The $38,000 Midsize SUV Challenge: State of the Midsize SUV

2013 Midsize SUV Challenge Overview

A lot has changed in the midsize SUV segment in the last 10 years. What once was a class dominated by truck-based models has given way almost entirely to car-based versions with a high seating position and styling that helped make SUVs popular, but offer improved ride and handling, fuel economy and interior space.

The class took a hit to its popularity around the first time gas prices reached $4 a gallon, but lately sales have been roaring back. Jeep's Grand Cherokee is Chrysler's second-best-selling vehicle this year after the Ram 1500 pickup truck, and it's a reason the joint venture with Fiat is booming. Ford's Edge, while not as successful as sister SUVs Explorer and Escape, still outsells Ford's largest and smallest cars, the Taurus and Fiesta.

The shift in thinking about what makes an SUV has resonated with car shoppers, and it has led to even more midsize SUVs for families to consider. Of the six in our test, two — the Edge and Toyota Venza — weren't even around 10 years ago while another, the Kia Sorento, made the transition from a truck- to a car-based platform.

Here's the full list of competitors:

We set a price cap of $38,000, including destination charges, after taking into account the sales leaders in this space, consulting with J.D. Power and Associates and looking at listing prices on We also told the manufacturers that the cars had to have automatic transmissions and either turbocharged four-cylinder or naturally aspirated V-6 engines.

Our $38,000 price ceiling resulted in a group of SUVs with a range of features and equipment. All but one had V-6 power, though the Santa Fe Sport's turbocharged four-cylinder produced V-6-like power numbers. Three had two-wheel drive and three had all-wheel drive. Our price limit also allowed some models to have features such as a panoramic sunroof and heated and ventilated seats that in a prior time would have been reserved for luxury models.

See a complete rundown of what you get for $38,000

How did we sort it all out and arrive at a winner? Testing, testing, testing:

  • We spent a day driving these midsize SUVs on a carefully planned route to observe real-world gas mileage.
  • We spent a day where our experts drove all the SUVs back-to-back on the same route to gather additional impressions.
  • Finally, our real-world family, Brian and Melissa Brown and their two children, joined us for a day of driving and to rate the models with an eye toward which features would be most important in their next car.

Our experts for this challenge were:


Aaron Bragman
Detroit bureau chief for


Joe Bruzek
Reviewer and editor for


Mike Hanley
Reviewer and editor for


James R. Healey
USA Today auto writer


Ben Davis
Producer for PBS' "MotorWeek"

It was a close contest, but over time and testing, a clear winner emerged. Check out our complete coverage:

Meet the Family

Mileage Results


Results's Managing Editor David Thomas and Editor-in-Chief Patrick Olsen contributed to this report.



Looks like manufacturers found a way to lure people into 35K SUV with 2L engine. Oh well. I dread buying a new car. Better keep what I have for 15 more years


Why Venza over Highlander for this test?


Thanks God I didn't say this first.

We've tested Highlander in the past in our three-row crossover contests. The redesign for 2014 is even larger and will definitely be in our next three-row test.


The Grand Cherokee you tested is RWD and you're in Chicago!? That explains the low price and undermines the validity of your comparison. Edge, Murano, Venza, SUV's??? You guys should stick to testing baby seats.


I sort of agree with you. I don't understand purpose of Edge, Murano, Venza... When there are Explorer, Pathfinder and Highlander with exactly same function and price.


The RWD Grand Cherokee is pretty common, just like the RWD Tahoe and Yukon, Explorer, Suburban, etc.

Not everyone wants 4X4 when they buy an SUV/CUV.

We chose a 4X4 Grand Cherokee because of where we live and the heavy snowfall in the mountains that renders 2WD useless.


RWD may be common in the South but the overwhelming majority of JGC are 4WD and the same goes for Tahoe, Yukon, Explorer, and Suburban.

"Not everyone wants 4x4 when they buy an SUV/CUV." WOW you're a regular brain surgeon.


And you're a jackass.

Michael Sbraga

I wish a Subaru Outback Limited 2.5i was included.


Not sure why this $37,7K Murano has cloth seats. I bought my '12 SL AWD in November, 2011 with leather, Navigation and remote starter for $37,700 (i.e. invoice). The car is pretty well made and equipped. Two issues: 1. bad mileage (17.8 mpg) and 2. too much wind noise at highway speed. Otherwise, great family car.

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