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    Saturday, October 15, 2016

    Midsize SUVs With Full-Size Features

    A couple decades ago, the most popular SUVs were big, truck-based rigs that had tons of space and guzzled gallons of gas by the minute. In the years that followed, gas prices went up and tastes changed. Now, more-efficient midsize car-based SUVs rule the road.
    However, many families miss the key features of the full-size behemoths of yesteryear, such as large cargo areas and V8 towing power. There are still a number of full-size SUVs on the market with those features, such as the Chevrolet Suburban and Ford Expedition, but those vehicles have starting prices well into the $40,000 range. Is it possible to get a less-expensive midsize crossover with those full-size features?
    It is indeed! We've assembled a list of midsize SUVs that have the full-size features you want, plus they cost less and get better gas mileage. Read on the see what we recommend.
    Ready to buy now? You can head right over to our Best Price Program page, where you can save thousands on your new SUV.
    Full-Size Features: Ample Passenger and Cargo Space, Luxurious Interior
    The poshest of GM's car-based midsize SUVs, the Enclave seats eight comfortably and has a beautifully finished interior worthy of a luxury machine. But the best part is, you don't have to pay luxury prices. The base Enclave comes well-trimmed for less than $40,000. The Cadillac Escalade, a full-size luxury SUV, has less cargo space than the Enclave and costs more than $70,000.
    What sets the Enclave apart from other car-based SUVs is its spacious third-row seat that can accommodate 6-foot adults without a crushing them in a compactor first. There's little room for much beyond a row of groceries behind the third-row, but that's not unique to the Enclave, even among full-sized SUVs.
    A powerful V6 is the only engine available, and you don't need anything more, unless you’re planning on towing more than the Enclave’s 4,500-pound max capacity. All-wheel drive is optional, but budget-minded buyers can stick with front-wheel drive.
    Buick Enclave: Interior
    Quality leather, wood, and chrome trim are everywhere inside; even the steering wheel comes standard in leather with wood trim, and heated and cooled seats and a heated steering wheel are available. The plastic grain on the dashboard makes a passable imitation of leather, at least until you touch it.
    Cushy captain's chairs come standard in the second row, and a bench seat is optional if you need to carry eight (or five with plenty of cargo space in back). Three-zone climate control is standard. An optional ten-speaker Bose audio system fills the interior like a concert hall. Straightforward controls for the radio, wipers, lights that come from the GM corporate parts bin don't make you dig through menus for simple things like changing the radio station. In a boon to families who share this car-based truckster, the Enclave comes with two memory positions for the power driver's seat, steering-wheel, and mirrors.
    Buick Enclave: Performance
    One of the big benefits of a car-based SUV like the Enclave is that it drives a lot smaller than the space inside would suggest. From behind the wheel, you never feel like you're lugging around an eight-passenger vehicle. The Enclave glides smoothly over bumps and feels responsive in corners.
    Its standard 288-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 engine delivers plenty of punch, even in such a large vehicle, and the six-speed automatic could hardly be smoother. However, it's really reluctant to downshift when needed, so you sometimes feel like you've lost momentum while passing or climbing hills.
    Upper-level Enclaves offer forward collision warning and lane-keeping assistance, which have proven beneficial in safety studies.

    Chevrolet Traverse
    Full-Size Features: Cavernous Passenger and Cargo Areas

    A more down-to-Earth sibling to the Buick Enclave, the Chevrolet Traverse offers generous space in a reasonably-sized package. It has 23 percent more cargo space than the full-size Chevrolet Tahoe and costs about $18,000 less. Without the Enclave's baubles, it's more affordable for families. Where the Enclave is swathed in leather, the Traverse has standard cloth. Tri-zone climate control is an upgrade in the Traverse, rather than standard. And the standard touch-screen radio is smaller.
    When it comes to function, though, the Traverse has all the same benefits as the Enclave: the same accommodating third-row seat, the same powerful and reasonably efficient V6 engine, and the same quiet ride and responsive handling. Base models come in front-wheel drive, and all-wheel drive is optional. Still, Traverse buyers can get the active safety systems that most families want these days: forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert.
    Chevrolet Traverse: Interior
    Although the Traverse costs less than its more upscale siblings, you can load it up with all the same features. Reviewers found that higher-trim Traverses feel surprisingly upscale, with similar materials as the Enclave and the GMC Acadia.
    The three-person second-row seat is standard in the Traverse, though buyers can still opt for dual captain's chairs. The third-row is designed to seat three across, and most reviewers thought it was comfortable enough for three, though some complained that it was tough for adults to climb all the way back there. Kids can get a DVD entertainment system, and the Traverse now offers its own 4G Wi-Fi hot spot to keep everybody entertained on the road.
    The Traverse and its siblings are the first vehicles to offer a front center air bag to keep occupants from banging into each other in a crash.
    Chevrolet Traverse: Performance
    Most reviewers think the Traverse feels spry for such a big-boned machine. You don't notice its girth in corners, and that may be the biggest complement for a large crossover SUV. The ride is quiet and placid over bumps and broken pavement.
    The Traverse offers the same powerful 3.6-liter V6 and the same boggy six-speed automatic transmission as the Enclave and the GMC Acadia. That means it's plenty quick around town in stop-and-go traffic. But when passing or climbing hills when a downshift is needed, it can feel slow. With fewer luxury features weighing it down, the Traverse rated at 19 mpg in combined EPA city and highway testing – one mpg better than the Enclave.

    Dodge Durango
    Full-Size Feature: V8 Engine and Towing Power

    The Dodge Durango is something of a hidden gem among midsize SUVs. Essentially a stretched, three-row version of the Jeep Grand Cherokee, it's also based on the Mercedes-Benz GLE. That gives you some idea how good it is to drive. Unlike the GLE though, you can order the Durango with Dodge's brawny all-American Hemi V8.
    That Hemi delivers an anchor-pulling 360 horsepower and makes the Durango one of the quickest vehicles in the class. To get a V8 in most other SUVs, you'd have to spend at least $47,000 to $50,000 (as with the Chevy Tahoe or GMC Yukon). However, a V8 Durango only costs around $42,000.
    The Durango is a little smaller than some other three-row SUVs, but that doesn't mean it feels cramped inside. Several reviewers noted that the Durango has room for adults in the third row, albeit for only two, not three as in some larger models.
    Dodge Durango: Interior
    One of the features that most impressed reviewers is Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. It's simple to use, yet full-featured. Base-model Durangos have a 5-inch touch screen; most have a spacious 8.4-inch screen. Both systems have simple knobs to quickly turn the volume up or down or to change the station. Bluetooth phone pairing and audio streaming are standard, along with a USB port.
    Reviewers note that the standard second-row bench seat is spacious, and in midtrim Limited models it comes with heated cushions. Second-row captain's chairs are optional. The 50/50-split third row folds flat into the floor. With all the seats folded, the Durango doesn't have quite the space of some other full-sized SUVs, but it has more room behind the third row than most.
    Dodge Durango: Performance
    Power and handling are what separates the Durango from other three-row V8 SUVs. Reviewers universally praised its carlike ride and handling, especially in a class where some major players are little more than revamped pickups.
    Whether you choose the Hemi V8 or stick with the standard 295-horsepower 3.6-liter V6, the Durango gets an eight-speed automatic transmission, which helps it get an EPA combined rating of up to 22 mpg for rear-wheel-drive V6 models. Even the V6 can tow 6,200 pounds – at least 1,000 more than most crossover SUVs. But if you have really big loads to haul, you can opt for the Hemi, with its 7,200-7,400-pound towing capacity. The Hemi uses cylinder-shut-off technology to aid gas mileage, but is still only rated at 17 mpg overall, a little low for this class. Rear-wheel-drive models are good for 22 mpg combined with the V6.

    Ford Flex
    Full-Size Feature: 365-Horsepower Engine

    The Ford Flex's optional 365-horsepower twin-turbocharged V6 engine is the same one found in the $46,000 base Ford Expedition. However, a twin-turbo V6 Flex costs less and comes fully loaded with features that the base Expedition doesn't have, such as all-wheel drive, blind spot monitoring, and a 12-speaker Sony stereo.
    If you can get past the overgrown Mini Cooper looks, the Flex is an excellent-driving and surprisingly roomy SUV. Its lower center of gravity gives it grippy, responsive handling and an easy step-in height.
    The minivan-like well where the rear-seat stows gives the Flex decent cargo space, even with all the seats in place. That's far better than most car-based crossovers, though not exactly on par with a Suburban.
    Ford Flex: Interior
    There's a lot to be said for boxiness when it comes to SUVs. Boxy corners make the most of the available space, and the Flex is no exception. Adults can fit in each of the seven seats comfortably – a feat even the larger Chevrolet Tahoe can't manage.
    Even with some hard plastics, the materials are attractive, and the seats are as soft and comfy as your living-room lounge chair. The second row comes standard with a three-person bench; a drink-chiller console between two captain's chairs is optional.
    For 2016, SYNC 3 has replaced the much-maligned MyFord Touch. It organizes primary functions along the bottom like Chrysler's Uconnect, allows pinch and zoom features on some screens, and is much more responsive.
    Ford Flex: Performance
    The Flex hardly leans in turns and that, combined with its responsive steering, makes the Flex perhaps the most agile of big SUVs. There's that low center of gravity again. It's also serene and quiet inside.
    Most models come with a 287-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, which delivers plenty of power. Its six-speed automatic transmission is smooth and responsive, downshifting quickly when called upon. Flex Limiteds come with the much more powerful turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that feels much more relaxed and rarely requires downshifts for power.
    Front-wheel drive is standard with the 3.5-liter; all-wheel-drive is optional, and standard with the EcoBoost V6.

    Ford Explorer
    Full-Size Feature: 365-Horsepower Engine

    The Ford Explorer has the same optional twin-turbocharged V6 engine that the Flex and the Expedition have. As with the Flex, a twin-turbo V6 Explorer costs a bit less than the base Expedition and has a lot more features, including all-wheel drive and leather upholstery.
    However, there are a few downsides to this midsize SUV. Once the go-to SUV for families and outdoors-people alike, the Explorer now anchors out our list of full-sized SUVs. What happened?
    It comes with a wide variety of powerful and fuel efficient engines, but reviewers found the Explorer cramped and almost claustrophobic inside, and difficult to see out of. At least the intuitive SYNC 3 infotainment system has replaced the fussy, unresponsive MyFord Touch system found in earlier models.
    Ford Explorer: Interior
    The interior took most of the flak critics shot at the Explorer. Complaints centered around the seats and the driving controls.
    Critics knocked even the front seats for being too narrow and generally uncomfortable. The back two rows are worse. Reviewers say they just don't have enough room. And it doesn't help that passengers in the cavelike rear of the Explorer are stuck peering out of gun slits for windows. Still, with the seats folded, the Explorer has plenty of room for cargo.
    The new dashboard on standard models is much improved, with volume and tuning knobs for the stereo, and levers to adjust the dual-zone climate control. But higher-end Explorers still have too many tiny, indistinguishable buttons for the radio and climate controls.
    Ford Explorer: Performance
    Explorers come with three engine choices. Most models use a base 3.5-liter V6 that puts out a healthy 290 horsepower. A turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder that puts out 280-horsepower is a $900 upgrade. It also boosts gas mileage by 2 mpg to 21 mpg combined.
    Sport and Platinum trim levels come standard with a potent twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 that delivers V8 performance but drops fuel economy to 17 mpg on the combined EPA test cycle. Reviewers found the 2.3-liter four-cylinder feels like a V6 and delivers plenty of power for passing, as well as day-to-day driving. The base V6 is also adequate, and the six-speed automatic proves smooth and responsive.
    Despite its comfortable and composed ride and its well-weighted steering, critics found the Explorer ponderous to drive. Cornering is hampered by poor visibility to the front, and the front camera is almost a necessity in parking lot maneuvers.
    Ready to buy a midsize SUV with full-size features? You can head right over to our Best Price Program page, where you can save thousands on your new SUV.

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    Item Reviewed: Midsize SUVs With Full-Size Features Rating: 5 Reviewed By: BrandIconImage
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