SUV Mega-Test: Buick Rainier, Chevrolet Trailblazer, Ford Explorer, Honda Pilot, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Mitsubishi Endeavor, Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota 4Runner

Glenn Paulina
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Conclusion

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Taken on their own, the Buick Rainier and Chevy Trailblazer EXT are solid vehicles--vast improvements over GM's past efforts in this segment. The Trailblazer gets extra points as a seven-seat mid-size SUV that provides adult-worthy transport for more than just short jaunts. But drive these two back-to-back with their competitors, as we did, and their myriad small shortcomings in dynamics, design, and execution conspire against them. The Ford Explorer remains a paragon of traditional SUV virtues, and it holds up well in this company. It simply falls a bit short in the value equation, and its old-school charms diminish with each new model that arrives on the scene. The Pilot is Honda's typical quality effort--smart, sensible, and sound in everything it does. Its competence and value are as predictable as sunrise, but it's just really...predictable. It is, however, the best SUV for most families. The Mitsubishi Endeavor enters the fray with endearing spunk. It feels like you may be giving up some substance compared with the Honda, but if SUVs are about breaking free from convention, its individuality just might be worth it. The Jeep Grand Cherokee spoiled us more than any other SUV here--its combination of posh performance really was special in this group. But was it $3445 more special than the formidable new Pathfinder, which offers a similarly beefy personality, more space, more utility, two extra seats, and fetching new looks? We're inclined to give the edge to the Nissan, but here it really depends on your personal taste and your bank account. Perhaps all of these ruminations are pointless in light of the Toyota 4Runner SR5. It was by far the cheapest entrant in this test, but it would vie for the top spot regardless of its price. It captures the SUV's "sport" and "utility" in perfect measure, without the dynamic baggage lugged around by the competition.

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