From their earliest introduction to the automotive landscape, crossover utility vehicles have been the model of vehicular practicality. Lighter and more fuel-efficient than their full-size SUV brethren, most trump the capacity of a typical sedan, while offering optimized ground clearance and standard—or at the very least, optional—all-wheel drive; a powertrain configuration that not only tackles inclement weather, but delivers maximum road connection for those who enjoy a spirited excursion. There’s been just one lingering drawback to most wares in the segment: A lack of character.
So great is this discrepancy, certain brands have even been non-committal to the classification, preferring to sell “small SUVs” instead. Nomenclature aside, as the car and truck mash-ups continue to grab increasing hunks of market share, manufacturers are finally embracing these figurative step-children as truly loved and respected family members. No longer the bland, tan-on-tan, lunch box-styled rides of just a few years prior, today’s crop of crossovers is more stylish, capable and faster than ever. For buyers in the market for utility—but not willing to compromise on panache—consider a few recent favorites from the 2015 roster.
Range Rover Evoque
I fell in love with the Evoque back in its LRX concept days. Much to my delight, not only did most of the bold, angular styling carry over to production, it also set the direction for the marque’s exciting new design language. Now on the market for a few years, the Evoque is still perhaps the most configurable crossover available (notably offered in both three- and five-door) and arguably the most capable. Most will never leave pavement, but mine braved the uncertainty of deep mud, ruts, ice and even a couple of boulders—all of which it conquered in nonchalant fashion. The compact Rover showed its range in “magically” knowing the difference between Vancouver highways and the rugged slopes of Whistler. Don’t let the sleek, bejeweled face fool you. The Evoque’s DNA is that of a wild, off-the- grid survivalist; what it lacks in cargo room is more than compensated for with raw, go-anywhere talent. Starting at $41,000
Mercedes-Benz would rather refer to its latest work of craftsmanship as a “small SUV” than a crossover; testament to how the classification still has some barriers to break. Make no mistake though, this impeccably styled four- door—based largely on its recently introduced sister sedan, the CLA—is about as crossover as they come, which I mean in a good way. Under throttle, the GLA’s standard 2.0-liter turbo engine is quick and spry, with quite a serving of get-up- and-go and no detectable lag. I opted to throw it into some hard, dry corners, pleasantly finding it had one of the most planted, rail-riding feels in its class. And I’m confident its standard 4Matic AWD will perform through the next Polar Vortex. Simply put, it’s a properly trimmed, option-rich beaut of a utility vehicle that’s also packed with capability. Starting at $31,300
Ever looked out on a mantle of white, longing for the day your 911 can come out of hiding? Porsche now has the cure for seasonal affective driving disorder. The Macan (Indonesian for “tiger”) is the brand’s first foray into the crossover segment, and it’s far from a shy one. Pushing it through the elements in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, I found the 400hp turbo variant of the Macan to feel less like a crossover and more like a Carrera hopped up on beefy tires and ample suspension. Of course it’s a Porsche, so the cabin is rife with carbon and aluminum trim, but the Macan is more than just an all-season canyon carver (though it fills that niche quite well). Unlike the Targa or GTS, it’s able to fit a couple of six-foot-plus adults—or ample gear—in its cargo area with ease. Just make sure they’re properly secured, as this is the wildest crossover ride I’ve encountered to date. Starting at $49,900