Jim Gorzelany, Contributor
Sport utility vehicles, originally purchased mainly by contractors and outdoor enthusiasts went mainstream in the late 1980’s when four-door truck-based models like the Ford Explorer and Jeep Cherokee gave American families more-rugged alternatives to station wagons and minivans. Car-based crossover SUVs began to proliferate at the turn of the 21st. Century for their more easygoing road manners, improved fuel economy, and traction-enhancing all-wheel drive systems.
Sales have skyrocketed the last couple of years and SUVs have quickly supplanted passenger cars as the rides of choice among virtually all vehicle-buying demographics.
Today an expanding assortment of SUVs and crossovers are available in all size brackets, from subcompact to full-size, with two or three rows of seats, for on- and off-road use from almost all mainstream and luxury brands. That includes exotic car builders like Bentley and Lamborghini, with Aston Martin joining them for 2020 and Ferrari soon to get in the game. One report suggests that there will be an astounding 180 SUV and crossover models for sale in the U.S. by the year 2023.
Here’s a look at 14 of the most significant new and redesigned sport-utility vehicles coming for the 2020 model year. If you’ve yet to succumb to the genre’s siren song, you can find out which new passenger cars are arriving for 2020 here.
Aston Martin DBX
James Bond’s favorite automaker will debut its first-ever sport utility vehicle for 2020, the DBX. It’s also the company’s first all-wheel-drive model. It won’t be revealed until later this year, and details remain sketchy, but the company has released camouflaged images of prototypes being tested, and it looks engineered to be an off-road warrior. We suspect it will hold its own on a twisty road as well. Styling cues from other Aston Martin models include the company’s prominent grille up front and flush-fitting door handles. Sources suggest it will come powered by the twin-turbo V8 engine found in the automaker’s sports cars, with plug-in hybrid and full-electric variants said to be in the works for future model years.
Buick Encore GX
Buick adds to its SUV lineup with the new Encore GX. A bit larger than the subcompact Buick Encore, the GX will reach dealerships in early 2020. It looks more proportionately styled than the egg-shaped Encore, with assorted curves and creases running front-to-rear. Final specifications will be announced closer to its on-sale date, but we do know it will come powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and offer more interior space than the Encore, with a cargo hold that’s about five cubic feet bigger. Standard driver-assist features include forward auto-braking with pedestrian detection, lane-keep assist, and lane-departure warning. It also offers a rear-view video camera mirror and a high-definition surround-view backup camera. The GX is rumored to provide the basis for the upcoming 2021 Chevrolet Trailblazer.
Cadillac gets a three-row crossover SUV for 2020 with the new XT6. It’s cleanly styled on the outside and is sufficiently plush on the inside. It packs a 3.6-liter V6 engine that’s estimated to generate 310 horsepower and enables four-cylinder operation at cruising speeds to save fuel. It’s mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission, and the vehicle comes with selectable driving modes. All-wheel-drive is optional. A Sport version features more aggressive handling abilities and specific styling touches. A wealth of available features includes a rearview video camera mirror, a Wi-Fi hotspot, wireless mobile phone charging, and a hands-free tailgate. A long list of standard and available safety systems includes a night-vision display and automatic reverse braking.
The popular Ford Escape is completely revamped for 2020, and the line now includes two hybrid-powered models. Its styling is more rounded, and it’s lighter and more aerodynamic than before, with a sloping roofline and a front grille that’s inspired by the Mustang. The standard engine is a new turbocharged 1.5-liter four-cylinder with 180 horsepower, with a turbo 2.0-liter with 250 horsepower available on the top Titanium model. There are also hybrid and plug-in hybrid variants with a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine assisted by an electric motor to produce a combined 198 horsepower. The plug-in version can run for 30 miles solely on electric power. Gas-powered models feature a sliding second-row seat that can maximize either legroom or cargo space. Available driver-assist technology includes a fully automatic self-parking function and an evasive-steering-assist system.
The 2020 Ford Explorer is redesigned for 2020 and returns to its roots as a rear-drive SUV. It features more athletic-looking styling, with a roomy and cleanly cast interior that has three rows of seats. A turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is standard with 300 horsepower, while the top Platinum model includes a turbocharged 3.0-liter 365-horsepower V6. The ST is the sportiest Explorer with a 400-horsepower turbo V6. There’s also a gas/electric hybrid that teams a 3.3-liter V6 with an electric motor to produce a combined 318 horsepower. A 10-speed automatic transmission is standard, with all-wheel-drive available with the base engine and standard with the V6s. Several accident avoidance safety systems are included and the Platinum can be equipped with a large tablet-computer-like display.
New-for-2020, the Palisade is Hyundai’s flagship three-row crossover SUV. It rides on a newly engineered chassis and comes wrapped in formal-looking styling that’s capped by a big and bold front grille. A 3.8-liter V6 engine puts 291 horsepower to the road via an eight-speed automatic transmission. The available all-wheel drive system includes a selectable mode for added traction in snow. All of the requisite family-minded features and advanced safety systems are represented here. The center-row seats fold out of the way in one-touch operation and a power folding and reclining rear bench is available. An in-car intercom system lets the driver communicate with second- and third-row riders without having to shout.
At the other end of the size and price spectrum from the above Palisade is the new subcompact Hyundai Venue. Bearing a familial resemblance to its larger sibling, the Venue can be jazzed up with two-tone extroverted color options for the roof, mirrors, and exterior trim. It comes powered by a 1.6-liter 121-horsepower four-cylinder engine with either a six-speed manual transmission or a CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic. Unlike all of the other crossover SUVs mentioned here, the Venue is strictly a front-drive model. It comes with a full range of connectivity features, and a remote-start function works with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant-enabled devices. Available accident-avoidance systems include forward auto-braking, lane-keeping assist, and blind-spot warning with a rear cross-traffic alert.
Launched this spring, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is what you get when you graft a cargo bed behind the seats of a four-door Wrangler Unlimited. It’s every bit as off-road capable, and its pickup bed is large enough to carry a pair of dirt bikes. Power comes from a 3.6-liter gasoline V6 that can channel 285 horsepower to either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. Its maximum towing capacity is a stalwart 7,650 pounds. In 2020 a 3.0-liter diesel V6 will be available with 260 horsepower and a strong 442 pound-feet of torque. As with the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s most potent offering is the top Rubicon version. It features Jeep’s Rock-Trac 4×4 system, along with heavy-gauge steel rock rails to help prevent body damage out on the trails.
New for 2020, the three-row Kia Telluride is mechanically related to the aforementioned Hyundai Palisade, but features a bit more rugged brand-specific appearance. There’s a broad honeycomb grille up front, muscular fender flares at all four wheels, and wide nameplates at the edge of the hood and on the liftgate. Its 3.8-liter V6 engine generates 291 horsepower and comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is available and it features a selectable setting for traversing snowy roads. A sport mode gives the system a rear-wheel bias for livelier operation on dry roads. Many driver-assist systems and convenience features are available, with the latter including a large 10.25-inch color touchscreen for the vehicle’s infotainment system.
Land Rover Defender
Land Rover brings back the rugged Defender after a prolonged absence as a more upscale Jeep Wrangler competitor. The automaker has so far only shown camouflaged prototypes being tested in the wild, and little in the way of details, however. We can tell it will be appropriately boxy, but will share some styling cues with other Land Rover models. Reports suggest it will come in multiple variations, perhaps even two- and four-door models, and be powered by four- and six-cylinder engines, with a plug-in hybrid said to be in the mix. The new Defender is expected to be revealed at the Frankfurt Auto Show in September, and will reach showrooms early next year.
The Aviator nameplate returns to Lincoln showrooms for 2020 as an elegantly styled three-row luxury crossover SUV. It slots between the Nautilus and Navigator in Lincoln’s lineup and shares the Ford Explorer’s rear-drive platform. The standard engine is a twin-turbocharged 400-horsepower 3.0-liter V6. A Grand Touring hybrid version includes an electrified version of the V6 that generates an estimated 450 horsepower with a launch-happy 600 pound-feet of torque. Both include a 10-speed automatic transmission, with all-wheel drive optional. An available adaptive suspension utilizes a forward-facing camera to identify potholes and other pavement imperfections ahead and adjusts instantly to help soften the blow. Cabin comfort can be enhanced by optional 30-way power massaging seats. Symphonic chimes are used instead of beeps for warnings and alerts, and they afford an added touch of class.
The former Lincoln MKC is redesigned for 2020 and renamed the Corsair. It’s handsomely styled and looks a lot like a smaller version of the above Aviator. It stands as a more luxurious alternative to the compact Ford Escape with which it shares components. The Corsair is powered by either of two turbocharged four-cylinder engines, a 2.0-liter with 250 horsepower and a 2.3-liter version with a targeted 280 horses. Both drive either the front or all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission. Like the Aviator, the Corsair also uses symphonic chimes to replace conventional alerts. Automatic forward braking, blind spot warning, and lane keeping systems are standard. Options include 24-way adjustable massaging seats, a head-up instrumentation display, adaptive cruise control, and an evasive-steering-assist system.
The new-for-2020 Mercedes-Benz GLB is a compact luxury crossover SUV that’s sized, as the automaker’s nomenclature would suggest, between the GLA and GLC models. It’s smartly styled with short overhangs at the front and rear and a prominent grille up front. The GLB can seat up to seven via an optional third-row seat, and the second row can be adjusted longitudinally as needed. A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine produces 221 horsepower and comes with an eight-speed automatic transmission. Many driver assist systems are available and the vehicle can perform semi-autonomous highway driving under certain circumstances when properly equipped. The available all-wheel-drive system includes a sport mode that sends added power to the rear wheels.
Volkswagen Atlas Cross Sport
Volkswagen is debuting a new five-passenger crossover SUV for 2020 that’s based on the Atlas Cross Sport concept vehicle (shown above) it unveiled at this year’s New York International Auto Show. Expect it to be sleeker looking than the seven-seat Atlas, with wide wheel arches and a two-slat front grille. The interior on the concept features digital instrumentation and a 10.1-inch touchscreen, with graphics that change according to the selected driving mode. We expect it will offer the 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder and 3.6-liter 276-horsepower V6 engine from the Atlas, with a six-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel-drive.