Three vehicles in one: midsize SUVs ranked

This year’s most popular midsize SUVs offer consumers performance, capability and capacity in ways unimaginable compared to their mid-1990’s predecessors. With many models offering third row seating and sophisticated off-road systems, vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee, Toyota 4Runner, Ford Explorer and Nissan Pathfinder provide flexibility for drivers who demand Swiss army knife functionality out of their vehicles.

2012 Jeep Grand Cherokee

As in our previous articles covering small and midsize crossovers, the trims rated here are equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).

The top rating among these competitors goes to the Jeep Grand Cherokee. It earns an eRating of 97 thanks in part to the 3.6 liter, 290 horsepower Pentastar V6, a capable and efficient engine that is used across Chrysler’s lineup. Also aiding the Grand Cherokee’s shrewd use of fuel is an electro-hydraulic power steering pump that helps decrease drag on the engine.

For those who anticipate challenging trails on their horizon, the Grand Cherokee can be optioned with two sophisticated packages. Quadra-Lift, Jeep’s air spring suspension system, enables the driver to choose multiple ride heights for the vehicle (lower for on-road performance and higher for off-road clearance). Selec-Terrian is Jeep’s traction control system that enables the driver to tune the 4WD system to whatever terrain is encountered, with setting designed to traverse sand, mud, snow or rocks.

2012 Toyota 4Runner

The Toyota 4Runner earns a respectable eRating of 91. Ranked most dependable midsize crossover/SUV by J.D. Power and Associates in 2011, the 4Runner can be optioned with a third row of seating, allowing for seven passengers to be transported. To keep pace with the competition, the 4Runner’s Trail package supplies an array of off-road equipment. Included are an electronic locking rear differential, automatically disconnecting sway bars, crawl control and the terrain-dependent traction control system.

The Ford Explorer, completely redesigned for 2012, nearly matches the environmental performance of the 4Runner with an eRating of 90. The Explorer comes with many fuel efficiency enhancements including a six-speed automatic transmission, electronic power steering, a variable-displacement air conditioning compressor and improved aerodynamic exterior styling. These features work in concert to keep the powertrain operating in its most efficient range, reduce engine drag and help the vehicle slip through the air easily.

The Nissan Pathfinder earns an eRating of 81.The Pathfinder offers many of the same features as its competitors with standard third row seating and optional dual speed 4WD. To increase off-road performance, the Pathfinder’s 4.0 liter, 266 horsepower V6 offers an electronic throttle with a second set of throttle maps, which relate the driver’s throttle commands to engine power output, to help the vehicle respond more smoothly when the low-speed 4WD mode is selected.

These midsize SUVs offer consumers comfortable on-road performance, rugged off-road capability and ample room for the whole family without the need for a three-car garage. Consumers looking to live too adventurously to be satisfied with a car that excels in just one area need look no further.

Make and Model$MSRPSpecsCity/Hwy/Comb
Jeep Grand Cherokee30,1003.6 L 290 hp V6,
5-speed auto
16 / 23 / 1997
Toyota 4Runner33,6404.0 L 270 hp V6,
5-speed auto
17 / 23 / 1991
Ford Explorer31,1053.5 L 290 hp V6,
6-speed auto
17 / 23 / 1990
Nissan Pathfinder32,1154.0 L 266 hp V6,
5-speed auto
14 / 20 / 1681

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