Small SUVs

Great mileage, good looks and a thrifty price tag show that these mini off-roaders can do it all.

2008 Jeep Liberty

Jon Alain Guzik

2008 Honda CR-V

2008 Saturn VUE

The hot new buzzword in today's automotive vernacular is the word "crossover," which to us means anything from high roofline station wagon, like the Subaru Forester, to more svelte SUVs, like ever-popular Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV-4, Ford Edge and the Jeep Liberty.

These models come in all shapes and sizes, and, while we like the idea of a crossover (basically a smaller SUV built on a unibody chassis rather than the truck-like body-on-frame for a more car-like ride and feel) and think the description is apt, we also feel that the small and compact SUV is a pretty neat concept all by itself, buzzwords aside.

According to a recent study by General Motors, the number of smaller SUVs sold in the U.S. has doubled since 2000, and there are now more than 30 entries in the segment for the 2008 model year. That's a lot of choice for the consumer.

GM adds that while the compact SUV used to be a more transitional segment, with buyers moving up to larger SUVs, this has changed. The small SUV is now the destination in and of itself with a whopping 32% of owners staying in the segment as they purchase new vehicles.

Be it high gas prices, a downsizing of life or just a realization that the vast majority of us don't need an SUV that takes up the entire driveway and seats 12; the small SUV is quickly becoming the king of the road.

Two models for 2008, the Land Rover LR2 and the Saturn VUE embody the idea of a smaller SUV to a tee, while approaching the concept from two very different directions.

"A lot of other OEMs have the car world down pat, and they were thinking, 'how do we get into the world of SUVs?' We said to ourselves at Land Rover, 'what do people find so cool about cars?'" says Bob Burns, manager of the 3D Experience Off-Road Events for Land Rover. "Cars are quiet and have good on-road handling. To Land Rover, the off-road thing is a no-brainer, but we wanted to push in the other direction by having an SUV that was more sedan-like [without] giving up a stitch when it came to off-road capability. It's still an SUV and still a Land Rover."

The Land Rover LR2, built upon years of storied off-road heritage, is not only one of the most capable of the new batch of smaller SUVs on and off the road, but it also has a price that will surprise those who thought the British nameplate was out of reach.

While you can rock crawl to your hearts content, the LR2 doesn't give up the creature comforts expected from the smaller SUV segment. It is also, undeniably, a Land Rover, boasting expected design cues as well as a proven and powerful 3.2- liter, V-6 engine.

The Saturn VUE is another good representation of what a small SUV has come to embody - choice and flexibility. The all-new 2008 Vue is slated to offer a wide array of engine and drivetrain packages, including a four-speed 2.4-liter inline-four, a six-speed 3.5-liter V6, a six-speed 3.6-liter V-6 and a 2.4-liter hybrid inline-four. For the green set, there's the 2008 Saturn VUE Green Line.

Intended for the Gen-X and Y markets, the Vue is priced very aggressively and borrows its minimalist interior and exterior design ethos from the company's European counterpart, Opel.

"For the Vue, I think its strongest attributes are a car-like handling with greater utility, a comprehensive array of safety equipment and the striking exterior lines and appealing interior style," says GM's Mike Morrissey. A hybrid V-6 with plenty of room and at a good price: sounds like a winner to us.

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