By Beverly and Steve Smirnis

Now in its third generation, Acura’s luxury 3-row MDX is a model that has been hugely successful for the Acura brand, noted for its smooth drive and excellent handling.  While the base MDX is well-equipped with a sufficiently powerful 290-hp V6 engine and tows up to 5,000 pounds, the addition of the A-Spec trim adds AWD and a healthy dose of sport styling.  With a two-person second row, it still seats six and the second row powers down at the push of a single button for easy access to the third row.  The A-Spec sells for about $55K, which auto enthusiasts agree is still a bargain compared to equally expensive three-row SUVs.  

Mitsubishi’s S-AWC (Super All-Wheel Control) was developed specifically for the Outlander Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV) and it’s one of the reasons why Mitsubishi is gaining some traction in the midsize SUV sector.   By optimally managing Active Yaw Control (AYC), Anti-lock Braking System (ABS) and Active Stability Control (ASC) with Traction Control (TCL) the full potential of Twin Motor S-AWC is realized.  When desired, the driver can manually engage the twin-motor 4WD LOCK button to simulate locking of a center differential and optimally distribute torque to all four wheels for improved traction and stability, giving this Outlander surprising off-road capabilities, too. The Outlander PHEV employs a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine and electric motor/hybrid system for a combined output of 190 horsepower. Acceleration is boosted by torque from the electric motors.   MSRP is $41,495 with a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty.

Our top-of-the-line Limited trim level Hyundai Santa Fe with FWD had much to offer for its $37,500 price tag, making it the standout in the compact SUV category.  It sported the optional 2.0T engine good for 235 hp and 260 lb-ft torque, ventilated front seats, heated front and rear seats, a heated steering wheel, an upgraded 8-inch touchscreen display (with navigation), heads-up display, and an innovative Blind View Monitor that displays a real-time camera image of blind spots on both sides of the car. The picture was impressively clear and TV-like.   All models can be ordered with front- or all-wheel drive.  

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