It took a while for off-road machines to learn their manners. First, sport utility vehicles offered passenger-car features like leather seats. Over time, the amenities have grown more luxurious. Now the latest SUVs have adopted car platforms and morphed into CUVs – "car-based utility vehicles," also known as "crossover utility vehicles."
Just a few years ago, this crossover market didn't exist, says Marty Collins, general marketing manager of the Ford division. "The segment is on a growth curve with nearly 800,000 units forecast for 2006," he says.
The big difference between SUVs and CUVs lies in the chassis. SUVs are built on the platform of pickup trucks, while CUVs are based on car platforms – enabling them to handle and ride more like sedans. In most cases, the rear-wheel drive mechanics give way to a front-wheel drive car configuration. All-wheel drive also is an option for CUVs, but without the low growler gears beloved by serious off-roaders.
Some CUVs are basically small station wagons – a label which in the current auto market carries little prestige. By contrast, the CUV label conjures images of rugged adventuring, and some CUVs even feature the bold exterior styling cues and off-road performance prized by SUV enthusiasts. In this issue, Hispanic Business offers reviews of some prime examples of the new CUV craze.
Base Price: $37,825
Mileage (mpg): 18 city/24 hwy
The first real crossover was the Lexus RX, now the RX 330. When it debuted in 1998 as an elite offshoot of the Toyota Camry, doubters were plentiful. But the RX provided a pleasant, comfortable, all-wheel drive experience. That still holds true, but current models sport more bells and whistles. There are headlights that track around corners, adjustable rear seats, a navigation system with a backup camera, vehicle stability control, and plenty of wood and leather.
The 3.3L V-6 engine has horsepower to move the RX 330 to 60 mph in 9.5 seconds. Stoplight acceleration feels brisk, however, and while the softly sprung RX doesn't handle curves eagerly, it is competent.
Inside, the trademark gear selector pod remains, bracketed in wood trim, but underneath RX 330 is still a Camry. Likewise for the Toyota Highlander, another CUV that's less posh than the RX.
Base Price: $23,760
Mileage (mpg): 19 city/25 hwy
The Chevrolet Equinox is on a long car platform that translates into plenty of passenger and cargo room – the rear seat even slides back and forth. With a longer wheelbase, the ride is passenger-car smooth and handling feels more like a car than a truck. The 3.4L V-6 gets to 60 mph in 8.5 seconds, a bit faster than most CUVs.
Base Price: $25,395
Mileage (mpg): N/A
Chrysler's Pacifica is a nice three-seat wagon with a high roof, firm ride, and avant garde styling. Behind the wheel, the Pacifica doesn't give much lean on curves, but the handling doesn't encourage courageous turning either. Off line it revs up to 60 mph in 8.9 seconds, thanks to a 3.8L V-6 engine.
For the driver, the Pacifica has thoughtful touches like a speedometer with large numerals for 0 to 70 (smaller from 70 to 160). In the back there's a power liftgate similar to those on some minivans. Chrysler plans to launch a fancier touring version of the Pacifica this year.
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