A distinctly American creation, the first sport utility vehicles were little more than enclosed four-wheel-drive pickup trucks with back seats. Over time, as the genre gained more traction among mainstream motorists, creature comfort became more significant than off-road capability, and most automakers began to fashion their SUVs from passenger car platforms and not from trucks. Thus, most of the best American-made SUVs today are more like cars than trucks. They ride smoothly, handle easily, and are packed with creature comfort. Of course, a list like this one begs the question: Just what constitutes “Made in America”? We consider an American-made SUV to be any sport utility with 50-percent or more domestic content, produced and marketed by one of the three traditional American automakers (GM, Chrysler . . . uh, make that Fiat Chrysler, or Ford), and assembled in a factory in the United States.
The Best American-Made SUVs
Having been redesigned for the 2015 model year, the Cadillac Escalade does, in many ways, represent the state of the art among the best American-made SUVs. The full-size luxury sport utility offers magnetic ride control, automatic LED headlights, tri-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated power adjustable front seats, heated rear seats, and a touch-sensitive infotainment interface. The Escalade’s 420-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 is good for 460 lb-ft of torque, sent to the rear wheels through an eight-speed automatic transmission. Four-wheel drive is optional. Pricing starts at $72,970.
Photo Credit: Chevrolet
Designed specifically, it seems, with the great American road trip in mind, the Chevrolet Equinox is quiet, rides smoothly, and comes nicely outfitted. And two engine offerings offer the choice between outright fuel economy or enhanced performance. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine makes 182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque. The 3.6-liter V6 makes 301 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. Each engine mates to a six-speed automatic transmission, and each powertrain is offered with either front- or all-wheel drive. Equinox pricing starts at $22,600. If you like the Equinox but wish it was more luxurious, consider one of its platform mates. The GMC Acadia starts at $30,975; the Buick Enclave starts at $39,065.
Photo Credit: General Motors
The Chevrolet Tahoe is one of the last of the truck-based models, but it still ranks among the best American-made SUVs. Available with either rear- or all-wheel-drive, the Tahoe offers three-row seating that can hold up to nine passengers, admirable cargo capacity, and an impressive towing capacity of 8,600 pounds. The Chevrolet delivers a quiet and comfortable ride on the highway, as well as a nicely finished interior treatment. Its 5.3-liter V8 makes 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, delivered through a six-speed automatic transmission. Pricing starts at $47,000.
Photo Credit: Dodge
Dodge has a knack for bridging segments. So, if you’re looking for something sized in between among the best American-made SUVs — say, one a tad too small to be full-size but a bit too big to be mid-size — the Dodge Durango may be the one you’re after. Beyond its singular size, it also handles well, sports reasonable off-road capability, and delivers a comfortable ride, too. Engine choice is either a 290-horsepower V6 or a 360-horsepower V8. An eight-speed automatic transmission and rear drive are standard; four-wheel drive is an option. Pricing starts at $30,495.
Photo Credit: Ford
Sharing its platform with Ford’s spunky little Focus, the Escape was all but preordained to be fun to drive. It’s certainly one of the quickest compact crossovers around. Power comes from a choice of three engines, ranging in output from 168 horsepower to 240. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard, along with front drive. All-wheel drive is optional. For 2016, Ford has replaced the former Sync 2.0 infotainment interface with its all-new Sync 3 system that functions more like a smartphone and is more intuitive to use. Pricing starts at $23,590.
Credited with launching the SUV boom, the Ford Explorer still can be considered as America’s favorite sport utility vehicle. The current Ford Explorer is the largest and most luxurious version of the SUV yet offered. Power comes from a choice of three engines, ranging in output from 290 to 365 horsepower. A six-speed automatic transmission routes power to either the rear wheels or to all four. Pricing starts at $31,050.
GMC Yukon XL/Yukon XL Denali/Chevrolet Suburban
While the full-size Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon XL are almost identical, the Denali version of the GMC gets the nod for being the most luxurious and powerful of the triumvirate. The Suburban and Yukon XL both use a 5.3-liter V8 with 355 horsepower and 383 lb-ft of torque, while the Yukon Denali XL offers a 6.2-liter V8 with 420 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed automatic feeds either the rear wheels or all four with the optional four-wheel drive. Pricing starts at $48,250 for the Suburban, $50,865 for Yukon XL, and $67,745 for Yukon XL Denali.
While often overlooked in the shadow of its Grand Cherokee sibling, the sharply styled Jeep Cherokee is an excellent crossover with, when properly equipped, a high degree of off-road capability. The Cherokee runs and rides smoothly, and its interior is spacious, comfortable and beautifully finished. Engine output ranges from 184 horsepower to 271. The Cherokee is the only one of the best American SUVs to employ a nine-speed automatic transmission. Both front- and all-wheel drive are offered. Pricing starts at $23,395.
Photo Credit: Fiat Chrysler Automobiles
Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT
Lest you think the Europeans have a lock on the making of an ultra-high-performance luxury SUV, good old Jeep has an answer in the form of a pavement-crinkling 6.4-liter V8 pumping out 475 horsepower and 470 lb-ft of torque. With an engine note capable of making people think NASCAR’s come to town, this is one badass Jeep. It’s also highly civilized — well, at least on the inside, as the interior is just as luxurious as the GCSRT is fast. Pricing starts at $64,895.
Photo Credit: Jeep
The first American SUV, Jeep’s Wrangler has a pedigree going all the way back to the 1940s when it was developed for the U.S. military. Today’s standard features are a far cry from that version and include cruise control, front and rear tow hooks, foglights, and a removable top. Power comes from a 3.6-liter V6 with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard; a five-speed automatic is optional. A variety of four-wheel-drive choices include short-gear configurations with upgraded transfer cases and an extra-low gear ratio for rock crawling. Wrangler pricing starts at $23,895.
Photo Credit: Lincoln
Freshly reworked for the 2015 model year, Lincoln’s Navigator is a relaxing highway cruiser with a broad array of high-end features, comfortable seating, and the serene ride of a luxury sedan. The first American luxury SUV, the Lincoln Navigator is also the only full-sized American-made SUV marketed without a V8 option. The Navigator’s turbocharged V6 does, however, put out 380 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque, so those two cylinders shouldn’t be missed. A six-speed automatic and rear-wheel drive are standard; four-wheel drive is optional. Pricing starts at $63,090.