Hot SUVs for 2006

A number of new and redesigned sport utility vehicles make their debut for the 2006 model year. Among the more notable ones are three new gasoline/electric hybrid SUVs, a scaled-down Hummer and an overhaul of one of the segment's well-known models.

Automakers also continue to roll out new luxury SUVs, and Lexus launches the first one with a hybrid drivetrain for 2006. Continue reading for details on some of the hottest SUVs for 2006.

Hot SUVs for 2006
All SUVs are listed in alphabetical order and are from the 2006 model year.
$26,530 - $35,940
Full-Size SUV: The redesign that Ford's ubiquitous Explorer and the related Mercury Mountaineer underwent for the 2006 model year included a newly available 292-horsepower V-8 engine, revised exterior styling and new interiors. In its latest form, the Explorer feels solid overall on the road, its cabin is surprisingly quiet and acceleration is strong with the V-8 drivetrain. The Explorer, which can be equipped to carry up to seven people, also benefits from its long list of standard safety equipment, which includes antilock brakes, side-impact airbags for the front seats and Ford's AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control electronic stability system.
Midsize SUV: Do you like the tough appearance of a Hummer but can't stomach the fuel bill for an H2? Maybe an H3 is in your future. Hummer's new midsize SUV looks like a scaled-down version of the manufacturer's full-size H2 and, according to Environmental Protection Agency fuel economy estimates, manages to achieve 16 mpg in city driving and 20 mpg on the highway when equipped with a five-speed-manual transmission; not great, but arguably better than the H2, which is not tested by the EPA. Though its smooth inline-five-cylinder engine struggles to keep pace on the highway, the H3 returns acceptable around-town performance.
$27,290 - $38,205
Midsize SUV: Jeep's new Commander makes history as the first Jeep that can seat up to seven people. Reminiscent of the automaker's boxy Cherokee SUV, the Commander is much larger and can be fitted with an available Hemi V-8 engine that features Chrysler Group's Multi Displacement System cylinder deactivation technology for improved fuel efficiency. The Commander's upright, two-box design lends the interior an airy feel, and the SUV delivers a soft ride. Space for second-row passengers is limited, but expect strong acceleration and good automatic transmission response from Hemi V-8-equipped Commanders.
$56,085 - $69,085
Midsize Luxury SUV: Land Rover's new Range Rover Sport is trumpeted by the automaker as a "high-performance SUV" and competes against the BMW X5 and Porsche Cayenne. The Sport is distinguished by its roofline, which slopes downward toward the rear, and can be powered by either a normally aspirated or supercharged V-8 engine, both of which drive a six-speed-automatic transmission. With a curb weight of more than two and a half tons, the Sport is heavy, and the base 300-hp V-8 works hard to accelerate it. The supercharged engine cuts one second off the base motor's 8.2-second zero-to-60-mph acceleration time, but it diminishes the already dismal fuel economy of the base HSE model.
$44,660 - $46,060
Luxury Hybrid SUV: With the launch of the RX 400h, Lexus brings the wonders of the gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain to luxury SUV buyers. Unlike the Prius hybrid passenger car marketed by Lexus' parent, Toyota, the RX 400h is not solely designed to deliver frugal fuel economy estimates. The combination of a 3.3-liter V-6 engine and a high-torque electric motor/generator driving the front wheels (and in all-wheel-drive models, another electric motor/generator for the rear wheels) results in a claimed zero-to-60-mph acceleration time of 7.3 seconds for the all-wheel-drive model. Available luxury accoutrements include a navigation system with a rearview camera, rear-seat DVD entertainment and a Mark Levinson stereo.
$39,750 - $48,500
Midsize Luxury SUV: The second-generation M-Class represents a significant modernization for Mercedes-Benz's midsize SUV, which had grown a bit dated since its 1998 debut. Sleek and well proportioned, the new M-Class is powered by either a V-6 or V-8 engine. The sole transmission is a seven-speed-automatic unit that's shifted into gear via a turn-signal-style stalk on the steering column and includes buttons on the back of the steering wheel for driver control of shifts. The M-Class' maximum seating capacity is five; three-pointed star fans in need of a seven-person SUV will have to wait until mid-2006 when the new 2007 GL-Class hits dealerships.
Compact Hybrid SUV: When it debuted for 2005, Ford's compact Escape Hybrid was the only hybrid SUV on sale in the United States. Ford Motor Company's Mercury brand adds a related Mariner Hybrid to its lineup for 2006 that's powered by the same 155-hp gasoline/electric powertrain, but whereas the Escape Hybrid can be equipped with either front- or all-wheel drive, the Mariner Hybrid is only available with all-wheel drive. Able to move on electric power alone during certain low-load driving situations, the Mariner Hybrid achieves an EPA-estimated 33 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway.
$30,695 - $33,895
Midsize SUV: Subaru has dallied on the fringes of the SUV segment for a number of years with its Outback and Forester models. For 2006, the automaker takes a bigger step into the fray with its B9 Tribeca. Although it's based on the Legacy platform, the B9 Tribeca has significantly different styling and wears Subaru's new corporate grille design. Seating for five is standard, but the B9 Tribeca can be equipped with a small third-row seat that ups occupant capacity to seven. The standard engine is a 250-hp horizontally opposed six-cylinder that drives a five-speed-automatic transmission.
$33,030 - $39,290
Midsize Hybrid SUV: Interested in a gasoline/electric hybrid SUV but have a crew you need to chauffeur around? Toyota's midsize Highlander Hybrid is currently the only seven-seat hybrid vehicle on sale. Like the related Lexus RX 400h, the Highlander Hybrid is available with either front- or all-wheel drive and is engineered for performance as well as fuel efficiency; Toyota says the all-wheel-drive version can scoot from zero to 60 mph in 7.3 seconds, and its EPA-estimated fuel economy of 31 mpg in city driving and 27 mpg on the highway is among the best in the SUV segment.
$20,300 - $25,870
Compact SUV: The redesign of Toyota's smallest SUV for the 2006 model year yields a vehicle that's substantially longer and wider than its predecessor, and puts it within inches of the company's midsize Highlander SUV. Newly available options include a fold-flat third-row seat and a 269-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 engine. Air conditioning, a CD stereo, remote keyless entry, and power windows, locks and mirrors are standard. The new RAV4 can have either front- or four-wheel drive.
Posted on 2/1/06