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Next-generation SUVs bring agility, better MPG

With gas prices so high and more of us thinking about our carbon footprint, many drivers have been shying away from the traditional SUV.
October 27, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
With gas prices so high and more of us thinking about our carbon footprint, many drivers have been shying away from the traditional SUV. But don't think for a minute that the SUV segment is dying. Automakers are still making plenty of them, and the latest line may be the best yet.

There have been predictions that full-size traditional SUVs were headed to extinction. But with the recent reveal of the next-generation Suburban and Yukon models, General Motors says "not so fast."

"That can't be further from the truth," said GMC Spokesman Roger McCormack. "They fit and they meet a certain customer's needs."

The full-size SUV segment has definitely shrunken, with more buyers having chosen mid-size crossovers in recent years instead. But GM wasn't yet ready to walk away from a market that still has some life left in it.

"With Chevrolet, our partners, we own 74 percent of the market. GMC alone in this part of the market owns 22 percent. It's because we do a better job of meeting those consumers' needs," said McCormack.

These large family haulers will be out next near as 2015 models, and are slowly shedding their image as complete gas-guzzlers. Improved engine technology should make the pending fuel economy numbers a little easier to stomach.

Nevertheless, the hot sport utility vehicles these days are the smaller, more fuel-efficient ones.

Jeep has just reintroduced the Cherokee, a name that was all the rage in the 1980s and '90s, but then went away. The new one is nothing like the boxy old one.

"It's really a radical departure," said Jeep head designer Mark Allen. "It's a much more efficient shape, fast windshield, very slick sheet metal. The aerodynamics are really a big important part of this."

When Jeep said it was going to bring back the Cherokee and put the name on a new, modern kind of vehicle, there were doubters in the off-road world that thought it wouldn't be a true Jeep. Well, Jeep has set out to prove those doubters wrong.

"This vehicle is more than capable off-road," said Allen. "It's got a lot of great off-road hardware to it: locking axle, low gears. So it really has the Jeep part of it covered."

But don't worry if you're not an off-roader. The Cherokee does just fine on paved surfaces as well -- which is where most of them, like most SUVs, will likely spend most of their time.

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