From GMC to Buick to Cadillac, General Motors offers crossovers and SUVs that run from utilitarian to budget-conscious to opulent. Though GM continues to offer truck-based, body-on-frame full-size SUVs such as the Chevrolet Suburban and GMC Yukon, it also offers an array of crossover SUVs built on passenger car-based unibody platforms.
Choosing the right GM SUV, then, begins with a basic choice: Do you want it to drive like a car or perform like a truck? Many SUV and crossover shoppers like this class of vehicle because they can carry a lot of cargo, they offer a safe-feeling ride height, and they are fashionable. The SUV is the family hauler of choice for this generation. For these buyers, the front- or all-wheel drive, unibody SUVs and crossovers like the Buick Encore might be the best fit. They tend to be easier to park and maneuver (like the cars they’re based on) and invariably get better fuel economy while still offering plenty of room for passengers and their things.
On the other end of the spectrum are vehicles intended not just for trips to the soccer field, but also for trucklike activities like hauling boats, traversing unwelcoming terrain, or generally making a big impression. These are your Chevrolet Suburbans, GMC Yukons, and Cadillac Escalades. They’re trucks, with all the attendant power and towing capacity, but gussied up for date night too.
According to our rankings, General Motors does its best work on the truck-based SUVs. The Chevrolet Tahoe is our top-ranked large SUV, while the nearly identical GMC Yukon is No. 2. The Chevy Suburban, a longer version of the same truck, sits at No. 5. Test drivers love the 355-horsepower V8 engine, smooth ride, and upscale interior of GM’s full-size SUVs. All three of them can seat seven to eight passengers, and there are few vehicles on the road that can touch the Suburban’s cargo capacity. Fuel economy on these vehicles tops out at 23 mpg on the highway (16 in the city), which is normal for a full-size SUV in 2016. For buyers looking for more luxury, the Cadillac Escalade is, in essence, a Tahoe with nicer trim, more elegant styling, and a 420-horsepower engine. It is our No. 1 luxury large SUV.
If affordability and maneuverability are bigger priorities than size and grunt, customers without any brand loyalty are more likely to buy a Japanese SUV than a GM one. But for the starting price of $23,975, GMC offers the 2016 Terrain, which gets high marks from auto journalists for its potent (optional) V6 engine, excellent predicted-reliability rating, and roomy, high-end interior. Handling is dull and most reviewers say the base four-cylinder engine isn’t strong enough, though it gets 32 mpg on the highway, which is decent for a compact SUV.
Buick takes those same four-cylinder GM engines and bolts turbochargers to them – and critics are pleased. The Buick Encore, which seats five, gets 30 to 34 mpg on the highway. And its optional turbocharged 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine delivers enough punch, reviewers say, that you don’t feel like you’re making a sacrifice to achieve that fuel efficiency. The subcompact SUV market isn’t known for luxury, but test drivers say the Encore delivers some anyway. The interior is outfitted with top-rate materials and design, plus a lot of standard features. For a subcompact SUV with identical dimensions and performance for a little less money, check out the Chevrolet Trax, which isn’t as nice inside as the Encore, but starts at just $20,300. The Encore and Trax rank fourth and fifth, respectively, in our list of best subcompact SUVs.
Thankfully, there is a middle ground between the mass and luxury of the Yukons and Escalades and the Encores and Terrains. GM found that middle ground best with the Buick Enclave, a comfortable, roomy seven-seat SUV with a price range that spans the $40,000s. The big new thing for 2016 is the standard built-in Wi-Fi hot spot, but the Enclave is more than a rolling coffee shop. Its 288-horsepower engine makes it more than capable of dragging your Sea-Doos to the lake, though fuel economy (22 highway) leaves something to be desired. The enormous amount of interior space is at least partially to blame. The ride is comfortable and quiet, and the Enclave boasts better-than-average predicted reliability, altogether placing sixth out of 17 in our midsize SUV rankings.