Fun To Drive Suvs

Despite the fact that SUV stands for “sport utility vehicle,” not many SUVs (or crossovers, as they’re alternatively known) actually feel sporty when driven. The sport part of their moniker refers to the fact that the original SUVs, like the Jeep Cherokee and Ford Explorer, were to provide off-road capability as well as everyday drivability.

Over time, SUVs took on more car-like traits, leading to the creation of the crossover label. Nevertheless, whatever you call a vehicle that combines an elevated seating position and all-wheel drive with an easy driving nature, most of them prioritize comfort and efficiency over fun performance. A number of crossovers do buck that trend, though. Here are a few fun-to-drive SUVs that promise better-than-average reliability on the used-vehicle marketplace.


BMW introduced the second-generation X3 SUV in 2011 with a new, optional turbocharged six-cylinder engine that lent this vehicle a formidable 300 hp.

  • Reliability is not perfect, but trouble spots are at least well-documented.
  • Check all engine fluid levels, as some owners report oil leaks. A coolant leak could indicate water-pump problems, and that’s a pricier-than-average part to replace on this car.
  • Failed ignition coils are a common issue and will flash a warning message in the dash. There’s one for each of the engine’s six cylinders, but these are relatively inexpensive parts to replace.
  • If you hear any clunking from the front wheels on your test drive of the X3 crossover, the steering rack could be faulty. It’s an expensive part, and a less-than-thorough mechanic may attribute the noise to the much-cheaper tie rods. Be sure you know where the issue is before you buy.
  • Finally, if the X3 you test lurches or shudders as it rolls to a stop, the cause could be a faulty part in the automatic transmission’s control unit called a mechatronic sleeve (which is, sadly, not as cool as it sounds).

Nissan Juke

Also introduced in 2011, the Juke subcompact SUV was the first of its kind to reach the Canadian marketplace. It has a small turbocharged engine that makes between 188 and 215 hp, depending on trim. It also boasts an optional AWD system designed to improve the car’s handling on dry pavement as well as adding traction in the snow.

Fun to drive Suvs: 2015 Nissan Juke
2015 Nissan Juke
  • The main issue to watch for in used models is that the car has been generally well-maintained. Regular transmission-fluid changes are essential to keeping the optional continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) working well. So, your best bet is a car that comes with service records. Note that the neat AWD system only came with the automatic. If you want the stickshift, front-drive is your only choice.
  • In addition, leaving oil changes too long can cause the timing chain to stretch, leading to performance problems and an expensive repair. In early models, Nissan admitted to the problem caused by faulty parts, and it did well by affected Juke buyers and installed redesigned parts. Verify whether the car you’re looking at was affected and, if so, that it has the new parts installed.

Ford Escape

It’s rare for a vehicle so ubiquitous to be entertaining. The 2013 redesign Escape introduced buyers to an available 2.0L turbocharged engine that makes 240 hp and offers sharp handling.

Fun to drive Suvs: 2017 Ford Escape
2017 Ford Escape
  • As with the Juke, the Escape’s transmission is sensitive to poor maintenance. Watch for a transmission that slams into reverse gear or makes rough shifts between forward gears. It could be a sign that a previous owner was lazy about fluid changes.
  • Many Escape SUVs with the 2.0L will have a power tailgate. Make sure it works properly: if it changes direction while swinging closed, the latch could be faulty or the door may be out of alignment.

Mazda CX-5

Like the Ford Escape, Mazda’s CX-5 compact SUV offers sharp driving feel at an affordable price. The real fun began in 2014 when Mazda added a 2.5L engine making 184 hp.

Fun to drive Suvs: 2017 Mazda CX5
2017 Mazda CX5
  • The CX-5 has been quite reliable, with few reports of serious common problems. If you notice rough shifting from the automatic transmission, updated software for its electronic controls will probably fix it. A Mazda service department would be able to tell you if any updates are available for the particular car you’re testing.
  • Test the CX-5’s infotainment system by using the knob and buttons on the console to explore the various menus and features. Make sure they all work without any delay. If the system crashes or is slow to respond, a software update may be the fix once again.

Acura RDX

A 2013 redesign turned Acura’s smallest luxury SUV into one of the segment’s most popular – Acura RDX. All versions are powered by a smooth and powerful V6 that makes 273 hp in early models and closer to 280 in later years.

Fun to drive Suvs: Acura RDX 2017
Acura RDX 2017
  • That engine uses a cylinder deactivation system called variable cylinder management (VCM) conceived to save fuel. Some RDX owners report a vibration or shudder when the system is active. This is normal, to an extent. If it feels excessive during your test drive, there could be an issue with the special engine mounts designed to cancel out those vibrations.
  • Engines with the cylinder deactivation are part of excess oil consumption complaint. This is not widely reported with the RDX. It’s worth asking your mechanic to take a look at the oil level when they do a pre-purchase inspection.
  • Some vehicles owners complained about vibrations. Acura blames the transmission and the driveshaft that power the rear wheels. These incidences appear rare.
  • Finally, if any of the RDX’s various electronic sensors act up, the first thing to look at is the condition of the battery. A weak battery — even if it has enough juice to start the car — can cause a wide variety of electronic faults.

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