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Buying a Car: Do You Really Need a Big Vehicle?

Often our focus, when buying a car, truck, or SUV, is fixed on accommodating some rare extreme. It’s like that dining room that’s only used for holiday dinners, or a guest bedroom that sits unoccupied for 48 weeks out of the year. We buy a big vehicle on the chance we’ll occasionally need to haul a couple of extra people around. Or, we’ll opt for a huge truck or SUV to tow a camper on vacation once or twice a year. Sometimes we buy big, well, just because it’s big.

When the smoke clears, what we’re left with is a vehicle less well-suited for day-to-day activity. More often than not, we’ve sacrificed some degree of drivability, convenience, and fuel economy for a little extra space or capability we rarely need. Not to mention that additional space and capability usually involve added cost of ownership. It’s in the form of a higher purchase price, higher insurance premiums, and so forth.

If you absolutely must have what a larger, more capable vehicle brings to the table, of course, buy it. If you don’t, know there are smaller, more affordable alternatives. Yes, as with negotiating this year’s vacation spot with your significant other, you must be willing to compromise. But, if you are game, we’ve already picked six solid choices to get you started.

You Think You Need: 2021 Land Rover Defender 110

Consider: 2021 Ford Bronco Sport Badlands

Ford Bronco Sport Badlands 2021

At first glance, you may think this a ridiculous matchup. But hang with us for a minute. This isn’t us just being caught up in the Bronco-mania sweeping the country. By the way, Autotrader did name the Bronco Sport to its Best New Cars for 2021 for a good reason. Let’s begin by admitting that the Defender 110 can out tow the Bronco Sport Badlands by about 6,000 pounds. So if the towing capability is one of your must-haves, you may move on to the next matchup.

We’ll also concede the Defender 110 can go some places the Bronco Sport Badlands can’t. So, yes, it’s more off-road capable. But that’s about the extent of the much larger Defender 110’s advantages.

Topping the Bronco Sport food chain, the Badlands grade is nearly two feet shorter than the Defender 110. And, it costs about $18,000 less, depending on the model. Boasting a hair more ground clearance (8.8 inches vs. 8.6 inches), the Ford offers more front- and second-row legroom. Yet, it provides just 1.5 cu ft less cargo capacity than the Defender 110. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency figures, the Bronco Sport Badlands gets a combined 17 mpg, compared with the Defender 110, with a combined 18 mpg.

Most off-roading isn’t of the rock-crawling variety. The Badlands all-wheel drive system with torque vectoring is solidly competent on dirt, gravel, snow, and so forth. Advantage: Ford Bronco Sport Badlands.

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You Think You Need: 2021 Lexus RX 450h

Consider: 2021 Toyota Venza Hybrid

2021 Toyota Venza Steel Blue

Toyota revived its Venza nameplate for 2021. This all-new midsize, two-row crossover comes standard as an AWD hybrid. It’s roughly half a foot shorter than the Lexus RX 450h, yet, it has virtually the same second-row legroom and lots more dedicated rear cargo space (28.8 cubic feet vs. 16 cubic feet). Residents of the RX 450h’s front seats do get about three inches more legroom. Yet, Venza provides 41 inches of that.

According to the EPA, both are AWD hybrids, but Venza delivers better fuel economy (39 mpg vs. 30 mpg in combined driving). The RX 450h does have a power advantage. In terms of price, a loaded Venza Limited is still almost $8,000 less than the entry-level RX 450h. Toyota really dressed out the Venza to the point it feels like a Lexus. In fact, of the all-new Venza, Autotrader’s Brian Moody said, “It is a Toyota, but it has the soul of a Lexus.” Indeed.

Find a Toyota Venza for sale

You Think You Need: 2021 Tesla Model X

Consider: 2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge

2021 Volvo XC40 Recharge in White

Let’s begin this discussion by revealing that the Volvo XC40 Recharge at $53,900 is $36,000 less than the Tesla Model X. It’s also two feet shorter, requiring 1.7 feet less space to make a U-turn. The XC40 has more ground clearance and more dedicated cargo space. Front legroom is about the same in both of these fully electric, AWD SUVs, but the Tesla offers about two inches more rear-seat legroom, as well as optional seating configurations for up to seven passengers. That extra row of seating, however, is very tight.

What that extra $36,000 for the Tesla buys you is a faster 0-to-60 time. In addition, more towing capacity (5,000 pounds vs. 3,307 pounds). The standard Long Range version gets 152 miles more estimated range (360 miles vs. 208 miles). While Model X is faster and tows more, the one advantage most people really care about is range. We can live with less range as we consider all the things we could do with an extra 36 large in the bank.

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You Think You Need: 2021 GMC Sierra

Consider: 2021 GMC Canyon

2021 GMC Canyon

Nothing says, “Hey, I’m tough and rugged,” like a big truck. And, the 2021 GMC Sierra 1500 is one big truck. But, just how big is something an owner discovers the first time this honking-big thing is called upon to slide into a standard-width parking spot in a crowded lot. Yep, everything looks smaller from the Sierra’s driver’s perch because, well, just about everything is smaller.

Sure, it can tow up to 11,800 pounds with the appropriate engine and when properly equipped, but how often are you going to do that? Not nearly as often as you will have to park it in a spot made for a midsize sedan.

For thousands less, you can get the 2021 GMC Canyon and still do pretty much everything the Sierra 1500 will do. No doubt about it, Canyon’s maximum 7,700-lb towing limit doesn’t compare to Sierra’s. But its cargo box is about the same size, and it gets better fuel economy.

Like all midsize pickup trucks, the GMC Canyon is not available with a V8 engine, though its optional V6 makes comparable power at 308 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. At more than a foot shorter than the Sierra, it’s easier to live with on a daily basis than a full-size pickup.

Find a 2021 GMC Canyon for sale

You Think You Need: 2021 BMW 740i

Consider: 2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport


2021 Lexus IS 350 F Sport Sedan

Lexus seriously updated its Lexus IS sport sedan for 2021 to provide more connectivity options and a full suite of driver aid technologies. Although the BMW 7-Series is a fine sedan with legendary handling, it’s bigger than most of us need a car to be. Nearly two feet longer than the IS, the 740i requires an additional three feet of space to make a U-turn.

The BMW does have a clear advantage in rear-seat legroom (44.4 inches vs. 32.2 inches) and cargo space (18.2 cu ft vs. 10.8 cu ft), but do you really need nearly four feet of legroom in the backseat? Nimble and a hoot to drive, the IS 350 F Sport costs about half of what the 740i does.

Find a Lexus IS for sale

You Think You Need: 2021 Ford Expedition

Consider: 2021 Kia Sorento

2021 Kia Sorento

As we’ve come to expect in a face-off between a big truck or SUV and a smaller one, here the Ford Expedition clearly bests the Kia Sorento for towing and cargo capacity. But it should. It’s longer by nearly two feet and wider by almost nine inches. Yet, it has only a bit over an inch of extra front-seat legroom, and the second-row legroom is virtually the same. Sorento doesn’t have the performance chops of the Expedition. But the Sorento delivers significantly better gas mileage (26 mpg vs. 19 mpg in combined driving).

If you only need that third-row seat in a pinch, the Sorento has one. It’s best left to children, while the Expedition’s third row can accommodate adults. For a family of five doing normal, everyday things, the Sorento will safely and conveniently get the job done. In addition, it’s easier to park and cheaper to fuel. Oh, and you can get a loaded, top-of-the-line Sorento for about $7,000 less than the entry-level Expedition.

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Read More About Car Buying:

Our editors are here to make car buying easier. We’ve driven, reviewed and compared thousands of cars. We’ve bought and sold more than our fair share, too. And as part of the sprawling Cox Automotive group of companies, we have exclusive access to a range of valuable data and insights. Whether you’re looking for the best car, the best deal or the best buying advice, you can trust... Read More about Autotrader

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