Return with us now to the days of the original sport-utility vehicles. These are essentially trucks with passenger-wagon bodies attached to heavy-duty frames. That’s in contrast to crossover SUVs, in which body and frame is constructed as a single unit in the manner of a car. Body-on-frame SUVs can haul and tow more than crossovers and offer some rugged off-road durability advantages, too. On the downside, their strong separate frames and attendant beefy drivetrain parts make them heavier and less wieldy than crossovers, so they use more gas and don’t usually ride or handle as much like, well, cars. But for the most demanding work, there’s no substitute. Presented least- to most-expensive, here are the best model-year 2015 SUVs based on overall excellence and value for the money. (Base prices include manufacturer destination fees, which average about $900.) For our top crossovers and luxury crossovers, see 11 Best Crossovers for 2015 and 11 Best Luxury Crossover SUVs for 2015.
2015 Jeep Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited
Base-price range: $23,590 – $36,190
The least-expensive best SUV
has been an on- and off-road icon for more than a half century. This is the only traditional SUV
in North America available in a choice of both two- and four-door body styles. It comes as a convertible with a standard soft top or optional hard top. They are the same overall length, but the four-door Unlimited is 20 inches longer in wheelbase (distance between the front and rear axles). All Wranglers share the same engine, a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 that pairs with a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic transmission. Maximum towing capacity ranges from 2,000 to 3,500 pounds, just enough to bring along a couple of dirt bikes for even more off-road fun. EPA estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/highway combined for all models. The standard four-wheel-drive system is an old-school part-time setup that must be engaged manually via a console shifter; it cannot be left engaged on dry pavement. Under the floor pan, you can equip this SUV with some of the most heavy-duty off-road hardware available, including locking front and rear differentials and several different axle ratios that suit everything from gravel paths to the toughest mountain trails. These situations are where the 2015 Jeep
Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited feel most at home. They’re capable of taking you where most every other vehicle fears to tread.