2009 Best Bets: SUVs

To qualify as a Cars.com Best Bet, models must meet three quantified criteria: a Good rating in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests, average or higher reliability ratings, and average or higher fuel mileage within their class. The SUV classes and average mpg cutoffs are compact (18/24 mpg), midsize (15/21.6 mpg), full-size (14/20 mpg) and hybrid (25.5/25 mpg).

2009 Best Bets: SUVs
SUVs are listed in alphabetical order by their class: compact, midsize, full-size, luxury and hybrid.
Compact SUVs
$20,435 - $27,670
This year's new engines and six-speed automatic transmission make the Escape both quicker and more efficient. While the V-6 with all-wheel drive has exhibited average reliability, the front-wheel-drive and four-cylinder models have been above average.
$21,245 - $27,245
The CR-V is one of the best-selling and most refined compact SUVs on the market, with very good mileage and top-notch reliability. It's a well-rounded model.
$20,275 - $23,270
There are other boxy models out there, but none compares to the Element's versatility and individualism. Though its extra weight makes it less efficient than the CR-V that shares its platform, it meets the Best Bet standards and boasts reliability that's well above average.
$19,730 - $27,635
The Tribute adds a sporty flair to the good reliability and mileage of its better-known sister model, the Ford Escape. It's also the price leader among our SUV Best Bets, with a sticker below $20,000. There's a hybrid version, too.
$22,650 - $27,515
The Mariner is the most dolled-up version of Ford's Escape compact SUV, building off the fundamentals of good reliability and efficiency and adding a touch of luxury — and a couple grand to the price. Like its sister models, the Mariner also comes as a hybrid.
$20,380 - $25,780
The Outlander's reliability has been above average, and though it's one of the longer models in the category, it does fall into the compact SUV class. Its two optional V-6 engines skew the model's average mileage specs, but the base four-cylinder delivers a reasonable 20/25 mpg. The Outlander is one of only two compact Best Bet SUVs to offer seven seats.
$20,220 - $23,010
The Rogue came late to the compact-SUV game and took its place as one of the most efficient in the class. Its interior is modest, but so is its starting price, at just over $20,000. Reliability has been above average.
$19,995 - $28,195
The redesigned Forester is larger and more like the competitors than its previous generation, a long-running Cars.com Best Bet. It's a favorite among our reviewers, with standard all-wheel drive, though its merely average reliability and its mileage put it in the lower third of compact Best Bets.
$21,500 - $27,810
The four-cylinder Toyota RAV4 holds the distinction of being the most efficient non-hybrid SUV. A V-6 is also offered, and its reliability has been above average. The four-cylinder's has been higher still. The optional third row of seats is small, but it makes the RAV4 a rare seven-seat compact.

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Midsize SUVs
$26,635 - $35,605
The Edge is a notably comfortable and reasonably efficient crossover SUV with above-average reliability when equipped with front-wheel drive. (All-wheel-drive versions have been average.) Its five seats make for a large cargo area; Ford makes the Flex for buyers who want to seat more.
$27,695 - $38,495
A longtime Cars.com Best Bet, the Pilot was one of the first midsize crossover models to come with three rows of seats standard. A redesign, the 2009 has been sold since May 2008. Its aesthetics and gas mileage have disappointed, but it still qualifies as a Best Bet on its EPA-estimated mpg and good reliability history.

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The Santa Fe is one of the smallest midsize Best Bets and is thousands of dollars cheaper than many others in this category, despite its many standard features. Its lineup tops the highway mileage chart at an estimated 23.5 mpg average, and it has shown above-average reliability. It offers five or seven seats.

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Where the Santa Fe is one of the smallest midsize SUV Best Bet, the Veracruz is among the larger models, with three rows of seats. Though competitively priced, well-equipped and well-appointed, the Veracruz isn't the price leader that Hyundais often are. It just makes the cutoff for mileage by 0.5 mpg, and its reliability has been average.
$37,845 - $39,695
Based on the Ford Edge, the MKX is likewise a five-seater with generous cargo capacity, a more luxurious interior and more standard features — and a higher price to go along with it. Its front-wheel-drive version has been tops in reliability, while the all-wheel-drive model is average.
$23,900 - $28,400
The smallest of the midsize SUV Best Bets, the CX-7 is pure Mazda: less roomy and utilitarian than the competition, but definitely the most fun to drive. The turbocharged four-cylinder is sprightly, but its mileage compares to the larger midsize models cited, and it prefers premium gasoline for maximum performance. Its reliability has been average.
$27,680 - $37,260
Another veteran, the five-seat Murano was redesigned for 2008 and is now even more refined and lush. The standard continuously variable automatic transmission provides 18 mpg in city driving, tops among all-wheel-drive midsize SUV Best Bets. Reliability is above average.
$27,600 - $34,520
The Highlander has stood the test of time with exceptional reliability. For its size and power, it's remarkably fuel-efficient, rivaling the Santa Fe. It also comes as a hybrid. Seven seats are standard, but you can forgo the third row and save yourself a few hundred bucks.

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Full-Size SUVs
$28,270 - $34,175
Basically a large wagon, the Taurus X (originally called the Freestyle) has good crash tests and average reliability. It hasn't enjoyed much market success, but it's roomy for its modest exterior bulk, with two third-row seats that are truly accommodating for adults.
$29,820 - $35,205
In the growing class of large crossover SUVs, the CX-9 stands out for its styling and interior quality, and for sporty driving that belies the model's size. The two seats in the third row are best left to kids. Average reliability gives it an edge over competing crossovers from GM.

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Luxury SUVs
$40,990 - $47,140
The MDX is no stranger to the Cars.com Best Bets. Since it's had crash tests and a reliability record to stand on, it's been a fixture in this space. It's the top-rated midsize luxury SUV in Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash tests, and it's more reliable than average. Thanks to decent mileage, it's the sole seven-seat luxury SUV to make the grade. The standard third row of seats makes the sticker price still more attractive.
$33,895
Riding the line between compact SUV and sport wagon, the RDX is the choice for anyone who's happy with five seats and wants something smaller than the MDX. The RDX provides ample power and sporty handing in a versatile body style, with above-average reliability.
$39,700
The X3 fills a gap between BMW's wagons and the X5 midsize SUV in terms of utility. Though it's higher and more versatile than the wagons, it doesn't give up the driving performance for which BMW is renowned. Its reliability is average.
$37,845 - $39,695
The MKX is a bit larger than most five-seat crossovers, but that makes for roominess in the passenger and cargo areas. The successful MKX is comfortable and smooth-riding, and its mileage is quite good for its size — especially on the highway. The all-wheel-drive version has been reliable, and the MKX with front-wheel drive has been exceptional, one of the best.

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Hybrid SUVs
$29,645 - $33,725
The Escape Hybrid was the first hybrid SUV — and the choice of Barack Obama when he was a U.S. senator. The optional all-wheel drive costs you a dramatic 4 to 5 mpg compared to the front-drive model, but even these lower numbers make it the most efficient sport-ute sold, beating the larger Toyota Highlander. Like the regular Escape, the hybrid has evolved nicely. Reliability has been above average.
$30,090 - $31,840
Just like the non-hybrid model, the Mariner Hybrid is based on the Ford Escape but has more standard features and premium appointments, plus a higher sticker price to match. It shares the Escape Hybrid's mileage specs and above-average reliability. (Though related, the newer Mazda Tribute Hybrid has no reliability verdict and is thus ineligible for a Best Bet citation.)
$34,700 - $41,020
Larger and roomier than the Escape Hybrid — with seating for seven with the optional third row of seats — the Highlander Hybrid has been a success since its 2006 debut, including top-rated reliability. You'll pay for its larger size and standard all-wheel drive, which makes this model less affordable and fuel-efficient than a front-drive version would be.

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To Be Determined

Due to pending mileage or crash-test data, the following models are not Best Bets yet, but still have a chance to earn the distinction.

  • Chevrolet Equinox
  • Ford Expedition/Expedition EL
  • Infiniti EX35
  • Lexus RX 350
  • Lexus RX 400h
  • Lincoln Navigator
  • Pontiac Torrent
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