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Real SUV Buying Guide

A collection of vehicles that stay true to the SUV category

by Autobytel Staff
October 14, 2010
8 min. Reading Time

When the Sport Utility Vehicle was first developed, it was intended to be a go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle in which you could carry equipment, toys, and family. As SUV's gained popularity among suburbanites for their high seating position and expansive cargo capacity, off-road capability and rawness waned. It would be easy to assume then that the traditional SUV is dead. Not so fast. Vehicles like the mountain goat Jeep Wrangler and Toyota FJ Cruiser remain to prove that not all SUV'ss are whimpy soft-roaders. If you've got a family and a sense of adventure, there's still a lot to choose from. We compiled a list of the vehicles that stay true to the SUV name. Photos courtesy of respective manufacturers

Jeep Liberty

When the midsize Jeep Cherokee was discontinued nearly a decade ago, it was replaced by the Jeep Liberty. Much like the Cherokee, the Liberty maintained its unibody structure that provided car-like comfort on road, and impressive off-road prowess. Completely redesigned in 2008, the 2011 Jeep Liberty sees new infotainment options and some interior upgrades. Also new and most noteworthy for this discussion, is the new (half-way through 2010) Renegade model that slots between the base Sport and top-end Limited with a focus on off-road capability. Base MSRP: $23,250 Base Engine: 3.7-liter V6 with 201 horsepower Base EPA MPG: 16 city/22 hwy/18 cmb Model Highlights undefined Optional "Sky Slider" canvas sunroof extends most of the length of the roof undefined Renegade model features skid plates, Hill-Start Assist (HSA) and Hill-Decent Control (HDC) among other options undefined Two Trail Rated 4x4 systems are available


Jeep Grand Cherokee

What began as the bigger brother to the SUV that started it all, the Jeep Grand Cherokee enters its third generation in 2011 completely redesigned. With an all-new platform, exterior styling, interior and powertrain, the Jeep Grand Cherokee is quite a comfortable vehicle. Matching its comfort level is off-road capability that lives up to the Jeep badge. Three 4-wheel-drive systems, adjustable ride height, and an electronic selectable terrain system make for the ultimate off-road luxury suv. Base MSRP: $30,215 Base Engine: 3.6-liter V6 with 290 horsepower Base EPA MPG: 16 city/23 hwy/18 cmb Model Highlights undefined "Quadra-Lift" air suspension can raise the Grand Cherokee 2.6 inches undefined Off Road Adventure I and Off Road Adventure II packages are trail rated undefined Optional 5.7-liter V8 engine produces 360 horsepower


Jeep Wrangler

The Jeep Wrangler is the quintessential off-road vehicle. No other has the history of capability and freedom of the Wrangler, and even in 2011, the Jeep Wrangler continues its heritage. For 2011, the Jeep Wrangler gets a new interior that ups the refinement quotient for an otherwise rough and tumble vehicle. Also new for 2011 are a myriad of electronic options including Bluetooth and automatic temperature control (yea, in a Jeep!) as well as standard stability control, hill start assist, and trailer-sway control. Base MSRP: $22,045 Base Engine: 3.8-liter V6 with 202 horsepower Base EPA MPG: 15 city/19 hwy/17 cmb Model Highlights undefined Removable doors, solid axles, and fold-down windshield are still standard equipment undefined Convertible hardtop marries the fun of a soft-top with comfort of a hard top undefined 4-door Unlimited model provides fun for the whole family


Land Rover LR4

New for 2010, the midsize LR4 replaces the Land Rover LR3. Though it's mostly unchanged outside, the interior is vastly improved in luxuriousness and technological options, and a much stronger V8 now resides under the hood. The exceptional four-wheel-drive system will take you virtually anywhere you want to go off the beaten path. Its hefty weight takes a toll on road handling and fuel economy, but if you want the best off-road capability combined with luxury in this price range, the LR4 stands alone.

$47,250 5.0-liter V8 with 375 horsepower 12 city/17 hwy/14 cmb

undefinedIndependent suspension with adaptive air springs undefinedOptional third-row seat undefined Available navigation system offers off-road mapping undefinedExtremely high quality interior


Land Rover Range Rover

A favorite of Hollywood stars, few other SUVs come with the status, prestige and off-road capability of the Range Rover. For 2010 it receives some substantial updates, including new V8 engines, improved navigation, and a full surround camera system for parking. The Terrain Response system with five driver-selectable modes and adjustable air suspension ensure the Range Rover remains the most capable off-road luxury SUV. And a supercharged model pumping out a whopping 510 horsepower will satisfy anyone's cravings for power.

$78,425 5.0-liter V8 with 375 horsepower 12 city/18 hwy/14 cmb

undefinedModern high-resolution virtual instrument panel undefinedUber-luxurious interior materials undefined Innovative Trailer Stability Assist system undefinedAdvanced technology and safety features


Mercedes-Benz G-Class

In production for 30 years and sold in the US for the last eight years, the military-chic G-Wagen SUV combines luxury, extreme off-road abilities and brash styling to challenge your perceptions of excellence and excess. The standard G550 has plenty of grunt with its 382-hp V8, while the 500-hp G55 AMG inspires goofy no-SUV-should-go-this-fast grins. Exterior updates like bodycolor molding and new exhaust outlets, along with new seats, leather dash top, heated steering wheel and ambient lighting are new features for 2010. Poor handling and fuel efficiency, as well as a noisy cabin, are pretty significant trade-offs for the apocalypse-resistant build quality and performance. $104,000 - $122,700 5.5-liter V8 with 382 horsepower 11 city/15 hwy/13 cmb

Model Highlights undefinedStands alone since Hummer was discontinued undefinedCan be factory-equipped with armor plating...really undefinedOff-road capability is second-to-none undefinedHand-built, over-engineered quality


Nissan Pathfinder

Better suited to off-roading and truck-like duties than everyday family fare, the 7-passenger Pathfinder lags behind the midsize SUV competition. However, it can tow up to 8,000 lbs. with the optional 310-hp V8, and both it and the V6 engine are admirably powerful. The interior is well-appointed and many entry-level luxury amenities are available, but the second- and third-row seats are tight. Fuel economy is near the bottom of the pack. Options packages have been rearranged and an SE Off Road trim level is eliminated from the Pathfinder for 2010.

$27,440 - $42,160 4.0-liter V6 with 266 horsepower 15 city/22 hwy/18 cmb

Model Highlights undefinedRear-wheel drive or four-wheel drive undefinedStandard front skid plate undefinedAvailable hard-drive navigation system with real-time traffic undefined Good crash safety scores


Nissan Xterra

Nissan's compact SUV is a truly legitimate off-road vehicle. Based on the Nissan Titan and Armada, the Xterra is designed to take owners anywhere combining power, utility, value and authenticity, according to Nissan. Little has changed for 2011 beside some exterior enhancements and new color options. In all, Nissan's rugged SUV has earned its stripes as a vehicle ready for anything Base MSRP: $23,850 Base Engine: 4.0-liter V6 with 261 horsepower Base EPA MPG: 16 city/20 hwy/18 cmb Model Highlights undefined Easy clean cargo area and available first-aid kit bode well for the Xterra's rugged abilities undefined Bluetooth, XM satellite radio, and an 8-speaker Rockford Fosgate audio system are optional undefined 6-speed manual or 5-speed automatic transmissions are available


Suzuki Grand Vitara

The longstanding Grand Vitara SUV has always been a budget-friendly alternative to mainstream compact SUV models. All trims come standard with a rear-wheel drive, 4-cylinder configuration. Four-wheel drive becomes available at the Premium trim and above, while a 230-hp V6 can be united with the XSport and Limited trim levels. It was refreshed in 2009, but standard navigation and a broader availability of Bluetooth and auxiliary inputs have been rolled out for 2010. The XSport and Limited's available 4-mode 4-wheel-drive system is unusual in this class, and allows one to actually take the Grand Vitara to off-road locations where its competition would falter.

$19,099 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 166 horsepower 19 city/26 hwy/22 cmb

undefinedThrifty 4-cylinder engine or optional 230-hp V6 undefinedNew Premium Special Edition adds technology and styling undefined Ride quality and cabin comfort/convenience not strong points undefinedSix airbags and standard traction and stability control systems


Toyota 4Runner

The 5th generation Toyota 4Runner was released in 2010, and this rugged, practical sport utility has proved its chops. Though revisions for 2011 a few, the Toyota 4Runner gets a much-need base power boost via a standard 4.0-liter V6 that produces 270 horsepower. Aside from that, the 2011 4Runner is offered in 3 trims, ranging from well equipped to luxury with a trail grade in between. Optional three-row seating ensures that everyone can come along for the ride, and specially tuned suspension provides a carlike ride on the road. Overall, the 2011 Toyota 4Runner does the traditional SUV moniker proud while maintaining on-road comfort and practicality. Base MSRP: $29,525 Base Engine: 4.0-liter V6 with 270 horsepower Base EPA MPG: 17 city/23 hwy/19 cmb Model Highlights undefined "X-REAS" suspension, standard on Limited model, adjusts shock damping depending on road conditions and driving style undefined Optional 50/50 split third row seat can fold flat when not in use undefined Party mode on all audio systems increases bass level and shifts sound to rear speakers for tailgating, camping, or outdoors activites



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