Karl Brauer, executive analyst at automotive research firm iSeeCars. An automotive journalist for more than 25 years, he is a jury member for both the North American Car and Truck of the Year and the World Car of the Year awards. iSeeCars.com
As SUVs and pickups grab a record 70% of US auto sales, automakers are scurrying to introduce new and redesigned models. Among the changes for 2020 models, a very popular SUV will be available as a hybrid. An automaker famed for off-road capabilities is making its first pickup truck since 1992. And several impressive three-row SUVs are making their debut. The following vehicles stand out from the crowd. They are already available unless otherwise noted…
Subaru Outback looks a lot like earlier Outbacks from the outside, but don’t be fooled—its platform, engine, interior and tech all have been upgraded. Like earlier Outbacks, the 2020 version of this wagon/crossover combines a carlike ride and impressive fuel economy with SUV advanced all-wheel drive, spacious storage and rugged build quality. It also has a new automatic transmission that’s noticeably smoother than earlier versions and a 2.5-liter 182-horsepower (hp) four-cylinder engine that’s slightly more powerful and more fuel-efficient than its predecessor. The 2020 Outback’s ride is tighter and sportier than earlier versions, yet still comfortable. And its cabin feels more upscale thanks to an updated dashboard, larger touch screen, reduced road noise and (particularly on upper trim levels) high-quality materials. Starting price: $27,655. Fuel economy: 26 miles per gallon (mpg) city/33 highway.
Honda CR-V Hybrid is the first hybrid version of this top-selling compact SUV. It will deliver far better fuel economy than any CR-V that came before—an estimated 40 mpg, excellent for an all-wheel-drive compact SUV (official fuel-economy figures were not available as of November). Unlike some hybrids, it isn’t anemic to drive—its 212 hp bests the nonhybrid CR-V’s 190 hp with ease. Like all CR-Vs, it’s a great value and a very well-executed vehicle—reliable, versatile, pleasant (though unexciting) to drive, roomy and well-equipped. Pricing was not announced as of November but is expected to be in the neighborhood of $28,000. It debuts in early 2020.
Hyundai Palisade and Kia Telluride are big three-row SUVs at great prices. Because they share a powertrain and platform, it makes sense to discuss them together. Hyundai and Kia typically are associated with economy, but nothing about these all-new SUVs feels like pennies have been pinched. In every meaningful way—their confident drive quality…their comfortable cabins…their impressive list of modern safety features…their muscular, substantial presence—they hold their own against many three-row SUVs costing $5,000 to $10,000 more. They’re spacious enough inside to seat eight, though large adults might feel squeezed in the rear seat. The Palisade and the Telluride do differ modestly in terms of styling, features and options packages—the Kia looks more rugged…the Hyundai (shown above) is a bit sleeker and the third row can fold down at the touch of a button, something the Kia can’t do. The Hyundai’s starting price is $32,645 and fuel economy is 19 city/26 highway. The Kia has a starting price of $32,785 and fuel economy of 20/26 mpg.
Ford Explorer has been redesigned for 2020. It is tougher and more powerful than ever before, the cabin is more spacious, and handling is greatly improved. Its new platform is as robust as that of a pickup truck, and the 2.3-liter four-cylinder turbo delivers 300 hp. Other engine options include a 318-hp hybrid and a 400-hp V6. Towing capacity is a trucklike 5,000 to 5,600 pounds, depending on the engine. Prices start at $38,515 and can climb quickly depending on the engine and trim selected. Fuel economy is 21 city/28 highway with the base engine and 27/29 with the hybrid.
Lincoln Aviator is a luxurious oasis thanks to a sumptuous interior and soft ride. This three-row midsize SUV is officially the second-generation Aviator—Lincoln also made an SUV with this name from 2003 to 2005. This one is smaller and more affordable than Lincoln’s massive Navigator, yet still seats up to seven adults comfortably. Even the third-row seats have plenty of leg- and headroom. The interior is plush, quiet and unquestionably upscale—leather, wood grain and brushed aluminum abound. Its front seats are among the most comfortable and adjustable in any car. Its in-cabin chimes and alerts were recorded by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. The Aviator can’t compete with the top European luxury SUVs when it comes to sporty handling, but it isn’t trying to. It’s designed for car buyers who prefer a soft, quiet ride to tight cornering. That said, its base 3.0-liter V6 delivers 400 hp, more than enough to get you where you’re going. (A plug-in hybrid version offers 494 hp.) Starting price: $52,840. Fuel economy: 18 city/26 highway.
Jeep Gladiator, Jeep’s first pickup since 1992, is an off-roader you can use for your daily drive. The company didn’t just slap a pickup bed onto a Wrangler—it built a truck platform from the ground up. This is an impressively rugged and capable midsize pickup that can tow a best-in-class 7,650 pounds or carry 1,700 pounds in its five-foot bed. The base 3.6-liter V6 provides 285 hp. Like most Jeeps, the Gladiator is excellent off-road…and unlike earlier Jeeps, it’s pleasant to drive on paved roads, too. Prices start at $35,040. Fuel economy: 16 city/23 highway.
The 2020 Chevrolet Corvette Stingray is a super new car with a super price. Available as a convertible or coupe, the eighth-generation Corvette sets a new standard for affordable performance cars. When equipped with an optional Z51 performance package, it can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds—faster than a Ferrari Portofino, an exotic car costing more than $200,000. This new Corvette boasts a 490-hp 6.2-liter V8, and unlike prior ’Vettes, that engine is positioned just forward of the rear wheels, providing superior balance and handling. It’s attractively and aggressively styled with a cabin that’s comfortable and well-equipped. Motor Trend named the new Corvette its 2020 Car of the Year. Its starting price is $59,995, a fraction of what you would have to pay for a European car offering similar performance. (The Z51 package adds $5,000 to that price.) Official fuel-economy details were not available as of November, but it is expected to get 25 mpg, which is very good for a car this fast. It should reach the market early in 2020.