2011 Crossover SUV Buying Guide

Last Updated: Sep 13, 2010

Our 2011 Crossover SUV Buyers Guide looks at the fast-expanding class of vehicles that blends carlike ride and handling with SUV attributes toand creates the 21st century version of the station wagon.

Over the last decade, car-based crossover sport-utility vehicles have largely supplanted traditional SUVs as quintessential family transportation in the U.S. It’s easy to see why they’ve become overwhelmingly popular across a rangen assortment of size classes and price points. Though some look like old-school SUVs, they’re much different beneath the sheetmetal. Many are basically compact- or midsize-car wagons with slightly elevated ride heights and SUV-like styling cues. Though some look like old-school SUVs, they’re much different beneath the sheetmetal. In reality, many are basically compact- or midsize-car wagons with slightly elevated ride heights and SUV-like styling cues.

Our 2011 Crossover SUV Buying Guide includes 66 models. To qualify as a crossover, athe vehicle must havebe based upon carlike “unibody” construction in which the body and frame are essentially a single, united structure. By contrast, This is opposed to traditional SUVs, such as the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe or 2011 Toyota 4Runner, havethat use truck-type engineering in which the body is bolted to a separate frame. Unibody offers advantages of lighter weight and more efficient packaging, though not the strength to tow and carry loads as heavy as body-on-frame SUVs can manage. Noreither are crossovers as focused on off-road capability. T – the advantage, however, bein isg a less- lofty ride height than traditional SUVs for easier ingress and egress. Handling and ride quality also benefits from lighter weight, and so does fuel economy. (Look to our 2011 SUV Buying Guide for a rundown of traditional sport-utility vehicles.)

Crossovers come in three size classes: full-size (the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse is an example), midsize (2011 Hyundai Santa Fe, for example),, and compact f(orm – the 2011 Chevrolet Traverse, 2011 Hyundai Santa Fe, and 2011 Subaru Forester), respectively. Full-size models have three rows of seats for seven- or eight-passenger capacity. Midsize models typically seat five or seven, depending on seating options. C, while compacts are mostly strictly ffive-seaters.

Today’s most popular he best-selling crossovers tend to be are midsize models that mimic the “two-box” contour of a traditional SUV – the 2011 Honda Pilot and 2011 Chevrolet Equinox are examples. But there’s a new breed of midsize crossovers that blurs the segment by featuresing a lower-slung car-like bodyies with a sloping rear hatchback rooflines. The 2011 Acura ZDX, 2011 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo, and 2011 Honda Accord Crosstour are among these. Meantime, the 2011 Ford Flex goes its own way with a seven-seat body that has a two-box contour but in a uniquely styled, lower-slung style.

Compact crossovers are more practical than the small cars upon which their based because they havethanks to additional passenger and cargo volume. Some compact crossovers are available with sporty suspensions for athose seeking a more- entertaining driving experience, as well. And this year, tTwhis year sees two new ultra-small crossovers hitting the market to push the segment further into new territory. They are the 2011 Nissan Juke and the 2011 Mini Cooper Countryman that will further push the segment into new territory.

And then there’s’s the ultra-sporty BMW X6 and Porsche Cayenne five-seat crossovers. They’re , which are almost in a class by themselves with true sports-sedan road manners and high-performance turbocharged V-8s capable of delivering well over 500 horsepower.

Crossovers generally come with front-wheel drive standard and all-wheel drives available for added grip on wet pavement. AWD models typically run in front-wheel drive until sensor detect tire slip. Then they automatically send split torque rearward until traction is restored. Some allow the driver to press a button that in effect locks in a between the front and rear wheels on a 50-:50 front-rear torque split at low speeds to maximize gripbasis, with additional torque being sent to either axle as necessary to prevent wheel slippage. Some sportier models like the Audi Q5 and BMW X3 ordinarily send a bit more power to the back tires to afford more of a sportier rear-wheel-drive handling feel.

The use of AWD is intended mostly as an on-road traction assist. Unlike traditional four-wheel-drive SUVs, AWD crossovers don’t usually precludehaves the off-road advantage of separate low-range gearing and means a crossover will trail a traditional SUV for off-road ability. However, some manufacturers – notably Land Rover, Volkswagen, and Porsche -- equip their AWD crossovers with sophisticated electronic traction-management equipment that gives them excellent off-road ability.

Under the hood, mMost compact and some midsize crossovers come standard with a four-cylinder engine aimed at maximizing fuel economy. A turbocharged four or a V-6 engine may be optional for additional power, which that comes in handy when you’re carrying a full load of the vehicle is loaded with passengers. A few premium midsize crossovers offer V-8s. The Ford Flex and its dressed-for-dinner cousin, the Lincoln MKT, offer Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6 to deliver V-8-like performance with V-6-like fuel economy. Transmission-wise, a relative handful of smaller models come standard with manual transmission. Otherwise five- and six-speed automatic transmissions dominate this segment.

With the government phasing in strictertightening fuel-economy and exhaust-emissions standards, a growing number of crossover manufacturersmakers are turning to gas/electric hybrid powertrainscrossovers. These include such recent entries aslike the BMW ActiveHybrid X6, Mercedes-Benz ML 450 Hybrid, and the Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid. A, with additional models are on the way.

Also, Tthe European brands also offer “clean diesel” versions of their larger models, which deliver impressive fuel economy -- up to 19/26 mpg (city/highway) -- with low emissions and strong acceleration. Diesel crossovers include the Audi Q7 3.0 TDI, BMW xDrive35d, and three from Mercedes-Benz: the GL350 Bluetec, ML350 Bluetec, and R350 Bluetec.

As befits family-oriented vehicles, safety is a focus among crossover- SUV focus. Every oneAll of them comes standard with antiskid stability control to help stay on course in extreme- or emergency-handling situations. At least six airbags for occupant protection is the norm. In government crash testing that awards a maximum of five stars for occupant protection, most crossovers earn four or five stars for frontal and side-impact collisions. As with any class of vehicle, a larger crossover will tend to protect occupants better in a collision with a smaller vehicle by virtue of its additional mass.

A family-friendly interior with fold-flat rear seats to maximize cargo-carrying ability is the crossover norm. Also common are assorted cup holders, storage cubbies and compartments, power points for mobile electronics, and audio systems with USB connections for controlling and playing portable devices also are common. Clever innovations abound, too. The Dodge Journey offers in-floor storage compartments that can double as rolling ice chests, with a glove box that’s cooled by the vehicle’s air conditioning system. An optional interior refrigerator on the Ford Flex can keep up to seven 12-ounce cans or four half-liter bottles chilled. The Honda Element can be fitted with a “dog friendly” package that includes a built-in kennel and a ramp that makes it easier for Fido to get inside.

Comfort is key,, as well. Depending on the model, options may include ventilated and/or heated leather seats, a backseat DVD player (some with multiple screens), adaptive cruise control, GPS navigation, a rear backup camera and/or proximity alert systems for easier and safer parking, and myriad other convenience items.

With a price range that runs from around $20,000 to near six figures for the costliest luxury models loaded with options, the 2011 Crossover SUV Buying Guide offers something for just about anyone looking for an alternative to a traditional SUV.