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SUV Throwdown: Best Mid-Size SUV of 2014

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In the CARFAX Thursday Throwdown we compare vehicles in a particular class on important merits including safety, performance, and look and feel. Our goal is to highlight not only the excellence that automakers bring to the table in various categories, but also how these vehicles compare and how they appeal to different buyers. Today, we’re looking at midsized sport utility vehicles (SUVs).

Comparing non-luxury midsize SUV offerings from the 2014 model year offers buyers a lot of choices. Although price is not always an indicator of luxury, most of the vehicles here are priced under $40,000, and all are marketed as non-luxury offerings by their manufacturers. Used car buyers may want to research 2014 models with an eye on what they might want to buy next year. Mid size SUV is the industry standard size as defined by Environmental Protection Agency testing requirements and Department of Transportation size variables.  We’re also including some “crossovers” in this list, presented alphabetically by make.

The difficulty in choosing from so many top-rated SUVs comes because this highly contested segment has some of the best that manufacturers have to offer. With the best SUV sales happening in this segment, every automaker is putting their best foot forward.

2014 Buick Enclave

As consumers should expect, what with Buick being the premium nameplate in the General Motors lineup, the Enclave has a very refined interior experience. It rides very well, handles nicely, and has a relatively large cargo area for the class. It is difficult to maneuver in some tight situations, however, but has some of the highest safety ratings in the midsize SUV segment.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Chevrolet Traverse

2014 Chevrolet Traverse in Chile
2014 Chevrolet Traverse. Image by order_242.

Strengths for the Traverse lie in its spacious interior and large cargo capacity. The engine can be underpowered, and the transmission is hesitant to downshift when more is needed to move up a hill, but a comfortable ride and nimble handling are the hallmarks of the 2014 Traverse. Like its Buick cousin above, the Traverse returns some of the best crash ratings in the segment.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Dodge Durango

The unique and bold styling of the Durango are what immediately set it apart from others in the mid size SUV segment. The base V6 engine is powerful and the available V8 is a show-stopper when it comes to performance in top rated SUVs. Finally, the eight-speed automatic transmission that comes standard means good fuel economy even with all that get-up and go. The available third row is always a selling point, but cargo space suffers for it and some might question the untested reliability of the new transmission offering for the 2014 model year.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Ford Edge

For 2014, Ford added a lot to the Edge to boost its appeal. Not the least of these additions is the EcoBoost engine option for very high fuel efficiency compared to many others in this market. Several engine choices, a nicely-tuned transmission, and smart interior ergonomics make the Edge a good choice. For technology buffs, however, the Ford MyTouch system still lags and those looking for sporty handling may not find it here.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 3 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Ford Explorer

A mid-market offering from Ford, the Explorer is a storied midsize SUV with all of the love and hate that this implies. For the 2014 model year, the Explorer sees a good mix of engine options, a nicely-tuned automatic transmission, but suffers from uninspired handling and limited cargo space. Safety ratings are above average.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/M/G/G/G

2014 Ford Flex

The Flex has one thing that nearly all others in the midsize SUV segment do not: a huge amount of interior space – enough to rival many full-sized SUVs. This is the best SUV for the family needing plenty of elbow room and seating, but that roomy cabin comes at the price of lackluster performance and truck-like maneuverability. Road presence is good as compensation.

NHTSA Safety Rating: Not Rated
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/N

2014 GMC Acadia

The Acadia is considered a premium-level vehicle, though its price tag might confuse some on that point. It is marked by an upscale interior and refined feel, but its outdated powerplant and low fuel economy mar its otherwise nicely-done packaging. Like the Traverse and Enclave it shares platforms with, the Acadia maneuvers sluggishly. The Acadia boasts one of the best crash test ratings in the midsize SUV segment.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Honda Pilot

The 2014 Honda Pilot is ready for an update with dated interior features, but has a good reputation for reliability to go with its well-done three-row configuration. With good engine output and a five-speed automatic transmission, EPA fuel economy is rated well for this midsize SUV.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/P/G/G/G

2014 Hyundai Santa Fe

The Korean automaker has been upping its offerings to better compete in terms of refinement and standard features of late. The Santa Fe exemplifies this with an excellent value for the accoutrement mix. The 2014 Santa Fe is comfortable, well-designed, shows quality, and has one of the best warranties in the industry. While the technology in this midsize SUV can be clunky, it’s a great offering overall.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee

The interior of the 2014 Grand Cherokee is one of the best in the business, and its Uconnect infotainment system is one of the easiest tech systems to master as well. Add in legendary Jeep off-road capability and smart family ergonomics and you have a complete package. The Grand Cherokee is a bit short on cargo space and has relatively low fuel economy for the segment, but for most buyers, its great looks and capabilities outweigh those nuances.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 3 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/M/G/G/G

2014 Kia Sorento

2014 Kia Sorento - under tree leftside AOA800px
2014 Kia Sorento

Known for its value packaging, the Kia Sorento does not skimp on comfort despite its low price tag. Some may find its interior a bit blasé compared to rivals in the midsize SUV market, but others will point out the price point and packaging and tell you it’s the best SUV for the offing. The base engine is a bit sluggish, but the Sorento is always family-friendly and ergonomic.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 5 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/P/G/G/G

2014 Mazda CX-9

What the Mazda CX-9 lacks in interior beauty and refinement, it makes up for with a spirited drive and fun dynamics. With signature Mazda shifting from the six-speed automatic and robust power from a well-tuned V6, the CX-9 is athletic and entertaining with good fuel economy for a midsize SUV. It’s safety ratings are not as strong as competitors, according to tests.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 – 3 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/P/G/M/M

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander

Seeing a full update for the 2014 model year, the Outlander is one of the more premium-appearing midsize SUVs on our list with three rows of seating at a fair market price. Its interior materials have been knocked by reviewers as being substandard in lower trim levels, however, and the CVT it has can be slow on the uptake. Very high safety ratings are a hallmark; the Outlander is one of the best SUVs in this regard, earning a Top Safety Pick Plus rating from the IIHS.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/G/G/G/G

2014 Nissan Murano

Of our lineup of midsize SUVs, the Murano stands out for its unique looks and super-smooth continuously variable transmission (CVT). Although this results in only average fuel economy, it means that a sportier V6 powers the Nissan Murano to compensate. Steering is a bit lazy, but handling and interior ergonomics are very good for a mid sized SUV.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/M

2014 Nissan Pathfinder

Still a true SUV, the Pathfinder mixes people-hauling ergonomics for the midsize SUV class with truck-like capabilities in towing and offroad. Spacious seating and a large third row set the Pathfinder apart from many rivals, though the CVT found in this SUV can make the driving dynamic sluggish for some.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/N/N

2014 Nissan Xterra

The Xterra has gained a reputation for being one of the best off-road SUVs on the market. It rides well, is comfortable to sit in, and has a versatile cargo area. This, however, comes at a price with poor visibility to the rear, very truck-like handling, and an outdated interior that sorely needs an upgrade. Mileage is worse than average, thanks largely to the offroad-ready tires on this sport utility.

NHTSA Safety Rating: Not Rated
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/M/A

2014 Subaru Tribeca

The Tribeca is feeling its age and is being neglected by Subaru in favor of more popular crossover offerings like the Forester and Outback. Although the Tribeca is comfortable and has signature Subaru handling and capability, its third row is very cramped and cargo space is limited by comparison. This is one of the last of the Subarus sporting a geared transmission, explaining its less-than-stellar MPG ratings.

NHTSA Safety Rating: Not Rated
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

2014 Toyota 4Runner Trail - rocks4 - AOA1200px
2014 Toyota 4Runner on the Trail. Image by Aaron Turpen.

2014 Toyota 4Runner

The 4Runner is one of Toyota’s best-selling sport utilities and is often cited as one of the first true SUVs to ever come to market in the modern age. Despite its truck-like handling and less-than-refined ride and drive dynamics, most 4Runner packages offer good off-road capability and a commanding presence. The 2014 model year design update brought a new look that many feel balances a tough exterior with sophistication.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 4 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 3 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/M/G/G/G

2014 Toyota Highlander - skate park 5 - AOA1200px
2014 Toyota Highlander at a skate park. Image by Aaron Turpen.

2014 Toyota Highlander

One of the most family-friendly midsize SUV offerings on the market, the Toyota Highlander is often the benchmark others are compared to. It has a hybrid version which returns excellent fuel economy (for a price) and a well-considered V6 as its standard powerplant otherwise. Interior ergonomics are very well thought out, though sport drivers will find the Highlander to be less than they’d want.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/A/G/G/G

2014 Toyota FJ Cruiser

The unique look and popular off-road capabilities of the FJ Cruiser have not been enough to sustain it on the market and 2014 marks the last year for this midsize SUV. It’s likely that the lack of sophistication inside is a part of that, but this fun sport ute is focused on fun factor and sporty, all-terrain capability. Used models may well appeal to collectors in the coming years due to its retro appeal.

NHTSA Safety Rating: Not Rated
IIHS Safety Rating: Not Rated

2014 Toyota Venza

2014 Toyota Venza - outside 7 - AOA1200px
2014 Toyota Venza. Image by Aaron Turpen.

Like its larger Highlander sibling, the Venza is a family-friendly vehicle that offers a lot of value for those needing a family hauler. The station wagon-styled crossover has roomy seating, a good road feel, and lots of cargo area. Its driving dynamics are bland, however, but those looking for an ergonomic everyday vehicle will be hard pressed to find one better than this.

NHTSA Safety Rating: 5 stars – 4 front / 5 side / 4 rollover
IIHS Safety Rating: G/N/G/G/G

About the Safety Ratings

Safety ratings from the government’s tests are given for each vehicle on our list. Insurance tests are given below that.

NHTSA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is tasked with crash testing vehicles for the federal government; it rates vehicles with up to five stars in each of three categories. We list them as follows: Overall Rating – Frontal Crash/Side Crash/Rollover. You can find out more about the NHTSA’s testing procedures here.

IIHS

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a cooperative among automotive insurers that tests vehicles as a non-profit aimed at guiding insurance rates and risks for vehicles and to give consumers a better understanding of the safety of the vehicles they purchase.

The IIHS scores on five separate tests which measure crash worthiness and crash avoidance. Scores are rated as Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. We present these as G, A, M, P or N (not tested) in the IIHS presentation standard in order of testing:

  • Moderate Overlap Front
  • Small Overlap Front
  • Side Impact
  • Rear Crash Protection
  • Roof Strength.

You can find out more about the IIHS’ testing here.

Did you find this useful?

If the answer is “yes”, then there is a high chance that you will enjoy our comparison of the Best 2014 Luxury SUVs and our advice on how to find the best small SUV to suit your needs.

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