Best Bets for SUVs

The pool of Best Bets includes all the models that meet our set of minimum standards. To understand how we choose our selections, and how they fit with the Lifestyle New-Car Buying Guide, read the Best Bet methodology. Best Bets for 2008 SUVs
Here, staff reviewer Joe Wiesenfelder picks his favorite SUVs, which are ordered alphabetically.
$40,195 - $45,795
A Best Bet for as long as we've picked them, the seven-seat MDX has always exhibited exceptional crash-test ratings and above-average reliability. With three rows of seats standard, it's a reasonably priced family favorite.
Acura's first turbocharged model, the youthful yet sophisticated RDX boasts excellent crash tests and above-average reliability. For anyone who doesn't need the MDX's size, the RDX is a Best Bet.
Suddenly the X3 has lots of competition, but this compact SUV remains a joy to drive. On top of its first-rate crash tests, it's reasonably reliable — never a strong suit among German brands.
$45,900 - $54,500
Thanks to a 2007 redesign, the X5 is as compelling as ever among many models that have followed the sport-SUV trend it started in 2000. It looks and drives like the X3's big brother, and shares its favorable crash tests and reliability.
$25,565 - $32,305
As the venerable truck-based Explorer falls out of favor, the midsize Edge five-seater suits the needs of buyers who want a comfortable ride, plenty of room and the efficiency of a car-based model. This Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick is a model whose above-average reliability is boosting Ford's image.
$26,505 - $28,255
The first hybrid SUV hasn't changed much since 2005, but that goes for its efficient performance and handy size, too, which are still unmatched by any hybrid SUV. The lack of a stability system is peculiar, but optional all-wheel drive helps keep this Ford moving in the right direction.
$22,305 - $25,755
Ford's compact workhorse has lost ground to Japanese competitors, but it qualifies for Best Bet status with average crash-test and reliability ratings in the V-6 model (the four-cylinder isn't rated for reliability). In 2008 it looks more than ever like a "real" SUV, which is a nice departure from the competitors' migration into the rounded crossover style.
$31,120 - $46,015
While the longtime favorite Chevy Tahoe and Suburban have fallen from grace with poor reliability, the Expedition and its extended version, the EL, have surged and are above average. Their third-row seats are also larger than the other guys'.
$24,950 - $29,510
Part SUV, part pickup, the Sport Trac gives more attention to the SUV part — the cabin — than do most crew cab pickup trucks. Its side-impact crash-test rating is Acceptable, and the V-6 model skates by with average reliability. (Currently the V-8's history is below average.)
$26,855 - $32,425
Following some drivetrain and styling upgrades in 2008, the former Freestyle six-seat crossover is more attractive to buyers who want space efficiency and aren't hung up on the car's wagonlike looks. The underappreciated model has been reasonably reliable, and it's an IIHS Top Safety Pick.
$20,700 - $26,700
It's no mistake that Honda's compact CR-V is the best-selling SUV in the country. It has excellent reliability, the top crash-test rating in its class and an interior whose richness belies the sticker price. It also has features rare among small SUVs, such as a backup camera option.
$18,980 - $22,775
The one-of-a-kind Element is a rare bird: an efficient hauler that's a favorite of musicians, weekend athletes and — particularly — cyclists, who can fold up the backseat and store a bike upright without removing wheels. After changes by Honda, this highly reliable model's side-impact crash tests are up to snuff, making it a new addition to's Best Bets.
$27,595 - $33,445
One of the first larger car-based SUVs, the Pilot fits eight seats into what's technically a midsize model. This longtime Best Bet is a little outdated, with standard third-row seats that require multiple steps to fold, but you can't deny its excellent reliability history and IIHS Top Safety Pick status.
$21,150 - $29,800
The Santa Fe's size is a great compromise between the compact Tucson and the seven-seat Veracruz, offering a choice of two or three rows of seats. Its reliability and crash tests make the grade, and its long list of standard features make it the value for which Hyundai is known.
$77,175 - $92,825
Land Rover's flagship SUV, the Range Rover, is one of the most luxurious vehicles of any kind, but that doesn't stop it from being remarkably capable offroad. Though it hasn't been crash-tested and it doesn't sell enough copies for accurate reliability data, the full-size Range Rover is exempt in both areas.
$35,605 - $37,355
A healthy seller for Lincoln, the midsize MKX five-seat crossover has a roomy interior and a comfortable ride. So far its reliability is above average and its crash tests are tops.
$48,430 - $54,330
The full-size luxury SUV that started it all, the Navigator is back as a Best Bet with above-average reliability. Like the Ford Expedition on which it's based, the Navigator has roomier third-row accommodations than the other guys, who fell off this year's list thanks to poor reliability.
$18,900 - $26,270
This sister of the Ford Escape shares its so-so crash tests and average reliability, but it squeaks by, offering a less-common and sportier alternative to the high-volume Ford.
$21,155 - $25,805
Yet another sister of the Escape, the Mariner has just-made-it crash-test qualifications and a premium interior. Where the V-6 model is average in reliability, the four-cylinder rises above its siblings with an above-average history.
$26,305 - $31,075
Like its better-known sister, the Explorer, the Mountaineer seems a dying breed, but it gives truck lovers a more upscale, exclusive alternative to the Explorer. Its crash tests and reliability with the V-6 are likewise acceptable, not exceptional. (The V-8 model is excluded due to below-average reliability.)
Nissan Pathfinder (with side airbags)
$25,920 - $38,920
Nissan's familiar Pathfinder hasn't been spared the hard times that have befallen truck-based SUVs, but it makes the grade with average reliability and — only when equipped with the optional side airbags — good crash-test ratings.
Nissan Xterra (with side airbags)
$21,240 - $28,740
Nissan proves that an old-style truck-based SUV can excel in a world of increasing crossover dominance. Only when equipped with the optional side airbags, the Xterra has good crash-test ratings, and its reliability has been top-notch. The sole caveat is a rollover rating that's among the lowest on the market, but that comes with offroad capacity that gives up little to the offroad kings.
$43,400 - $93,700
Like other Porsches and many sporty models, the Cayenne is not crash-tested, so we include it with that disclaimer. Not all of the drivetrains and power levels give the Cayenne much bang for the buck, but the top versions do things no one ever expected an SUV to do on a racetrack, and it gives up little in the way of offroad capability.
$21,195 - $27,895
A Best Bet favorite for years, the compact Forester rides lower than most compacts and offers a tall, versatile cargo area along with its excellent reliability and Top Safety Pick rating from IIHS. Standard all-wheel drive and an optional turbo give you practicality with fun on the side. We recommend the optional stability system.
$29,995 - $33,595
The once-derided "B9" is now easier on the eyes and improved in other ways, including ride quality. Though it's easily overlooked, this midsize seven-seater has been more reliable than average, and it holds a top rating in IIHS crash tests.
$28,015 - $38,735
For people who still want their SUV to be a real truck, the 4Runner remains a good choice. In addition to good crash tests, it has been well above average in reliability. It's not the roomiest model, but if you want it to work, it can tow and traverse terrain in ways crossovers can't match.
$22,545 - $24,135
It's not as refined as the 4Runner, but the FJ Cruiser isn't meant to be. It has far more style, and its healthy sales in a period of high gas prices speaks volumes. Equipped with a manual or automatic transmission, the truck-based FJ has the features and comportment for hardcore off-roading. With this comes one of the lowest rollover ratings in the market, but its crash tests and reliability are good.
$21,250 - $26,820
High crash-test ratings and excellent reliability help the compact RAV4 battle the Honda CR-V for the sales crown. We see the side-opening rear swing gate as a major drawback, but remarkable gas mileage puts virtually every other SUV on the market to shame.
$36,210 - $49,870
The XC90 has been vying for a Best Bet designation since it hit the market. Now, with its six-cylinder model posting average reliability, it has arrived. (The V-8's reliability is still below average.) The XC90 isn't the cheapest car-based SUV, especially once you add the optional third row, but it's a solid, comfortable and comforting model with the good crash tests expected of a Volvo, plus additional safety features whose effect the tests can't measure.
Not Yet Tested
  • Cadillac SRX
  • Hummer H2 (SUV and SUT)
  • Kia Sorento
  • Lexus LX 570
  • Saturn Vue Green Line
  • Toyota Highlander Hybrid
  • Toyota Land Cruiser
Posted on 2/13/08