Minivans. Stations wagons. SUVs. Buying a practical hauler is like having to eat all your vegetables—then not getting any dessert.
Yet it doesn’t have to be that way.
Today’s crossovers—which are built on nimble, sedan-based platforms—now boast trendy, tuner-car styling and the latest high-tech gadgetry. Add in some pretty powerful (yet fuel-efficient) engines, and it’s easy to see how crossovers can let you have your cake and eat it, too.
Mpg: 17 city/24 highway
0-to-60 mph: 7.4 seconds
Cargo space: 101 cu. ft.
Toyota, Honda and Nissan may be Japan’s version of the Big Three, but Mazda retains its indie-cult status as a maker of fun cars (hence the smiley-face grille) with strong build quality. The full-size CX-9 may have massive amounts of cargo room—this is a seven-seater, after all—yet it feels much smaller. That’s a good thing, especially when watching (and cringing) recently as a restaurant valet made tight U-turns with the CX-9 on a busy city street. Also helpful are the rear parking sensors, rearview camera and blind-spot monitoring system. Three trim levels, and all come with roof spoiler, three-zone automatic climate control and lots of tech gear, such as Bluetooth, HD radio and—new this year—Pandora capability. Lots of legroom and headroom, though things seem a bit snug in the third row. But adding the impressive rear-seat DVD entertainment system with 11-speaker Bose surround-sound audio helps ease the ride.
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Mpg: 21 city/29 highway
0-to-60 mph: 8.1 seconds
Cargo space: 80 cu. ft.
New sleek styling cues—especially the bold black outlines on the sculpted alloy wheels—give the Santa Fe plenty of street-racer cred. To spice up the lineup even more, Hyundai now offers two models: a long-wheelbase seven-seater or the shorter Sport model, which seats five. Both offer plenty of luxe options, such as heated seats, power liftgate, windshield-wiper de-icers and heated steering wheel. But it’s the large 8-inch touchscreen–with intuitive controls—and huge panoramic sunroof that really stand out. Ditto for the stellar crash-test scores and surprisingly taut braking, which came in handy on a long, rainy rush-hour commute. Another plus: an Audi-like cabin that’s chic and spacious (though not so quiet). While the larger Santa Fe is just fine, the smaller Sport version—with its quick four-cylinder turbo—is more fun.
Mpg: 19 city/25 highway
0-to-60 mph: 6.4 seconds
Cargo space: 54.7 cu. ft.
If gas-guzzling SUVs are so yesterday, then the GLK is the new normal of A-list haulers. Pricey? Yes, especially when adding even basic options. Spacious? No, with cargo capacity that’s almost half that of the full-size Mazda CX-9. Yet this Mercedes is less a Costco hauler than an urban knock-about, with quick acceleration, sure braking and an ability to fit in tight parking spaces. And nothing really beats the Euro-like handling or whisper-quiet interior. The latest Mercedes safety features are here, such as adaptive cruise control, an automatic parallel-parking system and a lane-departure warning system that vibrates the steering wheel to—wake up!—make sure you’re not drifting off the road. For more eco-friendly fare, a turbo-diesel model arrives later in the year. Best of all, there’s that three-pointed star on the hood.