Excessive? Sure, but try pulling a 25-foot boat
with a Corolla.
(This article first appeared in the Winter
2000 issue of Used Cars)
Large SUVs are under attack.
They drink gas like the gas guzzlers of yore, have sophisticated
four-wheel-drive systems that most ownersrarely use and now
are being treated as menacing battering rams preying on small
fuel-efficient passenger cars.
The rhetoric has been
ratcheted up in recent months, and now borders on the absurd. Common
sense (as well as physics) will tell you that when a 3000lb car and
a 5000lb truck collide, the truck isn't going to be the loser.
That's hardly a reason to ban them or regulate them out of
We'll be the first to admit
that many Suburbans, Expeditions and Land Cruisers are not purchased
for their off-road prowess, cargo-hauling or trailer towing
capabilities. They're bought for simply to project an image. And
based purely on logic, many SUV buyers would be better served with a
minivan, especially an all-wheel-drive model. They certainly drive
Still, many of these beasts
are used to haul or pull some big and heavy stuff around, and at
those tasks they're tough to beat.
We asked in the last issue
with our mid-size SUV roundup, why buy an SUV? A big reason is
because SUVs are cool and in! They possess the
outdoorsy, rugged look that Americans love. And the models here are
the biggest, boldest, most powerful of the category.
Chevrolet Suburban - 1990-1999
Chevrolet has been building a
utilitarian vehicle under the Suburban name since 1935. That makes
it the longest running model name in the automobile industry.
There is nothing subtle about
this vehicle. Next to Ford’s new Excursion, it is the largest SUV
currently available: 18-1/2 feet long and over 2-1/2 tons. Suburbans
are real trucks underneath and come only as 4-door wagons with
seating for up to nine. Both 2-wheel and 4-wheel drive are
Perfect for big families who
need space, cargo hauling capacity and towing capability, the
Suburban is a worker.
Big, but not quite as large as
the Suburban, Tahoe is constructed on a shortened version of the
same truck platform as the Suburban. It can be found in 2- and
4-door versions with 2-wheel drive or part-time 4-wheel drive. Power
is supplied by Chevy's tried and true 5.7 liter V8 or a 6.5 liter
eight-cylinder turbo-diesel. Interior seating packages dictate
whether you'll fit five or six people inside.
Tahoe had its genesis from the
long-running and always popular K-Blazer. This was not the smaller
S-10 Blazer (which now carries the Blazer name), but an early SUV
built off a truck platform. It was redesigned for 1992.
In any case, while the name is
new, the engineering and reliability of this vehicle is time-tested
Dodge Ramcharger 1990-1993
Introduced way back in 1974,
the Ramcharger was Chrysler's Blazer clone. When Dodge redesigned
it's pickup truck for '94, the Ramcharger was dropped.
A 2-door SUV with 2- or
4-wheel drive and a 5.2 or 5.8 liter V8, the Ramcharger lacks
sophistication, but can tow plenty and actually delivers a
reasonable on-pavement ride.
Ford Bronco 1990-96
1996 marked the end of a 30
year run for this venerable 4X4 (Expedition replaced it for '97).
All Broncos were constructed on Ford's full-size truck platform, and
came only with 2-doors. Engine choices were the 5.0 and 5.8 liter
V8s and a 4.9 liter straight six was available in earlier models.
The six is a purpose-built truck motor and has proven extremely
durable over the years.
Available in a myriad of trim
and equipment levels, the Bronco of these year came only with
4-wheel drive. Like the F-Series pickups they are based on, their
Achilles heal seems to be their transmissions.
Ford Expedition 1997-2001
The bigger is better
philosophy was certainly borne out by the introduction of the
Expedition. It sold like mad out of the gate, but supply has caught
up with demand.
Available only as a 4-door
with seating for up to nine, the Expedition is available in 2- and
4-wheel drive models with two V8s and lots of options.
A little more refined than the
Tahoe or Suburban, it lacks their overall "do anything" work ethic.
The twin of the Chevy, but you'll pay a little
more to put those three letters on your grill.
Sister to the Chevy K-Blazer and Tahoe and known
as Jimmy through '91, once again you'll pay more for the GMC name.
Jeep Wagoneer/Grand Wagoneer
A blast from the past if there
ever was one, these vehicles were designed in the sixties. They
still possessed the basic look of the first versions and carry a
certain charm or aura that is refreshing in the SUV sea of
look-alikes. Although updated over the years, they lag badly in
terms of sophistication.
All are 4-doors and come with
V8 power and Jeep's excellent part- or full-time 4-wheel drive
Land Rover Range Rover
A 4-door wagon with a rear
tailgate, a superb full-time 4-wheel drive system, V8 motivation,
and luxury that embarrasses most luxury cars defines the pinnacle of
Not just a pretty face, Land
Rover has mastered the art of 4-wheel drive: surprisingly soft
springs, long suspension travel and sophisticated traction control
will get you most anywhere.
Updated in 1995, this is the
official vehicle of the island of Nantucket.
Lexus LX 450 1996-1997
Cloned from the Toyota Land Cruiser, this SUV
entry ups the luxury a bit and offers the "Lexus ownership
experience". We'd stick with the superb Land Cruiser for less money.
Lincoln Navigator 1998-2001
Although really a '98 model, it was introduced
early enough in '97 to warrant inclusion. A clone of the Expedition,
you're getting a distinctive look and sumptuous surroundings for a
lot more money. As with the Lexus, the original is the better
bargain. Unlike the Lexus and the Toyota, at least the Lincoln looks
different from the Expedition.
Toyota Land Cruiser 1990-1997
Over the years the Land
Cruiser has moved from a stark utility-type vehicle to a luxurious
wagon at home on the trail or at your favorite country club.
Despite its upscale
presentation, Land Cruisers are a bit boomy on the highway and don't
deliver the ride you might expect. Equipped with the optional
locking differentials, the Land Cruiser is the equal of any SUV in
The '90 model was the
last year for the older boxy body. For '93 a needed power boost came
from a 4.5 liter straight six.