As the automotive industry has grown and evolved, more and more configurations have entered the market to varying degrees of success. One of the most popular of these, at least in the USA, is the high-riding sport utility vehicle. Thus, it’s no surprise that just about every brand has something to offer, from BMW to Jaguar, or Toyota to Hyundai, and there’s a wide selection of Mercedes-Benz SUV models, too. Whether you’re after something affordable and practical, or something a little more luxurious and fun, there is almost certainly a ute out there to suit your personality and needs.

Friendly to both your family and wallet

Considering how popular this style of vehicle is, it’s safe to assume that most of us would like to own one. Knowing this, manufacturers have tried to make them as readily available as possible. This means lowering initial cost as well as fuel economy figures so that you get a decent return on your investment. Still, cheap means nothing if you aren’t actually getting your money’s worth, so these affordable variants still have to deliver on the promise of the SUV design.

If you’re strapped for cash, you’re most likely to pick up one of the more compact models, which generally fall into the crossover category. But despite the fact that they lack the length and height of some rivals, these options can still offer excellent passenger and cargo space, as well as the safety and reliability ratings that are synonymous with the body. Kia is among the most competent automakers in this sub-segment, offering both the Seltos and the Soul. Starting MSRPs range from $18,000 to $22,000, and even the top-of-the-line models come in under $30k. They lack a bit in power, offering only 146 horsepower and 147 hp, respectively, however. The Mazda CX-30 bears similar pricing, but it has a lot more power and even better fuel economy, courtesy of its four-cylinder engine and hatch-like handling.

As we have come to expect from this category, each of these models comes equipped with excellent safety features as standard, with even more advanced driver-assistance features unlocked on the upper trim levels. These include the requisite rearview camera, as well as systems like rear cross-traffic alert, blind-spot monitoring, and lane departure warning.

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Practical luxury

While some of the premium brands do have several affordable options in their stable, the majority are aimed at somewhat more affluent shoppers. With the higher price tag comes proportionate levels of luxury, comfort, and technology. Usually, this means sacrificing in areas like performance and practicality, but the unique design of the SUV means that it is possible to combine all these factors.

Prestigious European brands like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Volvo have some very capable entrants in the segment, but American brands like Chevrolet, Cadillac, and Ford don’t shy away from the competition. In fact, perhaps the most impressive SUV for sale right now is the Caddy Escalade, powered by a throaty American V8 engine and packed to the brim with features, both comfort and safety-oriented. By comparison, even rivals like the Mercedes GLS-Class seem a little lacking, although they really aren’t.

It isn’t quite as hardy, but the interior is even plusher, and it handles excellently. The AMG GLE 53 is similarly outfitted in terms of materials and comfort features, but the stronger 429-hp turbo in-line six allows it to sprint to 60 mph in an impressive five seconds, or thereabouts. It suffers in terms of gas mileage, though, getting only 18/22/19 mpg, which is still better than Escalade. The Caddy also falls short in terms of storage capacity, since it comes outfitted with three rows of seating, but with the rear seats folded down, it easily beats what’s on offer from either of the Merc SUVs.

If you want to err on the side of utility rather than sports and leisure, then you may want to look at some of the competition. Ford, and its premium label, Lincoln, seem to have mastered the art of squeezing in three rows of seats and still leaving enough room for some junk in the trunk. The Lincoln Navigator offers 19.3 cubic feet of standard cargo space, with the Ford Expedition adding another 1.6 cubic feet. Naturally, with all the seats folded down, these two utes handily beat anything available from Chevy and even the European brands. Of course, if you’re really good at tetris, you probably won’t mind.

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Even more versatile than you think

Due to their popularity, it’s no surprise that SUVs are designed to work in just about every environment. To that end, all-wheel drivetrains are almost always on offer, if not standard, on every model on the market. However, unlike traditional four-wheel drivetrains, AWD is designed to improve road grip in poor weather conditions rather than incentivize off-roading.

But that doesn’t mean that some utes can’t brave the great outdoors. You’ll see some well-known names like Jeep and Landrover amongst these trailblazers, as well as a host of American models from Cadillac, Ford, Lincoln, and Chevrolet. Thanks to their natural height, many of these SUVs have great ground clearance. Throw in some off-road-focused drive modes and suspension tuning, and they make for excellent campers.

Further aiding in this, many utes boast some strong towing capabilities. Despite their body-on-frame construction, SUVs aren’t quite as sturdy as pickups, so they can’t lug around 10,000 lbs or more, but those outfitted with potent V6 and V8 engines like the Caddy Escalade or Ford Expedition can handle in excess of 6,000 lbs. The Mercedes GLE and BMW X7 don’t look as rugged, but they actually both boast towing capacities of over 7,000 lbs, proving that automotive expertise should never be underestimated.

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Knowing how to utilize your ute

Despite being highly versatile vehicles, SUVs still lean one way or another in terms of where they excel. Knowing your priorities will definitely help you to determine which is the best option to suit your needs. Here are some of the key areas where various utes shine, and some of the most capable entrants for each category:

Most capable haulers

  • Ford Expedition – 9,300 lbs
  • Lincoln Navigator and Dodge Durango – 8,700 lbs
  • Chevrolet Tahoe – 8,600 lbs

Best Off-roaders

  • Jeep Wrangler and Cherokee
  • Toyota 4Runner
  • Land Rover Range Rover
  • Mercedes-Benz G-Class

Safest SUVs

  • Mazda CX-3 and Cx-5
  •  Acura RDX
  • Cadillac XT6
  • Mercedes-Benz GLE-Class
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