We all have our favorite cars that seemed to last forever with only the most basic maintenance, and then there are the cars that were money pits, the vehicles we tell horror stories about at the dinner table. Maybe one of those was an SUV, and maybe you’ll find it on this list of best and worst SUVs of all time. From Subaru to Pontiac to Chevy SUVs and back again, let’s begin with the best, and then we can laugh about the worst. These SUVs are not ranked in any particular order, but they are being judged by reliability and appearance.
The Best SUVs
If you love SUVs, it probably has to do with how it handles in winter weather or rough terrain. It may also have something to do with the amount of cargo space or the fact that it handles more like a car, but has that little extra height. People have lots of reasons to enjoy SUVs, but reliability is certainly a wonderful feature to have when buying or owning one. Read on to see what makes these SUVs the best of all time.
If you live in New England, this should be considered the honorary regional vehicle. The Subaru Forester definitely handles winter weather well and has been considered a reliable purchase since 1998. Notable for being able to put on the miles, the Forester is a sturdy SUV that can last for well over a decade with regular maintenance. You may not get lots of fancy stuff like top-of-the-line tech or expensive trims, but you will get a dependable car with lots of room. Even though it has just a 4-cylinder engine, some models of the Subaru Forester can actually tow up to 2,400 pounds if you add a hitch. This little SUV will get you through the snow when others are on the side of the road.
The Buick Encore is the youngest of the group here, but it’s a well-loved SUV for being reliable and comfortable while providing great fuel efficiency. Even back in 2013, when the Encore was introduced, it came standard with lots of goodies like a touchscreen, Bluetooth connectivity, and rear-view camera. If you’ve ever driven a Buick, this is definitely a little bit of luxury with all the lovely power-assisted tech and trims to make the ride plush. Seriously, who doesn’t want to drive a comfy couch down the highway? One drawback to the Encore is its lack of towing capacity, something most SUV owners like to have. Otherwise, the all-wheel drive and Buick’s well-known wood and leather accents are certainly pluses where quality is concerned.
Toyota has become synonymous with long-lasting vehicles, and Toyota’s RAV4 is no exception. The RAV4 has been around since 1996 and is famous for being reliable and zippy. For an SUV, this vehicle also gets good gas mileage, and can even tow up to 1,500 pounds with a 4-cylinder engine. Aside from the fun of driving this smaller SUV, it also pays attention to the luxuries like sunroofs, on-board technology, and leather. The RAV4 is priced as a mid-range SUV but leans toward higher-end finishes. As with the usual Toyota lifespan, owners get their money’s worth with a long-lasting SUV that requires minimal maintenance.
The Ford Explorer may be one of Ford’s most well-known models, possibly because it’s been around since 1992. Even back in the early days, this SUV was suited to rugged durability with a V6 under the hood and a towing capacity of 3,500 pounds. Off-roading is as easy as highway driving for the Explorer, though Ford doesn’t skimp on niceties like leather seats and tech, even in the earliest days. Ford has been dinged for unreliable vehicles over the years, but the Explorer has been sturdy and dependable overall. If you like a bigger SUV with oomph, the Explorer comes standard with four-wheel drive. Just keep in mind that power comes at a price in the gas tank.
Chevy’s Equinox has been around since 2005 and has been well-loved by many drivers over the years. This Chevy SUV has proven itself to be a reliable car with little need for repair, and definitely got ripped with tech right from the earliest days. Even back in 2005, drivers could enjoy hands-free phone use, on-board navigation, and an MP3 player (remember those?). Today, you can enjoy the full spectrum of driver-assisted tech, infotainment, and voice-command systems. Little things like being able to fold down the front seat for big items and big things like being able to tow up to 3,500 pounds are good reasons to love this SUV. Gas mileage is fairly good for newer models, and it even comes as a hybrid if you so choose.
The Worst SUVs
We all have those cars we wish we never bought. You may not agree with all the SUVs on this “worst” list, but a large group of consumers and reviewers alike tended to agree with the five choices here. Read on if you dare.
This SUV absolutely earns the number one spot for being the ugliest SUV ever. Astonishing that anyone ever purchased this vehicle and drove it with anything other than embarrassment, and even more surprising that you might still see one on the road (though there are still some limping along). What anyone saw in this strange vehicle, which looked like a bad 80s hairstyle in car form, is a mystery. The Aztek gets ribbed for its looks, but there are lovers of this vehicle despite one of its main complaints being transmission trouble. Having coolant and engine leakage is another. But the cooler in the console is awesome, right.
This little beast of an SUV was produced between 1990 and 1995, and it got a bad rap in a magazine article that claimed it wasn’t safe due to concerns about the potential for roll-over in an accident. Whether or not the article was true, it tarnished the Samurai’s rep. There are those who have owned this little 4X4 and claim to love it, but one could question this to be like love for the Velveteen Rabbit, who became ugly and furless after too much of a good thing. Either way, the Samurai only seats two, has a lot of badly-built parts and strange problems, like holes in the floor and an anemic drivetrain that can’t handle much more than the weight of two people. Maybe that’s why the Samurai is a two-seater.
If ever there was a Jeep you wouldn’t want to buy; it’s the Liberty. This was never a “real” Jeep, like the Wrangler, but a sort of cheap cousin to the real thing. Somehow, the Liberty was produced for a full decade between 2002 and 2012 (ironically, the year the world was supposed to end). The Liberty may have been alright off-road, but it doesn’t have much else going for it. The seats were uncomfortable, it handled poorly, the interior was cheap, and if you hit the gas, it had little get up and go. All that, and you add the fact that it’s a gas guzzler, we don’t need to even go into the mechanical troubles over the years.
Famous for its “fangs,” the Isuzu VehiCROSS had a short run of only three years. It was made for the desert and had a specialized cooling system to handle the high temps, but the strange, monster-like appearance never got any appeal with an audience. Aside from the odd exterior, the VehiCROSS didn’t ride very well, had poor visibility, and no ability to tow. The design flaws kept this beast from flourishing, and it died out almost as quickly as it appeared.
The final word on this vehicle: yikes. Every car company has its flops, and Dodge is no exception, particularly in the case of the Nitro. Even if you ignore the frightening styling, it has been given a bad rap beginning with the shared undergarments of the Jeep Liberty, another failed vehicle, and the poor gas mileage. On top of that, the Nitro handles poorly, is sluggish to accelerate, and doesn’t have very good safety ratings. Add to that mix a rather cheap quality interior, and you have yourself a mash-up of lemony badness.