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Detroit Auto Show Guide: SUVs

Henry Payne

The SUV revolution has changed the American vehicle landscape. Sedan sales are cratering as consumers choose the better visibility and utility of elevated five-door hatchbacks. For the first time in the U.S. in 2017, an SUV — the Toyota RAV4 — became the best-selling non-pickup, with more than 400,000 sold. The ute transformation has also elevated an off-road niche brand, Jeep, into the biggest-volume brand in the Fiat Chrysler lineup, with nearly a million vehicles sold. Unlike their sedan counterparts, economy trims for SUVs come with all-wheel drive — making for better grip in the snow (even if that all-wheel drive sucks up more fuel).

Ford Edge

The 2019 Ford Edge ST during the unveiling at the Ford display at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit.

What it is:One of the original elegant crossovers — along with the Chrysler Pacifica (before it became a minivan) and the Nissan Murano — the high-tech Edge gets a mild refresh for 2019. The Edge gets more handsome with new front and rear fascias. The bold, truck-inspired grille that defined the early Edge has been nixed for a more subtle Focus-like face. More technology comes in the form of standard auto high-beams, blind-spot assist and post-collision braking (a first for a non-luxury vehicle). Drivetrain? Turbo-4 mated to a 10-speed tranny.

Payne’s take:The Edge is the first Ford sport-utility to get the performance ST badge. In a sign of the times, the Edge gets the ST badge before the Fusion sedan. ST gets all the goodies — 335-horse twin-turbo V-6, front winglets inspired by the Mustang GT350, stiff shocks, monogrammed leather seats. Gotta get the ST in the exclusive Ford Performance Blue.

Jeep Cherokee

2019 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk. 2019 Jeep Cherokee Limited, dark, and Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, red, at the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center.

What it is: The iconic Cherokee nameplate — re-crafted in 2014 as a compact SUV — gets a mid-cycle refresh for 2019. The polarizing, shark-nose fascia with insect eyes has been replaced by a more traditional face that conforms to the rest of the brand. Though exterior dimensions don’t change, Jeep cleverly repackaged the interior to increase cargo room to stack two golf bags. Three engines are available, including a premium turbo-4 with 295 pound-feet of torque.

Payne’s take: The 2014 Cherokee got attention for its radical styling, and it flew off shelves, tripling its Liberty predecessor’s sales. But the novelty has worn off and the Cherokee design has gone more mainstream. More important is its 200-pound diet, which will maximize efficiency from its new 4-banger while not compromising the off-road intentions of the rugged Trailhawk trim.