2011 SUV Buying Guide


Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is an Automotive Editor who produces buying guides and sneak previews for CarsDirect, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus. An all-around automotive technical expert, he loves to delve into the inner workings of modern and vintage vehicles in his spare time.


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, Automotive Editor - November 20, 2014
The 2012 SUV Buying Guide is now available. Browse »

Compact SUVs

The Compact SUV class is for car buyers who want a more cargo room than a sedan, but who want the added fuel economy that a sedan offers in comparison to a full-size SUV. In the past several years this car class has grown in popularity and is expected to double its sales by 2011. By no means "hardened off-road vehicles," compact SUV's however often do provide a little more ground clearance and have greater capabilities off the pavement than many passenger cars. In addition, thanks to their smaller stature, compact SUVs are more reliable, easier to maneuver, and more fuel efficient than larger SUVs. Ideal for a small family or the outdoor/adventurous type, the compact SUV class provides a wide range of choices to choose from. Moreover, these compact SUVs offer the same commanding view of the road.

Price Range: $15,995 - $35,930


For 2011, the compact SUV owner has even more options. Below you'll find a few of the fifteen compact SUVs currently on the market.

For 2011, the notable compact SUV happens to be a carryover from 2010: the 2011 GMC Acadia, with a class-leading 32-mpg leads the back. Receiving minor updates for 2011, the Volkswagen Tiguan brings both style and a dynamic driving experience that can only come from Germany. The Tiguan's heart lies in the form of a fuel-effecient 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged engine producing 200 horsepower while being mated to Volkswagen's excellent smooth-shifting 6-speed automatic transmission helping the Tiguan to achieve 19 MPG in the city and 26 MPG on the highway -- all for an affordable starting price of $23,200.

Also new for 2011 is the Volvo XC60, which features a bevy of safety features including Roll Stability Control, a lane departure warning system, blind-spot warning, collision warning with braking and a backup camera. The XC60 comes standard with a 3.0-liter six-cylinder turbocharged engine which produces a very stout 281 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque. Starting prices for the XC60 will be released in the spring of 2011.

The Honda CR-V, a carryover from 2011, comes with bulletproof reliability and bold styling. Power comes from Honda's 166hp 2.4-liter DOHC i-VTEC 4-cylinder engine, a 10hp increase from the previous model. MSN Autos calls the new CR-V, "Evolutionary and revolutionary, with advanced styling that makes a statement."

The Mitsubishi Outlander, which looks very similar to the Toyota RAV4, is also available to the compact SUV owner who wants the best possible handling performance while still being able to haul cargo. Driving performance is where the Outlander shines and it offers the best car-like handling and ride in the class.

Compact SUV Safety Guide

When vehicles are launched or redesigned, it's becoming common to equip them with extensive safety features, many of which were only available on luxury cars just a few years ago. Besides antilock brakes(ABS) and side airbags, compact SUVs are beginning to come standard with features such as side curtain airbags and traction control. In some cases, advanced safety technology may only be available as costly options, if at all, so it's important to do your research if safety is important to you.

Mid-size SUVs provide most of the attributes found in larger, full-size SUVs. Newly developed designs are being brought to the masses which offer owners safety as well as utility in 2011. Mid-size SUVs offer commanding views that still allow the driver and front passenger to see over vehicles on the road. More powerful engines in addition to four-wheel-drive provide ample space for cargo and passengers. Additionally, many also offer the technology and durability to handle the most difficult off-road conditions, should you feel the need to do so. There are a variety of different styles of SUVs in this category. Evident in their price ranges, there are also a wide range of amenities available.

Price Range: $22,190 - $54,470


The 2011 Mazda CX-9 mid-size SUV is designed to provide SUV conveniences and a sedan-like driving experience and sets a new benchmark for this category, winning last year's Motor Trends 2011 Sport/Utility of the Year award. It has a 273hp 3.7-liter V6 that creates a seamless transfer of power to the wheels. Prices start at $29,700 and looks for a repeate performance. However, it's going to be tough, with new entrants being introduced.

The 2011 Toyota FJ Cruiser is a mid-size SUV modeled after the old FJ40 from 1958. The 2011 FJ Cruiser uses essentially the same platform as the Land Cruiser, which proves to be a very strong platform for this mid-size SUV. The FJ Cruiser offers a measured balance of old and new. The beefy 4.0-liter V6 produces 239 horsepower and allows the FJ Cruiser to tow up to 5,000 lbs.

The 2011 Toyota 4Runner, which NewCarTestDrive calls "the real deal" in SUVs, changes little for 2011. The 236hp 4.0L V-6 engine is standard while the optional 260 HP 4.7L V-8, which is rated to tow up to 7,300 lbs.

Hybrid Mid-Size

Currently, the only hybrid mid-size SUV that is available is the 2011 Toyota Highlander Hyrbid. Released in 2006, the Highlander Hybrid is virtually identical to the regular combustion engine Highlander. For 2011, the Highlander Hybrid receives only a small headlight update. With both its 208-hp 3.3-liter V-6 engine and electric motor, the Highlander Hybrid generates 268 total hp. It is offered in front or all-wheel-drive with a separate electric motor driving the rear wheels in the all-wheel-drive version. The Highlander Hybrid provides standard seating for five and optional seating for seven.

Mid-Size SUV Safety Guide

Because of their high center of gravity, midsize SUVs are more likely to roll over than sedans and wagons. To help prevent this, manufacturers have been installing electronic stability systems, which increase contact between the tires and road. Side airbags and side-curtain airbags are becoming more standard to protect occupants in the event of a side crash. Also, back-up sensing systems, which tend to come as options, prove useful because of a greater chance of blind spots. The sensing system employs a series of sensors on the rear bumper (and sometimes the front, too) to alert the driver of people or obstacles in the way.

With the surge in fuel prices, full-size SUVs have lost some of the popularity that they enjoyed for much of the decade. Don't expect to see this class to expand any further, because fuel prices will probably stay at the highest levels in decades. Instead, look for more fuel-efficient Hybrid version to be released, along with slightly downsized "crossovers", or, CUVs built on sedan platforms that give the car shopper the cargo capacity of an SUV with the fuel efficiency and driving dynamic of a sedan. If minivans aren't your cup of tea, the full-size SUV remains to be the only choice for hauling 7-8 passengers. Moreover, the full-size SUV class also provides towing capabilities for large loads and often ample ground clearance if you go off-road--two attributes you would have a hard time finding in any other vehicle segment.

For 2011, many of the manufacturers have decided to redesign their SUV flagships to compete with the changing market. In addition, a few companies that never had full-size SUVs are releasing them. For shoppers, this means better products and selection than ever before.

Price Range: $28,995 - $77,955


The best-selling 2011 Chevrolet Suburban 1500 and 2500 receive minor updates for 2011. The 1500 gets a new stiffer frame and better suspension. A 320hp 5.3L V-8 is standard on the 1500 with the option of a more powerful 310hp 5.3L V-8. The 2500 comes standard with a 352hp 6.0L V-8. In the same family, the 2011 Chevrolet Tahoe is redesigned as well. Its engines are equipped with Chevrolet's "Active Fuel Management" that allows the engine to shut down cylinders when not needed. This allows the Tahoe to provide gas mileage down from last year and makes it an even more appealing option vs. the competition. Odds are, the Tahoe will be able to maintain its status as the best selling full-size SUV since 2001. The2011 GMC Yukon continues the trend of change in 2011. Most noticeably changed are the suspension and handling of this full-sized SUV. The Yukon's stance has been widened and lengthened, giving it a lower center of gravity. Its now equipped with electronically controlled shocks that adapt to speed and road conditions. Also, the new fully boxed frame allows for better rigidity that translates into better performance around corners. The Yukon comes with three engine options: 295hp 4.8L V-8, 320hp 5.3L V-8, and 380hp 6.2L V-8. The 2011 GMC Yukon XL 1500 and 2500 are slightly larger than the regular Yukon but also receive many of the same improvements this year. NewCarTestDrive says, "you can't find an SUV that works better as a tow vehicle. It has all the right stuff. The ride is better than ever, handling is even steady and light."

The 2011 Ford Expedition offers big improvements in comfort, safety and control, yet costs significantly less than the 2010 model it replaces. Starting at $29,175 it is over $3,000 less than last year and gives the buyers more for their money. Cars Everything.com says, the Ford Expedition "defines 'utility' in SUV. It can haul, tow, and drive through just about anything with hardly a whimper."

The 2011 Nissan Armada remains largely unchanged this year. An optional 5.6L V8 engine that can run E85/flex-fuel is one small change. In addition it gets a small horsepower bump from 305hp to 317hp. It has remained in its original design since 2004 when it was released. Toyota's most expensive SUV, the 2011 Land Cruiser, returns with standard side impact airbags to improve the safety of its passengers. Its 4.7-liter V-8 produces 275hp and puts the power to the ground using a permanent four-wheel-drive system. The 2011 Toyota Sequoia is larger than the Land Cruiser, but surprisingly less costly starting at $32,820. In 2011, it receives improved standard safety features such as antilock brakes, an electronic stability system, front-seat side-impact airbags, and side curtain airbags. All eight seating positions also have three-point seat belts.

Full-Size SUV Safety Guide

Larger SUVs incorporate many advanced safety features. For instance, traction control, which works by applying braking pressure to the appropriate wheels during acceleration, thereby insuring maximum tire contact with the road, is available as standard equipment on many full-size SUVs, as is an antilock braking system. Electronic stability control comes standard on a few models in this segment; it works by sensing a car's side-to-side motion and applying braking pressure to the appropriate wheels to keep the tires in contact with the road. Some full-size SUVs also come with advanced airbag systems, such as side airbags, which protect occupants during side impact collisions, and head airbags, which help reduce head and neck injuries during a collision or rollover, although these features may be available only as extra-cost options. Back-up sensing systems are another useful feature to shop for in large sport utilities.

The luxury SUV class encompasses a wide range of vehicles. This range can be broken down into two groups: smaller 5 passenger SUVs and larger 7 passenger SUVs. They all provide luxurious amenities and cutting edge technology both inside and outside the cabin, while still focusing on the core competencies of an SUV. If you are in the market for a luxury vehicle with more cargo capacity than a sedan or simply want your SUV to have a little more bling, the luxury SUV class is for you.

Price Range: $33,300 - $107,100


Slightly updated for 2012 is the Acura MDX. Already a good performer in previous incarnations, Acura has refined the MDX even further to keep up with the likes of BMW's X5 and Porsche's Cayenne. A new chassis and improved suspension give the MDX better handling. Its horsepower is up to 300 from an all-aluminum 3.7-liter V6, however the gas mileage suffers little from the increase in power. The only contentious aspect of the new MDX has been the acceptance of its new grill that is a love-hate relationship for most.

This year Audi has decided that they are finally going to release an SUV. The 2012 Audi Q7 is heavy but has a 414hp 4.2-liter V8 engine and quattro all-wheel-drive system to push it along. It has an available third row of seats to allow for up to 7 passengers and ample cargo room for any load.

The 2012 Cadillac Escalade also sees great change this year. It is built on GM's new full size SUV platform and receives rack-and-pinion steering improving its handing. It is powered by a 403hp 6.2-liter V8 engine and controlled by a new six-speed transmission. The exterior has been freshened a little to make it look more like the rest of the Cadillac lineup, and the interior remains top of the line. The 2012 Lincoln MKX just received a redesign in 2012, so sees minimal updates for 2012. Almost identical to the 2012 Ford Edge, they both run off a 3.5-liter V6 and have the same unibody platform. In comparison to its competition the 2012 Lexus RX 350, the MKX is quieter, although Lexus remains king of quality.

BMW offers both the X3 and X5 in the luxury SUV class. The X3 gets mild changes internally such as a six-speed automatic transmission replacing the five-speed and a new lighter magnesium-aluminum 3.0-liter engine that increases the output to 260hp. These refinements make the X3 more enjoyable to drive around town and a better performer. The X5 continues to provide excellent handling that defies its "SUV" status. It comes standard with a 260hp 3.0L I-6 engine and there is an optional 350hp 4.8L V-8 engine. The X5 also comes with a front double-wishbone suspension that makes the stability of the X5 at high speeds more settled. The Volvo XC90 gets a more performance oriented trim called the "sport." It has improved suspension and handling characteristics. In addition, the XC90 will also be available in both 235hp 3.2L I-6 and 311hp 4.4L V-8 engines.

2012 will be the mark the first year of the new, bigger and more luxurious Lexus LX 570, replacing the Lexus LX 470 as Lexus' largest SUV. The LX 570 inherits its rugged abilities from the Toyota Land Cruiser. The Lexus RX 350 gets an internal re-design. A new 3.5-liter V-6 now powers the RX 350 and a hybrid version called the RX 450h is also available. The RX 350 comes in front-or all-wheel drive and improves in gas mileage this year. The Land Rover Range Rover is largely redesigned for 2012. Its interior becomes even more luxurious and safety features like knee airbags for the driver are now standard. The Range Rover also is equipped with the new Terrain Response system that allows adjustment for general driving on pavement, grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud and ruts, or rock crawling.

Mercedes-Benz adds a new model, the GL450, to their ML-series and R-series in the luxury SUV class. The GL450 is a seven-seat, all-wheel-drive SUV powered by a 335-horsepower V-8 engine. Mercedes hopes to capture back some of the family SUV consumers with this large SUV in the new year. The R-series is a cross between an SUV and a van. It comes standard with a 268 HP 3.5L V-6 or 302 HP 5.0L V-8 and this year the option of Mercedes' BlueTEC R350 BlueTEC is available. The BlueTEC gets a 210-hp 3.0-liter turbocharged direct diesel injection V6, featuring BlueTEC clean diesel technology for enhanced fuel efficiency. The ML-series is Mercedes' mid-size luxury SUV. It was drastically changed in 2006 and carries over from last year.

Luxury SUV Safety Guide

Top-of-the-line SUVs offer most of the safety features you'd expect to find in a luxury passenger car. In addition to side airbags, ABS and traction control, many luxury SUVs come with electronic stability control, which senses the "yaw" (side-to-side motion) of your vehicle and automatically applies braking pressure to the appropriate wheels to prevent skidding and loss of traction. Some luxury SUVs also come with crash resistant door pillars, which direct the force of an impact away from occupants. Others offerdynamic head restraints, which automatically move the seatback and headrest down during a rear collision to minimize head and neck injuries. Back-up sensing systems are also often available on most luxury sport utilities.

, Automotive Editor

Armaan Almeida is an Automotive Editor who produces buying guides and sneak previews for CarsDirect, in addition to publishing daily news stories and tracking monthly deals, incentives and pricing trends from Toyota, Nissan and Lexus. An all-around automotive technical expert, he loves to delve into the inner workings of modern and vintage vehicles in his spare time.


Follow On: Google+ | Website