With technology evolving so quickly, it is all too easy to become detached from the world, as we bury ourselves in our phones or computers and ignore the natural beauty around us. However, many automakers have taken the time to give us vehicles that are more than just daily commuters to and from the grindstone, but rather a gateway to great outdoors, with names to match, such as the Subaru Forester, Ford Expedition, Nissan Pathfinder, and Jeep Grand Cherokee.
These purposed automobiles return to the roots of the sport utility vehicle but manage to retain much of what has made the high-rider configuration such a mainstream success. This includes a spacious cabin with comfortable front and rear seats, high cargo capacity, and compliant ride comfort. Adding some extra ground clearance and a four-wheel drivetrain, in some cases, improves versatility and ruggedness. Another aspect that may appeal to shoppers with old-school taste is the styling of these cars. While some might say they look a bit boring, others will argue that they are classics with a touch of modern-day pizzazz, though that certainly doesn’t mean skipping on the tech and safety features.
With all that said, here are just five of the top options in this category that remain some of the best in the United States:
1. Ford Expedition (Max)
When you think of automobiles in the US, Ford should be top of mind. It is one of the oldest brands in the world and epitomized an entire era of automotive history – and, it’s a home-grown brand that oozes the American spirit. The Blue Oval has not rested upon its laurels. A century of expertise and advances in engineering have brought us the Expedition, and its extended big brother, the Expedition Max.
These large and in charge SUVS bump shoulders with the Chevy Tahoe and Toyota Sequoia, but its four-wheel drivetrain and hearty V6 engine allow it to venture further off the beaten path while still offering a best-in-class towing capacity of 9,300 lbs. Considering its muscle, it offers above-average fuel economy figures. Inside, it can seem a bit bland, especially if you stick with the sub-$50k base model, but if you are willing to splurge over and above the MSRP, you can outfit a comprehensive list of safety and comfort features to make the outdoors feel a lot less daunting.
2. GMC Acadia
A not-so-distant cousin of the Expedition, the GMC Acadia is a smaller SUV with aspirations of being a luxury off-roader. However, this split focus on seemingly opposed ideals means that it makes quite a few missteps. It has a higher starting price than much of the competition in the midsize segment, but at the same time, it doesn’t deliver the level of quality you’d expect for how much you are spending.
However, if you can look past its split-personality foibles, you will find that it has a competent powertrain, refined ride comfort, and loads of standard features, especially in terms of safety. The infotainment suite is a dream, too, in case you want to take a piece of civilization with you. It’s also available in various seating configurations, although it doesn’t top the charts in terms of cargo capacity or an excessively spacious third row.
3. Subaru Forester
Sport utility vehicles are all about ticking the most boxes, and the Forester is one the best all-rounders out there. Its powertrain isn’t overly exciting, as a naturally aspirated boxer with just 182 horsepower, and the CVT is not the most engaging transmission. However, it does come standard with AWD, truly astounding mileage for the segment, and a smooth ride. Gas mileage figures are also quite impressive.
Inside, it is spacious and boasts a long list of safety features, but if you want the more advanced comfort tech, you need to climb the trim ladder well above the starting $25,000 price tag. Of course, it is a natural-born off-roader, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, but it also handles well around town thanks to its light and accurate steering. One of the downsides here is the less-than-standout styling, with the Subaru lineup in general not being the most expressive in the market.
4. Jeep Grand Cherokee
Jeep has always been heralded as one of the top names in the off-road game, but of its entire range, the Grand Cherokee is perhaps the most apt for taking the family camping. The Wrangler is hardier, but it has bolder styling and lower passenger/cargo capacity. The Cherokee and its much more potent Trailhawk variant are larger, meaning there is a lot more room for the family and luggage.
However, it is arguably just as rugged. Genuine four-wheel-drive is available with the brawny V6 engine, and multiple different terrain modes allow it to go just about anywhere without a fuss. Surprisingly, tarmac is perhaps its least preferred surface on which to roll, but it handles it well enough. When towing a trailer full of camping gear, a maximum load of 7,200 lbs is manageable. Other benefits of the Grand Cherokee include a long spec list, and a user-friendly infotainment setup.
5. Kia Telluride
Ok, the three-row juggernaut from Kia may not be the most rugged of SUVs, but it does everything else so perfectly that it can hardly be snubbed for being a bit more of a city brat. It has access to AWD, which is technically focused on improving traction in poor weather conditions, but a ground clearance of eight inches means that it can tackle a little bit of harsh terrain.
The 291-hp V6 engine may feel a little lackluster in comparison to more competent rivals, but is enough to move the portly family hauler. However, if you load it up to the maximum towing capacity of 5,000 lbs, you’ll definitely want to avoid even the slightest of inclines. On the plus side, the Telluride is one of the most comfortable vehicles for the whole family, and it has the safety ratings to give you peace of mind.