New Cars 2011: What to Look For in Mid-size SUVs

Last Updated Aug 19, 2010 6:35 PM EDT

This is the fifth of a series. In addition to an overview of the 2011s, MoneyWatch has broken out details for Small Cars, Mid-size Cars and Small SUVs and also will cover Minivans, Luxury Cars and Hybrid and Electric cars.

"The love affair with SUVs isn't over yet," says Jesse Toprak, vice president of industry trends and insights for auto pricing service TrueCar.com. "Consumers just prefer they burn a little less gas and look pretty." That's why you'll be seeing plenty of redesigns for 2011 mid-size SUVs.

Look for new styles from two signature mid-size SUVs-Ford Explorer and Jeep Grand Cherokee-as well as the Edge (Ford's slightly smaller five-passenger SUV), the Kia Sorento, and the Volkswagen Touareg. Among luxury mid-size SUVs, Lincoln MKXMercedes-Benz R-class and the Porsche Cayenne also get spanking new looks. (For more details on the MKX and Cayenne and their hybrid versions, see Electric Cars and Hybrids Buzzing at NY Auto Show.)

Most of these redesigned models follow the overall trend of improved mileage for 2011 models. As with small SUVs, more of the mid-size utilities are being built on mechanical platforms from cars for better handling and ride. That means more mid-size utilities will be crossovers instead of SUVs derived from pickup truck platforms.

Here is a more detailed rundown of the 2011 Explorer and Grand Cherokee, followed by the three other redesigns:

Ford Explorer-Once the runaway leader of SUV sales, Explorer gets a new look, new engines, and, Ford hopes, new sales life. Ford says the new Explorer, on sale in early 2011, will gain 20 percent in mileage with a new V-6 engine; 30 percent with a turbocharged four-cylinder. (A V-8 is no longer an option.) Although Ford didn't cite specific ratings, that 30 percent gain for the turbocharged four-cylinder seems to translate to about 19 mpg in city driving and 27 on the highway. The seven-seat Explorer has a new four-wheel drive system with selections for various off-road conditions. Pricing will start at $28,190 and probably range up to around $38,500, like the 2010 model. Families who need seven seats or 81 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded may like the Explorer.

Jeep Grand Cherokee-Having just gone on sale, the new Grand Cherokee is on fire. July sales jumped 86 percent over the previous month as this new version became widely available. Reviewers have praised its combination of off-road prowess-a Jeep hallmark-and luxurious interior. But its standard V-6 engine doesn't match mileage gains by competitors, with estimates of just 16 mpg city, 23 highway for the two-wheel drive model and 16/22 for four-wheel drive. Starting at $30,215, the five-seat Grand Cherokee (with a maximum 68 cubic feet of cargo space) ranges up to near-luxury prices at $41,120. This one is for Jeep loyalists who crave off-roading and the upgraded interior.

Ford Edge-The 2011 Edge gets sleek new styling and an improved interior. Its V-6, now in showrooms, is rated at 19 city, 27 highway. The four-cylinder turbocharged option available early next year translates to a likely 21 mpg city, 30 highway. Like Explorer, Edge gets an upgrade to the SYNC system called MY Ford Touch with improved display screens and controls on the steering wheel for what the company says is greater safety. The five-seater Edge has 68 cubic feet of cargo space, equal to the Jeep but much less than the Explorer. It will range in price from $27,220 to $38,070 for the top model. The Edge is a basic crossover that may appeal to younger buyers because of its high-tech equipment. But it's probably not right for someone considering the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

Kia Sorento-Like its little brother the Sportage, the Sorento gets a much more stylish look for 2011 (it's available now). Reviewers like the switch to a more comfortable car-based platform and its seating for seven with an optional third seat. The mpg rating is 2l mpg city, 29 highway for the two-wheel drive version. Starting at $20,790 and ranging up to $29,890, the Sorento looks like a good value-especially on the low end.

Volkswagen Touareg- The five-seat Touareg, available later this fall, is considered a luxury SUV. Luxury's not a word you typically think of for VW, lbut some reviewers compare the Touareg favorably to top luxury SUVs like BMW X5 and Acura MDX.  Touareg's addition of a gas-electric hybrid is big news because it's Volkswagen's first hybrid. The 380-horsepower hybrid (estimated at 21 mpg city, 25 highway) will sprint from 0 to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, the company says. But the base gasoline version has lame mpg ratings of  14 mpg city, 19 highway. That base version of the Touareg will start at $40,700; the diesel and hybrid versions will be higher. The major issue here is potential reliability. Older versions of the Touareg get poor used-car ratings from Consumer Reports.

Photos courtesy of the manufacturers

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    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

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