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Adventure Guide

Do you have work to do, or play to do, that might involve going off road, carrying loads, or towing? That’s what this category is for. SUVs, utility and off-road vehicles, and crossovers are the body styles you’ll find here.

Ford Explorer

Year: Starting at $29,135 MPG 17-23 The Ford Explorer is a huge seller and a familiar sight on the roads of America. Long a traditional rear-wheel-drive SUV, the Explorer was completely remade for 2011 into a front-wheel-drive/all-wheel-drive crossover. It even comes with the option of a four-cylinder engine. That hasn’t changed its reputation as a go-anywhere utility vehicle, though. Teamed with all-wheel drive on V-6-powered models is Ford’s optional Terrain Management. This system lets you dial in the vehicle’s response to the surfaces on which you’re traveling, using pictograms for grass/gravel/snow, sand, mud/ruts, or normal. There’s also Hill Descent Control, which takes over the braking duties when you go downhill, so you can concentrate on steering. Other helpful features include adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and parking assist. The Explorer Sport model gives you both more power and more style, with 350 horsepower from a twin-turbo V-6 engine, a set of twenty-inch wheels, and contrast stitching on the seats. As for fuel economy, you can get 28 mpg on the highway, but only if you forgo all-wheel drive and get the four-cylinder engine. With the V-6 and AWD, you’ll get 23 mpg on the highway, and the Explorer Sport tops out at 22 mpg highway. It’s not the most exciting product on the market, either to drive or to look at—but for those who want to haul stuff, carry up to seven people, and feel more like a rugged adventurer than a boring commuter, the Explorer is a popular choice. …
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Volvo XC90

Year: Starting at $39,500 MPG 16-23 To those who call for the Volvo XC90 to freshen up: you’re right! Once the bestselling SUV from Europe, the XC90 has fallen way behind the curve, and the piddling updates for 2013 will hardly mitigate this laxity. If an important Volvo nameplate has suffered as the result of changes in Volvo’s corporate status, it’s the XC90. It’s the story of how a good-looking face can become merely familiar. The XC90 originated the trim, urbane look in the full-size crossover segment, but nothing has been done with that in years. And problems accelerated, so to speak, when the excellent V-8 departed the engine bay. Now left with the 236 horsepower 3.2-liter six-cylinder and six-speed automatic transmission as the only powertrain, the XC90 is dated and finds itself at a significant disadvantage to competitors; meager power output combines with mediocre fuel economy. For 2013, there are a few new items: for example, a leather strap on the tailgate, red wood trim in the interior, and white lighting for the instrumentation. The list of safety features looked good a few years ago, but today the XC90 even lags behind other Volvos in this aspect. The most important new feature it can receive is a refresh button. …
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Toyota 4Runner

Year: Starting at $31,490 MPG 17-23 Toyota’s 4Runner SUV has been with us for roughly three decades, and during that time, Toyota has done a reasonable job keeping it true to the tenets of the basic original. Based on Toyota’s “compact” Tacoma pickup, the 4Runner is still an excellent off-roader. However, with the whimsically styled and even more off-road-inclined FJ Cruiser also in the 2013 lineup, Toyota has taken the 4Runner’s trim levels considerably upmarket. Particularly in the fancy Limited grade, with standard leather seating, push-button start, navigation, and a slew of options including a fifteen-speaker sound system, the 4Runner is downright posh. Powering the 4Runner is a grunty, if a tad raucous, 270-horsepower 4.0-liter V-6 paired with a five-speed automatic—not the most sophisticated powerplant in the Toyota lineup but entirely capable. (If you’re looking for a smooth operator, check out the Highlander crossover.) Fuel economy is so-so, but to its credit, an eco-driving feedback system allows the driver to see just how much gas the vehicle is swilling at any given time. Off-roading remains a specialty for the 4Runner; particularly in Trail grade, no mid-size SUVs other than the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the aforementioned FJ Cruiser can keep up with the 4Runner once the pavement ends. Our favorite 4Runner feature, however (standard on all trim levels, thankfully), is the stereo, with its outward-facing speakers in the back for tailgate parties. …
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Toyota Highlander

Year: Starting at $29,020 MPG 18-24 Toyota is known for building cars for busy minds, not flaming hearts. With that in mind, consider the Highlander the very quintessence of the brand. Bringing all the style and comfort of a sensible shoe, the Highlander is perfect for people who don’t like to think too much about their vehicles at any point, whether it’s before, during, or after acquiring them. The Highlander is larger than Toyota’s RAV4 and Venza crossovers, yet it remains carlike next to the similarly sized and priced 4Runner. It features a second-row seat that can be equipped either with captain’s chairs or a bench, plus a standard third-row seat for a maximum capacity of seven souls. With base, SE, and Limited trim levels and a new Highlander Plus package available for the base model, the Highlander can be equipped either as a bare-bones kid shuttle or the next best thing to a Lexus. The Highlander breaks little new ground this year in technology, either inside the vehicle or under the skin, with the exception being the Highlander hybrid, which is offered in addition to the four-cylinder (front-wheel drive only) and V-6 models. But that’s okay, since the Highlander is pretty swell as is. And as we said earlier, for most Highlander customers, that’s good enough. …
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Toyota RAV4

Year: Starting at $23,300 MPG 24-31 An all-new gen-four RAV4 makes its debut for 2013, although at the time of this writing, Toyota’s lips were still sealed on the details. We expect, however, that Toyota dealers may have a few 2012 RAV4s sitting around well into 2013, so what about that model? Well, the gen-three RAV4 has never been a shabby ride, having grown about as large as a compact crossover can get and still be considered “compact.” It even offers a vestigial third-row seat, although that’s a place we only recommend for compact people. The front two rows offer good views and space for four adults, and spendy types can select from a laundry list of options, including leather seats, navigation, and an audio system with EnTune data services and iTunes song tagging. Both of the RAV4’s available engines, a somewhat overburdened 179-horsepower four-cylinder and a 269-horsepower V-6, are available with front- or all-wheel drive. We prefer the V-6 not just for its passing power, but because its highway fuel economy remains close to that of the four-cylinder. California residents may also consider the new, all-electric RAV4, which was introduced in late 2012 for about $50,000, minus a $7,500 federal tax credit and a $2,500 state tax credit. Based on the 2012 model with some cosmetic refinements that make it both more distinct and more aerodynamic, the RAV4 EV is expected to continue unchanged well beyond the introduction of the all-new 2013 RAV4, which is set to make its debut by the end of 2012. …
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Volvo XC60

Year: Starting at $34,350 MPG 18-24 Style and content go together in this compact SUV, which matches or beats its competitors in nearly every way. Recent sales reflect the XC60’s primacy: it’s the second-most popular model in Volvo’s lineup, and the gap between it and the S60 is closing. Sleek styling helps hugely, but the XC60 is also roomy and comfortable inside, and it’s not bad to drive, offering surprising thrust and reassuring grip. The sleekness gets an appropriate complement this year in outrageous Flamenco Red and Rebel Blue metallic, available colors that will provoke indignation in the school drop-off line. There are three models: 3.2, T6 AWD, and T6 AWD R-Design. A 240-horsepower 3.2-liter six-cylinder powers the 3.2, while the T6 has a 300-horsepower 3.0-liter turbocharged six (325 horsepower in the R-Design). All share the same six-speed automatic transmission, which now is controlled by a shift lever with illuminated drive modes. …
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Volvo XC70

Year: Starting at $33,600 MPG 19-25 The XC70 was Volvo’s answer to the Subaru Outback and the precursor of the Swedish brand’s crossover SUVs. It was a regular Volvo station wagon lifted up for more ground clearance and girded for battle with climatological and geological residuum. Sturdy and swift, the V70 enjoyed strong sales until the company’s SUVs, particularly the XC60, made it appear somewhat redundant in Volvo’s lineup. Nevertheless, a market niche remains, and the XC70 continues to occupy it. Two versions are available: the 3.2 and the T6 AWD. The former’s 3.2-liter six-cylinder makes 240 horsepower, while the latter’s turbocharged 3.0-liter six makes 300 horsepower. A six-speed automatic is included with either model. Beyond the base 3.2 are Premier, Premier Plus, and Platinum trim levels, while the T6 AWD also comes in Premier Plus and Platinum trim. The T6 AWD comes with a remote garage door opener, keyless start with a key fob that plays detective before you open the door, active Xenon headlamps that look around the corners for you, a power moonroof and tailgate, and other amenities. Heated front and rear seats available with climate package and heated washer fluid nozzles help make the XC70 one of the most serious winter cars in the marketplace. …
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Acura MDX

Year: Starting at $43,280 MPG 16-21 The 2013 MDX – no changes from last year’s model – is Acura’s bestselling SUV for a reason. It seats seven, can tow up to 5,000 pounds, and has more cargo space than any other car in Acura’s lineup. It also handles like a much smaller car, with Acura’s impressive all-wheel-drive system to help it around corners. The MDX’s 3.7-liter V-6 engine gives it plenty of power, and a new six-speed automatic transmission helps it achieve 21 mpg on the highway and 16 mpg in the city, so it's more fuel-efficient than previous models. The MDX’s interior isn’t quite cutting edge, but it does handle the task of making a seven-seater feel spacious and comfortable. With spacious front seats, a reclining second row, and an available rear video monitor, the MDX could be the answer for moms who shun the minivan. This utilitarian vehicle is not for everyone, however. With a base price range topping out just above $55,000 and a taste for premium fuel, the MDX makes you pay for everything you get. With this car’s versatility, the price may just be worth it. …
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Toyota Tacoma

Year: Starting at $18,525 MPG 18-21 Toyota has been selling compact trucks here for more than forty years and, well, all we can say is, “My, how you’ve grown!” What started as a Lilliputian trucklet in the late 1960s that put the “toy” in Toyota has developed into a rugged, imposing, nearly full-size workhorse, adopting the name Tacoma somewhere along the way. Thank Toyota’s steady-handed stewardship of its signature truck for its intensely loyal following that has kept the model selling in droves even as competitors have come and gone. In 2013, the Tacoma’s sole direct competitor is the comparatively gruff Nissan Frontier, and with its winning combination of slick looks, sterling build quality, bountiful comfort levels, and cab styles (including a simple standard cab model), the Tacoma is arguably the superior of the two. The Tacoma looks particularly good as the low-riding XRunner and the high-riding PreRunner, the latter even more so when you splurge on the T|X and T|X Pro packages. Anyone fancying a bit more cush should like the new Limited grade, with its chrome exterior trim, metallic dash surfaces, heated front seats, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and more. As before, a 159-horsepower four-cylinder is the base engine, while the bulk of models and all 4x4s come standard with a 236-horsepower V-6. We recommend the V-6 if you ever plan to get out of your own way, let alone carry a load in the bed. After all, isn’t that what trucks are for? …
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