This might seem the absolute worst question for a six-way SUV comparison test to pose in the opening paragraph, but here we are. But could it be that this is the absolute best question to be asking in the year 2011? If it were 1998, one could simply answer, "Jeep Cherokee," and get back to buying shares of pets.com for $190 each. Forty years ago, you'd say, "International Scout," and finish installing the lake pipes on your van. But today? Today the Scout and Cherokee are long dead (RIP), and the Nissan Juke and Murano CrossCabriolet technically qualify as SUVs.
There are two possible answers. The first is that an SUV is a vehicle short on compromises and high on versatility. Of course, it will get you to 7-Eleven. Any car will do that. But this version of SUV can also take you and your (large) family somewhere. The seats can fold and suddenly you've got a junk lugger that can go off-pavement, through mud and standing water, and over (small) rocks. Got a new boat? An SUV can tow that. Since we're shooting the moon, it should be fun to drive. Good-looking, too. An SUV, then, is the automotive equivalent of a Leatherman.
Of course, there's a second, more cynical answer. It goes something like: SUVs are for people too vain to drive a minivan and too stupid to drive a station wagon. They look like trucks-even though they're mostly car-based-because the poseurs buying them need to frighten and intimidate others. New mothers feel that a key component of good parenting is swaddling your child up in a tank. SUVs waste resources, pollute the earth, and can't stop clubbing baby seals. Ever. Like most things, the truth is buried somewhere in the middle.
It's time, then, to meet our six contenders, all 28,398 pounds of 'em.