1. Volkswagen Tiguan
It’s not an African wind, a desert tribe or anything quite that obscure. The 2009 Volkswagen Tiguan’s name is nothing more than a made-up crossbreed between a tiger and an iguana. And although this might suggest that the Tiguan is powerful, exotic and good at catching flies, it’s actually, well, not.
Instead, the Tiguan is your typical compact sport-utility — inoffensive, affordable and designed mainly for tooling around the city. And it’s good at it, thanks to a supple ride, compact dimensions and a solid chassis that feels far more substantial than most mini-utes in its class.
2. Ford Escape
The 2009 Ford Escape receives more powerful engines following its freshening for the 2008 model year. This compact SUV is a five-passenger, 4-door wagon that includes a liftgate with opening glass. It shares its basic design with the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute. Four-cylinder models have a 171-hp 2.5-liter engine. V6 versions have a 240-hp 3.0-liter engine. Compared to the 2008 Escape, that’s an increase of 18 hp for the 4-cylinder and 40 hp for the V6. The 4-cylinder engine is available with a 5-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission, the V6 with a 6-speed automatic only.
A gas/electric Hybrid model is available. It teams a 153-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder gas engine with an electric motor. It requires no plug-in charging. Hybrids have a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). Towing capacity for 4-cylinder models is 1500 lb. V6 models can tow up to 3500 lb. The Escape is available with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Available safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Also available are leather upholstery, heated front seats, rear obstacle detection, and a navigation system.
3. GMC Terrain
The 2009 GMC Terrain is this General Motors division’s first five-passenger crossover SUV. The Terrain shares some of its basic design with the Saturn Vue compact SUV. Terrain likely will offer only V6 motivation. As an entry-level motor, GMC could use a 3.5-liter V6 with about 215 hp, though in order to pitch Terrain as a more premium vehicle, a 250-plus-hp 3.6-liter engine may be the only one offered. In either case, the sole transmission should be a 6-speed automatic. Terrain also will differ from the Vue in styling, content, and feature mix. Available safety features should include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, curtain side airbags, and front side airbags. Terrain should follow the GMC line of offering a pair of trim levels, base SLE and top-line SLT. Count on front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions of each trim level being offered. Among available features, figure on leather upholstery, a navigation system, and overall dressier trim than a comparable Vue. We have not yet driven a GMC Terrain.
4. Mercedes-Benz GL-Class SUVs
With just a few upgrades for 2009, the Mercedes-Benz GL-Class gets an updated stereo head unit for all trims and keyless go standard for GL550. The GL450 is powered by 4.6L V8 making 335 hp and 339 lb-ft of torque. The GL550 features a 5.5L V8 that produces 382 hp and 391 lb-ft of torque. New is a Mercedes-Benz GL320 BlueTEC 3.0L turbocharged diesel V6 engine generating 210 hp and 398 lb-ft of torque, which as a large crossover SUV gets better mileage than its two gasoline-fueled counterparts. Fuel economy estimates for the GL550 are 13 mpg city/17 mpg hwy, and the GL450 increases the hwy rating by one mpg, while the GL320 BlueTEC achieves a very healthy 17 mpg city/23 mpg hwy. All GL-Class trims come equipped with a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control. Accommodating up to seven passengers, the four-door GL-Class is equipped with 4MATIC four-wheel drive. Standard safety equipment includes stability control, antilock brakes with brake assist, front headrests, first- and second-row side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags.
5. BMW X6
The X6 will come in two variants. The xDrive35i is powered by the now familiar 300-horse, 3.0-liter twin turbo inline-six. But the big stuff what’s under the xDrive50i’s hood — a new to the BMW lineup 4.4-liter twin-turbo V-8. Both engine variants are mated to a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and as the names imply, come standard with BMW’s xDrive all-wheel-drive system that sends 40 percent of the power to the front wheels and 60 percent to the rear under normal driving conditions.
The new V-8 is rated at 400 horses and 450 lb-ft of torque, making it the most powerful engine ever available in a BMW sport/ute, easily topping the X5’s 350-horsepower, 4.8-liter naturally aspirated V-8. Engine torque reaches its peak at 1800 rpm and stays there until 4500 rpm, which makes the M3’s rev-happy V-8 — with its 295 lb-ft of torque — seem puny by comparison. BMW says the engine will propel the X6 from 0 to 60 in just 5.3 seconds — an impressive number for a vehicle likely to weigh well over two tons and just 0.4 second slower than the 500-horsepower Porsche Cayenne Turbo. Top speed is electronically limited to 155 mph on 20-inch-wheel-equipped models
6. Land Rover Range Rover Sport 2-doors
After almost 40 years, Land Rover wants to turn back history with the introduction of a new 2-door model. It will be powered by a range of vehicles including the normally aspirated V8 and advanced turbodiesel V6 used in the 4-door version of the Range Rover Sport.
The top of the range will be powered by a 4.2-litre supercharged V8 engine with an output of 390 hp and a peak torque of 410 lbs-ft. Other options will be: a 300 hp 4.4-litre normally aspirated V8 and the advanced new 2.7-litre 190 bhp turbodiesel V6. The top model will make the 0 to 60 mph sprint in 7.5 seconds and will have a top speed of 150 mph.
The new 2-door model will feature the same Dynamic Response suspension system first used in the 4-door Range Rover Sport. This system will help the SUV to have an excellent on-road dynamics because it senses cornering forces and acts to optimize body control and handling. It also decouples off-road to allow greater wheel articulation during tough all-terrain driving.
7. 2009 Volvo XC90 3.2
Volvo does things a little differently from other premium brands in the automotive world. For this Swedish manufacturer, safety and kid-friendliness are just as important as luxury amenities and driving performance, and in no vehicle is this more apparent than the Volvo XC90, a midsize seven-passenger SUV.
Innovative safety features aside, the XC90 is merely adequate relative to the premium midsize SUV competition. Zestier performance is available elsewhere, as are more cavernous cargo holds. With more and more modern competitors measuring up to Volvo’s high safety standards, the aging XC90 isn’t the slam dunk for families that Volvo products used to be. It remains capable, though, and arguably safer than ever thanks to some new tricks.
8. Audi Q7
Audi has made its decision and we don’t like it: the Q7 SUV will not come to the U.S. with the 500-hp, 6.0-liter V-12 diesel engine that offers up 738 lb-ft of torque. That crazy torque fun is for Europe only.
Michael Dick, Audi’s member of the board of management for technical development, broke the news to us in an interview at the 2008 Paris auto show.
The consolation prize remains the Q7 with a 3.0-liter diesel that is coming in early 2009 for sale in North America. Audi is happy with leaving it at that; Dick says there isn’t enough demand for the V-12 in the U.S. Diesels just haven’t caught fire here the way they have in Europe, where oil burners account for half of all sales, and that figure is as high as 80 percent in some countries.
It was initially thought that a Q7 hybrid was a better alternative for the U.S., and original plans called for a hybrid by the end of 2008, but Audi has since cancelled plans to add electric motors to the SUV. Instead, a Q5 hybrid is due at the end of 2010 as a 2011 model in Europe and in 2011 as a 2012 model in North America.
Whether other models will get hybrid powertrains depends on the market and demand, Dick says, and Audi will use the Q5 to gauge popularity. Demand for hybrids is higher in the U.S. than other world markets, and Audi will look at this option for vehicles that could use the efficiency boost.
9. TOYOTA Rav4
The current Toyota RAV4 comes in Base, Sport and Limited trims, with either a four-cylinder or a V6 engine, and either front-wheel drive or an on-road-biased all-wheel-drive system. Automatic transmissions come standard (a four-speed unit for the four-cylinder, a five-speed auto for the V6). Today’s RAV4 is close to Toyota’s midsize Highlander in length and actually has a more powerful V6. Yet thanks to its more narrow width and lighter weight, it’s easier to park and achieves superior fuel economy when comparably equipped.
The 166-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder provides surprisingly good acceleration and excellent fuel economy. With 269 hp, RAV4s equipped with the available 3.5-liter V6 are quite fast and buttery smooth. The steering is light and the brakes are strong, making the RAV4 feel effortless to drive. Maximum towing capacity for the V6 is a respectable 3,500 pounds.
Even in Base trim, the Toyota RAV4 is well equipped with power accessories, cruise control and a full suite of safety features, including stability control. Sport trim brings exterior enhancements, a sport-tuned suspension and bigger wheels. The Limited model adds numerous luxury features.
10. HONDA CR-V
The CR-V has been a success for Honda since the first version came out in 1996, and the current, third-generation model that debuted in 2007 is the bestselling SUV in America.
The interior is straightforward and comfortable, and the rear seats fold flat. There are three trim levels: LX, EX, and EX-L. All three come with a 166-hp, 2.4-liter four and a five-speed automatic transmission. Buyers can opt for front- or all-wheel drive.
Although no one is going to call the CR-V fun to drive, it does handle predictably and is nicely responsive, with accurate steering and a serene ride. The CR-V is the ultimate suburban runabout. You might wonder why Honda doesn’t offer a V-6 and a third row, as does one of its main competitors, the Toyota RAV4, but Honda didn’t see a need to alter the winning formula of the first generation in the name of increased girth and diminished efficiency.