Narrow Your Options before Buying SUV

Article excerpt

Confused by the variety of sport/utility vehicles on the market? With about 35 different nameplates available, that's understandable. However, by examining your needs, the field quickly narrows.

Hardly a decade ago, buying a sport/utility was a snap. Only six or seven models dominated the market - and the emphasis was definitely on utility. Most were pickup truck frames with a cabin shell attached for carrying passengers. All came with four-wheel drive. All were built for rugged off-road work and adventure. Comfort was nonessential.

How times have changed! Not only are there dozens of new makes, but many are available with all-wheel drive or two-wheel drive. Unibody construction and carlike luxury have become necessities, and industry estimates suggest 90 percent of SUVs never touch the bottom of an off-road rut.

With such diversity, shoppers must have a clear idea of what they need:

1. How much room is enough? Will you be driving alone or do you need space for the Little League?

2. Will you be scaling the Rockies or will an AWD model suit your needs?

3. Do you want every luxury or is an economical runabout more up to speed?

Let's look at a few answers. Compact SUVs seat only four or five persons, so buyers shuttling large families or heavy loads should opt for a full-size vehicle.

The GMC/Chevrolet Suburban is a family classic with room for nine passengers and more than 150 cubic feet of cargo area. Available with a bonanza of option packages, Suburban prices range widely from a stark $24,000 to a fully loaded $40,000.

At a foot and a half shorter, the Chevy Tahoe/GMC Yukon twins can carry six passengers with the optional front bench seat. However, 123 cubic feet of room packs half again as much groceries as any compact SUV. Prices range between $23,000 and $32,000.

In between those sizes is the new Ford Expedition. A third bench allows nine-passenger seating. Cargo space opens to 118 cubic feet. And the 4x4 comes with Ford's easy-dial Control-Trac system. Expeditions start at $27,270 and rise to near $39,000 for an Eddie Bauer model. …