With the lowest gas prices this country has seen in years, Americans are buying SUVs and crossovers in record numbers.
In February, automakers sold 503,328 SUVs and Crossovers compared with 447,842 in the same month last year, a 12.4 percent boost. The Jeep brand accounted for a full 37% of all new vehicle sales for Fiat Chrysler, and some SUVs like the Ford Edge and Hyundai Tuscon saw sales jump close to 90% year over year.
It's clear Americans want SUVs and crossovers. The higher ride height offers a feeling of safety, and they're seen as much cooler than a minivan to today's parents. Since gas mileage isn't as much of a concern today with cheap gas, most sellers see no downside.
Automakers have anticipated the demand, and now almost every one offers a variety of SUVs and crossovers, from miniscule subcompact crossovers to large, truck-based monsters that you could easily live in. From top to bottom, here are some of our favorite choices.
Subcompact: Mazda CX-3 - $19,960 to $24,990
This category is new and growing, but our favorite is the Mazda CX-3.
Based on the Mazda2 platform that isn't sold in the United States, it is certainly small, and like all Mazdas, it's a delight to drive. It also gets pretty good fuel economy and has a charming look. It doesn't have as much interior space as some of the competition, but it feels much more refined than other subcompact SUVs.
Sure, you could buy a roomier Mazda3 hatchback for the same price, but this entire category is in the same nonsensical boat. Subcompact crossovers aren't more practical than their hatchback brethren, but they certainly feel more practical, and that seems to be more important when car buyers start writing checks.
Honorable Mentions: Honda HR-V, Buick Encore
Compact: Mazda CX-5 - $21,795 to $28,220
Even though the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 outsell it by a factor of 3:1, the Mazda CX-5 is unquestionably the best compact SUV you can buy.
The interior is in a different league of refinement compared with it's competition, and it drives like a sporty car, not a sporty SUV. The 2.0 L SKYACTIV engine available on the base trim levels delivers a mind-blowing 35 mpg on the highway, which is much better than the competition, while the larger 2.5 L engine manages to provide gas mileage on par with the CR-V and RAV-4, but still produces 184 horsepower. The CX-5 can be loaded with options, too, from automatic braking and radar cruise control to adaptive headlights and premium sound systems.
That's all great, but most people who buy the Honda CR-V do so because of Honda's unquestioned reliability. Hondas are the most reliable cars you can buy, right? Well, according to Consumer Reports, the CX-5 has the CR-V beat in that category as well. It's simply the best compact SUV you can buy.
Honorable Mentions: Ford Escape, Subaru Forester
Midsize: Honda Pilot - $30,145 to $46,570
The Honda Pilot has no real intentions of taking curvy roads like the CX-5, but it is comfortable, spacious and very well equipped with features that are sure to keep your family safe and entertained on long car rides.
The Pilot's 280 horsepower V6 allows it to hustle when you want it to, and can haul up to 5,000 lbs. when mated to the available AWD. The Pilot's real strength lies in its comfort. It is quiet, offers plenty of legroom and can seat up to eight adults. Kids will be entertained by the optional rear entertainment system, which offers HDMI and 110V outlets to allow a variety of devices to be plugged in. Parents will also love the Pilot's available advanced safety package, known as Honda Sensing, which incorporates radar cruise control, automatic braking, and lane assist.
All in all, the Pilot is a reliable hauler of families that will make road trips more enjoyable for the whole family. However, top trims can start to push $50,000 when fully optioned, which begins to put it in luxury SUV territory, so be careful with the option lists.
Honorable Mentions: Ford Explorer, Jeep Grand Cherokee
Large: Chevrolet Suburban - $49,700 to $67,440
The Chevrolet Suburban has been in production since 1935, making it the oldest automotive nameplate in production.
Through that time, the Suburban has watched the landscape change while it followed the same successful and necessary formula: big, capable, and comfortable. It's difficult to call the Chevrolet Suburban an SUV, because it's basically a Silverado 1500 pickup with a full roof and a third row of seats instead of a bed. These truck underpinnings allow the Suburban to tow up to 8,300 lbs. while carrying eight people, a couple of dogs and anything else you could possibly need. It really is difficult to describe how cavernous a Suburban is.
The Chevy Suburban doesn't apologize for anything. It even still uses a column shifter. But the Suburban knows that even if you pass on it now, it will still be there, and continue to be there, being exactly what it needs to be. That is what makes it so wonderful.
Honorable Mentions: Ford Expedition, Chevy Tahoe
Land Rover Range Rover: $84,950 to $199,495
The Range Rover is still the king of combining luxury with the ability to go anywhere you please, even if most will never come close to leaving the asphalt.
Most Range Rover buyers will appreciate its ability to make this country's imperfect roads feel brand new, and the quality of the materials in the cabin make it feel worthy of the high cost of entry. The Range Rover insulates you almost completely from any unpleasantness in the outside world.
The Range Rover is available in a wide variety of trims, in both standard and long wheelbase (LWB) varieties. The Range Rover Autobiography LWB starts just shy of $200,000 before options, but the inside is closer to a private jet than an SUV. The Autobiography LWB features standard deployable tables, a bottle chiller, mohair foot rests and more, all in a vehicle that can handle almost any terrain with ease.
Honorable Mentions: Volvo XC90, Porsche Cayenne Turbo S
About the writer: Will Kinton thinks life is too short to drive boring cars, and enjoys sharing his passion for them. For more, follow him on Twitter: @willkinton247