$37,000 SUV Shootout: Overview

Although consumers turned their backs on the biggest SUVs in the wake of 2008's gas-price spike, they have come back to family haulers, but on a slightly smaller scale. We put seven of these to the test to see which could please our experts and our family with its combination of driving quality, features and family-friendliness.

We pitted seven of the largest SUVs against each other in our latest Shootout.

The seven contenders, in alphabetical order:
2012 Chevrolet Traverse
2012 Dodge Durango
2012 Ford Explorer
2012 Honda Pilot
2012 Kia Sorento
2011 Mazda CX-9
2011 Toyota Highlander

We researched the segment's major players, models such as the Honda Pilot and Chevrolet Traverse, and priced midlevel trims with family-friendly features. That brought us to roughly $37,000, so we asked automakers to give us models below the price that would best serve a family of four.

Ford officials said they were unable to lend us an Explorer because they were in the midst of their model-year changeover, but it's such a large player in the segment that we secured a brand-new 2012 Explorer from a broker. A Hyundai spokesman said the 2012 Veracruz was getting several updates and would not be available in time for our Shootout. Subaru said it did not have a suitable Tribeca available in its fleet.

Our experts judging this Shootout were:

  • Kristin Varela, Joe Wiesenfelder and David Thomas of Cars.com
  • James R. Healey with USA Today
  • Ben Davis with "MotorWeek"

We also had a family of four, the Kochs (pronounced "cook") of Hoffman Estates, Ill., joining us.

We put the SUVs through three days of tests:

  • A one-day mileage drive, which put the SUVs through roughly 230 miles of highway travel.
  • One day of round-robin expert driving, where each expert or team of experts drove the seven SUVs over the same course for an hour.
  • One day of family testing and driving, where the Koch family compared the features and cargo space of each SUV. Then dad Tarek Koch drove each SUV over the same drive route to test for ride and handling, acceleration, braking and more.

Read through our coverage to see which SUV won over our experts and our family. The experts' opinions fueled 65 percent of the final score and the Koch family, 25 percent. Fuel economy made up the final 10 percent of the score.

© Cars.com 10/14/2011