Kia Sportage and Hyundai Tucson
The $16,695 Kia Sportage and $18,070 Hyundai Tucson share the car-based platform they are built on. Base models include a 140-hp four-cylinder engine with front-wheel drive. A 173-hp V6 and all-wheel drive are optional. Both are backed by an excellent five year, 60,000 mile basic warranty (with roadside assistance) and a 10-year, 100,000 mile warranty on the drivetrain – the parts most likely to be expensive to fix.
Suzuki Grand Vitara
In a class with mostly car-based crossover SUVs, the Suzuki Grand Vitara is a bit of a throwback, featuring a rear-wheel drive base model and available low-range, four-wheel drive with significant off-road capability from $18,799.
The $20,275 Honda Element receives a face lift for 2009 that gives it a new grille. Originally built and marketed as a vehicle for young, outdoor sports fans, the Element has found its niche as an extremely practical small utility vehicle with a plastic floor that can be cleaned up with a hose, something you would never want to try in a carpeted vehicle.
For the customer that wants a rough and tumble SUV that is not scared of a little dirt, this price class has several excellent options. The $22,310 Nissan XTerra has been a hit since its introduction in 2000. The second generation XTerra now on the market offers the same go anywhere, tough guy persona and an updated version of Nissan’s award-winning V6 engine to offer customers a strong value, along with a new face for 2009.
A new Chevrolet Equinox bows for the 2010 model year with a much sharper design and not only more powerful engines, but more efficient ones as well. At $22,440, the Equinox is priced competitively in the market.
Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape
Ford Motor Company twins, the Mercury Mariner and Ford Escape both start in the low $20,000 range and both are also available with revised four and six-cylinder engines for 2009 as well as a hybrid powertrain option that makes them the most fuel efficient utility vehicles around, with a subcompact-like 34 mpg city rating from the EPA for the hybrid variants.
Hyundai Santa Fe
The Hyundai Santa Fe is yet another example of this once upstart Korean company’s strength as a player in all segments of the market. The $21,695 Santa Fe offers two different V6 engine options as well as enough luxury appointments in the Limited model that would stand up to almost any luxury nameplate.
For $28,470, you can buy a Ford Explorer, the very vehicle that defined America’s adoption of the SUV as the family car of choice for a generation. A little more sophisticated than the original model now that is has full, four-wheel independent suspension, the latest Explorer is more car-like than ever. A new six-speed automatic improves mileage 10% with the V8 option. For similar money, you can opt for the more stylish, if boxy, Ford Flex, a three-row crossover with almost as much space as a minivan and lots of room behind that third row.
All new for 2009, the very competent and comfortable Chevrolet Traverse, from $29,215, could not come at a better time for Chevy as sales of its existing truck-based SUVs are in freefall, there is no longer a minivan in the showroom and customers still want lots of space for their families.
The Honda Pilot is all-new for 2009. The $27,695 Pilot seats up to eight, offers front or all-wheel drive and is powered by a 250-hp V6 that can shut down two or three cylinders when cruising on the highway to eke out a few more precious MPG when the situation permits.
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