Sales are booming for small-to-midsize vehicles that have the space of a truck but the driving ease and lighter weight of a car. They are roomy but not gargantuan. Engines are peppy but not guzzlers.
"Small crossovers are becoming the new family car," says Alexander Edwards, president of consulting firm Strategic Vision. "With strong styling cues and added innovative features ... it is definitely a segment of vehicles here to stay and one that will continue to grow."
That's why we picked the segment for our latest family-focused vehicle showdown:the $29,000 SUV Shootout, sponsored by auto information site Cars.com, USA TODAY and PBS' MotorWeek automotive magazine program.
The testing by experts and a family aimed to see which compact crossover offers the best value — the best package of convenience, features and performance at a price within reach of middle-class families of no more than $29,000.
That's a higher window sticker than a typical midsize sedan, but families seem to be voting with their wallets for the added space and features.
The scoring was tight, but the top scorer was the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox, followed by the Dodge Journey, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Tucson, Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.
"The vehicle itself is what Americans are looking for because they can carry people, carry stuff, have good visibility and versatility," says Charlie Vogelheim, executive editor for IntelliChoice.com.
Surprisingly, at that price they came with a variety of family-friendly features previously found only on larger vehicles. Many had backup cameras. Four had back-seat DVD systems for kids.
Because they weigh less than traditional SUVs, smaller crossovers don't need big power. Eight of the nine crossovers tested had four-cylinder engines.
In 145 miles of highway driving, CR-V and Tucson tied for best fuel economy at 28.8 mpg on their trip computers. Sportage was last but still tallied a respectable 26.6 mpg.
Click here to see how the Equinox stacks up against the competition in this comparison.
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