2007 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Award: Testing

This Year, Everything Changed...

This Year, Everything Changed...

It Used to be easy to figure out what was a sport/utility vehicle: Whether it was as bare-bones rugged as a Jeep or dripping with high-tech luxury like a Range Rover, an SUV boasted the all-wheel drive and the ground clearance needed to take you places roads didn’t go. But as the largest group of contenders ever assembled for a Sport/Utility of the Year shootout–22 in all–gathered for evaluation at the Emergency Vehicle Operations Center driver training facility in San Bernardino, California, it became clear the segment has rapidly evolved into something less rigidly defined.

Only three of this year’s contenders–the new Jeep Wrangler, the Mercedes-Benz GL, and the Toyota FJ Cruiser–can be rightly regarded as bone-fide off-roaders. All the rest, even GM’s truck-tough GMT900s (Escalade, Yukon, Tahoe, Suburban), are clearly biased toward road duty. And some, like Ford‘s new Edge, Honda‘s new CR-V, and Suzuki’s new XL7, will almost certainly be popular as purely front-drive vehicles in states where snow isn’t a problem.

Should we be surprised? No. The reality is most customers find bold styling, a high seating position, and a multifunction interior far more compelling reasons to buy an SUV than an ability to tackle the Rubicon Trail. Few SUVs today deal with anything more challenging than winter snowstorms and the occasional gravel road. This year’s SUOTY field easily reflects these realities; today’s SUV is a vehicle defined by a whole different set of customer expectations.

Our SUOTY testing this year took this seismic shift into account. Although all the variants we tested featured all-wheel drive, we didn’t subject any of the contenders to a hard-core off-road course. Instead, we focused on things like on-road driveability and refinement, interior flexibility and functionality–things that are top of mind for consumers in the typical duty cycle of today’s SUV. We didn’t ignore off-road ability: All vehicles were broadly rated based on such fundamentals as approach and departure angles, breakover angles, and whether a low-range transmission was available. But rock-crawling wouldn’t decide the winner this year.

The judging began with a tech check and three days of track-testing at California Speedway: acceleration and braking, the 600-foot slalom, and our unique Motor Trend figure-eight test. The track-testing gave the eight judges solid baseline data to work with as the back-to-back driving evaluations got underway in scorching 106-degree heat at the 78-acre EVOC facility.

With so many vehicles in the field, the EVOC session was used to whittle the group down to a solid 10 contenders for the crown. Those vehicles the judges felt missed the mark in terms of the SUOTY criteria–superiority, significance, and value–were to be left behind once the team moved to a 25-mile loop near Thousand Oaks, where each judge would drive each vehicle over the same roads in real-world conditions. Deciding which vehicles to cut provoked lively discussions: Which of the impressively refined and well-finished GMT900s should go through? If the Edge made the cut, what about the more expensive Lincoln MKX? Did the Mitsubishi Outlander and Suzuki XL7 really stand a chance with the Hyundai Santa Fe in the top 10?

In the end, it all comes down to trusting the process. SUOTY is about spending the time to test, to analyze, to evaluate, and to think about how each vehicle rates against the criteria. It’s a long and expensive exercise, which is why other magazines don’t do it. But it works. Our winner this year is both accomplished and worthy. Again.

Sport/Utility of the Year isn’t a comparison test. It’s open only to all-new or substantially upgraded vehicles that have gone on sale in the 12 months from November 1 each year.

Each SUOTY contender is evaluated against three simple criteria:
1. Superiority. We look at engineering excellence, advancement in design, utilization of resources, and safety. Vehicle concept and execution are important, as are use or materials, packaging, dynamics, styling, and fuel consumption.

2. Significance. How does the vehicle do the job its maker intended it to do? This includes how it may impact or change its particular market segment, influence consumer perceptions, and transform product-development trends.

3. Value. How does each vehicle compare against its direct rivals? A vehicle with a low sticker price might not be as good a value as a more expensive vehicle that delivers outstanding performance, quality, and functionality.

Here’s a snapshot of our broadest field of Sport/Utility of the Year contestants ever.

Price range
$18,765 Jeep Wrangler X
$67,305 Cadillac Escalade

166-hp Honda CR-V
403-hp Cadillac Escalade

Curb weight*
3554-lb Honda CR-V
6270-lb Ford Expedition EL

Exterior size (LxWxH)
462-cu-ft Jeep Wrangler
795-cu-ft Lincoln Navigator L

Passenger space
98-cu-ft Toyota FJ Cruiser
168-cu-ft Lincoln Navigator L

Max cargo space
57-cu-ft Jeep Wrangler (2-dr)
131-cu-ft Ford Expedition EL

Towing capacity
1000-lb Jeep Wrangler
9700-lb GMC Yukon XL/Chevy Suburban

Acceleration (0-60/-mile)*
10.2/17.4 sec Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
6.4/15.0 sec GMC Yukon Denali

36.1 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
67.5 Audi Q7

Fuel economy (hwy)
18 mpg Ford Expedition/Lincoln Navigator‡
28 mpg Honda CR-V/Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl)

People-mPg (hwy)
76 p-mpg Jeep Wrangler (2-dr)
210 p-mpg Toyota RAV4 (4-cyl/7-pass) at max passenger capacity

* Test vehicles only (all others consider entire model ranges)
† Composite score incorporating braking, skidpad, slalom, and figure eight
‡ Note: Half-ton variants of full-size SUVs not rated

Neil Chirico
Road Test Editor

Allyson Harwood
Associate Editor

Ron Kiino
Senior Editor

Todd Lassa
Detroit Editor

Angus MacKenzie

Frank Markus
Technical Director

Matt Stone
Executive Editor

Mark Williams
Editor, Truck Trend

Personality-Transplant Hyde vanquishes Jekyll
By Frank Markus

With strong sales and a sterling quality rep in the bank, Acura is looking for street cred by infusing its mainstream products with more heart, soul, and verve. So the old minivan-based MDX has been revamped in the image of BMW‘s X5–for better and for worse.

First the good news: Acura’s new 3.7-liter, 300-horse V-6 delivers a better weight-to-power ratio than does BMW’s entry V-8 at a price that undercuts the six-cylinder Bimmer. By overdriving the outside rear wheel when powering out of corners, the Super-Handling AWD system mimics rear drive darned convincingly. Magneto-rheological fluid allows the shocks to vary damping rates widely within milliseconds to check untoward body motions when driving briskly. And longer, wider bodywork capped by a more swooping roofline backs up this athletic hardware with a sporting aesthetic.

Out in the real world, the MDX’s promise doesn’t entirely translate to reality. The 4643-pound truck launches gently, en route to a 7.5-second 0-to-60-mph time–0.3 second quicker than the X5 3.0, but six-tenths off the V-8 BMW’s pace. Its 129-foot stop from that speed was considerably longer than most X5s, Infiniti FXs, and other sporting ‘utes have managed. Even the slalom and figure-eight numbers fell short of the class average, at 60.3 mph, and 27.7 seconds at 0.61 g, respectively.

At least the MDX offers a third-row seat, right? Well, sort of. Most found the new way-back bench less accommodating than before. Ditto the middle row. Maybe the seat cushions are fatter, but rear-seat riders will feel more confined than in the minivan-y MDX. Finally, in “comfort” mode, the ride quality feels a busy and jiggly, yet wallowy on undulations. It’s downright harsh on potholes traversed in “sport” mode.

The MDX marks a significant move for Acura and delivers reasonable value, but it lacks the segment superiority required to grab the trophy here.

2007 Acura MDX
Base price range $40,665-$46,265
Price as tested $48,465 (Sport)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.7L/300-hp/275-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4643 lb (56/44%)
Wheelbase 108.3 in
Length x width x height 190.7 x 73.6 x 68.2 in
Max Cargo Capacity 83.5 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 5000 lb
0-60 mph 7.5 sec
Quarter mile 15.9 sec @ 87.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.82 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 60.3 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.7 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy Fuel Econ 17/22 mpg
Sum Up Newfound heart and soul may draw new customers to the brand, but risk turning away the faithful.
Bet You Didn’t Know The MDX’s chassis dynamics were tuned on Germany’s fabled Nuerburgring.

Springy romance can’t handle the bumpy ride.
By Todd Lassa

Piloting the Acura RDX is like driving a hatchback/sport sedan that’s 10 inches too tall. You’ll wonder why you’re not driving a real sport sedan.

With the RDX, Acura hopes to do what Hyundai does to Honda: Provide a more affordable alternative to the BMW X3, just as big brother MDX targets X5. The catch is that the X3 never won our calipers, either. Perhaps it’s just too hard to jack up a 3 Series and maintain its superb ride-and-handling balance, but both the RDX and X3 are too harsh. The good news is that its turbo four has much less lag than the Mazda CX-7’s turbo four. And like its big sibling MDX, the RDX was aggressive on our test course, with flat cornering and quick turn-in. The RDX is Acura’s stiffest model and makes the best, most logical use of Super-Handling All Wheel Drive. Steering is responsive and precise, with good feel.

This comes together on twisty on-road passages, but when the road is broken or rough, watch out. The RDX is busy on straight freeway pavement, too, broadcasting every imperfection. In other words, it’s better suited to Germany’s smoother, well-maintained roads. Fine for the X3, which was designed for that market, but the Acura isn’t sold there.

We have to play good critic/bad critic on the interior, too, which has many nice touches, like supportive seats and an abundance of storage space, plus a lockable glovebox and center console. But Acura, in its quest to inject emotion into its well-built entry luxury models, has gone overboard in the interior appointments, especially the big, chromed iDrive-like nav nob in the center of the dash.

The RDX is the first of a bevy of X3 competitors about to hit the market. Until fuel prices shot up, the compact luxury crossover segment has been more popular in Europe. The RDX is an entertaining, but flawed attempt to make that segment big here.

2007 Acura RDX
Base price range $33,910-$37,010
Price as tested $37,165
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/242-hp/260-lb-ft t’charged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb Weight (f/r dist) 3936 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase 104.3 in
Length x Width x Height 180.7 x 73.6 x 65.2 in
Max Cargo Capacity 60.6 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 1500 lb
0-60 mph 6.5 sec
Quarter mile 15.1 sec @ 90.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 134 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.82 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 63.2 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.5 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 19/24 mpg (est)
Sum Up Mimics BMW too closely, resulting in a harsh-riding tall sport sedan.
Bet You Didn’t Know Valve on turbo directs exhaust onto center of the turbine at low rpm for quick spool-up.

Nothing Wrong With Being Fast, Sexy, And Clever
By Matt Stone

Audi is one of the last automakers to jump into the sport/utility pool, but it did so with a splash. And it’s thrown water on many onlookers in the process. The judges’ notebooks were filled with superlatives for this one. “Wow! A completely different mode of surface transportation,” according to Markus. “A marvel of overengineering and technology,” says Lassa. Chirico summarizes: “Dynamically, the best of this year’s field. Function and sport, dressed in an attractive European suit.”

The Q7 shares its basic platform architecture with the Volkswagen Touareg and Porsche Cayenne, but is stretched to allow room for the ever more important third-row seat. Not everyone loves the exterior styling, but the interior is a typical Audi combination of high-quality materials, handsome design, a class-competitive safety package, and high creature-feature content. Audi’s MMI controller system and screen seem easier to learn and use than others like BMW’s. The adjustable suspension raises or lowers the ride height depending on the need and conditions. Third-row seat room isn’t as good as it is in the GL450 or the GM sport/utilities, but it’s handy to have for short trips and large enough for preteens. In terms of acceleration, braking, and handling tests, the Z7 ran away and hid from the rest of the field, large or small. The SUV version of Audi’s 4.2-liter V-8 is a stormer, no doubt aided by the close ratios of the new six-speed automatic transmission, although the latter’s shift phasing doesn’t always seem in communication with the engine. There are other powertrains to consider as well. A less costly V-6 is on its way. Soon after will come a hybrid powertrain–which will likely make the Q7 the first three-row seat SUV to offer one–and possibly a turbodiesel. It’s a handsome, luxurious–musclecar-like–sport/utility that was worth the wait.

2007 Audi Q7
Base price range $40,620-$50,620
Price As Tested $63,770 (4.2 quattro)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, AWD, 6-7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 4.2L/350-hp/325-lb-ft DOHC 32-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed auto
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5394 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 118.2 in
Length X Width X Height 200.2 x 78.1 x 68.4 in
Max Cargo Capacity 72.5 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 6600 lb
0-60 mph 7.5 sec
Quarter Mile 15.6 sec @ 90.2 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 118 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.84 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 62.1 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 27.3 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 14/19 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Two 24 GHz radar sensors monitor rear blind spots and light LEDs in the mirror housing when danger lurks there.
Sum Up minor shortcomings–but still a marvel of engineering and technology.

New Looks And Sophistication For Pop-Culture Icon
By Matt Stone

The first-generation Escalade was a quick response to the unanticipated success of the Lincoln Navigator. It was little more than a leather-wrapped, rebadged Tahoe. The max Caddy has since become a pop-culture hit in its own right, and with each successive redesign, it’s been further differentiated from its GM cousins. Besides an interior that goes way upscale compared with its predecessors, the biggest of all Caddies gets its own engine, a 6.2-liter, all-aluminum version of GM’s latest small-block V-8; the others can’t be had with this 403-horsepower variant.

Also in the “it’s about time” category is a new six-speed automatic transmission, although its manual mode, up- and downshift buttons located on the column take some getting used to. While its face is large and its chrome content high, this third-gen

Escalade has a certain elegance about it. “I’m not put off with the degree of flash. Makes sense, given the market it touches with this truck,” notes one staffer. It’s quick, too; at 6.5 seconds from 0 to 60, it toasts rivals like the Navigator. The judges were somewhat split on its overall ride and handling persona: “It feels a lot bigger than the Mercedes-Benz; too much body roll.” Another writes it “rides well and feels more sophisticated than its solid-axle truck underpinnings would have you believe.” The first- and second-row passengers fly first class all the way, but the third row, like many, is compromised. If you need more third-row and cargo room, consider the Escalade ESV, based on the longer-wheelbased Suburban. The Escalade has grown more sophisticated over the years, and so has its price: Our fully loaded tester topped the $65,000 mark, meaning it must now play against such other uppercrusters as the GL450, Q7, and base-level Range Rover. Some will prefer the even higher levels of polish served up by those European brands. The ‘Slade-loving faithful, however, could care less about the others and will be more than pleased with this new Cadillac.

2007 Cadillac Escalade
Base price range $55,120-$60,075
Price As Tested $67,305 (AWD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 6.2L/403-hp/417-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight (f/r dist) 5777 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 116.0 in
Length x width x height 202.5 x 79.0 x 74.3 in
Max Cargo Capacity 108.9-137.4 Cu Ft
Max Towing Capacity 7700-7800 lb
0-60 mph 6.5 sec
Quarter Mile 15.0 sec @ 93.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 135 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.73 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 57.2 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 28.8 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 13/19 mpg (est)
Bet You Didn’t Know The Escalade’s 22-inch wheels cost $2995, but are crash- and endurance-tested, unlike aftermarket dubs.
Sum Up Well differentiated from its corporate cousins and popular with its fans, the Escalade finds its groove.

Beauty Begets Beauty; The Beast Within Remains
By Frank Markus

If we offered a sub-trophy for “most improved,” the Suburban might not be going home empty-handed. Inside, outside, and underneath, this vehicle is utterly transformed. Best of all, none of the aesthetic and performance improvements has compromised the utility of this workhorse.

Outside, the big box has been smoothed, its mirrors resculpted, its windshield raked, and its chin-spoiler lowered, reducing aerodynamic drag by almost 12 percent. The look is slimming and classy. Inside, the fit and finish of the dash and cockpit materials exceeds expectations in this class and wouldn’t draw much criticism wearing a Euro brand name. We preferred this Chevy‘s fake wood over the fancier GMC Yukon Denali’s. The segment-first electric-folding middle-row seats are a welcome and thoughtful touch. And the Suburban still boasts class-leading people and cargo space–over 167 cubic feet for up to nine or 137 cubic feet of cargo space.

But what impresses is the way the 1500-series Suburban’s stronger, fully boxed frame feels. Traversing rough stretches, there’s far less body flex and fewer squeaks and rattles bouncing around inside this big box. By mounting a coil-over-shock front suspension with a wider track to that frame, lowering the center of gravity, and switching to rack-and-pinion steering, the 5877-pound bruiser corners with some authority. Our test unit had the 310-horse, 5.3-liter flex-fuel V-8 with cylinder deactivation, which delivered impressive fuel economy (15/20 mpg), but lackluster acceleration (16.1 seconds at 84.9 mph in the quarter mile). An all-aluminum, 366-horse, 6.0-liter should help, as will a six-speed automatic, expected to supplant the current four-speed within a year or so. Unfortunately, no diesel is planned.

With base pricing starting at $37,365, the Suburban earned solid value points, and most ranked it at the top among its jumbo peers. But strong value and superiority ratings couldn’t quite counteract what we see as a shrinking market significance for these leviathans.

2007 Chevrolet Suburban
Base price range $37,365-$41,110
Price As Tested $51,740 (1500 LT 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.3L/310-hp*/335-lb-ft* OHV V-8
Transmission 4-speed auto
Curb Weight (dist f/r) 5877 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 130.0 in
Length X Width X Height 222.4 x 79.1 x 76.8 in
Max Cargo Capacity 137.4 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 8000-9700 lb
0-60 mph 8.1 sec
Quarter Mile 16.1 sec @ 84.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 140 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.69 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 55.5 mph (avg)
MT Figure-Eight 30.2 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 15/20 mpg
Bet You Didn’t Know Once a pejorative for someone lacking manners, “suburban” entered the automotive lexicon in the 1920s.
Sum Up Most improved vehicle in this contest–without a compromise in utility.

It’s A Looker, All Right–But Where’s The Beef?
By Todd Lassa

Luxury SUV? Yes: GM hasn’t done much decontenting to differentiate its big Chevy from its big GMC or Caddy. Chevrolet claims to sell more $35K-plus vehicles in the U.S. than anybody, thanks mostly to this, the Suburban, and the Corvette. But there’s no Denali equivalent and nothing bigger than the 5.3-liter V-8 under the hood, and that’s largely why the GMC Yukon edges out the Tahoe in our competition.

Our tester’s LTZ package provides some of the Denali’s flashiness with a chromed grille mesh, chrome door handles and side mirrors, and a cover for the center console. Most editors prefer the Chevy’s clean lines with its modern, yet classic Bow-Tie grille, but the 320-horse 5.3-liter V-8 isn’t the 6.2. It’s efficient, registering 21 mpg on the EPA’s highway loop, thanks to seamless cylinder deactivation. With its biggest engine, our sporty black Tahoe matched only the longer, 400-pound-heavier Ford Expedition EL in its 0-to-60-mph time and was 0.1 second slower through the quarter mile. While the Ford has independent rear suspension and thus a power fold-flat third row, the Tahoe, like other GMT-900s, makes do with a live rear axle, removable (but heavy) third-row seats, and a power-folding second row.

Still, model-by-model, the new big GMs are better designed and more refined than their Ford and Lincoln counterparts, and the Tahoe is no exception. Yes, the third row is too tight and leaves too little luggage space for road trips. But that’s what the Suburban and Yukon XL are for.

Once capacity gears up, the Tahoe’s four-speed will be replaced with the new six-speed automatic, and the 6.0-liter version of the small-block will become the top engine. Application of the 2009 Silverado’s new DOHC turbodiesel V-8 would be nice, but that could be many years away, thanks to production limitations. As for a Tahoe SS, that’s up to GM’s Performance Group. The 403-horsepower Escalade may not be king of the T-900 hill forever.

2007 Chevrolet Tahoe
Base price range $52,730 (LTZ 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD or 4WD, 5-8-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.3L/320-hp*/340-lb-ft OHV V-8
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5850 lb (52/48%)
Wheelbase 116.0 in
Length x width x height 202.0 x 79.0 x 77.0 in
Max cargo capacity 108.9 cu ft
Max towing capacity 7599-8200 lb
0-60 mph 8.7 sec
Quarter mile 16.6 sec @ 82.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 142 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.69 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 56.5 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 30.2 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 15/21 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Lake Tahoe is the country’s second deepest (1645 feet), and it’s clear enough to see down 71 feet.
Sum Up The General’s most handsome new big SUV, without enthusiast’s engine.

It’s Time To Clean Up This Party–The Help Has Arrived
By Frank Markus

Chrysler‘s new Aspen is a living tribute to the time it takes automakers to bring a product to market. Clearly this one wasn’t conceived during the recent gas crunch and the SUV-market constriction it’s triggered. Even as Aspen production is ramping up to fill the dealer pipeline, the Delaware assembly plant that builds it and its twin, the Dodge Durango, is eliminating its second shift. Now Chrysler is arriving at this party in time to step over the passed-out revelers and smell the spilled beer, which augurs poorly for its score in the “significance” column in this contest.

That said, there are still plenty of Americans who are making payments on a big boat or camper and want a posh vehicle to tow it. For them, the Aspen offers most of the capability and creature comforts and all of the chrome jewelry of a Navigator or Escalade in a lighter, smaller, and considerably cheaper package. Curb weight undercuts the new GM and Ford full-size ‘utes by at least 300 pounds, which increases the Chrysler’s payload and towing accordingly–a rear-drive Hemi Aspen can tug 8950 pounds–meeting or exceeding the capacity of most of its competitors.

With only four gear ratios to the competitors’ six, our four-by-four Hemi couldn’t outrun GM’s big-motor ‘utes, but its 7.6-second 0-to-60 trounces the Expedition, Navigator, and sub-6.0-liter GM bigs. And cylinder-deactivation helps return 19-20 mpg in highway running. Big ‘utes aren’t meant for autocrossing, and this one leans and howls unhappily when hurried around turns. Its chassis-test numbers generally ranked above the Lincoln’s, below the Cadillac’s. Inside, most of the Aspen’s critical dimensions are close to those of the big competitors, except shoulder room, which is four to six inches tighter. Where the Aspen excels is in the value category, with a base price of just $31,490. Fully loaded at $45K, it undercuts Lincoln and Caddy base prices by $1500-$10,000. Too bad it doesn’t drive as well as or better than the new GM ‘utes.

2007 Chrysler Aspen
Base price range $31,490-$34,265
Price as tested $44,450 (Limited 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/AWD/4WD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.7L/335-hp/370-lb-ft OHV V-8
Transmission 5-speed auto
Curb weight (dist f/r) 5391 lb (54/46%)
Wheelbase 119.2 in
Length x width x height 200.8 x 76.0 x 74.3 in
Max Cargo Capacity 102.4 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 5000 lb
0-60 mph 7.6 sec
Quarter mile 15.8 sec @ 84.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 136 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.70 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 56.9 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 29.7 sec @ 0.52 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 14/19 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Most of the Aspen’s interior lighting is by cool, low-power, long-lasting white LEDs.
Sum Up This sport/utility can tow just about anything–but it’s not much of an everyday driver.

Did He-Man Forget To Take His Vitamins?
By Mark Williams

The term “platform sharing” is becoming a dirty word, and maybe it’s justified. There are too many examples today of badge engineering gone wrong, with two or three (or even four) different brand badges slapped on a “new” vehicle. But the 2007 Dodge Nitro isn’t one of these. Based off the Jeep Liberty, the Nitro adds four more inches of wheelbase, shares not a single piece of sheetmetal, moves the spare tire underneath the rear-cargo area, and gets a bigger engine. Likewise, the suspension is uniquely tuned and sports a wider track. Unlike the Jeep, the Dodge offers no low-range 4×4 gearing. Instead it offers two different all-wheel-drive options: one invisible, the other electronically selectable (with 2WD and AWD modes). All top-level R/T Nitros will get the full-time AWD system, which includes the all-new 4.0-liter, 24-valve V-6. This engine produces 255 horses and does an adequate job of getting most of it to the ground. The AWD system is smart, working well with the Mercedes-based Electronic Stability Control. Electronics aside, however, several testers noted the Nitro was slushy through the turns.

Think of the Dodge Nitro as a butched-up and beefed-up muscular compact SUV, inside and out. The wider stance and bigger wheelflares give the Nitro a substantial look from the side, and the bigger, flatter hood and traditional Ram‘s head crosshair grille makes it look more manly than the donor Liberty (admittedly not a difficult thing to accomplish). On the inside, unfortunately, handles, switches, and materials look more like they’ve been ordered out of the Dodge Neon catalog–some cost-cutting to be sure. Base-model Nitros will start at $26,970, with our R/T test unit pricing at $30,725.

The little Durango will help round out the Dodge portfolio, but there’s not enough here to move our significance meter much.

2007 Dodge Nitro
Base price range $26,970
Price as tested $30,725 (R/T 4×4)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass 4-door SUV
Engine 4.0L/255-hp/265-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve
Transmission 5-speed auto
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4327 lb (54/46%)
Wheelbase 108.8 in
Length x width x height 178.9 x 73.1 x 69.9 in
Max cargo capacity 65.2 cu ft
Max towing capacity 3500-5000 lb
0-60 mph 7.4 sec
Quarter mile 15.7 sec @ 85.7 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 125 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.69 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 56.7 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 29.7 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 17/21 mpg (est)
Bet you didn’t know Load ‘N Go floor slides out 18 inches to form a tailgate that can support two 200-pound pregame partiers.
SUM UP The little guy certainly looks tough, but doesn’t throw a hard enough punch.

Great Blue-Oval hope but edged out by competition
By Todd Lassa

The Edge made our first-round cut based on significance alone. It was expected to go far toward helping save Ford. It looks right; it’s not a stunning beauty, but a clean, nonretro design that could hit middle America’s buttons.

After driving it, we’re not optimistic about Ford’s future. Hyundai’s Santa Fe easily bests it for refinement and interior quality. The Edge comes only with two rows of seats while the Santa Fe offers three rows, as does future competition from Saturn and Chevy Lambda-based crossovers. The Ford’s rear-seat cushion is hard and low, providing headroom at the expense of comfort.

Test stats tell part of the sad story. The Edge is supposed to be a new-age crossover, with carlike performance and handling and SUV-like utility and versatility. With its optional Panoramic Vista Roof, it’s just 113 pounds shy of a five-seat V-6 Explorer 4×4’s curb weight. Expected highway fuel economy is just two mpg better than a Chevy Suburban with a variable displacement V-8, and its slalom, skidpad, and figure-eight numbers are worse than the GMC Yukon Denali’s. The on-road driving experience is no day at the beach, either. The new 3.5-liter V-6 is thrashy under full throttle, falling short of the power and refinement standards of Nissan‘s VQ35 or GM’s DOHC 3.6. The six-speed automatic’s shift programming has to hunt for the right gear, and you can’t do it yourself, as the shifter has only two forward positions. If you try to corner with just a bit of elan, the Roll Stability Control annoyingly kicks in, grinding the Edge to a halt mid-turn.

The car is comfortable on freeways, but too mushy and vague anywhere else. “Only the handling is retro,” tech director Frank Markus concludes.

Styling and the lure of the new may move a few of these in its first few months, but sad to say, the Edge doesn’t have what it takes to help solve Ford’s problems.

2007 Ford Edge
Base price range $25,500-$28,000 (est)
Price as tested $31,000 (est, SEL AWD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD or AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/265-hp*/250-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4502 lb (58/42%)
Wheelbase 111.2 in
Length x width x height 185.7 x 75.8 x 67.2 in
Max cargo capacity 69.6 cu ft
Max towing capacity 3500 lb
0-60 mph 8.0 sec
Quarter mile 16.2 sec @ 85.8 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 142 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.72 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 55.7 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 29.3 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18/23 mpg (est)
Bet You Didn’t Know Shares its six-speed auto with new Saturn; developed with GM, Ford tuned and manufactures it separately.
Sum up The Last thing Ford needs is a crossover with The dynamics of an Explorer.

EL Kabong delivers heavyweight punch
Mark Williams

By every indication, you’d think the folks at Ford would be kicking themselves. First, fuel prices begin to climb; next, the introduction of the new GMT900 Chevy Tahoe gets a ton of media attention; then the bottom falls out of the full-size SUV market. But if Ford is upset, it’s not showing it.

The fourth-generation Ford Expedition receives significant interior, powertrain, and chassis upgrades. And if that’s not enough, a longer-wheelbase version called the Expedition EL, replaces the love-to-hate, two-years-dead behemoth Ford Excursion. The extra-large Expedition gets the same frame stiffening and rear-suspension upgrades as the standard version, but has 12 extra inches of wheelbase and 22 more cubic feet of cargo capacity over the standard Expedition. This new Expedition receives an outer-skin redesign, a strong, stiffer hydroformed frame, a more composed five-link rear suspension, and a thoroughly reworked interior gauge and dash layout.

Judges noted a more composed and stable feel to the Expedition EL ride when pushed, especially for something of this size and weight (not surprisingly, the biggest and heaviest SUV of our test). Ford remains committed to having the largest IRS vehicle around to allow for a fully electric fold-flat third-row seat (which its GM counterpart still requires heavy lifting to insert or remove). All Expeditions get the 24-valve, 5.4-liter Triton V-8, which seems just adequate for a vehicle of this size; however, the all-new six-speed auto transmission does make use of every horsepower. Not only do the extra gears allow for a strong takeoffs, but the tall overdrive aids in decent fuel mileage–during some highway stretches, we got 16 mpg.

Still, the SUV market is heading in a different direction, and there’s only so much you can do with a vehicle of this size and weight. Sure, there’s value here–you just have to look past the size and big nose.

2007 Ford Expedition
Base Price Range $29,175-$45,575
As-Tested Price $50,200 (EL LTD 4WD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, 4WD, 8-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 5.4L/300-hp/365-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight, F/R dist 6270 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 131.0 in
Length X Width X Height 221.3 x 91.8 x 78.3 in
Max Cargo Capacity 130.8 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 8750 lb
0-60 MPH 8.7 sec
Quarter Mile 16.5 sec @ 83.5 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 140 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.69 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 55.1 mph (avg)
Mt Figure Eight 30.6 sec @ 0.50 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy 13/19
Bet you didn’t know Simple, clever cargo-area shelf can double as a grocery-bag divider for the rear area.
Sum Up The best of the biggest, with a big nose–Ford is throwing its hardest punch to date.

Bargain Hunters And Speed Demons May Now Rejoice
By Allyson Harwood

Every vehicle in General Motors’s full-size corral benefits from a new platform and a thorough redesign for 2007. GMC’s Yukon/Denali and Yukon XL/Denali, however, may prove to offer the best performance and perhaps the best value for the money. With the availability of a detuned version of the Escalade’s 6.2-liter V-8 (the only other non-Cadillac to get that engine), smart shoppers can put together a vehicle with nearly everything an Escalade has to offer for a fraction of the price.

Thanks to a lower curb weight, the Yukon Denali was a comparable performer at the track. Despite the Escalade’s 23-horsepower advantage, the 6.2-liter GMC was 0.1 second faster to 60 mph and nipped at the Escalade’s heels in the quarter mile at only 0.3 mph lower speed (both finished the stretch in 15 seconds flat, the Escalade at 93.7, the Yukon Denali at 93.4 mph).

The Yukon is the sprightliest of GM’s full-size SUVs, feeling lighter on its feet than some smaller sport/utilities on twisty canyon roads. But the six-speed could’ve used intelligent shifting–it would’ve been nice had it held gears longer with spirited driving. That gripe aside, it handles better than it should for its size and darts in and out of curves with the speed and agility of a linebacker. The Yukon Denali also shines on the freeway. Its ride is comfortable and quiet, and there are few if any squeaks. The chassis is considerably stiffer than the previous model’s and does a terrific job of absorbing bumps and road abnormalities. The cabin is a pleasant place to spend time, too–materials are soft to the touch (if a bit gaudy), there’s decent legroom in all three rows, and controls are within easy reach of the driver. It also offers huge storage bins and plenty of cargo capacity. A rocketship that can hold a basketball team, with Escalade luxury and power for nearly $14,000 less, this may be the best GMT900 SUV yet.

2007 GMC Yukon Denali
Base Price Range $34,690-$50,490
As-Tested Price $55,905 (Yukon Denali AWD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 6.2L/380-hp*/417-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight, F/R dist 5715 lb (50/50%)
Wheelbase 116.0 in
Length X Width X Height 202.0 x 79.0 x 75.9 in
Max Cargo Capacity 108.9 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 7900 lb
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec
Quarter Mile 15.0 sec @ 93.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 147 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.70 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 56.7 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.9 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
Epa City/Hwy Fuel Economy 13/19 mpg
Bet You Didn’t Know The drive from Yukon (Territory, Canada) to Denali (National Park, Alaska) is about 412 miles.
Sum Up Excellent value, with enough power and room to carry a basketball team.

Old Favorite Gains Utility, Loses Picnic Table
By Allyson Harwood

If there weren’t a single badge in the CR-V’s cabin, you’d still know who makes this SUV. The five-passenger layout has been completely redesigned for the 2007 model year, but the interior is inherently Honda: cool, modern design, tight gaps and seams, excellent build quality, simple, elegant layout. For the first time, this sport/utility (now much closer to the crossover side of the spectrum) also comes with an optional navigation system.

Despite the exterior’s extreme visual makeover, mechanical changes are conservative. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine gained 10 horsepower and one pound-foot of torque and is now backed solely by a five-speed automatic–so long, manual transmission. Real-Time 4-Wheel Drive, essentially an all-wheel-drive system, provides all-season traction. Emissions and fuel economy have improved: The LEV II ULEV Honda is rated at 22-23 mpg city and 28-30 highway. Dimensions changed little, but the spare tire is relocated underneath, which shortens the overall length by three inches. Also affecting the rear end is a new overhead cargo door, replacing the old side-hinge unit, and the picnic table, once a standard feature of the cargo area, is gone.

On the road, the new CR-V is quiet, handles well, and is tossable in turns, but left everyone wanting more off the line. There was only one vehicle slower than the CR-V in this group, and that was the old-school live-axle Wrangler. The Honda’s 9.9-second run to 60 was a mere 0.1 second faster than the previous generation’s, it finished the quarter mile only a hair faster than the old CR-V and stopped from 60 in a foot shorter distance.

Should Honda have given the new CR-V more oomph to stay competitive with the likes of the V-6-powered RAV4, or did it make the sage move by keeping it a value-minded crossover with excellent fuel economy? The CR-V has matured, and its personality has changed, but it’ll be up to Honda fans to decide whether that’s a good thing.


2007 Honda CR-V
Base Price Range $21,500-$26,250 (est)
As-Tested Price $26,750 (est, EX-L AWD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.4L/166-hp/161-lb-ft DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb Weight, F/R dist 3554 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase 103.1 in
Length X Width X Height 178.0 x 71.6 x 66.1 in
Max Cargo Capacity 72.9 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 1500 lb
0-60 MPH 9.9 sec
Quarter Mile 17.5 Sec @ 78.5 Mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 129 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.76 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 62.0 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 29.5 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy 22/28 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Replacing the old picnic-table cargo floor is a less cool folding shelf that’s plastic on one side for messy loads.
Sum Up Typical Honda quality inside and out–just lacks in the “oomph” department.

New Kid On The Block Can’t Be Kicked Around Any More
By Mark Williams

Once, being the new Korean automaker on the block meant nobody took you seriously and you didn’t get much respect. That should change in the near future. In fact, with the last few products we’ve seen–actually the last few “of the Year” competitions–we’re impressed by how far Hyundai has come. Case in point: the Santa Fe. When the first Santa Fe came out, it was a quirky-looking new kid with an off-putting interior. With the compact and midsize segments more competitive than ever, the new Santa Fe has upped the ante. Based off the car platform of last year’s new Sonata (a car we liked), the Santa Fe offers a soft and cushy ride, bordering on luxury soft. Several judges enjoyed the compliant ride, while a few others found it sloppy during enthusiastic driving on our test track. Additionally, the new 3.3-liter all-aluminum 24-valve V-6 and responsive five-speed manumatic are a vast improvement over the twitchy and unresponsive characteristics of the previous version. While it might sound surprising, more than a few judges felt the chassis and powertrain could support a differently tuned sport package. We can only dream. Of note, when compared with the top players in the field (RAV4 and CR-V), the Santa Fe matches up close or as good in almost every category, save one: price.

Our Hyundai Santa Fe, featuring standard ESP and six airbags as well as an optional third-row seat, gets a strong reading on the bang-for-your-buck meter. Offered in three trim levels, the new Santa Fe starts just over $20,000, which includes the base all-aluminum 2.7-liter V-6 and a vastly improved interior. Gauges are more readable, material choices are superior, A/C and radio controls are more integrated into the waterfall center stack, and larger storage pockets are all over the interior. Although not the fastest, strongest, or biggest SUV of our test, the Santa Fe did everything well. In the end, however, as respectable as it is, just keeping up isn’t good enough.

2007 Hyundai Santa Fe
Base Price Range $21,595-$28,595
Price As Tested $28,690 (Limited AWD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, AWD, 5-7-pass, 5-door SUV
Engine 3.3L/242-hp/226-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed auto
Curb Weight (f/r dist) 4214 lb (59/41%)
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Length X Width X Height 184.1 x 74.4 x 67.9 in
Max Towing Capacity 3500 lb
Max Cargo Capacity 78.2 cu ft
0-60 mph 8.5 sec
Quarter Mile 16.6 Sec @ 84.3 Mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 129 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 60.3 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 29.1 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
Epa City/Hwy Fuel Econ 19/24 mpg (est)
Bet you didn’t know Hyundai claims the new Santa Fe’s body structure is 59 percent more rigid than the Toyota Highlander’s.
Sum Up Another leap for Hyundai in quality and design–does just about everything well.

What’s Old Is New Again, But Still Looks Old.
By Mark Williams

Risk levels have been on red alert for the redesigned Wrangler, which is the Jeep brand’s central icon. Fortunately, nobody knows this better than the Jeep engineers. The two-door model has a new frame, but retains the traditional coil-spring/live-axle front and rear suspension. Although riding on a 2.5-inch-longer wheelbase and a five-inch-longer track, the Wrangler’s notable improvements are to the previously Spartan interior comforts. The biggest news (literally), however, is the addition of the new four-door version named the Wrangler Unlimited. Offering the same trim levels as the two door (X, Sahara, and Rubicon), the Unlimited comes in either two- or four-wheel drive (two-door models are offered only in 4×4 now) with 10 extra inches of wheelbase, most of which translates to six more inches of rear-seat legroom. Likewise, all Wranglers use Chrysler’s 3.8-liter overhead-valve V-6 that delivers more horsepower and better fuel economy than the stout 4.0-liter I-6 it replaces. Although several test drivers noted decent interior noise levels, more than a few thought the smaller V-6 felt much smaller and the standard four-speed auto seemed geared for fuel economy. On the highway, the coil springs and monotube shocks had trouble keeping the vehicle on track, and although the steering is significantly improved, it does have a numb spot on center that allows the vehicle to wander in lanes. Still, to its credit, the Jeep Wrangler is getting closer to perfection with each generation, without much visual change.

Two-door models start at $18,765, stretching up to $26,750 for the Rubicon; 2WD four-door models start at $20,410, with 4×4 models starting at $22,410. Look for fully loaded four-door models to reach mid- to high $20s. We respect that Jeep engineers worked hard to keep the new Wrangler (two- and four-door models) such a hard-core trail machine, but to reach the top of our SUOTY hill, you need more than stout gears and big tires.

2007 Jeep Wrangler
Base Price Range $18,765-$28,895
Price As Tested $31,075 (est, Unlimited Sahara 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 5-pass 4-door SUV
Engine 3.8L/202-hp/237-lb-ft OHV 12-valve V-6
Transmission 4-speed automatic
Curb Weight (f/r dist) 4503 lb (55/45%)
Wheelbase 116.0 in
Length X Width X Height 173.4 x 73.9 x 70.9 in
Max cargo capacity 63.3-86.8 cu ft
Max towing capacity 1000-3500 lb
0-60 mph 10.2 sec
Quarter mile 17.4 sec @ 77.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 150 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.67 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 56.2 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 30.3 sec @ 0.49 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 16/19 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Undo myriad latches, screws, and nuts to remove doors, roof, and windshield–feel wind from all directions.
Sum Up Plenty of changes inside and out, but still what it ought to be.

O, Continental, Where Art Thou?
By Allyson Harwood

The most anticipated duo of the group was the Ford Edge and Lincoln MKX. The drapes were taken off both, revealing good-looking crossovers–a breath of fresh air from Ford. And at first glance, the MKX had all the right elements. It’s powered by a capable 265-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, an engine we hadn’t yet seen in a Ford product. Backing that six is a six-speed automatic transmission and a four-link independent suspension. But the execution wasn’t what we’d hoped.

This is not a performance vehicle. Zero to 60 came in 7.9 seconds, and the MKX completed the quarter mile in 16.1 at 85.6 mph, both midpack numbers. It became evident that Advance Trac with Roll Stability Control was a force to be reckoned with. It couldn’t be shut off, and the nanny was overly intrusive in turns. The transmission has no manumatic mode, merely Drive, O/D Off, and Low. It just doesn’t let you get to all six gears. The suspension felt floaty and wallowy, but had a slightly firmer ride, as evidenced by the MKX’s 1.2-mph-faster slalom time than the Edge’s. Brake feel was also disappointing, and its 144-foot stopping distance ranked as one of the worst in the test.

The strongest thing the Lincoln has going for it is its cabin. Leather is soft and the color scheme separates it from the Ford. Gauges are retro-styled, which add some charm. However, the rear seats aren’t comfortable enough to give adults a pleasant place to sit over the long haul. There isn’t enough lateral support, and the cushions are too hard and flat.

The 14-speaker THX surround-sound system is certainly something worth listening to, though a Lincoln should represent more than just an option package above Ford. It has eye-catching styling cues, but that’s not enough to reinvent Lincoln. This could’ve been a crossover with power and attitude; instead, it’s a highway cruiser and a near miss.

2007 Lincoln MKX
Base Price Range $30,100-$40,285 (est)
As-Tested Price $46,500 (est, AWD)
Vehicle Layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/265-hp*/250-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight, F/R DIST 4631 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase 111.2 In
Length X Width X Height 186.5 x 75.8 x 69.0 in
Max Cargo Capacity 68.7 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 3500 lb
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec
Quarter Mile 16.1 sec @ 85.6 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 144 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.72 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 56.9 mph (avg)
MT Figure Eight 29.1 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Economy 20/27 mpg (est)
Bet You Didn’t Know Interior is Lincoln’s quietest yet–enjoy optional 14-speaker THX II-Certified surround-sound system!
Sum Up A really cool sound system doesn’t make up for sub-par performance on the road.

Luxury Ride Cleans Up Its Act–Gains A Few Excess Pounds
by Mark Williams

At first glance, the 2007 Lincoln Navigator looks like a clever exercise in “regifting”–same old fruitcake with a new bow. But a closer look exposes some solid changes. Lincoln reshaped the face of the new Navigator, which benefits from all the current upgrades to the new Ford Expedition, to be more expressive and distinctive. Unfortunately, the front end is more like a “Chrome-Gone-Wild” video, with a fencelike grille and a chrome unibrow between two flattened HID headlights. Several judges couldn’t help thinking of the cleaner lines and more muscular front end of its direct competitor. Inside, however, shows a much clearer vision of what Lincoln luxury is all about. Rave reviews went to the retro-rectangular gauge cluster, waterfall-smooth center stack, and butter-soft leather seats. In addition, more shouts for the all-new six-speed transmission. Cadillac also has a six-speed, but it’s mated with a larger 6.2-liter V-8–and 100 more horsepower.

The biggest news, however, is the upgraded frame and all-new five-link rear suspension, the latter of which does a nice job of keeping the back end composed. In addition, the independent rearend allows Lincoln to keep the electric one-touch fold-flat third-row seat, a huge selling point in the Luxo Barge Wars. The Navigator offers three rows of head airbags standard as well as seat-mounted side airbags and knee bolsters for front passengers. All-wheel drive AdvanceTrac with Roll Stability Control also is standard, with 20-inch chrome-clad aluminum wheels an option. Base Navigators start a tick under $51,000, with our fully loaded test unit clocking in at $59,210. Of special note for those who want something heavier and longer, the Navigator L will compete directly with Cadillac’s Escalade ESV.

In the end, while the six-speed helps to more efficiently utilize the 300 horses of the 24-valve 5.4-liter Triton motor (it even gets seven-percent-better fuel economy than the 2006 model), the Navigator suffers from its enormous size and weight.

2007 Lincoln Navigator
Base Price Range $46,575-$55,850
Price as tested $59,210 (4WD Ultimate)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 6-pass 4-door SUV
Engine 5.4L/300-hp/365-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-8
Transmission 6-speed auto
Curb weight (f/r dist) 5937 lb (51/49%)
Wheelbase 119.0 in
Length x width x height 208.4 x 78.8 x 78.3 in
Max cargo capacity 103.5-128.2 cu ft
Max towing capacity 8475-8950 lb
0-60 mph 8.4 sec
Quarter mile 16.2 sec @ 84.9 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 143 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.69 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 55.8 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 30.7 sec @ 0.50 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 15/20 mpg (est)
Bet you didn’t know Dark Ebony or Anigre wood trim is book-matched and laser-cut, just like the veneers in a Bentley or Jag.
Sum Up Major news is all-new LWB version, but changes produce minor rewards.

Cool Looks And Attitude–Just Don’t Take It Camping
By Matt Stone

Traditional sport/utilities usually have (at least) two things in common: blocky styling and a torquey, low-revving powerplant. Mazda’s first crossover has none of the above, combining a dynamic, brand-specific look with a performance-minded turbocharged engine. The CX-7’s premise is that you shouldn’t have to give up design and driving fun in the name of practicality. Although bits of its chassis architecture can be traced to various Mazda models, it is for all intent and purposes a stand-alone platform. It’s a two-row SUV (the larger CX-9, which comes to market later this year, covers those with the need for a third row of seating) and can be had in front-drive form or with Mazda’s Active Torque Split all-wheel-drive system.

The only engine offered is a 244-horse, 2.3-liter turbo four that shares more than a little with the new Mazdaspeed3, backed by a category-leading six-speed automatic trans. “It takes a lot to spool up the turbo, but once underway, it’s rather a blast to drive,” says Detroit editor Lassa. Several editors commented on the turbo lag, and we wonder how the CX-7 will pull steep mountain climbs with five passengers and a full load of cargo aboard. As you’d expect from the outfit that brings us the RX-8 and MX-5 Miata, the “steering has a nice natural feel with good linearity. Excellent brake feel, too; easy to modulate” according to senior editor Kiino. It’s a performer for sure, although the V-6-powered RAV4 and the also-turbocharged Acura RDX are a pinch quicker yet.

Inside, you’ll find a fresh, modern cabin; the look is attractive, and the materials used are of high quality. There are plenty of creature features, too, including a voice-activated navigation system, keyless remote starting, and numerous audio system options. The Mazda’s cargo capacity is about the same as the Acura’s, although both are less commodious than the more upright Toyota RAV4.

2007 Mazda CX-7
Base Price Range $24,345-$28,595
Price as tested $33,280 (Grand Touring AWD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 2.3L/244-hp/258-lb-ft t’charged DOHC 16-valve I-4
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 3908 lb (58/42%)
Wheelbase 108.3 in
Length x width x height 184.0 x 73.7 x 64.8 in
Max cargo capacity 58.6 cu ft
Max towing capacity 2000 lb
0-60 mph 7.8 sec
Quarter mile 15.9 sec @ 84.8 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 119 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.79 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 63.1 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 28.0 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ 18/24 mpg
Bet you didn’t know The CX-7’s 66-degree windshield angle is the most steeply raked in the SUV segment.
Sum up Consider the CX-7 if the “sport” side of the SUV equation is what’s most important to you.

Sure It’s Handsome, But Can It Rescue Mitsubishi?
By Ron Kiino

Saviors never have it easy. Case in point: The all-new Outlander, a small sport/utility from Mitsubishi that, like it or not, is burdened with the lead role in a campaign to save a brand that sells roughly as many vehicles in one month as Toyota sells Camrys in 10 days. Suffice it to say the Outlander and its upcoming stablemates are faced with a tough road ahead. Now in its second generation, the Outlander is based upon Mitsubishi’s new C-segment platform, which also will underpin the next-generation Lancer as well as the rally-tough Lancer Evolution X.

While some editors found the new platform robust enough, others felt it paled to a few in its class, e.g., the RAV4 and CR-V. Ditto for the powertrain–a 3.0-liter, 220-horse V-6 and a six-speed automatic–which most staffers found competent yet underwhelming. Its lukewarm 0-to-60-mph time of 8.1 seconds and quarter-mile jaunt of 16.4 seconds at 86.2 mph considerably trail the RAV4’s. Other nits: power steering that many judges felt needed its power recalibrated and an ultracozy available third row that some thought wasn’t even worth the tooling costs. On the bright side, the Outlander does have a lot going for it; striking sheetmetal, competitive pricing, and a bevy of features either unique or rare in its segment–Xenon headlamps, 18-inch alloy wheels, an aluminum roof, a 650-watt Rockford-Fosgate sound system, DVD rear-seat entertainment, a 30-gig hard-drive-based navigation system, a Bluetooth hands-free interface, and a FAST-Key system that allows the driver to unlock the vehicle while carrying the remote in a pocket or a purse. In this tough, competitive field, however, those features, along with some less-than-stellar test numbers, weren’t enough to save this would-be savior.

2007 Mitsubishi Outlander
Base Price Range $21,000-$26,000 (est)
As-tested price $29,000 (est, XLS 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, FWD/AWD, 5- or 7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.0L/220-hp/204-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Curb Weight, f/r dist 3897 lb (55/45)
Wheelbase 105.1 in
Length x width x height 182.7 x 70.9 x 66.1 in
Max Cargo Capacity 72.6 cu ft
Max Towing Capacity 3500 lb
0-60 mph 8.1 sec
Quarter mile 16.4 sec @ 86.2 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.78 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 62.7 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 28.3 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel economy 19-20/26-27 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Evo-inspired aluminum roof panel saves 11 pounds and significantly lowers center of gravity.
Sum up Better the second time around, with some neat features, but far from the best.

Better Than The Sum Of Its (GM) Parts
By Matt Stone

Japanese brands are tossing a lot of product into the SUV and crossover market for 2007. This year’s contest contained entries from Toyota, Honda, Acura, Mitsubishi, and Mazda as well as this Suzuki. So the sea is rough and the winds are high. The new XL7 stems from the same underpinnings as the Chevy Equinox, Pontiac Torrent, and Saturn Vue. And it’s got at least two attributes the other brands would probably love to get their product-developmental hands on: optional three-row seating and GM’s 3.6-liter DOHC V-6 powerplant.

The XL7 is offered in three levels of trim, with standard front or optional all-wheel drive. Front and side curtain airbags, ABS, and a stability-control system are standard. A third-row seat, even a smallish, occasional one, seems to be of increasing importance in the marketplace. The XL7’s far-aft passenger compartment isn’t what you’d call spacious, but it’s good enough for post-baby-seat-size kids or occasional use. And when you fold all the seats down, there’s a useful cavern of cargo space back there.

The V-6, which has nothing in common with the droning, overhead-valve 3.4-liter engine in most of the other Theta-platformed sport/utes, hustles the XL7 from 0 to 60 mph in 7.7 seconds. So the Suzuki XL7’s acceleration and its ability to tug up a hill with a full load will seldom yield complaint. Its handling was much more midpack, with too much body roll, although acceptable ride quality. The exterior design neither excites nor infuriates, but several staffers commented on the overall budget plasticity of the interior. “Feels cheap inside,” quips one. “Interior quality, switchgear, everything.” If you need three rows of seats and want big power at a reasonable entry price, the XL7 warrants a look. But it’s a midpack entry in every other way.

2007 Suzuki XL7
Base Price Range $23,495-$29,549 (est)
Price as tested $29,284 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5/7-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.6L/252-hp/243-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (f/r dist) 4195 lb (57/43%)
Wheelbase 112.4 in
Length x width x height 197.2 x 72.2 x 68.9 in
Max Towing Capacity 3500 lb
Max Cargo Capacity N/A
0-60 mph 7.4 sec
Quarter Mile 16.0 sec @ 86.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 136 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.75 g (avg)
600-Foot Slalom 60.1 mph (avg)
MT Figure-Eight 28.9 sec @ 0.56 g (avg)
EPA City/Hwy Fuel Econ 17/23
Bet You Didn’t Know Seven-passenger XL7s get Nivomat load-leveling rear shocks that pump up when carrying heavy loads.
Sum Up An honest effort, but it takes more than this to steal sales from others.

Stuck Between A Rock And A Hard Place.
By Ron Kiino

Had the FJ Cruiser squeezed into last year’s contest, it just might’ve walked away with top honors. After all, it beat our 2006 Sport/Utility of the Year, the Nissan Xterra, in a comparison test, bettering it off-road while offering a superior on-road ride and nearly identical test numbers. But, as the saying goes, timing is everything. In this year’s field, the FJ certainly stood out–how can you overlook that flashy, retro styling?–its reasonable price and proficient combination of on- and off-road competence consistently placing it in the top three on most voters’ ballots.

But surrounded by this year’s more compelling contestants, it failed to convince a single editor that it deserved the number-one position, a spot that all but two voters reserved for our winner. Yet its strong showing proves there’s much to like about the FJ, namely a torquey 4.0-liter V-6, an intuitive five-speed automatic, and distinctive design inside and out. More impressive are the FJ’s abilities to mesh true rock-crawling capabilities–thanks to a solid rear axle, a locking rear differential, 9.6 inches of ground clearance, 32-inch tires, and an effective A-TRAC traction-control system–with on-road aptitude, highlighted by acceleration and braking figures that place it near the top of this year’s 22-SUV field. Unfortunately, the FJ had some shortcomings that hurt its chances: subpar rear-seat room and poor visibility courtesy of a near-vertical slatlike windshield and thick C-pillars that should be renamed “can’t-see pillars.”

But while the FJ failed to rise to the top of this field, it is undoubtedly tops in its segment. Compared with the all-new Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, also a retro-infused off-road aficionado, the FJ handily beats it in every performance test, easily outclasses it in subjective on-road criteria, and delivers at least 90 percent of its off-road prowess, all for similar money. The FJ is a winner, no doubt–just not the winner.

2007 Toyota FJ Cruiser
Base Price Range $22,515- $24,105
As-tested price $29,883 (4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, RWD/4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 4.0L/239-hp/278-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight, f/r dist 4345 lb (54/46%) 4WD AT
Wheelbase 105.9 in
Length x width x height 183.9 x 74.6 x 71.6 in
Max cargo capacity 66.8 cu ft
Max towing capacity 5000 lb
0-60 mph 7.3 sec
Quarter mile 15.7 sec @ 87.1 mph
Braking, 60-0 mph 128 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.70 g (avg)
600-foot slalom 55.7 mph (avg)
MT figure eight 29.4 sec @ 0.55 g (avg)
EPA city/hwy fuel economy 16-19/19-22
Bet you didn’t know A-TRAC allows enough wheelspin to claw down through loose surfaces in search of traction.
Sum up With faults a-few, the FJ Cruiser conquers everything from boulders to boulevards.

The Suv Of The People–Three Steps Forward, One Step Back
By Allyson Harwood

It should come as no surprise Toyota has made a vehicle that would be great for 90 percent of sport/utility buyers. The automaker is one of the best at using criticism to make improvements and has done it again with the all-new RAV4. The previous RAV took lumps for being too small, too slow, and too cute. It has grown, with a wheelbase that’s 6.7 inches longer, overall length that’s increased by 14.5 inches, and width and height that have been upped by three inches. Cargo and interior volumes have gone way up, too, and with the bigger package size comes something brand-new for this model: an optional third row.

Replacing the single four-cylinder is a choice of two powerplants: an efficient 166-horsepower four-cylinder with VVT-i (and more power than the previous I-4) and four-speed automatic, or, for those who crave something faster, a 269-horsepower, fire-breathing 3.5-liter V-6 with a five-speed auto. And breathe fire it does. The RAV is transformed from a compact that barely chased the Escape to completing a best-in-test 0-to-60-mph time of 6.4 seconds, which tied the 6.2-liter 380-horse, V-8-powered GMC Yukon Denali. It also polished the quarter mile, which it reached in 15 seconds at 92.4 mph, and the slalom, which it ran at 60.6 mph. The RAV is a decent drive with only a little wallow, and the Sport suspension and firm chassis make direction changes quick and steering responsive.

Where it didn’t seal the deal is inside. Gaps are tight and the cabin is nicely put together, but the interior is dark, unattractive, and bland, and neither materials nor features (lack of an entertainment system, nav, and cool functions) merit the $28,094 as-tested price. Toyota is still just as good at designing a well-built vehicle, but once you get past the stellar V-6, the RAV4 is a bit ordinary and doesn’t offer the same value as its competitors.

2007 Toyota RAV4
Base price range $21,455-$27,025
As-tested price $28,275 (Sport V-6 4WD)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
Engine 3.5L/269-hp/246-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb Weight, F/R dist 3703 lb (59/41%)
Wheelbase 104.7 in
Length x Width x Height 181.1 x 73.0 x 68.7 in
Max cargo capacity 73.0 cu ft
Max towing capacity 3500 lb
0-60 MPH 6.4 sec
Quarter mile 15.0 sec @ 92.4 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 130 ft
Lateral acceleration 0.75 g avg
600-foot slalom 60.6 mph avg
MT figure eight 28.6 sec @ 0.59 g avg
EPA city/hwy fuel economy 21/28 mpg
Bet you didn’t know Concave cam lobe flanks open the RAV4 V-6’s valves faster, keep them open longer, for high engine output.
Sum Up Up to the high standards of toyota build quality –but lacking in fizz and sizzle.

Class Of ’07: It Measures Big, Drives Small, And Performs Huge–A Sport/Utility For All Shapes, Sizes, And Chores.
By Ron Kiino

Heading into this year’s Sport/Utility of the Year competition, nary an editor predicted that the all-new Mercedes-Benz GL450 would roll away with the coveted caliper trophy. Inasmuch as value is one of the three major criteria–the others being in-class superiority and marketplace significance–the GL already seemed handicapped. Its base price of $55,675 hardly sounds economical, not to mention that, when well equipped, as was our tester, a GL’s window sticker can easily push $70 grand. As for superiority and significance, heck, several voters quipped that they wouldn’t be surprised if the GL missed the first cut. Why? Because so few of our staff had spent quality time at the wheel or inside of Mercedes’s first full-size sport/utility. And given that the GL shares a platform with the M- and R-Classes, with which every editor’s been intimate, yet never quite fallen in love, we weren’t expecting fireworks.

But following two intense weeks with the GL, it was all sparklers and Roman candles for the biggest Benz ever offered in the United States…

To read the full article about the 2007 Sport/Utility Of The Year Winner Click Here!