Midsize SUVs are sort of the navel of the automotive world: Just about every mass-market company has one. In fact, most have two.
That’s probably because midsize models were long the biggest selling segment in the SUV market. This class includes a good number of two-row, 5-passenger models, as well as three-row models that seat 7 or 8 passengers. All except one are “crossovers”: high-riding wagons offering all-wheel drive but built on passenger-car platforms.
As of now, only the Toyota 4Runner is of the truck-type body on-frame design. Body-on-frame SUVs tend to have higher towing limits, and are sometimes aimed more at off-road driving.
All models in this class offer all-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, the latter sometimes available in part- and full-time versions. With all-wheel drive, it’s always engaged and the vehicle decides whether power should go to all four wheels. With 4-wheel drive, the driver can choose between 2-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive. Some Toyota 4Runner models offer a part-time 4-wheel-drive system, which is intended for severe off-road work and cannot be left engaged on dry pavement for fear of driveline wear. That’s not a concern with full-time 4-wheel drive.
HIGHLIGHTS FOR 2021
Jeep introduces its new Grand Cherokee L three-row SUV alongside its long-running two-row Grand Cherokee; a redesigned version of the two-row Grand Cherokee based on the Grand Cherokee L’s platform will debut for 2022. Toyota re-introduces its Venza nameplate on an all-new upscale 5-passenger crossover that comes standard with a hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive. The Kia Sorento 3-row SUV is redesigned on an all-new platform, gaining more passenger and cargo room, an off-road-oriented X-Line trim level, and four engine choices—including Sorento’s first-ever hybrid and plug-in-hybrid powertrains. The base engine is a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder with 181 horsepower; a 281-horse turbocharged 2.5 is the step-up option. Both hybrids use a turbocharged 1.6-liter four; the regular hybrid has 227 hp and the plug-in version has 261 hp.
The Hyundai Santa Fe undergoes a thorough refresh that includes updated styling, a revamped interior, a line-topping Calligraphy trim level, and new engines—including a hybrid powertrain. Replacing the Santa Fe’s previous powerplants are a 191-hp 2.5-liter 4-cylinder, 277-hp turbocharged 2.5-liter four, and a hybrid turbo 1.6-liter four/electric powertrain that makes a combined 225 horsepower. The Hyundai Palisade also adds a top-line Calligraphy trim level.
All versions of the Honda Pilot now use the 9-speed automatic transmission that was previously limited to high-line models. The Toyota Highlander adds a sporty XSE model that includes more-aggressive body-styling touches, unique interior trim, retuned steering, and a sport suspension. The Volkswagen Atlas has revised front and rear styling, and its turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine becomes available on more trim levels and can now be paired with all-wheel drive. The Dodge Journey has been discontinued. An updated Chevrolet Traverse and a redesigned Nissan Pathfinder are expected for the 2022 model year.
MODELS THAT OFFER SOMETHING UNUSUAL
Aside from the aforementioned Toyota 4Runner, the only vehicles that really stand out are the Jeep Grand Cherokee and new Grand Cherokee L. They’re the only vehicles in the class to offer a V8 engine, and the Grand Cherokee’s high-performance SRT and Trackhawk versions have even more powerful V8 engines. The Ford Explorer, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento, and Toyota Highlander and Venza all offer hybrid powertrains.
Vehicles in the Midsize Crossover/SUV class:
Hyundai Santa Fe
Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep Grand Cherokee L
Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport