuates the bottom half of the vehicle to emphasize its impression of power and capability.
Also, while the Sorento maintains the kind of angry, sinister face shown by some of the market's other good-looking sport-utility vehicles, Kia designers have managed to avoid creating something that seems too anthropomorphic—compare the front of the Sorento to the grimace on the new Kia Sportage as a contrast.
Especially when you consider that the Sorento is priced as a mainstream entry, its interior has some surprising details, not the least of which is the available "High Style" seating. Checking this box on the spec list provides owners with sophisticated black-and-white leather seats and a noticeable panache missing from many of its rivals, even among the other entries on Autobytel's roster of best-looking SUVs of 2012.