SUV/TRUCK REVIEWS

The 2017 Mazda CX-3 competes in the emerging subcompact SUV category.

Several years back, led by the Nissan Juke and other vehicles, the subcompact SUV category became a big thing -- and it’s been exploding every since, with manufacturers clamoring to join the segment. Last year, Mazda got involved with the CX-3 offering, and that offering is back again unchanged for its second year with a 2017 model, which I recently had a chance to test.

For those unfamiliar, these things are simply tiny SUVs; they ride higher than a regular car and area bit heavier, but interior space isn’t much bigger than a small sedan. Every year, more and more them appear.

The CX-3 can technically fit 2 people in front and 3 people in back, but the space is so tight in the rear, I wouldn’t want to sit there. Maybe small kids will be OK.

Numbers on the CX-3 are 18 cubic feet of cargo volume, and it can accommodate a max load of 850 pounds. The vehicle is 168 inches long, 70 inches wide, 61 inches tall, and weighs 2,945 pounds. In addition to the tiny back seat, your cargo space isn’t much to talk about.

On the plus side, the interior design is among best in the segment.

Target buyers for this vehicle would be couples who won’t be transporting children, or folks who generally travel alone or with one passenger, and want to upgrade from a typical small sedan at a reasonable price.

The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is the larger of the two options, compared with the Tucson

If you’re looking for an SUV, Hyundai has probably got you covered. There’s the three-row Santa Fe offering (which is technically a mid-size SUV); the two-row Tucson (a compact SUV), and also the two-row Santa Fe Sport, which falls in the middle of the other two in terms of size and doesn’t really have a category.


Part of the confusion comes in because the Tucson was recently given a bit of a boost in size, pushing it closer to the Santa Fe Sport -- so the question becomes; If you were to choose between the two, which one is better?

Having recently spent time in both vehicles, I’m back with all the details on how to answer that question.

LOOKS

The difference here is best told in numbers.

You’ll get more cargo room in the Santa Fe Sport than in the Tucson (35.5 cubic feet, vs. 29.5); You’ll also enjoy a bit more rear legroom in the Santa Fe Sport, which is quite roomy for the segment (overall vehicle length is 185 inches, vs. 176 on the Tucson).


In addition to the length difference, the Santa Fe Sport is an inch wider and an inch taller. Weight is about 300 pounds more (3,760 vs. 3,475).

Inside both vehicles, Hyundai did a great job with quality of the interior design, which felt and looked high-end for the price range.

The Kia Soul is among the more uniquely styled vehicles on the road in 2017.

Personality goes a long way in life.

It’s how salespeople get you to buy things you don’t need, it’s why comedians often date supermodels, and it’s why vehicles like the Kia Soul have a following.


As it applies to automobiles, personality -- in my view -- means you’re doing something different designwise than the rest of the competition. That’s increasingly rare in the automotive world lately -- as it’s easier to play it safe than take a risk.

But if you’ve ever seen a Kia Soul and then looked at all the other compact SUV options on the road, you know they have being different down to an art form.

The question is: Is being different equivalent to something you would want to drive, or is it just for show. I recently spent some time in a Soul and I’m back with a full report.

The number of people who can afford three-row luxury SUVs is not a large one, but it’s a market with some of the most intense competition in the industry. Battling for those big bucks is never easy, with so many strong products available, and loyalty is hard to sway.

 

One automaker doing its best to compete in this niche segment is Volvo, whose flagship XC90 SUV has stepped up its game this year to compete with the big boys as well as it can.

So what does Volvo bring to this battle of luxury SUVs? … Bold but not extravagant Scandinavian design, elegant look and feel, strong engine performance and handling and tons of space … though some issues with the tech system do hold it back from true greatness (more on that later).

 

The 2017 Acura MDX offers seating for seven.

With the intense competition in the category, luxury automakers have to focus greatly on strategy when designing their vehicles -- considering every detail from looks to performance as compared to the rivals in the segment.


I recently spent some time in a 2017 Acura MDX, the three-row SUV from Honda’s luxury arm, and I’m back with a full report on how well they did their homework as they aim to grow their share in the segment.

The 2017 Nissan Murano stands out among the midsize crossover competition

Making a good first impression is important. It sets the tone for everything that comes after. And unlike many crossover SUVs, which come across as just carbon copies of one another, the 2017 Nissan Murano makes a statement from the get-go.


Simply put, the Murano is one of the best-looking crossovers on the market, perhaps even the best. With its distinctive lines, its long and swooping shape, and a lower profile than most SUVs, the looks are wholly unique. That’s a big deal in a crowded SUV marketplace -- it catches your eye in a good way.

The 2017 Volvo XC60 offers a surprisingly fast ride, and brings Volvo's safety pedigree.

The Volvo brand -- once you move beyond its loyal, safety-focused followers -- finds itself in an interesting position. Volvo is not the first auto company people think of when they hear the word “luxury”, but that is how they identify (and price) their vehicles, which are up against the biggest international luxury automotive names in the world.


One of their top models is the XC60 crossover, which I recently had the chance to test. So the question is: How well does the 2017 XC60 hold up well against tough competition?

LOOKS

The XC60 is officially considered a compact SUV, but I found it to be closer in size and storage space to many midsize SUVs.

Put down the rear seats and your storage space is among the best in class. Legroom and headroom in the vehicle is excellent in all seats. Overall look and feel of the materials inside are high-class. The XC60 shows luxury pedigree, even moreso than some vehicles that cost a bit more. In part due to materials, there is a comfortable feel for the driver even on longer rides.

Exterior design on the XC60 isn’t as flashy or attractive as some rivals, but it’s nothing to sneeze at either.

The 2017 Nissan Pathfinder is a capable crossover with some upgrades for 2017.

Now that crossovers are becoming the vehicle of choice for families, all the vehicles in this category constantly have to reinvent themselves to stay competitive.

Case in point: The Nissan Pathfinder. This is a fine vehicle, but was in need of a refresh for 2017 to catch up to the Joneses. I recently spent some time in a Pathfinder and have the scoop on how it competes.

Honda's back in the truck game with the impressive 2017 Ridgeline.

While it was gone from the market for a couple of years, the Honda Ridgeline wasn’t quite about to disappear. Instead, it got a major revamp, and the result is the 2017 Ridgeline -- a freshly updated and strong competitor in the newly resurgent category of small trucks.


I recently spent some time in a Ridgeline and here's my take on the experience.

 

VW's Touareg is currently the largest SUV sold by the automaker, until the new three-row Atlas comes out this spring.

Volkswagen is primarily known for its cars -- the Jetta, Passat, Beetle, etc. -- and that’s the first image of a VW most people will get in your head.

But the folks in the front office are thinking about SUVs and how to boost their stake in that ever-growing segment of the auto industry. Later this spring, the three-row VW Atlas will debut, and will be the largest SUV in the lineup. Until the Atlas debuts, the two-row luxury-lite Touareg SUV is the largest VW has to offer, and I recently spent some time in one.

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