Some people might purchase a sparkling new crossover or pickup and never do anything with it besides commute to work or run everyday errands — but we seriously doubt it.
If you can’t have fun with these versatile rides — load them with food, friends and/or recreational gear — really, what’s the point? If you don’t turn your SUV into party central for pre-game tailgate bashes, why bother having one at all?
And 2012 models offer the best of all worlds, a fast-evolving and wildly varied lineup, from compact crossovers to full-size hulks that can scale mountains, with the latest technology and fuel efficiency that’s never been better.
Let’s start with the Nissan Murano CrossCabriolet, a flashy convertible crossover — the first ever — that screams of sunny coastal drives with the wind in your hair. The compact soft-top CrossCabriolet features a long list of premium standard features, including Nissan Hard-Drive Navigation and a 9.3-gigabyte Music Box to go with full-on premium Bose audio from eight speakers and a subwoofer.
Also outstanding in its class is the closely related Nissan Juke, a small and aggressive animal with a distinctly sporty edge. Consider that the Juke — named for the “juke” fake-out move a running back makes to embarrass would-be tacklers — comes fitted with a standard turbocharged 1.6-liter four-cylinder with direct injection and around 188 horsepower.
Family fun on four wheels
Extra room is required for taking a large brood on the road — and if the ride of choice is the 2012 Ford Flex, a built-in refrigerator can’t hurt. With a nice blend of high-tech SUV capabilities and sedan-like design and handling, this handsome seven-passenger crossover now has a Vista Roof for wide-angle scenic views. An available 3.5-liter EcoBoost engine delivers the power of a V-8 from a more fuel-efficient V-6.
Upping the elegance factor considerably, the Lincoln MKT takes luxury, performance and versatility to new levels — three rows of adjustable leather seating and all-wheel-drive through an available 3.5-liter V-6 EcoBoost rated at 355 horsepower and up to 24 mpg highway.
Hitting the dirt
For those who prefer road trips that don’t involve roads, check out Jeep’s new Grand Cherokee, refitted for 2012 and offering a range of three engines, from a flex-fuel 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 that delivers 290 horsepower to a 6.4-liter V-8 fitted to the new Grand Cherokee SRT8 that makes 465 horsepower and 465 pound-feet of torque, hitting 60 mph in less than five seconds.
The stately Land Rover LR2 crossover brings luxury, pizzazz and power to the compact off-road camp, with elegant leather seating and high-tech audio to go with smooth suspension that seamlessly adapts from pavement to all types of terrain.
Keep on trucking
Toyota’s newly streamlined Tundra — a full-size pickup offered in various configurations — comes with lots of luxury features in its Platinum Package, including heated and ventilated seats and a sunroof. In addition, the Tundra’s base 4-liter V-6 engine now has Dual Variable Valve Timing, increasing power and performance.
The redesigned full-size 2012 Dodge Durango SUV offers superior towing capabilities with maximum versatility in many areas — along with flex-fuel and hybrid options.
The Durango boasts more than 30 storage areas, 28 seating configurations and a rear cargo storage area of nearly 85 cubic feet — that’s enough for a six-foot couch and coffee table if you’re counting.
This big and bold SUV doesn’t skimp on the comfort, with a plush, soft interior to go with wireless Web access and DVD entertainment. The Durango has class-leading towing of up to 7,400 pounds through a Hemi V-8.
—Bob Young, Custom Publishing Writer
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times