Fun and Functional CUVs
CUV or SUV? Even manufacturers often use the two terms interchangeably, but there are distinctions between these two types of vehicles. SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles) are essentially closed-in trucks with added rear seats, rear doors and a cargo area all under one roof. They feature body-on-frame construction and rear or 4-wheel drive which gives them considerable towing capacity and off-road capability. There are still a number of true SUVs on the market today — mostly the big boys like Ford Expedition, Lincoln Navigator, Nissan Armada, Chevrolet Tahoe and Infinity QX80. On the other hand, CUVs (Crossover Utility Vehicles) are built more like cars with unibody construction and front or all-wheel drive (although some still sport true 4×4 capability). They’re generally lighter and more fuel efficient than their SUV cousins, and most aren’t designed for big towing jobs.
CUVs have seen a huge rise in popularity over the past couple decades mainly due to their large interior space, extra seating, perceived safety advantages, and a higher vantage point for the driver, and there are some exceptionally great choices in this segment:
**Mazda CX-5: **Since its introduction in 2013 Mazda has made a number of refinements including a punchier 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine and some thoughtful cabin upgrades that focus on the things drivers and passengers interact with most and rivals the amenities, finish and touches you’d expect from high end manufacturers like Audi and BMW. The ride is firm and responsive but not harsh. The CX-5 feels sporty and precise but doesn’t sacrifice creature comforts. There’s a whole lot to love with the CX-5. It’s Zoom-Zoom personified.
**Ford Escape: **Along the way Ford Escape has made a fairly pronounced transition from its original boxy shape to a more progressive, contemporary look. It’s still reminiscent of a tall station wagon, but beneath its exterior you’ll find a surprisingly crisp, responsive and downright sporty ride that few in the class can match. While Escape lacks the roomier feel and ingenious interior appointments found on CUVs like Honda’s CR-V you might be willing to overlook any ergonomic shortcomings when you get a taste of Escape’s zippy, versatile feel and responsive handling. The only possible drawback is that Escape’s real world fuel economy tends to fall short of its ratings. Escape belongs on your short list.
**Honda CR-V: **It’s tough to argue with success, especially when it comes to a vehicle as popular as the venerated CR-V. After some major updating in 2015 not a whole lot has changed for this year. CR-V continues to do well in the face of ever-increasing competition by doing what it does best; offering a reliable, comfortable, solid vehicle with exceptional interior space, plenty of technology including the unique and very useful LaneWatch blind spot camera and solid fuel economy. With five trim levels, CR-V should satisfy a wide range of needs and wants. By the time you get to the Touring trim (new for 2016) you get a range of features that’s virtually unmatched by anyone else in the category.
**Volkswagen Tiguan: **Leave it to the Germans to blend the words “tiger” and “iguana”. It may sound like a leftover from The Island of Dr. Moreau but there’s no mad science involved—just fine German engineering. While not particularly flashy, Tiguan does bring to mind the terms people usually associate with Volkswagen: capable, sensible, practical. VW offers up some useful standard features like heated seats, a flat-folding front passenger seat, and keyless entry with push button start. It features a turbocharged, 200-hp 4-cyl that delivers a bit more punch than its rivals and can tow up to 2,200. You’ll look good towing your jet skis with this baby.
**Subaru Forester: **Right from the beginning Forester was perfectly happy being a tall station wagon. It wore its practical, utilitarian heart on its sleeve, and people loved it. The same audience that embraced it then is still singing its praises now, and for good reason. Forester hits most of the marks that really count; it’s affordable, comes standard with one of the best all-wheel drive systems on the market, gets great fuel economy and has a good safety rating. Forester is also one of the rare CUVs on the market that’s truly capable of handling moderate off-road action. Subaru offers 2 basic models and 4 trim levels. It’s one of the only CUVs in its class to offer a turbocharged 2.0 liter engine and a manual transmission.
**Toyota RAV4: **With a refresh mostly focused on interior details the 2016 RAV4 continues to be one of the best sellers in the crossover arena. One notable addition for this year is a new hybrid version featuring the latest generation of Toyota’s two-motor Hybrid Synergy Drive system that uses an electric motor on the rear axle to provide the rear wheels with torque when its control system senses that power is needed. The hybrid RAV4 is also the quickest model in the lineup, challenging the notion that hybrid technology and performance are mutually exclusive. The 2016 RAV4 improves its safety credentials with a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA. It’s also ahead of the game with its forward collision warning system and automatic pre-collision braking. Take a spin in the RAV4 and you’ll understand why there are so many of them on the road.
**Hyundia Tucson: **The Tucson lives in its own niche between compact and sub-compact CUVs. It’s a few inches shorter than the CRV-V and RAV4 but it’s a fair bit larger than the new group of sub-compacts that include Honda’s HR-V and Mazda’s CX-3. Tucson is available in four trim levels and features two power plant options. While the base level SE has a very attractive price its 2.0-liter engine is a bit underwhelming. Step up to one of the 3 higher trim levels to get the peppier, turbocharged 1.6-liter which is mated to an exclusive, smooth-shifting transmission. The technology package is as user-friendly as they come and the 2016 version has improved its cargo capacity which is now very close to what you’ll find in the CR-V.
**Jeep Renegade: **As its name suggests, Renegade is a bit of a mold-breaker. In many ways it’s far more plausible, more truly Jeep-like than the Cherokee or Compass. From the big, round headlights to its tall, slab-sided profile and intentionally oversized style details Renegade reflects Jeep’s rugged, utility-focused heritage. Although it’s likely most drivers will never intentionally take it off the pavement it’s good to know that if they did they’d find Renegade to be a very capable off-roader. Upgrade to the Trailhawk and you’ll get the 2.4 liter engine, all-wheel drive, a nine-speed automatic transmission and a very cool removable sunroof system. Fun, affordable, functional, suitable for your everyday drive and versatile enough to satisfy your off-road appetite, Renegade is a winner.