Top 10 SUVs for 2009

SUV sales have been down recently due to the disastrously high gas prices we saw last summer, but with gas prices dropping like the proverbial lead balloon, will SUVs see a return to popularity? Only time will tell, but for those interested in the SUV market, here are my picks for the top ten SUVs of 2009.

10: Ford Explorer XLT. The Explorer was the vehicle that started the SUV craze, and it still has its appeal, even if its styling is pretty boring. It comes with a 210 horsepower 4.0 liter V6 that achieves 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway. It has a trailer control system, Roll Stability system, and a traction control system that give it decent handling. Starting at $26,995, the Explorer is still a good value for this grandaddy of SUVs.

9: Toyota 4Runner SR5. Though it might look like a station wagon, the 4Runner is a true SUV, with 8.7 inches of ground clearance, hill start assist, and an advanced traction control system. It comes with a 4.0 liter 236 horsepower V6 and also offers a 4.7 liter 260 horsepower V8. It manages a respectable 16 mpg city/21 mpg highway and starts at $28,640. With lots of storage room, the 4Runner is a respectable family hauler.

8: Mazda CX-9 Sport. This is a stylish, 7-passenger SUV that is anything but boring to drive. It looks kind of like a sports car, and drives like one too, with superb handling for a 7-passenger vehicle and a smooth but quick transmission. The CX-9 has a sporty 273 horsepower 3.7 liter V6 that earns 16 mpg city/22 mpg highway. That’s pretty good for a vehicle this fun to drive. With a starting price of $30,490, the CX-9 Sport offers a lot of room and a lot of fun for the money.

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7: GMC Yukon SLE. Measuring 202 inches from bumper to bumper, the Yukon is one big SUV. It comes with three engine options. The first is a 295 horsepower 4.0 liter V8, a 320 horsepower 5.3 liter V8, and a 320 horsepower 5.3 liter V8 that can run on 85% ethanol. As expected, fuel economy for the Yukon is not tremendous, coming in at 15 mpg city/21 mpg highway, but for a vehicle of its size, the mileage is actually among the best. If you’re looking for a big, powerful SUV with loads of room, the GMC Yukon SLE is a great buy, with a starting price of $37,405.

6: Lincoln MKX. This upscale version of the Ford Edge also comes with an upscale price. It starts at $37,355 for the FWD version, and you can add about $2,000 for the AWD version. The MKX comes with a 265 horsepower V6 that gets 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway. The strong point of the MKX is its luxury, with such amenities as heated and cooled front seats, standard SYNC voice-recognition technology, and a super quiet ride. Its looks are a plus too, taking the Edge and giving it a distinct chrome grille and cool taillights. For all the luxury you get, the MKX is a pretty good deal.

5: Suzuki XL 7. While Suzuki’s sedans have suffered from quality problems, their SUVs have a far better reputation. The XL 7 seats five with an optional seven seat version for an extra $2,500. It has a powerful 252 horsepower V6 that manages an impressive 18 mpg city/24 mpg highway. Its 100,000 mile/7 year warranty is the best in America. Its handling is refined, and its low starting price of $22,999 makes for a great value.

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4: Honda CR-V EX. The CR-V has a four-cylinder, 166 horsepower engine that sips a meager 20 mpg city/27 mpg highway. With a suggested starting price of $21,095, you might expect the CR-V to feel cheap, but this is not the case. Though not large, its space is ample and comfortable, and its handling is decidedly car-like. The price, reputation for quality, and refinement make the CR-V EX a winner.

3: Volvo XC 60 T6 AWD. As of the writing of this article, the XC 60 is just now hitting the streets. I decided to include it due to the top of the line performance and quality of the other cars in the XC series. Like all Volvo’s, the XC 60 sets the standard in safety. It has auto-braking when it senses you are about to crash, a driver alert system that warns you if you are losing concentration (most likely from sleepiness), a lane change alert system that warns you if you are unintentionally crossing a lane, superior traction control, a blind spot alert system, and more. It comes with a 3.0 liter V6 that achieves 281 horsepower and a fuel economy rating of 15 mpg city/22 mpg highway. While an official price hasn’t been announced yet, expect the XC 60 T6 to be around $60,000.

2: Ford Flex. This Scion xb on steroids is hot right now. It’s not difficult to see why, with its 262 horsepower V6 and fuel economy of 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway, it has both power and efficiency. The Flex also seats 7, has an optional towing capacity of 4,500 lb., and starts at just $28,295. Loads of interior room and smooth handling complete the package of this distinctive-looking SUV.

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1: Subaru Forester 2.5X. How could tiny Subaru pull off the top rated SUV? It’s easy. They do the basics, and they do them better than anybody. The Forester starts off with excellent fuel economy of 20 mpg city/26 mpg highway, and adds superb ground clearance of 8.7 inches, a cavernous 63 cubic feet of cargo, and more head and leg room than other SUVs in its class. The 170 horsepower V4 is no slouch, responding nimbly and aggressively, and, as with all Subaru’s, the Forester comes with standard all-wheel drive. Add in a starting price of $20,660, and the Subaru Forester not only tops all other SUVs in value, it does so without breaking a sweat.

Will you consider an SUV in 2009? Your answer probably depends a lot on what you think gas prices will be during the next year. If you are in the market, the ten listed above represent the cream of the crop.