2012 Crossover SUV Buying Guide

Last Updated: Jun 30, 2011

The 2012 Crossover SUV Buying Guide from iGuida.com examines a-growing class of vehicles that combines carlike ride and handling with SUV styling and practicality. Consider crossovers the modern-day descendants of the mid-20th-century station wagon.

Crossover SUV fuel economy is generally good-news and being the ride of choice for a large number of U.S. families, that’s an important buying consideration. Crossovers are typically more fuel-efficient than traditional truck-based SUVs, though they still use more gas than most passenger cars, primarily because of their added size and weight and somewhat less-aerodynamic shapes. EPA fuel-economy ratings average roughly 22/28 mpg city/highway and 24 mpg city/highway combined for compact-sized crossover SUVs and around 18/25/20 for larger crossovers. The fuel-economy spectrum for 2012 Crossover SUVs tops out at 27/32 mpg, 29 combined for the compact Nissan Juke, which comes powered by a turbocharged and direct fuel-injected four-cylinder engine. On the low end are the performance-tuned “M” versions of the midsize BMW X5 and X6; they pack big twin-turbo V-8s and rate 12/17/14.

For regulatory purposes, crossover SUVs are classified, along with truck-based SUVs, pickup trucks, and vans, as trucks. Expect crossover-SUV mileage ratings to rise across the board in coming years with the phase-in of stricter federal fuel-economy regulations for trucks that require an average of 30 mpg for an automaker’s combined fleet by model-year 2016.

Our 2012 Crossover SUV Buying Guide includes 65 models. By our definition, a crossover is a vehicle with unibody construction in which the body and frame are a single, united structure. This is how modern cars are made. By contrast, traditional SUVs, such as the 2012 GMC Yukon and 2012 Nissan Pathfinder, ride on truck-type platforms in which the body and frame are separate units bolted together. Traditional sport-utility vehicles are covered in our 2012 SUV Buying Guide.

Unibody construction offers a number of advantages, primary lighter vehicle weight, which helps improve ride, handling, and fuel economy. Unibody construction also affords a lower ride height compared with a body-on-frame SUV and that means less of a climb to get in or out and usually a lower cargo floor. On the downside, a vehicle underpinned by a stout truck-type frame has an advantage over a unibody crossover in terms of load-carrying and towing capacity. And the separate frame can help conventional SUVs better withstand the rigors of serious off-roading.

Crossover SUVs run the gamut in size, price, and performance -- from small and sporty compact models for active and youthful buyers to large and powerful models for big families. Though many carry traditional SUV styling, the trend is toward updated looks with graceful curves. Crossovers come in three size classes: full-size (the 2012 Buick Enclave, for example), midsize (2012 Toyota Highlander), and compact (2012 Honda CR-V). Full-size models include three rows of seats for seven- or eight-passenger capacity. Midsize models typically accommodate five or seven, depending on the seating configuration, while compacts typically seat five passengers.

Compact crossovers tend to be more practical than the compact cars from which they’re derived because of their greater passenger room and cargo volume. A few compact crossovers, like the aforementioned Nissan Juke and the 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan, are available with sport-tuned suspensions that can make them more fun to drive than the common small car. Newly added to this crossover segment for 2012 is the distinctive 2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, the sporty 2012 BMW X1, and the stylish 2012 Mazda CX-5.

Almost in a class by themselves are ultra-sporty crossover SUVs, such as the five-seat BMW X6 and Porsche Cayenne. These crossovers approach true sports-sedan road manners and, in their top models, pack high-performance turbocharged V-8s that generate in excess of 500 horsepower for muscle-car acceleration and barstool bragging rights.
Crossovers generally come standard with front-wheel drive and offer all-wheel drive (AWD) optional for added traction on wet or snowy roads. AWD models typically confine the engine’s torque to the front wheels until sensors detect tire slip. They automatically counteract a momentary loss of traction by sending some or all of the power to the rear wheels as needed until grip is restored. Some AWD crossovers allow the driver to engage a 50/50 front/rear torque split at low speeds to maximize traction. Sportier AWD crossovers like the 2012 Audi Q5 and 2012 BMW X3 channel power to the back tires under most conditions to approximate a rear-wheel-drive handling feel.

In crossovers, AWD is intended mostly to enhance on-road traction, not for serious off-road excursions. That’s because, unlike conventional SUVs with old-school four-wheel-drive systems, very few AWD crossovers include the separate low-range gearing necessary to tackle the toughest terrain. However, technology is helping to blur the lines here. The latest crossovers, including the 2012 Ford Explorer, 2012 Volkswagen Touareg, and 2012 Porsche Cayenne, include sophisticated electronic traction-management systems that give them genuine off-road capability.

Most compact and some midsize crossovers come standard with a four-cylinder engine, which benefits fuel economy. Alternatively, a turbocharged four-cylinder or a V-6 may be available for added horsepower, which can be especially welcome when carrying a full load of passengers. A few premium midsize crossovers, such as the Infiniti FX50 and the Mercedes-Benz ML550, offer V-8s for even greater power. For V-8-grade power with V-6-like fuel economy, the 2012 Ford Flex and its curvier cousin, the 2012 Lincoln MKT, are available with Ford’s twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V-6. And some SUVs – crossovers and truck-type wagons alike – are available with gas/electric-hybrid powertrains. These are covered in our 2012 Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Buying Guide.

Taking a page from the popularity of diesel powertrains in overseas markets BMW, Volkswagen, and VW’s premium Audi brand offer “clean diesel” versions of their larger U.S. crossovers.

This limited product segment includes the 2012 Audi Q7 3.0 TDI, 2012 BMW xDrive35d, 2012 Volkswagen Touareg TDI, and three from Mercedes-Benz: the 2012 GL350 Bluetec, 2012 ML350 Bluetec, and 2012 R350 Bluetec. In addition to surprisingly good acceleration courtesy of the copious torque associated with diesel engines, these diesel crossovers deliver admirable fuel economy -- up to 19/28/22 mpg.

A few small crossovers come with manual transmissions but most models in this segment use five- and six-speed automatic transmissions. Instead of a conventional automatic transmission, the 2012 Nissan Murano, 2012 Nissan Rogue, 2012 Nissan Juke, and 2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport use a continuously variable transmission, or CVT. This is basically an automatic transmission that utilizes a belt and set of pulleys to deliver seamless acceleration without having to shift gears.

The added safety inherent in a design that’s larger and heavier than the typical passenger car is a selling point for family-oriented crossover SUVs. Every 2012 model in our guide comes standard with federally mandated antiskid stability control to help prevent sideways slides that can lead to rollovers, a particular concern in a vehicle with a relatively high center of gravity, such as a crossover SUV. All also have no less than six airbags for occupant protection. A few models offer high-tech safety systems like lane-departure and blind-spot warning systems, as well as collision mitigation systems that alert the driver and prime the brakes for full stopping power to help avoid a possible collision. The 2012 Volvo XC60 and 2012 Volvo XC70 even include systems that can bring the vehicle to a complete halt to prevent rear-end collisions in low-speed traffic.

Flexible interior arrangements are another crossover-SUV asset. All have rear seats that fold flat to maximize cargo-carrying ability. An ample number of cup holders, storage compartments and cubbies are typical, as are multiple 12-volt power points to serve mobile electronic devices. The 2012 Dodge Journey offers in-floor storage compartments that can double as rolling ice chests, along with a cooled glove box that can keep soft drinks chilled while en route. The 2012 Ford Flex’s optional backseat refrigerator can keep up to seven 12-ounce cans or four half-liter bottles cold. Common infotainment features run to Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and iPod USB interfaces , rear DVD entertainment system (some include multiple screens), and digital hard drives for storing digital media.

Leather upholstery, heated and cooled seats, cruise control that maintains a preset distance from the traffic ahead, GPS navigation with real-time traffic and travel information, a rear backup camera and/or proximity alert systems for easier and safer parking, and much more are available on various 2012 crossover SUVs.

Here is our 2012 Crossover SUV Buying Guide:

2012 Acura MDX
Seven-seat luxury crossover performs well and delivers ample comfort, though front styling is odd

2012 Acura RDX
Sporty compact luxury courtesy of a standard turbo four-cylinder and agile handling

2012 Acura ZDX
Based on the MDX, the coupe-like roofline robs cargo space and penalizes rear-seat occupants

2012 Audi Q5
Quick and nimble, this sporty five-seater is at the top of the compact crossover field

2012 Audi Q7
Seven-passenger luxury wagon isn’t as nimble as the Q5, but offers V-6, V-8 and diesel versions

2012 BMW X1
New for 2012, the smaller and less costly X3 alternative comes only with a four-cylinder engine

2012 BMW X3
A 2011 redesign gave this compact needed interior space and a hot turbo six-cylinder engine

2012 BMW X5
Sporty seven-seat midsizer offers six- and eight-cylinder engines and an efficient diesel six

2012 BMW 5 Series Gran Turismo
This odd hatchback blend of 5-Series sedan and SUV has yet to catch on with U.S. buyers

2012 BMW X6
More expressively styled five-seat version of the X5 is sporty, especially in turbo-V-8 “M” form

2012 Buick Enclave
This upscale take on the Chevrolet Traverse is stylish and refined, but overdue for a freshening

2012 Cadillac SRX
Five-seater gets a new V-6 for 2012 in effort to stand out among premium compact crossovers

2012 Chevrolet Equinox
America’s top-selling SUV, this five-seater continues to deliver good value and comfort

2012 Chevrolet Traverse
Seven-passenger crossover works well in most regards but is beginning to show its age

2012 Dodge Journey
Upgraded for 2011 with a new V-6 and other improvements; it’s closer, but still misses the mark

2012 Ford Edge
New EcoBoost four delivers top economy but “MyFord” operating system confounds users

2012 Ford Escape
Short 2012 run with a radically redesigned Euro-styled version coming as an early 2013 entry

2012 Ford Explorer
Attractive seven-seater with EcoBoost turbo-four and V-6 engines, decent off-road capabilities

2012 Ford Flex
Low-roof seven-seater has polarizing looks but is a sleeper hot rod with available EcoBoost V-6

2012 GMC Acadia
Specific styling cues differentiate it from corporate cousins Chevy Traverse and Buick Enclave

2012 GMC Terrain
Essentially a Chevy Equinox with misguided macho styling to disguise its car-like nature

2012 Honda Accord Crosstour
A slow-selling hatchback wagon version of the V-6 Accord sedan with a coupe-like roofline

2012 Honda CR-V
Highly anticipated 2012 redesigned will bring fresh styling and assorted improvements

2012 Honda Pilot
Refined and capable;  can seat up to eight, has hidebound upright styling; due for redesign

2012 Hyundai Santa Fe
This nicely styled five-seat midsizer hits all the right buttons for comfort, performance and value

2012 Hyundai Tuscon
Curvaceous compact is peppy and fuel efficient, but rides harshly and lacks sophistication

2012 Hyundai Veracruz
Nicely finished near-luxury midsize crossover is about as costly as a bona fide luxury model

2012 Infiniti EX
Crisp handling, smart styling and high-tech features offset a rather cramped compact cabin

2012 Infiniti FX
Expressively styled and comfortable midsize five-seater comes in capable V-6 and V-8 versions

2012 Jeep Compass
Recent interior upgrades and other tweaks helped improve this compact, but not nearly enough

2012 Jeep Patriot
We’re curious to see how Fiat tries to rescue this unimpressive compact from mediocrity in 2013

2012 Kia Sorento
Based on the midsize Hyundai Santa Fe it’s comfortable, performs well and is a good value

2012 Kia Sportage
Aggressively styled, it’s adequately powered by either of two four-cylinders but rides rough

2012 Land Rover LR2
More off-road ready than most and with a quick V-6, buyers pay dearly for the brand name here

2012 Land Rover Range Rover Evoque

New two- and four-door compact with radical styling, a turbo-four and many advanced features

2012 Lexus RX
Still the benchmark for midsize five-seat luxury and refinement, gas and hybrid versions on tap

2012 Lincoln MKT
Curvier and more luxurious take on the Ford Flex is best appreciated in EcoBoost V-6 form

2012 Lincoln MKX
Upscale version of the midsize Ford Edge is outgunned by other luxury entries in this class

2012 Mazda CX-5
Newly added four-cylinder compact shows off Mazda’s new swept-form styling direction

2012 Mazda CX-7
Nicely styled and reasonably sporty five-passenger midsize is best served by its turbo-four engine

2012 Mazda CX-9
Mazda’s version of the Ford Edge but with better looks and refinement, and seating for seven

2012 Mercedes-Benz GL-Class
Handsome large crossover with good road manners and a choice of two V-8s or a diesel six

2012 Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class
Sporty, comfortable square-cut five-seat luxury compact with a quick V-6 and high-tech features

2012 Mercedes-Benz M-Class
Redesigned for 2012 five-seater remains a winner with new engines, more luxury and safety

2012 Mercedes-Benz R-Class
Often ignored seven-seater gets a new V-6 and seven-speed automatic with AWD for 2012

2012 Mini Cooper Countryman
Mini’s four-door, four-seat crossover looks and feels like a too-big Cooper; AWD is optional

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander
Amenable, but slow-selling, three-row compact could be redesigned or discontinued after 2012

2012 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Smaller than the Outlander, it’s sporty, stylish and bargain-priced, but hardly compelling

2012 Nissan Juke
Wild-looking youth-baiting five-seater with a 188-horsepower turbo-four and sport suspension

2012 Nissan Murano
Quirky new two-door convertible highlights this attractive, comfortable five-seater for 2012

2012 Nissan Rogue
Racy looking compact handles well and offers myriad features but could use added refinement

2012 Porsche Cayenne
Prestige five-seat crossovers comes with 300-, 400- and 500-horse engines and hybrid V-6

2012 Saab 9-3X
Raised-ride-height, AWD version of the midsize 9-3 SportCombi wagon; turbo-four powered 

2012 Subaru Forester
Compact five-seater with a winning combination of roominess, comfort and performance

2012 Subaru Outback
Looks like an inflated station wagon, but has more room, better handling than many bigger SUVs

2012 Subaru Tribeca
Bland midsize model gets a freshening for 2012, but may not be enough to attract buyers

2012 Suzuki Grand Vitara
Rugged compact distinguished by its rear-wheel-drive DNA but doesn’t tempt otherwise

2012 Toyota Highlander
Sophisticated seven-seater is justifiably popular in four-cylinder, V-6, and hybrid versions

2012 Toyota RAV4
A 2012 redesign adds new styling, other improvements to keep it near the top of the segment

2012 Toyota Venza
Essentially a Camry wagon, it performs well and has more cargo room than the Accord Crosstour

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
Solid, Euro-mannered compact five-seater gets refreshed styling and improved economy for 2012

2012 Volkswagen Touareg
Elegantly designed upscale midsize five-seater with a choice of V-6, diesel or hybrid power

2012 Volvo XC60
Attractive midsize five-seater is a solid choice with good performance and many safety features

2012 Volvo XC70
Burly styling elevates this from station wagon to crossover; 300-horse inline-six recommended

2012 Volvo XC90
A much-needed redesign for this big, heavy seven-seater is delayed until model-year 2013