DRIVE TIME


The Lure of the Crossover

Mark Solheim

These car-like SUVs are filling showrooms and winning drivers' hearts. Here are our favorites for 2007.



When I was in Detroit for the auto show in early January, good fortune sent a Porsche Cayman test-drive car my way. Why do I mention this in a review of crossover SUVs? Because while I was there, the GMC folks lent me an Acadia. So I let the Porsche sit for a day while I put GMC's first-ever crossover SUV through its paces. And I couldn't help but compare the yin of the Acadia with the yang of the Cayman.

RELATED LINKS
SLIDE SHOW: Rating the 2007 Crossovers
Kiplinger's 2007 Auto Buyer's Guide
Best Cars of 2007

Ditching the Cayman was almost a relief. Climbing in and out of the low-to-the-ground driver's seat requires contortions that could be hazardous to some boomers' health. Behind the wheel, when everyone is admiring your testosterone-intensive Guardsman Red vehicle, there's pressure to, ah, perform. On the other hand, my body slid effortlessly into the Acadia's driver's seat, the ride was smooth and quiet, and the driving was easy.

Crossovers are actually tall station wagons, with the birds-eye view Americans love. They're lower to the ground than body-on-frame SUVs for less wind resistance (which improves fuel economy), easier access and better rollover resistance. They're the hottest segment of new vehicles, with more than a dozen new or redesigned models for 2007 in every size and luxury level.

My colleague, Jessica Anderson, and I drove ten of the new crossovers and picked four favorites to review in detail. See our slide show for stats, photos and a brief review of all ten models.

Advertisement

GMC Acadia: Cooler than a minivan

The Acadia is as close to a minivan as any other SUV reviewed here, but it's more stylish and much less soccer-momish. It's the same length as a minivan, so there's room for a proper third-row seat. With 33 inches of third-row legroom and plenty of headroom, up to three adults can ride in reasonable comfort. The second-row seats slide forward to allow easy entry or additional third-row legroom.

All seats behind the front row fold flat, but even with the third-row seats up, there's 20 cubic feet of cargo space behind them. You can choose either two second-row captain's chairs (seating for a total of seven) or a second-row bench to seat eight).

My tester was an Acadia SLT with all-wheel drive, which starts at $35,960, including destination charge. The base, two-wheel-drive SLE starts at $29,990. (The Acadia shares a platform and powertrain with the Saturn Outlook and Buick Enclave.) A 3.6-liter V6 produces 275 horsepower but keeps fuel economy at a respectable 18 mpg city and 26 highway (for two-wheel-drive models). The six-speed transmission shifts smoothly through the gears, and independent front and rear suspension help make handling smooth and responsive.

Inside, the optional navigation system ($2,145) is one of the most intuitive I've ever used, and the steering wheel telescopes as well as tilts. Standard safety features include stability control (to prevent skids), front side airbags and head-protection airbags for all three rows. One year's subscription to OnStar is free.

Acura MDX: Sport sedan on steroids

When Acura points out that the redesigned MDX was tested and tuned on the famed Nurburgring racetrack in Germany, you know that the Japanese luxury brand is gunning for the German performance SUVs. With Acura's proprietary Super Handling all-wheel drive -- which sends power to any of the four wheels as needed to maintain traction during cornering -- plus enhancements in the suspension and power, the claim has merit.

The 3.7-liter V6 produces 300 horsepower, so fuel economy is slightly lower compared with the all-wheel-drive GMC Acadia. In order to achieve sport-sedan-like dynamics -- meaning you get feedback from the road -- the steering is heavier and the suspension firmer than the Acadia's. If you want, you can use the stick shift to run through the five gears manually. It's fun to drive, but if you'd rather coast through your commute, skip this vehicle.

The 2007 MDX is slightly longer and wider than its predecessor. It has a third-row seat that will do in a pinch when you have extra kids to transport. The seats fold flat when you're hauling stuff. Safety features include front side airbags, head-protection airbags for all rows and stability control.

The MDX starts at $40,665. Standard-equipment amenities include leather seats, tri-zone climate control, hands-free wireless phone connection and XM satellite radio. To get the voice-activated navigation/control system (which I found overly complex) and upgraded surround-sound audio system, you'll need to get the $3,500 technology package.

Ford Edge: Value in an attractive pacakge

Ford designers were thinking out of the box with this crossover. The Edge combines sleek style with attention to detail and value. When my black SEL Plus test drive model was sitting in my driveway, it was mistaken from the rear for a Lexus RX 350.

Starting at $25,995, the Edge is cheaper than the Acadia but also nearly two feet shorter, with no third-row seat. Inside, there's a functional dash and center console dominated by a much-improved Ford navigation system ($2,380). The interior is roomy for driver and passengers, and the optional dual sunroof ($1,395) enhances the feeling of spaciousnesss.

On the road, the 3.5-liter V6 (265 horsepower) with six-speed transmission zips off the line smoothly and without hesitation. Fuel economy is about the same as for the Acadia. The handling is agile thanks to independent front and rear suspension. Safety features include standard stability control and side and head-protection airbags.

Thoughtful details abound, from enough storage in the center console to house a laptop to a plethora of cupholders to an MP3 jack in the center console to link an iPod to the audio system. The 60-40 split rear seat can be folded flat at the touch of a button and the driver's seat has two memory settings and an auto feature to slide back to let you out of the car and slide forward once you get in. -- By Jessica Anderson

Mitsubishi Outlander: Tops for tailgaters

The second-generation Outlander (starting at $21,995) makes its predecessor look like a gawky teenager. It's longer and wider but wears its new weight well, with a fresh design that doesn't copy other crossovers.

The Outlander's 3-liter V6 with 220 horses has plenty of oomph to propel a small SUV. Handling was responsive through the twists and turns of a test drive through the back roads of northern Virginia. Fuel economy is typical for a small crossover: 20 mpg city and 27 highway. Front side and front and back head-protection airbags are standard, and so is stability control.

Inside, the metamorphosis continues. A thoughtful dash design puts everything within arm's reach. There are nine cup holders and 13 storage compartments and even an available third row (only on the top-of-the-line XLS) that seats two. The piece de résistance: a flap-fold tailgate that holds 440 pounds. You and your keg can rest easy.

The downside is that all the cool tech stuff is optional and Mitsubishi loads it into several pretty pricey packages that aren't all available on the base ES model. -- By Jessica Anderson

Next: See our slide show, Rating the 2007 Crossovers




You can get valuable updates like Drive Time from Kiplinger sent directly to your e-mail. Simply enter your e-mail address and click "sign up."

More Sponsored Links


Advertisement

Market Update

Advertisement

Featured Videos From Kiplinger