Five to Drive: Fun and Safe Crossover SUVs

You don’t need to spend extra for a luxury brand to buy an entertaining and safe crossover SUV.

Everybody wants a crossover SUV, except for driving enthusiasts because weight + taller center of gravity = sad face emoji.

If you like to drive, but daily life demands more space for passengers and cargo in a safe, all-wheel-drive vehicle, don’t worry. There are several crossover SUVs that meet the criteria without sucking all of the joy out of your commute.

Personally, my favorite is the 2017 Ford Edge Sport, equipped with a twin-turbocharged V6 engine, available 21-inch wheels and performance tires, and a driving thrill unmatched by anything at its price. Unfortunately, it does not qualify as a “Top Safety Pick” according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), coming up short in the small overlap frontal-impact test.

The five vehicles that follow, however, do earn this crash protection designation. So if that’s your most important consideration, as it should be for any vehicle in which you’re planning to carry your family, check out one of these fun and safe crossover SUVs. They are listed in alphabetical order.

2017 Kia Sorento SX

2017 Kia Sorento SX Limited Titanium
The 2017 Kia Sorento is one of our favorite family-sized crossovers, providing style, a speedy V6 engine, and rock-solid crash-test ratings.

With seating for up to seven people, upscale design and amenities, and a standard 290-horsepower V6 engine, the midsize Kia Sorento SX is a quick, safe, and stylish solution to the problem of suburban transport. Upgrade to SX Limited trim, and you’re getting a luxury SUV at a discount.

Measuring 11.3 cu.-ft., space behind the Sorento’s third-row seat is almost non-existent. Keep the seat folded down (it sits too close to the tailgate for truly safe use anyway) and you’ve got a generous 38 cu.-ft. of space. Maximum volume measures 73 cu.-ft., which is on the small side for a midsize SUV.

The Sorento SX is equipped with standard UVO eServices technology, which is free but requires a paired smartphone with a data plan to operate. The system includes 911 Connect and 911 Emergency Services, as well as alerts issued when the SUV exceeds a specific vehicle speed, curfew time, and geographic boundary. Plus, a Find My Car function allows a parent to determine where a teenaged driver might be at any given time.

Additionally, Kia offers a range of driver assistance and collision avoidance technologies for the Sorento SX. A blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert is standard, while forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, and a lane departure warning system are options. All of these features are standard on the Sorento SXL, along with an exclusive surround view monitoring system.

Entertaining to drive and exuding quality in terms of its materials and engineering, the Sorento earns a “Top Safety Pick” IIHS crash-test rating as well as a 5-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

2017 Kia Sportage SX

2017 Kia Sportage SX Blue
It might have a face only its mother could love, but otherwise the redesigned 2017 Kia Sportage SX is a safe and fun little crossover.

If you don’t need three rows of seating, downgrade from the Kia Sorento to the Kia Sportage. Redesigned for 2017, the Sportage is offered in a racy SX trim level equipped with a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine generating 240 horsepower and almost that same amount of torque spread across most of the rev range.

Cargo space is tight, even for a compact crossover. The Sportage holds 30.7 cu.-ft. of your things behind the rear seat, and up to 60.1 cu.-ft of cargo with the rear seat folded down. That’s not particularly competitive, but it’s definitely more than a Kia Optima family sedan holds, so there’s that.

The Sportage SX is available with the same UVO eServices technology that is offered for the larger Kia Sorento. And did we mention that it is free of charge? Most car companies require a monthly or annual subscription fee for these functions. Likewise, the Sportage SX comes with the same driver assistance and collision avoidance systems as the larger Sorento.

In IIHS testing, the Sportage earns a “Top Safety Pick” rating. The NHTSA gives it a 5-star overall crash-test rating.

2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT

2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT
The turbocharged 2017 Subaru Forester 2.0XT is like a WRX designed for family shuttling duty.

Think of the Subaru Forester 2.0XT as a WRX with lots of extra space inside, and I won’t derisively laugh. You’ll have a good point. After all, the two vehicles share the same bones, and the 2.0XT is the version of the Forester that is equipped with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine making 250 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque.

For 2017, Subaru makes numerous changes to the Forester. Highlights include new driver assistance and collision avoidance systems, upgraded infotainment systems, improved interior materials, enhanced conveniences, subtle styling changes, and new active torque vectoring for the 2.0XT models.

Performance upgrades for the 2.0XT, aside from the turbocharged engine and the quicker steering that comes on all 2017 Forester models, include a sport-tuned suspension, larger brakes, and Subaru Intelligent Drive (SI-Drive) with three different driving modes. This version of the Forester also has a continuously variable transmission with paddle shifters.

Cargo space measures 31.5 cu.-ft. behind the rear seat and 68.5 cu.-ft. with the rear seat folded down. The Forester 2.0XT Premium is an IIHS “Top Safety Pick,” while the 2.0XT Touring is a “Top Safety Pick+” because it is equipped with EyeSight, Subaru’s robust package of driver assistance and collision avoidance systems. The NHTSA gives the Forester a 5-star crash-test rating.

2017 Toyota Highlander SE

2017 Toyota Highlander SE Dark Red
Freshened up for 2017, the Toyota Highlander gains a new SE trim level with a sport-tuned suspension. I kid you not.

Granted, this one might be a bit of a stretch. But, the new Highlander SE trim level, introduced for 2017, does equip the 8-passenger, 3-row crossover SUV with a sport-tuned suspension. Is that enough to convince driving enthusiasts to buy the Highlander over the competition?

I’d say no, until you consider the Highlander’s impressive reputation for reliability, and the fact that it gets a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the IIHS because every version of the freshened 2017 Highlander is equipped with forward collision warning, a pedestrian detection system, and automatic emergency braking. Plus, the NHTSA says the Highlander provides 5-star crash protection.

In addition to tauter tuning, the Highlander SE is also equipped with the same new direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine and 8-speed automatic transmission that other versions of the family-sized SUV receive. The engine makes 295 horsepower, which is plenty for a vehicle this size.

.Toyota says the Highlander carries eight people, but seven will be happier, and the folks perched on the third-row bench had better be smaller instead of taller. Cargo space behind the third-row seat measures a paltry 13.8 cu.-ft., so fold it down to enjoy 42.3 cu.-ft. Maximum cargo volume measures 83.7 cu.-ft.

In addition to its powerful engine, stiffer suspension, and roomy interior, the Highlander SE gets a sportier look inside and out as well as a set of standard 19-inch aluminum wheels. Updated styling improves the SUV’s looks, too.

Finally, it is worth noting that the Highlander is the largest vehicle on this list.

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack

2017 Volkswagen Golf Alltrack Gray Off-Road
Equipped with AWD, a slight bump in ground clearance, and Germanic driving dynamics, the new Volkswagen Golf Alltrack might not be fast but it’s still fun.

Add an all-wheel-drive system, rugged SUV styling cues, and a slight increase in ground clearance to a Volkswagen Golf Sportwagen, and you’ve got the new 2017 VW Alltrack. Think Subaru Outback, spoken in German.

Despite its Off-Road driving mode, differential lock, Hill Descent Control, and Off-Road Monitor, the Alltrack is best used on beaten paths. And because the rear seat accommodations are slightly tight, teenaged members of the clan might complain about comfort. Otherwise, the Alltrack is a practical family car, infused with the same dynamic qualities that make all Volkswagens enjoyable to drive.

Offered in S, SE, and SEL trim, each Alltrack is equipped with a turbocharged 1.8-liter 4-cylinder engine making 170 horsepower and plenty of torque across a vast swath of the rev range. It’s not exactly fast, but the 6-speed Direct Shift Gearbox, light and accurate steering, supple suspension tuning, and impressive brakes deliver delightful Germanic driving dynamics that make the Alltrack genuinely fun.

Behind the rear seat, the Alltrack supplies 30.4 cu.-ft. of cargo volume, and if you fold the seat down it will swallow up to 66.5 cu.-ft of your stuff. It also earns a “Top Safety Pick” crash-test rating from the IIHS, as well as a 5-star overall crash protection rating from the NHTSA.

Unique among most vehicles, the Alltrack is equipped with an automatic post-collision braking system designed to bring the car to a stop as soon as is possible following an initial impact. The point is to prevent secondary collisions after the vehicle’s airbags have deployed, thereby increasing safety. A complete suite of additional driver-assistance and collision avoidance technologies is available, too.

Images copyright Speedy Daddy Media, Inc., except for Subaru Forester, which is supplied by Subaru.

By Christian Wardlaw

A driving enthusiast and father of four, I've got 25 years of experience working in automotive journalism. Currently, I contribute content to CarGurus, J.D. Power Cars and Kelley Blue Book. When I'm not working, I'm doing something fun with my family, preferably in Hawaii.

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