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If the auto industry had a yearbook full of superlatives, SUVs would hold several titles. Most likely to never be single. Life of the party. Most liked by parents. And, of course, most popular. More SUVs were sold in 42 out of 50 states than any other type of vehicle in 2021. With such popularity comes proliferation — upwards of 100 different SUVs were released for the 2022 model year. Add those to the plethora of SUVs already on the market and you’ve got too many options to count, let alone choose from. Where to start? Narrow down your search with this guide from KSL Cars.

The Base of Your Decision

SUVs are built on one of two bases: car or truck. Both offer higher seating positions than sedans or hatchbacks and a better view of the road. 

Manufacturers often dub SUVs built on car platforms as “crossovers” for marketing purposes, but the vehicles are still considered SUVs. Models with car bases offer better handling and a more comfortable ride. Most have front-wheel drive but all-wheel drive is usually available with premium trim levels. If you don’t plan on driving on anything slipperier than wet pavement or bumpier than a pot-holed highway, an SUV built on a car base tends to be the better buy.

True to form, SUVs with truck bases can handle more challenging off-road conditions. They also boast better towing capacities. Standard models are equipped with rear-wheel drive, while premium trim levels typically have four-wheel drive. Not everyone will be off-roading or towing toys with their SUV, however. If you fall into this category, you can usually save money on the initial purchase price (not to mention future fuel costs) by limiting your search to models with two-wheel drive.

Size Things Up

There’s no denying the 2022 Cadillac Escalade is one sa-weeeet ride. But it’s about 17-½ feet long. Will it fit in your home’s garage without displacing your bikes, tool chest or whatever else is stored in there? Or the small spaces in your office and/or apartment building parking garage? Do you absolutely need seating for seven? Consider the size of the vehicle and any potential constraints that come along with it. Balance that with your wants, needs and budget. This will allow you to narrow down your search to a specific size and determine what the best SUV to buy is based on your lifestyle. 

Subcompact 

As the segment with the smallest vehicles, subcompact SUVs strongly resemble hatchbacks and typically seat four adults comfortably. Standard models — including Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-30 — are popular with first-time buyers because of their petite stature and affordability. New models start at around $25,000. Have a bigger budget? You may want to consider luxury models like Audi Q3, Mercedes-Benz GLB or BMW X1.

Compact

Compact SUVs have more cargo space than their subcompact counterparts. Most models in this segment have two rows, comfortably seating four or five adults. Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander, among other models, have a third row that offers additional seating, but it may feel cramped for anyone but young children. These and other models — including Jeep Wrangler and Ford Bronco — come standard with a variety of high-tech, family-friendly features that used to only be found in high-end models. The starting price for a new 2022 compact SUV is about $30,000.

If you’re looking for something that’s even more teched out and decked out, consider luxury models such as Acura RDX or Volvo XC60. Of course, more features mean more money. The purchase prices of luxury compact SUVs start in the $50,000 neighborhood and go up from there.

Midsize

Some SUVs in this size segment ride on truck platforms and have more powerful engines capable of towing up to 5,000 pounds. Toyota’s 4Runner, for example, uses the same base as its Tacoma but its Highlander is still a crossover. Other models in this segment include Honda Pilot and Jeep Grand Cherokee. Many midsize models have third rows, which are roomier than those in the compact segment, and seat up to eight people comfortably. New models with base trim start at approximately $35,000. The base price for luxury models is closer to $60,000. Porsche Cayenne, Genesis GV80, Land Rover Discovery and Lincoln Aviator (just ask Matthew McConaughey!) are popular luxury midsize SUVs.

Large

As the name implies, vehicles in this segment are big. As big as a full-size pickup truck in most cases with robust towing capabilities and fuel consumption to match. Different cabin configurations are available to seat as many as nine people on three rows — GMC Yukon XL is one such model. Other SUVs in this segment include Chevrolet Suburban, Dodge Durango and Nissan Armada. New SUVs in this size segment start at $50,000 and go up from there depending on the trim level. Luxury models, including the aforementioned Cadillac Escalade as well as Mercedes-Benz GLS, start around $76,000. Bentley Bentayga runs in the high six figures. Cha-ching! 

Photo Credit: Ford Media Center

Pump, Plug or the Pair

That is the question. Generally speaking, the smaller the SUV the better gas mileage it’s going to get. A 2022 Kia Soul, for instance, gets up to 29 miles per gallon in the city and 35 on the highway, while a new Chevrolet Suburban gets up to 21 mpg in the city and 27 on the highway. 

If you’ll be doing a lot of city driving, you may want to consider a hybrid SUV that can achieve more than 40 mpg. There are several to choose from in each of the size segments, from the subcompact Subaru Crosstrek Hybrid to the compact Hyundai Tucson hybrid and the midsize Ford Explorer Hybrid.   

Several manufacturers also offer electric SUVs now — Ford Mustang Mach-E, Audi e-tron, Volkswagen ID.4 and Chevy Bolt EUV, to name but a few. Though EVs have many financial and environmental benefits, they aren’t for everyone (yet). Research the locations of charging stations in your area and consider your driving habits to determine if an electric model is the best SUV to buy, despite earning the “Friendliest to Mother Earth” superlative. 

Cargo Deep, Deep

When shopping for SUVs, remember that cubic footage is not the only thing to consider. Evaluate the functionality of the cargo space as well. What’s the height of the back bumper? Is it easy to load/unload large items? The second- and third-row seats also factor into your purchase decision. Those that fold flat are more desirable than those that do not. 

While the various storage compartments throughout the cabin are not technically included in the cubic footage, it’s still important to consider how it works with your lifestyle. Students and solo commuters might appreciate a lined door pocket designed to fit a laptop, while families might consider underfloor storage more of a must.

The Bottom Line

SUVs are practical, comfortable and versatile. There are so many quality makes and models on the market today that it’s impossible to declare a single vehicle as the best new or used SUV to buy. Narrow down your search on KSL Cars to the models that fit your current lifestyle and budget, considering future needs as well. And don’t forget to use this used car buying guide checklist to easily compare your choices.