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Today is Monday, June 11, 2007
Originally published Monday, June 11, 2007
Updated Monday, June 11, 2007

Taking a look at `small' SUVs

The Toyota RAV4 still stands out in this class, but other makes are of interest.

By the Editors of Consumer Reports

In the 10 years since the four-cylinder, five-passenger Toyota RAV4 launched the class, small SUVs have grown so much in size and power that the lines between them and midsized models have become blurred. There are many more small SUVs crowding the field today, some 20 of which have now been rated by Consumer Reports.

Several models offer both four- and six-cylinder engines. Their interiors are expanding, as well: The redesigned RAV4's optional third-row seat is no longer unique to this class.

In CR's recent tests of small SUVs, none of the models outperformed the six-cylinder Toyota RAV4 Limited. Still, several models came close. (To earn the magazine's recommendation, a car must perform well, respond at least adequately to government and/or insurance-industry crash and rollover tests, and show average or better reliability.)

Hyundai Santa Fe. Redesigned for 2007, the Santa Fe is a big improvement over the old model and trails only the RAV4 in CR's performance ratings.

It's quiet, comfortable riding and refined. Handling is improved, and the 3.3-liter, 242-hp V6 is powerful and smooth. The Limited AWD version that CR tested cost $30,745. Reliability is unknown for this new model, so CR can't recommend it yet.

Subaru Forester. CR tested the high-end Sports XT version ($27,662, with automatic transmission and standard electronic stability control) and found it quick and nimble. The turbocharged 224-hp, 2.5-liter engine runs smoothly and provides V6-like acceleration on premium fuel. The lack of available curtain air bags is a negative, and the snug interior lacks the ambience found in newer SUVs. Reliability, however, has been excellent.

Mitsubishi Outlander. A strong 220-hp, 3.0-liter V6 and new six-speed automatic transmission help propel the redesigned Outlander to a very good performance rating. The handling is improved, but the ride is stiff; road noise is pronounced; and fit and finish are disappointing. With options such as heated leather seats, a sunroof and a navigation package, the Outlander XLS as tested cost $30,615.

Suzuki XL7. The formerly truck-based XL7 derives from the shorter Chevrolet Equinox. Its 3.6-liter, 252-hp V6 provides ample performance. However, at just 17 mpg in mixed city/highway driving, fuel economy is unimpressive. Also unimpressive is the car's 44-foot turning circle, which hampers tight maneuvers. CR paid $29,284 for its Luxury model, with an optional rear DVD system.

Dodge Nitro. The Nitro has bold styling - it shares a platform with the Jeep Liberty - but otherwise falls flat. The unrefined 210-hp, 3.7-liter V6 provides mediocre performance and poor fuel economy. Handling is clumsy, and the ride is unsettled. Interior materials are insubstantial, poorly constructed hard plastics. The tested SLT version with part-time 4WD and options, including towing package, cost $28,875. Reliability for this new vehicle is unknown.

Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.

Visit the Consumer Reports Web site at www.consumerreports.org.
 
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