The newly mature midsize-SUV segment features one of the most closely matched sets of vehicles we've ever seen. Each SUV tested has a V-6. The smallest is 3.5 liters, the largest is 3.7 liters. The weakest engine makes 250 horsepower, while the two most potent pump out 290. Torque is even closer with 22 pound-feet separating the buffest from the most effete.
Every one gets an EPA rating of either 16 or 17 mpg in town and 22 or 23 mpg on the highway. In our own tests, the most frugal car recorded 15.9 combined mpg (Highlander), while the thirstiest recorded 13.8 mpg (Traverse). They all seat seven, except for one that seats six (the Ford came with optional second-row captain's chairs) and one with eight seats (Pilot). As-tested price is the same story, with the cheapest wearing a $40,800 sticker (CX-9), while the most expensive costs $45,515 (Explorer). The average price for the six is $42,192, with most costing a few hundred bucks less than the mean.
Aside from our usual crew of automotive know-it-alls, we brought along Mark Williams, former editor-in-chief of Truck Trend and all-around off-road expert. He makes the following salient point: "Thank God we're not grading on a curve. The top players in this segment are fiercely competitive. Worst of the group probably gets a B+, with the top spots being separated by just a few percentage points." Exactly right. Are you ready? Here we go.