Here’s the latest reader question, along with my reply:
Ed asks: I’m thinking of getting a small/mid SUV for my wife. Budget is around 10k (preferably less than more). What would be the best value?
My reply: Are you looking for an SUV . . . or a crossover SUV? These are functionally very different kinds of vehicles, despite looking similar.
The crossover is basically a car with more ground clearance and cargo capacity; it will generally have a front-wheel-drive-based powertrain (sourced from a car) and offer all-wheel-drive. Crossovers are light-duty. They have lower maximum tow ratings than SUVs of the same size and – for the most part – are not designed to go seriously off road, in part because most of them do not have Low range gearing and aren’t as rugged.
On the upside, they are usually more space efficient inside – more passenger and cargo room than a comparably sized SUV – due to the front-wheel-drive-based/car-sourced layout and lack of a two-speed transfer case/heavy-duty rear suspension/axle (which otherwise generally intrudes into the passenger cabin/cargo area, reducing the space available for those things for the sake of the extra off-road/towing capability). They also usually handle much better on-road, in part because AWD is designed to be used on-road, including on dry pavement.
SUVs are generally enclosed pick-up trucks. Or based on the same type of design as a truck. Which means a rear-wheel-drive-based powertrain, with four-wheel-drive available. If it’s a 2WD truck, all the engine’s power is put down by the rear wheels. In which case, it will be worse in the snow than a front-wheel-drive car or crossover, despite the rugged and manly looks. But it will usually be able to tow more weight, because the vehicle itself is more ruggedly built (many are body-on-frame construction) and will usually have a larger/stronger engine (because SUVs are heavier and need them).
If it has 4WD, it will be better in snow – and off-road – than an AWD crossover because the 4WD system will usually have the extra leverage of Low range gearing and the SUV will usually have more ground clearance.
But, the 4WD system is usually designed for off-road use-only. Or in snow. It is not a handling assist and should not be used on dry pavement. This is why most 4WD systems have driver-selectable settings (e.g., 2WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low) while most AWD systems are simply “on” all the time and fully automatic.
You will have many more vehicles – makes/models – to choose from if you go crossover. Examples of this type of vehicle include the excellent Toyota RAV4 and its Honda rival, the CR-V, the Subaru Forester and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. These are in the medium-small category and all excellent choices. Larger crossovers that are also excellent include the Honda Pilot and Toyota Highlander. The Chevy Traverse is not a bad crossover, either.
If you want an SUV, your choices will narrow because there are fewer such models available/built in recent years.
The Chevy Tahoe/Suburban is a great vehicle. It’s large (and the Suburban is larger) but these things are extremely rugged/reliable as well as very capable. They were also built in large numbers and so finding a decent one within your budget should be doable.
If they’re too big, check out the Toyota 4Runner. It’s mid-sized rather than full-size and a fantastic/tough/rugged/durable SUV.
. . .
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Thanks, eric. I had forgotten this post and just got back to it. I should have specified crossover, and I found your review of the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe, which is why I never got back to this thread. The Santa Fe is the one that interests me. Now the problem is finding one. Seems the owners don’t like to let them go.