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A Closer Look-Six Midsize Crossover Utility Vehicles

By Jeff Youngs, February 24, 2012
2010 Ford EdgeIntroduction
While vehicle sales have been on a bumpy road during the past two years, one segment showing growth is the mid crossover utility vehicle (CUV). These models offer car-like ride and handling, yet with the functionality and utility that many families are seeking. The numbers reveal that, on a year-to-date basis through April 2010, this segment enjoyed a 41.6 percent increase in sales compared to the same period in 2009, and sales of models in this segment aren't showing signs of slowing down.

The mid CUV segment in North America is comprised of models like the GMC Acadia, Dodge Journey, Nissan Murano, Toyota Venza, Buick Enclave, Ford Flex, Honda Accord Crosstour, Mazda CX-9, Saturn Outlook, Hyundai Veracruz, Subaru Tribeca and the Suzuki XL-7.

It also includes six models that each sold in excess of 7,000 units in April 2010: the Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and the Subaru Outback. These models generated total retail sales volume of 47,140 units in April 2010 compared to sales of 79,362 units for the entire segment during that month.

Let's take a look at the six highest-selling models. Many are sold in a handful of trim levels, with two engine choices and a powertrain option. We've decided to compare 6-cylinder all-wheel-drive models, as all six of these are available in that specific configuration.2010 Chevrolet TraverseDimensions and interior room
Mid crossovers are smaller than their full- sport utility and crossover counterparts-making them popular for growing families who don't need three rows of seating, excessive cargo capacity, or the ability to tow heavy trailers. When compared side-by-side, there is about 10 inches of overall length that separate these six models. The longest of the group is the Chevrolet Traverse (192.4 inches), followed by the Toyota Highlander (188.4) and the Subaru Outback (188.2). The Ford Edge (185.7 inches) and Hyundai Santa Fe (184.1) are slightly shorter. The Kia Sorento (183.9 inches) is the shortest of the bunch.

Wheelbase is defined as the distance between the front and rear wheel axles. While it is often associated with improved ride quality (which is one reason why limousines have very long wheelbases), it may hinder maneuverability in larger vehicles or those designed for off-road use, as it increases turning radius. The longest wheelbase of this group is found on the Chevrolet Traverse (113.8 inches), followed by the Ford Edge (111.2) and the Toyota Highlander (109.8). The Subaru Outback (107.9 inches) is mid-pack, while the shortest wheelbases are shared by the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento at 106.3 inches (they are mechanical twins).

The Toyota Highlander is the second-largest in the group, but it also offers the most passenger space (145.7 cubic feet). It is followed by the Kia Sorento (142.5 cubic feet). The Chevrolet Traverse (124.9 cubic feet) next. The Ford Edge (108.4 cubic feet) and Hyundai Santa Fe (108.3) are close in capacity, with the Subaru Outback (107.9) having the least amount of passenger space.

In terms of cargo space behind the second row, the Toyota Highlander (42.3 cubic feet) is again the largest. It is followed by the Chevrolet Traverse (39.7 cubic feet) and Kia Sorento (37.0). The Subaru Outback (34.3 cubic feet), Hyundai Santa Fe (34.2) and Ford Edge (32.2) offer the least amount of room for cargo. All six models are fitted with fold-down second-row seats that increase utility.2009 Toyota HighlanderFeatures and options
The mid CUV segment is positioned beneath the Mid Premium CUV segment when it comes to standard features, but that shouldn't dissuade potential buyers. In fact, while each of these models is available lightly optioned, nearly all are offered in high-level (Limited, EX or LTZ trim levels) variants with leather upholstery and high-grade infotainment packages.

With that in mind, the Ford Edge, Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe, Chevrolet Traverse, Toyota Highlander and the Subaru Outback all offer standard power windows, power door locks, power steering, cruise control, steering wheel-mounted controls, and air conditioning-depending on trim level. Standard models have vinyl or cloth seats and basic radios, while high-end trim levels are often fitted with upgraded upholstery, upgraded trim, navigation systems, reverse cameras, and high-end audio packages.

Mechanically speaking, each of these models is fitted with independent front and rear suspension. All feature standard front and rear disc brakes. Front-wheel drive is standard on most models, with all-wheel drive (biased for inclement weather driving rather than serious off-road use) available on premium trim levels.

Several of the models in the mid CUV segment offer the option of 4- or 6-cylinder powerplants (the Toyota Highlander also offers the sole hybrid powerplant in this segment). To keep things simple, we will compare 6-cylinder models as all of the models are offered with this type of powerplant.

The Kia Sorento and Hyundai Santa Fe are mechanical twins as well as the most powerful vehicles in this segment. They are each offered with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine rated at 276 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque. The standard transmission for each is a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic. The Toyota Highlander is available with a 3.5-liter V-6 as well. Under the hood of the Highlander, the engine is rated at 270 horsepower and 248 lb.-ft. of torque (matching the Kia and Hyundai in torque). It is mated to a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.

The Ford Edge is also offered with a 3.5-liter V-6, rated at 265 horsepower and 250 lb.-ft. of torque, and mated to a standard 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Unique among this group, the Subaru Outback is fitted with a 3.6-liter flat-6 engine, rated at 256 horsepower and 247 lb.-ft. of torque. The Outback features a 5-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission. Lastly, the Chevrolet Traverse has a 3.5-liter V-6 rated at 235 horsepower and 232 lb.-ft. of torque. It is mated to a 6-speed electronically controlled automatic transmission.2011 Kia SorentoFuel economy
Buyers of midsize crossover utility vehicles expect decent fuel economy, and this group delivers city gas mileage in the high teens with highway mileage in the low twenties. (All mileage quotes are for all-wheel-drive models. Front-wheel-drive models will generally earn slightly higher mileage estimates.)

The Kia Sorento delivers the highest mileage among this group (20 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway). It is followed by the Hyundai Santa Fe (19 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway) and the Subaru Outback (18 mpg in the city and 25 mpg on the highway), despite its 5-speed automatic transmission. The Toyota Highlander and Ford Edge (17 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway) earn the same mileage, while the Chevrolet Traverse delivers 16 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the highway. Of note, the Toyota Highlander is available with a hybrid gasoline-electric powerplant.

With the aforementioned V-6 engines, the highest tow rating goes to the Toyota Highlander at 5,000 pounds. The Kia Sorento, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Traverse are rated to tow 3,500 pounds. The Subaru Outback is rated for 3,000 pounds, while the Ford Edge is rated for 2,000 pounds of towing capacity. Keep in mind that each of these vehicles must be properly equipped for towing.

2010 Hyundai Santa FeSafety and crash testingUnlike larger, truck-based utility vehicles, the models in this segment are built on unibody platforms that are able to better absorb crash forces. Each of these models is fitted with dual front air bags, curtain side air bags, and a tire-pressure-monitoring system as standard equipment. Electronic stability control and anti-lock brakes are also standard on each model.

IIHS assessments
In tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Toyota Highlander, Subaru Outback and Kia Sorento have been named "Top Safety Picks" (this designation recognizes the models that earn the highest rating of "Good" for front, side, rollover, and rear crash protection-and that also have electronic stability control. The Ford Edge, Chevrolet Traverse and Hyundai Santa Fe are rated "Good" in both frontal offset and side-impact testing.

NHTSA assessments
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave the Subaru Outback, Hyundai Santa Fe and Chevrolet Traverse 5-star ratings in Front Driver/Front Passenger testing and 5-star ratings in Side Driver and Side Rear Passenger testing. Each also earned 4 stars in rollover testing (all-wheel-drive models tested). The Toyota Highlander and Ford Edge earned 5-star Front Driver, 4-star Front Passenger, 5-star Side Driver/Side Rear Passenger ratings and 4-star rollover ratings (all-wheel-drive models tested). As of writing, the Kia Sorento has not been tested by the NHTSA.2010 Subaru OutbackQuality and dependability
Facts and figures aside, consumers seeking a midsize CUV are also interested in long-term dependability. In the J.D. Power and Associates 2010 Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS),SM which measures long-term quality in 3-year-old vehicles that were purchased new, the Toyota Highlander ranked highest within the "Midsize MAV" segment.

These six highest-selling midsize crossover utility vehicle models represent a niche between compact and large utility vehicle segments. As such, they have the demanding role of delivering decent fuel economy while offering plenty of utility-although each of these vehicles does so in a slightly different manner.

The Toyota Highlander is one of the largest vehicles in the group. It offers the highest passenger capacity, the most cargo room behind the seats, and the highest towing capacity. The Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento (mechanical twins) deliver the highest fuel economy yet are still able to tow 3,500 pounds. If ride comfort is a priority, the Chevrolet Traverse, with the longest wheelbase in the group, may suit your needs. The Ford Edge is shorter, but is offered in the sportiest variants (including one model with chromed 20-inch wheels). Lastly, the Subaru Outback offers the most "car like" qualities in terms of ride and interior execution-and all-wheel drive is standard.

One attribute that cannot be overlooked is the safety ratings on each of these models. One decade ago, the sport utility vehicle segment was lagging behind passenger cars in terms of occupant protection. Today, three of these models are IIHS "Top Safety Picks" and the other three have earned "Good" ratings in all tested categories-a significant improvement within this segment and good news if you're in the market for one of these midsize CUVs.

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