2012 BMW X3
By Nate Martinez

We Like: Surprising surefootedness, turbocharged speed, and impressive fuel economy.

We Don't Like: While exterior gets revamped, the interior changes very little.

For all intents and purposes, the X3 xDrive35i is a lifted, stretched, and swollen 3 Series. That isn't a bad thing. Throughout our SUOTY program, this small Bimmer CUV impressed us on more fronts than we expected.

One took most of us aback: its ability to go very fast, very quickly. In its sportiest 35i form, a silky-smooth 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo inline-six matched to an ueber-quick eight-speed gearbox propelled the second-gen X3 with sports car-like eagerness and near-M-badge-worthy responsiveness. If that weren't enough, its 300 lb-ft of torque helped the 4205-pound CUV achieve a run to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds. The quarter mile took 14.2 seconds at 97.9 mph.

Of course, in true AWD style, every bit of power is applied to Planet Earth extraordinarily well. Its athleticism proved formidable during our figure-eight track sessions and real-world canyon runs. "Best driving crossover ever?" asked Lago. "There is so much authority and control in the steering. The ride is smooth and communicative, and it's not as harsh as some other contenders."

The spacious cabin has mostly unobstructed views. The knee-friendly rear-passenger seat was roomy enough for even the tallest of staffers, and the massive cargo hold swallowed an immense amount of gear. Surprisingly, even with such a powerful heart and sticky footing begging us to push harder, the X3 achieved one of the group's highest average combined fuel economy ratings at 19.6 mpg.

Now for some niggles. Nearly every editor voiced their disdain for the high driving position. A few called the confusing gearshift selector -- not the eight-speed mechanicals -- an irrelevant and unnecessary decorative piece. We also noted significant wind noise and some squeaks and rattles.

For all its highs and lows, the X3 is a good crossover that will fulfill the utilitarian and athletic needs of its customers. But the question remains: Does the two-ton-plus X3 push the segment's proverbial needle forward? We find it hard to say yes.

The X3 achieved one of the group's highest average combined fuel economy ratings at 19.6 mpg.

2011 BMW X3
BASE PRICE $37,625
PRICE AS TESTED $53,015 (xDrive35i)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.0L/300-hp/300-lb-ft turbo DOHC 24-valve I-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4205 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 110.6 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 183.0 x 74.1 x 65.4 in
0-60 MPH 5.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 14.2 sec @ 97.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 119 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.85 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 26.7 sec @ 0.70 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 19.6 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 19/26 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 177/130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.90 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ****
DESIGN ***
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY ***
PERFORMANCE *****
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ****
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE ***


2012 Dodge Durango
By Frank Markus

We Like: Strongman looks with muscle to match, informative steering, V-6 value.

We Don't Like: Overactive stability control, V-8's lack of a useful passing gear.

Behold a new breed of crossover -- one whose metamorphosis from body-on-frame to unitized construction has brought an increase in the mainstream V-6's towing capacity from 3750 to 6200 pounds. Granted, switching from a Dodge Dakota frame to the Jeep Grand Cherokee/Mercedes-Benz ML architecture added about 120 pounds, and the Hemi V-8's towing capacity drops from 8950 pounds to 7400, but among seven-seat crossovers, that limit trails only the Mercedes GL.

Even better news: A 19-percent reduction in aero drag and the Pentastar V-6's quantum efficiency improvement help boost EPA ratings from 14/19 mpg city/highway to 16/23 (V-8s also eke out an extra highway mpg). Another big dividend of crossing over to a platform initiated by the bank-vault builders at Benz: This Durango feels solid, as Scott Mortara notes. "No creaks or rattles, even after all the dirt loops we've done -- that says a lot about the build quality."

Design takes a significant step forward with pleasing lines outside and in, though the interior's upscale soft-touch materials are let down by cheaper-looking grain and gloss, and by old-school nav and info displays that pale in comparison with the Journey's spanking new ones. Interior dimensions all shrink relative to the previous Durango, but even 6-foot-2 Mike Febbo exclaimed, "I fit in the third row with a decent amount of comfort!" So if the intended function of a big crossover is carrying people and stuff, the Durango deserves big points.

Our judges had near-unanimous acclaim for the steering, with Carlos Lago praising the "surprising clarity in the steering and chassis response." But the dearth of useful transmission ratios drew unanimous derision. The V-6 offers five reasonably spaced cogs, but the V-8's "six-speed" offers only four useful ratios (a mere 600 rpm separate gears 2-3 and 5-6). This has an emasculating effect on the mighty Hemi, as Jonny Lieberman notes. "All ate up with Hemi sounds, but where's the beef?" In the end, most agreed this Durango was at least an eight-speed transmission and a high-def dash graphics package shy of grabbing the Golden Calipers.

I fit in the third row with a decent amount of comfort!

2012 Dodge Durango Crew 2012 Dodge Durango R/T
BASE PRICE $30,045 $30,045
PRICE AS TESTED $40,245 $39,305
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV Front engine, RWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/290-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6 5.7L/360-hp/390-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
TRANSMISSION 6A 5A
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5005 lb (50/50%) 5230 lb (51/49%)
WHEELBASE 119.8 in 119.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 199.8 x 75.8 x 70.9 in 199.8 x 75.8 x 70.9 in
0-60 MPH 9.0 sec 7.3 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.7 sec @ 85.9 mph 15.6 sec @ 87.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 142 ft 124 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76; 0.79 g (avg) 0.79 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.8 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 28.8 sec @ 0.59 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 17.9 mpg 15.3 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/22 mpg 13/20 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 211/153 kW-hrs/100 miles 259/169 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.06 lb/mile 1.26 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ****
DESIGN ****
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY ****
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ****
OFF-ROAD ABILITY ***
VALUE ****


2012 Dodge Journey
By Carlos Lago

We Like: Endless array of hidden storage compartments, interior design, cushy ride.

We Don't Like: Thought of the four-cylinder/four-speed auto keeps us up at night.

At its first SUOTY three years ago, the Journey was more jester than contender. Now, with a redesigned interior, retuned suspension, and new powertrain, the votes this significantly revised Journey received were serious.

The interior -- once a drab, tired, depressing place -- now puts its stablemates to shame (read: Durango). The eye-pleasing design makes excellent use of materials, and touch points feel soft and plush. We liked the addition of the intuitive Uconnect infotainment system, though we found glitches in Garmin's nav software.

The now-intelligent interior packaging offers a storage compartment underneath the passenger seat and kid boosters in the middle row. The lounge chair-like front seats complement the comfortable ride from the retuned suspension. And then there's the headroom. "I could wear a cowboy hat inside this thing," said tall man Febbo.

Chrysler's vaunted 3.6-liter V-6 returns satisfactory straight-line acceleration test numbers, but, from the driver's seat, the Journey doesn't accelerate with the eagerness that 283 horsepower implies. Blame it on fuel economy-conscious gearing. Still, the powertrain remains the best choice for this vehicle; we'll avoid mentioning the four-cylinder/four-speed automatic pairing. You should, too.

The Journey showed some reluctance on our light off-road course. "The gravel hill was tough on this all-wheel drive system," logged Frank Markus. "I stopped in the loosest, steepest part and couldn't get going again; had to roll down and get another start. All the copious wheelspin resulted in a Service AWD System warning lamp, but it went out as soon as I crested the hill."

We can't award any points for exterior design, either. Vehicles like this don't need to call seductively to their owners, but the Journey says nothing.

Despite these minor faults, the Journey has become a very competitive minivan replacement worthy of consideration. It has lost much in its transformation, but gained more.

Once a drab, tired, depressing place -- now puts its stablemates to shame.

2012 Dodge Journey
BASE PRICE $21,795
PRICE AS TESTED $32,590 (Crew AWD)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front engine, AWD, 7-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 3.6L/283-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 4254 lb (57/43%)
WHEELBASE 113.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 192.4 x 72.2 x 66.6 in
0-60 MPH 7.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.0 sec @ 87.2 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 134 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.76 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 28.7 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)
MT OBSERVED FUEL ECON 18.1 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 16/24 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 211/140 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS 1.03 lb/mile
RATINGS
ENGINEERING ***
DESIGN **
INTERIOR/FUNCTIONALITY ****
PERFORMANCE ***
ON-ROAD REFINEMENT ****
OFF-ROAD ABILITY **
VALUE ****