Hot SUVs for 2005 and 2006

In addition to the hybrid-powered Lexus RX 400h and Toyota Highlander Hybrid, you can expect to see a larger Subaru sport utility vehicle for the 2006 model year. Automotive News says Isuzu may add another seven-passenger SUV for 2007; it could take the Trooper name from the SUV that disappeared after 2002. Mitsubishi's Outlander could be redesigned around that time provided the troubled company remains afloat. Suzuki may redesign its Grand Vitara for 2006, followed by a reworked XL-7. Toyota's RAV4 and Highlander are also due for a redesign, possibly for the 2006 season.

A third Hummer is due as a 2006 model. Related to the Chevrolet Colorado pickup truck, the Hummer H3 uses a five-cylinder engine. Jeep plans to launch the Commander SUV, which will feature three rows of seats. Top 10: Most Notable SUVs for 2005
All SUVs are listed in alphabetical order and are from the 2005 model year unless otherwise noted.
Vehicle NameClassList Price
Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT  Full-Size$28,085 - $32,515
Ford Escape Hybrid  Compact$26,830 - $28,455
Hyundai Tucson  Compact$17,499 - $22,799
Jeep Grand Cherokee  Midsize$26,355 - $34,570
Jeep Liberty  Compact$19,480 - $25,325
Kia SportageCompact$15,900 - $21,700
Land Rover LR3  Midsize$44,330 - $49,330
2006 Lexus RX 400hMidsize$48,410
Nissan Pathfinder  Midsize$24,900 - $35,000
2006 Toyota Highlander HybridMidsize$33,030 - $39,290

Ten brand-new SUVs are either on sale as the 2005 model year begins or will be available in the coming months. Three are hybrid-powered offshoots of existing models, and one — the Hummer H2 SUT — swaps a pickup bed in place of a regular H2's cargo area.

Only a handful of SUVs have been redesigned extensively, and a few more have had face-lifts. In addition, several carryover models get significant new features for 2005.

Which ones are the most noteworthy? Most of the winners are new or redesigned models, but not all of the new ones are included and several mostly unchanged carryover models are worthy to note for specific reasons. Three key factors determine whether a 2005 or 2006 SUV qualifies as notable:

  • Technical advances: Whether they help with driving performance or provide entertainment or extra comfort, notable SUVs need to have at least one or two significant technical improvements.
  • Innovative features: Unless a new model has some features that help it stand out from the maddening SUV pack, it doesn't warrant inclusion in this list. SUVs that have been around for a while and aren't changing appreciably this year might qualify, too, if a new feature is sufficiently significant.
  • Overall excellence: Enticing features are fine, but the vehicle has to be appealing in a general way as well. Helpful conveniences aren't worth much if the SUV fails to do its job properly.

Of the top 10 most notable SUVs for 2005, half are car-based, which usually means they ride more smoothly, handle more like passenger cars and consume less fuel. Truck-based SUVs may be better choices for carrying heavy loads, towing trailers and boats, and operating under difficult conditions. Truck-based models tend to be heavier, too, which often translates to more cumbersome handling, a harsher ride and a propensity for using more fuel.

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid is the first SUV to use a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain.

The 2005 Ford Escape Hybrid is the first SUV to use a gasoline/electric hybrid powertrain.

Because fuel economy has become a major issue, particularly for SUVs, three new models with gasoline/electric hybrid powertains top the most-notable list for 2005. The new hybrids promise considerably greater fuel economy and lower emissions than regular, gasoline-powered SUVs. One model, the Jeep Liberty, may be equipped with a diesel engine. That makes a total of only two diesel SUVs on the U.S. market, the second one being the Volkswagen Touareg V-10 TDI that debuted late in the 2004 model year.

Chevrolet TrailBlazer EXT (and related GMC Envoy XL and Envoy XUV, and Isuzu Ascender): Changes are moderate for these full-size SUVs from General Motors, with one exception: A Displacement on Demand engine is available for 2005. The Ascender, which is based on the same design as the Chevrolet and GMC SUVs, can also have this engine. Under most driving conditions, half of the V-8's cylinders can be automatically deactivated.

Ford Escape Hybrid: No SUV closely compares to the Escape Hybrid in terms of fuel economy. The two-wheel-drive Escape Hybrid earns an estimate by the Environmental Protection Agency of 36 mpg in city driving and 31 mpg on the highway. While developing this SUV, Ford promised it would deliver performance comparable to a V-6-powered Escape but with the economy of a four-cylinder model. In fact, it does better. Operation of the hybrid powertrain is virtually transparent as it moves between battery and gasoline power, or a blend of both, according to driving conditions.

Hyundai Tucson: Since 2001, Hyundai has offered the compact Santa Fe SUV. The new Tucson gives the South Korean automaker a second entrant in the small SUV league. Six airbags, including side curtain-type devices, are installed. Tucsons can be equipped with four-cylinder or V-6 power, and antilock brakes are standard. In addition to fold-flat rear seats, the Tucson has a fold-down front passenger seat.

Jeep's redesigned Grand Cherokee can be equipped with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation.

Jeep's redesigned Grand Cherokee can be equipped with a 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 engine with fuel-saving cylinder deactivation.

Jeep Grand Cherokee: In its redesigned form, the largest and most plush Jeep model is available with a Multi-Displacement System Hemi V-8 engine that generates an estimated 330 horsepower and approximately 375 pounds-feet of torque. Four of the cylinders are deactivated when they're not needed. A 3.7-liter V-6 is newly available. Three four-wheel-drive systems are offered. A Dynamic Handling System is available with Hemi-equipped models, and Electronic Stability Program is also offered.

Jeep Liberty (diesel): Freshened for 2005, the Liberty is the second SUV with available diesel power. The 2005 Liberty can be equipped with a 2.8-liter turbo-diesel four-cylinder that produces 160 hp and 295 pounds-feet of torque.

Kia Sportage: Kia's forthcoming companion to the Sorento will be available early in 2005 and takes its name from an SUV that figured in the company's early history in the United States. The Sportage is compact in size though longer in wheelbase than its Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 rivals. Six airbags, including side curtain-type airbags, are installed. It will be offered with four-cylinder power or a 2.7-liter V-6.

Land Rover LR3: Serving as a replacement for the company's midsize Discovery, the LR3 is built on an all-new platform and uses a Jaguar-derived 300-hp, 4.4-liter V-8, which is tailored for offroad driving. New Terrain Response technology has five settings that permit operation from on-road to extreme offroad conditions. Adaptive headlights can swivel to illuminate a curve. A new independent air-spring suspension replaces the Discovery's solid-axle layout.

2006 Lexus RX 400h: Toyota's luxury division will soon issue its first hybrid-powered model in the form of the RX 400h. Similar to Lexus' gasoline-powered RX 330 in appearance and basic structure, the RX 400h has a gasoline/electric powertrain that generates about 270 hp — that's nearly 20 percent more power than the RX 330 delivers. Lexus says the brushed-aluminum trim gives the interior a high-tech image.

The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder resembles its larger sibling, the Armada, and comes equipped with a new 4.0-liter V-6.

The 2005 Nissan Pathfinder resembles its larger sibling, the Armada, and comes equipped with a new 4.0-liter V-6.

Nissan Pathfinder: The Pathfinder has been redesigned for 2005 and is larger than its predecessor. Rather than five-passenger capacity, the Pathfinder now holds seven people on three rows of seats. Side curtain-type airbags that protect outboard occupants in all three rows are available. A new 4.0-liter V-6 engine works with a five-speed-automatic transmission. DVD-based entertainment and navigation systems are available. In its new persona, the Pathfinder demonstrates exceptional ability to wind through challenging offroad trails.

2006 Toyota Highlander Hybrid: It won't be on sale until 2005, but Toyota's next hybrid entrant features a gasoline/electric powertrain with an output of about 270 hp and promises a 600-mile range. Acceleration from zero to 60 mph should take no more than 8 seconds. The Highlander Hybrid uses a larger-capacity battery than Toyota's Prius hybrid hatchback, and its electric motor provides double the power. All-wheel-drive versions get rear electric motors.

Though they don't make the list, four additional SUVs deserve to be mentioned:

Chevrolet Equinox: On the grounds that it puts Chevrolet into a new category, the midsize Equinox warrants a mention. Some of its features, including flexible seating configurations and an ample options list, are appealing. But on the whole, the Equinox doesn't appear to stand tall in assembly quality and falls short in handling and noise levels.

By folding forward the midgate in the Hummer H2 SUT, the rear cargo bed increases to 4 feet by 6 feet.

By folding forward the midgate in the Hummer H2 SUT, the rear cargo bed increases to 4 feet by 6 feet.

Hummer H2 SUT: Although the smaller Hummer isn't changing too much for 2005, a new version with a pickup bed tacked onto the rear of the vehicle in place of the cargo area is available. GM also continues to offer the Chevrolet Avalanche and Cadillac Escalade EXT in this SUV/pickup body style.

Nissan Xterra: Dubbed all-new for 2005, the Xterra doesn't appear to be changing as much as some redesigned SUVs. Its new engine has more power and torque than the engines in the previous Xterra, and the new roof rack includes a latchable lid. Still, this is an important vehicle for the youth market and is almost worthy of note on that ground alone. Xterras are built on a modified truck platform.

Volkswagen Touareg V-10 TDI: This list wouldn't be complete without one SUV that debuted as a late 2004 model: the Volkswagen Touareg V-10 TDI. Fitted with a 5.0-liter V-10 diesel engine that produces 310 hp and a walloping 553 pounds-feet of torque, this hard-stomping offshoot of the Touareg accelerates like a lively sport sedan rather than an SUV.

Several brand-new models don't quite make the cut for one reason or another. The 2005 Mercury Mariner, for instance, is essentially a cousin to the Ford Escape, which has been around since 2001. While the new Saab 9-7X promises several distinct features of its own, it sits on the same foundation as the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy.

Posted on 11/3/04