2019 AutoGuide.com Utility Vehicle of the Year: Meet the Contenders

Jodi Lai
by Jodi Lai

The crossover segment is arguably the most significant one in the automotive landscape today, and car manufacturers have truly raised the bar, coming out with an army of new utility vehicles and SUVs for 2019.

As more and more automakers exit the compact car and sedan segments to focus on trucks, SUVs, and crossovers, the competition has only gotten hotter. This has treated consumers to an abundance of choice. There’s practically a crossover or SUV for every need, every budget and every niche. Competition is a great thing — it keeps automakers honest and innovative, plus it gives drivers more power to pick the perfect vehicle for their wants and needs.

We’ve considered all the new SUVs and crossovers to come out for 2019 and shortlisted five of the best ones — models that raise the bar for their brand, the segment and even the automotive industry as a whole.

ALSO SEE: Genesis G70 Awarded as AutoGuide.com 2019 Car of the Year

Of course, it’s important to note this isn’t a direct comparison between these five vehicles — they represent different segments and have different buyers, so comparing them head-to-head makes absolutely no sense. We consider and evaluate each competitor against other vehicles in its segment. We also want to make sure all the vehicles evaluated are accessible and affordable to everyday consumers, which is why you don’t see SUVs like the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan, Mercedes G-Wagen, or Lamborghini Urus on here. Other excellent new utility vehicles we considered but ultimately did not make the cut include the Jaguar I-Pace, Hyundai Santa Fe, Subaru Ascent, Acura RDX, Infiniti QX50 and several others.

Here, in alphabetical order, are the five shortlisted contenders vying to be AutoGuide.com’s 2019 Utility Vehicle of the Year.

Hyundai Kona/Kona EV

The Hyundai Kona is a scrappy little vehicle and a shoo-in for Utility Vehicle of the Year. Remember, we’re considering the whole lineup, which also includes an all-electric version. The Kona addresses many of its competitors’ shortcomings and is an all-around excellent package. Offered with front- or all-wheel drive, the internal combustion Kona has two engine options, a 2.0L four-cylinder with 147 hp and 132 lb-ft of torque and a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder with 175 hp and 195 lb-ft of torque. With funky styling, an available two-tone roof, an interesting interior, well-sorted driving dynamics, refined powertrains, an abundance of high-tech features usually reserved for more expensive cars and a fair price, the Kona offers subcompact crossover drivers a well-rounded option.

Availability of that EV model makes it even more a jack-of-all-trades. With two versions available, the Kona EV can offer 186 miles or 292 miles of range. This mainstream electric vehicle offering is an important step forward and it’s a bonus that it comes with great range, a refined powertrain, and an excellent interior.

READ MORE: Hyundai Kona Review and Hyundai Kona Electric Review

Nissan Kicks

We were very surprised by the Nissan Kicks after evaluating it. AutoGuide.com’s editors loved all the personality it crammed into such a little package. Proving that cheap can be cheerful, the Kicks impressed us with its affordable price and fun driving dynamics. Available with a 1.6L naturally aspirated engine, the Kicks outputs 125 hp and 115 lb-ft of torque, which gets power to the front wheels only via a continuously variable automatic transmission. With great fuel economy, bargain pricing, lots of interior space, surprisingly fun driving dynamics and plenty of worthwhile features, the cheerful Nissan Kicks offer crossover shoppers a lot, all without draining their bank accounts.

READ MORE: Nissan Kicks Review

Subaru Forester

Subaru has been stepping up its game and this is most evident in the new Forester, which has been completely redesigned for 2019. By addressing some common complaints about the previous Forester, Subaru has really raised the bar for itself and others. It’s gained an excellent interior but improved the things it was most well-known for: Proper on-road driving dynamics, convincing off-road capability and remarkable practicality. In addition, the Forester introduces the innovative new DriverFocus system, which uses facial recognition to help curb distracted driving. It also comes standard with EyeSight, the Japanese brand’s suite of driver assistance features, which includes standard adaptive cruise control and collision mitigation (automatic emergency braking).

With excellent visibility, standard AWD, well-sorted driving dynamics and innovative safety technology, the Subaru Forester has was it takes to, perhaps, be the best compact crossover in its class.

READ MORE: 2019 Subaru Forester Review

Toyota RAV4

The RAV4 is a hugely significant vehicle for Toyota in terms of sales, so it means a lot that the Japanese automaker took a big risk when designing an all-new model. Fortunately for them, we think that gamble paid off, as the boxy and ruggedly styled RAV4 is now one of the best-looking compact crossovers out there. Its interior is, at long last, excellent, and it’s clear Toyota didn’t cut corners in this area. Powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder engine, this crossover brandishes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft of torque, with an 8-speed automatic transmission routing power to the front or all four wheels.

The RAV4 is also available as a hybrid model that gets a combined 39 mpg, which makes it unique in its segment. RAV4s also get standard Toyota Safety Sense 2.0, the brand’s suite of driver-assistance technology that includes adaptive cruise control, automatic high-beams, pedestrian detection and more.

READ MORE: 2019 Toyota RAV4 Review and Video

Volvo XC40

The Volvo XC40 is an all-new entrant into the luxury subcompact crossover segment and it really delighted the AutoGuide.com editors by how clever and fun it was. With funky styling, innovative packaging and storage solutions, unique attention to detail and, of course, great driving dynamics, the XC40 really shines as something special. The XC40 is powered by a turbo 2.0L four-cylinder powerplant with 258 lb-ft of torque and either 185 hp or 248 hp depending on potency. Volvo also introduced an innovative subscription service with the XC40, giving consumers more choice when it comes to car ownership, and that is always welcome.

READ MORE: Volvo XC40 Review

And the winner is…

We will announce the winner shortly. Stay tuned!

Jodi Lai
Jodi Lai

Jodi has been obsessed with cars since she was little and has been an automotive journalist for the past 12 years. She has a Bachelor of Journalism from Ryerson University in Toronto, is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC), and a jury member for the prestigious North American Car/Truck/Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY). Besides hosting videos, and writing news, reviews and features, Jodi is the Editor-in-Chief of AutoGuide.com and takes care of the site's day-to-day operations.

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