What SUV Buyers Should Consider
Almost all SUVs carry at least five people. Some midsized and full-sized models include a third-row seat that increases passenger capacity to six, seven, or eight. But many three-row SUVs have limited cargo space when the third-row seats are upright. Most third-row seats can fold flat when not in use, or nearly so, opening up additional luggage space.
The SUV ’ s versatile seating configurations mean that all the space behind the front seats is available for cargo when the second- and third-row seats fold flat. The most convenient type of third-row seat is one with a split design, so one part can be folded for cargo while still allowing someone to sit in the other part. SUVs usually have a higher cargo floor than minivans do, which can make loading heavy objects difficult. Some luxury models come with air suspensions, so drivers can lower the vehicle for easier loading. On the other hand, truck-based models typically have higher maximum payload capacities, so drivers can carry more weight. Some even offer power-operated, hands-free liftgates, making it easier to access the cargo bay.
Safety and Advanced Driver-Assist Systems Technologies
Consumer Reports ’ safety ratings include assessments of crash-avoidance capabilities and crash-test results, based on tests performed by the federal government and insurance industry. Further, our road tests detail issues regarding child seat installation and headlight performance.
Forward collision warning (FCW), automatic emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, and blind spot warnings (BSW) are crash avoidance technologies that CR believes should be standard on all vehicles. And these should be on the next new or used model you buy.
FCW technology provides a visual, audible, and/or tactile alert to warn the driver of an impending collision with a car or an object directly in its path. AEB responds to an imminent collision, braking if the driver doesn ’ t react in time. BSW monitors a vehicle ’ s flanks, warning drivers that another vehicle is alongside, where it may be difficult to see.
Other modern safety advances include telematics systems that can alert emergency personnel if an airbag deploys, such as GM ’ s OnStar service; lane departure warning systems that sound an alert if drivers change lanes without signaling; lane keeping assist to center the vehicle in the lane if drivers start to drift; and rear cross traffic alert that monitors the sides of the vehicle when drivers are backing out of a parking spot, and can even apply the brakes if needed. (Learn more about car safety.)
2WD vs. AWD vs. 4WD
Most SUVs use a front-drive platform and are available with all-wheel drive. Truck-based models have a rear-drive configuration and are available with four-wheel drive.
AWD and 4WD provide power to all wheels, but even though they sound similar, they ’ re not quite the same thing. AWD is a lighter-duty system that stays engaged and ready to vary the power distribution between front and rear wheels at any time. AWD is usually fine for typical adverse weather conditions and tackling dirt roads.
SUVS with true 4WD are few and far between. They have low-range gearing for tackling difficult off-road terrain, such as rocks or steep dirt hills. Drivers who travel almost exclusively on pavement without snow or ice, should consider a two-wheel-drive model; it will save on the purchase price and likely provide better fuel economy. These configurations are common in southern California, Texas, and Florida. Drivers who choose 4WD should look for a system that provides full-time 4WD operation. Don ’ t drive vehicles with part-time systems in 4WD mode on dry pavement, because they won ’ t be able to manage the power distribution front and back, affecting handling and potentially damaging the mechanical components.
Truck-based SUVs offer much more towing capacity than any other vehicle except pickup trucks. Most larger models can tow up to 9,000 pounds, or the equivalent of a large boat. Some powerful midsized models can pull as much as 5,000 pounds, enough for a small boat or camper. Buyers should look at the tow-capacity rating and be sure they get a vehicle that can comfortably handle the load they need to tow. Midsized and larger SUVs often require an optional tow package to reach that maximum rating.