Never ones to rest on their laurels, the makers of 4wd SUVs have exciting new offerings, including the Jeep Cherokee, the Nissan Xterra, the Toyota Highlander 4wd, and the Ford Escape 4wd. Marketed as vehicles you can take off road in search of geographical pyrotechnics or high adventure, 4wd SUVs have proven their worth in places with difficult weather — blizzards and heavy downpours — where traction makes a difference.
The Toyota Highlander has a sticker price starting at $28,804 and climbing to $37,600. The standard package has a 3.2 liter V6 engine. SUVs aren’t necessarily economical to drive, and Toyota has tackled this problem with an optional 3.5 liter V6 hybrid engine. The gas mileage of the Highlander hybrid is a middle-of-the-road 28 mpg combined (29 mpg highway, 27 mpg city), which is representative of the Highlander’s overall performance. It is still the most popular 4wd SUV on the market. It seats seven with an new luxury interior that you might find in a mid-priced luxury automobile. Attractive leather trimmed seats and wood paneled cab components make for a pleasant experience. It handles well on the highway.
The Ford Escape 4wd has a sticker price starting at a low $23,109 with a standard 4-cylinder engine. It is an affordable SUV with some nice features. The Escape’s price goes up dramatically with the addition of extras — including a new hybrid engine at $10,000. Add more stuff and the price goes up to $35,124. With the hybrid engine you can get okay gas mileage: 28 mpg combined (29 mpg highway, 27 mpg city). You may get similar mileage with the standard engine, just by slightly over-inflating the tires! It seats five with abundant cargo space. It is a wonder to drive off and on the road, with a 5 speed manual transmission on the floor. This is an excellent buy at the base price.
The Jeep Grand Cherokee has been brought out in a slightly bigger edition. The size can be felt primarily in the interior. The size is less than visible outside. It has an economical 3.6 liter V6 engine that gets 23 mpg combined (22 mpg city, 25 mpg highway). A 390 hp V8 is also available — an option that would probably be more attractive if gas prices weren’t headed into the stratosphere. The 290 hp V6 is a pretty good engine though — able to handle a big SUV. The price starts at around $40,000 and goes up from there. It seats four comfortably because of the added interior space. Like Jeep Grand Cherokees of the past, this year’s model is fast and powerful.
The Nissan Xterra is a truly rugged entry in this class — unchanged in this respect from previous years. It is focused on robust off-road performance, and it has an easy-to-clean interior to better deal with the mud and grime you experience off the road. Gas mileage might be what you expect for an SUV with the off-road capabilities of the Xterra: 18 mpg combined (16 mpg city, 20 mpg highway). This is the most authentic off-road experience you will find in a 4wd SUV. The price starts at $24,000 and climbs to $37,000 depending on the package you order.