Automakers Vie for SUV Standouts

By Beverly & Steve Smirnis, the Savvy Drivers

Standouts in the crowded compact SUV segment are designed around the prevailing trends of auto buyers. Off-road-capable vehicles with minimal sacrifices in on-road drivability developed a new breed of adventure drivers. At the other end of the spectrum, buyers with fuel economy in mind have many choices. Interest in hybrids, plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles is high.

Ford Bronco is a Standout Among Off-Roaders

Ford Bronco Everglades is part Bronco lineup of Built Wild 4×4 SUVs.  The special edition SUV has a factory-installed snorkel, integrated 10,000-pound ZEON 10-S WARN® winch* and Sasquatch Package

We had the pleasure of testing the Bronco Raptor earlier this year, and more recently, the Everglades edition Bronco on a trip to Florida.  Both were fun experiences and garnered a lot of attention as standouts on the road.

Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and Everglades models can be customized with options ranging from appearance and personalization options, to different roofs, to off-road hardware, wheels and accessories.  The Bronco Raptor adds a more powerful engine and a ton of off-road hardware.  Pricing starts at $41K for the Big Bend ranging all the way up to the Raptor, topping $90K.

Broncos comes with a turbo four-cylinder or turbo V6, either delivers sufficient and smooth power for daily driving with a 10-speed automatic transmission.  But compact SUV shoppers won’t be buying this vehicle for fuel economy.  Four-cylinder Broncos have an EPA-estimated fuel economy ranging from 17 to 20 mpg combined. Six-cylinder versions range similarly, from 17 to 19 mpg combined. 

But buyers can justify their Bronco purchase with its on-road appeal. Superior ride and handling and excellent steering come thanks to Bronco’s independent front suspension. Lot of headroommakes the interior feel larger than that of your average compact SUV. Broncos feature the latest Ford infotainment and connectivity software and available driver’s aids. And an optional trailer hitch that includes four- and seven-pin connectors gives the Bronco the ability to tow up to 3,500 pounds.

Toyota’s Corolla Cross—A Right-Sized Option Now Offered in Hybrid

compact SUVs
If you’re a Toyota fan, Corolla Cross is a new choice slotting between the RAV 4 and the discontinued C-HR subcompact. 

Toyota introduced the Corolla Cross compact SUV last year and a Corolla Cross Hybrid (HV) for the 2023 model year.  Powered by a 2.0-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine paired with a hybrid system (for 196 combined horsepower) and a continuously variable transmission, the 2023 Corolla Cross Hybrid rates 42 mpg in combined city/highway driving.  And that’s a huge increase over the regular all-wheel-drive version of the Corolla Cross, rated at 30 mpg combined. The hybrid powertrain is also more powerful than its non-hybrid sibling with standard all-wheel drive.

Toyota loads up the Corolla Cross Hybrid at a starting price of $29, 305 for the base S model, making value one if its standouts. All Corolla Cross Hybrids come standard with Toyota’s suite of advanced driver aids known as Safety Sense 3.0.  There’s a middle level SE, but the top shelf XSE is its best-seller, still a value at $31,650 MSRP.  Our XSE also sported the optional moonroof, power liftgate, JBL premium audio system, adaptive headlights, and two-tone exterior paint putting it just over $37K including delivery. 

Consider Easing Into All-Electric with a 2023 Hyundai Tucson Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV)

The Tucson Plug-in Hybrid commands a price premium over the regular Tucson and the Tucson Hybrid as well. So, If you want to stay under $40k, you might have to go down a trim level.  MSRP on the 2023 SEL is $38,835. Our Limited tester was $46K including delivery. 

Easing range anxiety is a reason why The Tucson PHEV rates among the segment standouts. It gets up to 33 miles of EV range on a single charge.  And once the battery is depleted, the hybrid engine gets 35 mpg in combined city and highway driving. The turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder gasoline engine and a 13.8-kWh battery powering an electric motor produce a total output of 261 horsepower and 258 lb-ft. Then the six-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels.  But Tucson PHEV’s electric motors are strong enough to get it to highway speeds without kicking on the gas engine most of the time.  And you can hit the Sport mode to turn the gas engine full time if you wish.

The bottom line:  Like homebuilders, automakers seek to put a signature stamp on their products to entice new buyers and establish brand loyalty.  Study the competitive compact SUV segment for brand-building inspiration and message-positioning ideas!

Buying an SUV? See who the contenders are for 2023 SUV of Texas

Beverly & Steve Smirnis are members of the Texas Auto Writers Association and the Texas Motor Press Association, reviewing vehicles and casting their votes at driving events where the Truck of Texas, Car of Texas and Off-Road Truck of Texas are some of the titles awarded. 

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