From economical compacts like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 to roomy family haulers, such as the Chevrolet Traverse and Dodge Durango, crossover SUVs encompass a spectrum of sizes, capabilities, features, and prices. Our Best Crossover SUVs of 2014 surveys the field for standouts in a variety of categories. We pick the best overall crossover, even suggest the best for families or city dwellers, for off-roading, towing and more. Starting prices range from $24,840 for the budget-friendly Mazda CX-5 to $142,995 for the opulent, 510-horsepower Land Rover Range Rover. (Base prices we list don’t include options but do include manufacturer destination fees, which average around $800.)
What exactly is a crossover SUV? When sport-utility vehicles entered the automotive mainstream in the early 1990s, most used truck-type body-on-frame construction. In the years since, there’s been a dramatic shift in designs and buyer preferences to the unibody crossover in which body and frame are a single structure, as in most automobiles. Today, only a handful of SUVs employ truck-type builds. The rest are crossovers. They’re lighter than a comparably sized body-on-frame SUV, ride and handle better, and usually have higher fuel economy and more passenger and cargo room.
With a couple exceptions, crossovers are based on a front-wheel-drive design. That puts the weight of the engine over the tires that also propel the vehicle. Front-drive tends to provide better traction than rear-wheel drive on wet and snowy roads. Most crossovers, though, are sold with all-wheel drive. AWD provides an extra measure of traction by automatically shuffling power to the rear tires if sensors detect the fronts are slipping. Modern AWD systems continue to get lighter, smaller, and more sophisticated, minimizing their impact on fuel economy. A body-on-frame SUV’s trump card is towing capability, but most midsize unibody crossovers can comfortably pull 3,500-5,000 pounds.
The Best Overall Crossover SUV of 2014 is the…
2014 Subaru Forester
Base-price range: $22,820-$33,820
Redesigned for the 2014 model year, the Subaru Forester is a hot commodity at the moment. Dealers can’t keep them in stock, and it’s not hard to see why. Forester deftly blends a compact-class exterior size, handling, and sticker price with midsize-class passenger and cargo room, and a luxury-class feature set. This is one of the most fuel-efficient crossovers you can buy, too, with EPA estimated ratings of 24-27 mpg city/highway combined. This feat is especially impressive considering the fact that all Forester models include AWD. The standard 170-horsepower 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine delivers adequate power. You can pair it with a six-speed manual or a continuously variable transmission (CVT) that behaves like a conventional automatic. Those wanting more power can opt for the available 250-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder motor, which mates exclusively with the CVT. This engine is much stronger, but it tacks on quite a bit to the sticker price, and it requires expensive premium-grade gasoline. Both engines are a bit lacking in terms of noise suppression and overall refinement. Regardless of which one you choose, Forester is a highly maneuverable crossover, with fine body control in corners and well balanced steering. There’s room aplenty for drivers and passengers. Its maximum cargo capacity of 74.7 cubic feet rivals many midsize-class crossovers. On the luxury end of things, higher end Forester models offer leather upholstery, a navigation system, and Subaru’s EyeSight camera system, which integrates adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane-departure warning. With many virtues and few vices, the 2014 Subaru Forester is an easy choice for Best Overall Crossover of 2014. Just don’t expect to get much money off the sticker price since demand continues to outstrip supply.