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Compact SUVs have largely replaced wagons as the family transporter of choice for those not interested in the bulk of a minivan or the fuel mileage penalty associated with a larger sport-utility vehicle. The best compact SUVs combine the handling of a mid-size sedan with the additional storage space and passenger room of a crossover, and in many cases their taller ride height, excellent ground clearance, and available all-wheel drive make them dependable winter rides as well.
Let's take a quick look at 10 of the best compact sport utility vehicles currently on the market.
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01. 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
The 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan shares some of its underpinnings with the VW Golf hatchback, which gives it a handling advantage when compared to other compact sport utility vehicles. Although the Volkswagen Tiguan's 56.1 cubic feet of total cargo space isn't quite as generous as a few of its rivals, the vehicle's comfortable and upscale interior feel more than make up for it. A 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine generates 200 horsepower and 207 lb-ft of torque under the hood of the Tiguan, and transmission choices include a six-speed manual and a six-speed automatic. 4MATIC all-wheel drive can of course be added as an option, and fuel mileage for the compact SUV shows as 22-mpg in city driving and 27-mpg on the highway.
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02. 2012 Chevrolet Equinox
The 2012 Chevrolet Equinox is one of the larger best compact SUVs available, which works in its favor when hauling either a full load of passengers or flipping the rear row forward to tackle up to 63.7 cubic feet of gear. The Chevrolet Equinox offers a choice between either a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine (182 horsepower and 172 lb-ft of torque) or a 3.0-liter V-6 (264 horses and 222 lb-ft of twist). Of the two, the smaller unit's 22-mpg city and 32-mpg highway rating makes it the fuel mileage winner. Each is matched with a six-speed automatic gearbox, and both can be paired with available all-wheel drive.
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03. 2012 Honda CR-V
The 2012 Honda CR-V has been redesigned for the current model year, bringing with it evolutionary styling changes as well as an improved interior that helps cement its spot on this list of the best compact SUVs. Also working in its favor is the fact that Bluetooth connectivity is standard across the Honda CR-V lineup for 2012, and it offers a cavernous 71 cubic feet of total cargo space with the rear seats out of the picture. The CR-V's only engine option is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder that puts out 185 horsepower and 163 lb-ft of torque on its way to a fuel mileage rating of 23-mpg city and 31-mpg highway. A five-speed automatic transmission handles the shifting duties for the compact sport utility vehicle, and all-wheel drive adds extra traction when selected on the vehicle's order sheet.
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04. 2013 BMW X3
The 2013 BMW X3 is not only one of the best compact SUVs around, it's also by far one of the sportiest. The BMW X3's sporty suspension system and well-engineered chassis delivers a surprisingly responsive ride without sacrificing the comfort that luxury compact sport utility vehicle shoppers have come to expect. The X3 features 63.3 cubic feet of total cargo space, seating for five passengers, and the availability of options such as the Dynamic Handling package and the Sport Activity package. From a drivetrain perspective the BMW starts out with a 240 horsepower, 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (that also produces 260 lb-ft of torque) and offers the ability to upgrade to a 3.0-liter, turbocharged six-cylinder that delivers 300 horsepower and 300 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage for the four-cylinder leads the way with a rating of 21-mpg city and 28-mpg highway, both engines are matched with an eight-speed automatic transmission, and all-wheel drive is standard for each and every BMW X3.
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05. 2013 Kia Sorento
The 2013 Kia Sorento earns a spot on this list of the best compact sport utility vehicles thanks to its focus on providing value to shoppers on a budget. The Kia Sorento comes with a strong list of standard equipment and offers an affordable options and trim structure. It also features seating for five passengers as well as enough cargo space to rival the Honda CR-V (72.5 cubic feet in total). Two different, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engines can be had with the Sorento, one of which generates 175 horsepower and 169 lb-ft of torque and another which benefits from a direct injection system to up the ante to 191 horses and 181 lb-ft of torque. The most robust motor that can be stuffed between the Sorento's front fenders is a 276 horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 that also puts down 248 lb-ft of torque. Fuel mileage for the direct-injected four-cylinder is listed at a respectable 22-mpg city and 28-mpg highway, and all vehicles feature a standard six-speed automatic gearbox and the option of all-wheel drive.
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06. 2013 Ford Escape
The 2013 Ford Escape has undergone a dramatic makeover and emerged as a more car-like compact sport utility vehicle that aims to impress with its fuel efficiency and its driving dynamics. The Ford Escape is no slouch in the cargo space department either (offering up 68.1 cubic feet), and it also makes available advanced features such as the SYNC interface and the MyFord Touch system. No fewer than three four-cylinder engines are available with the Escape: a 2.5-liter (168 horsepower), a 1.6-liter (178 horsepower) and a 2.0-liter (240 horsepower). The latter two are turbocharged and deliver roughly the same fuel mileage, with the 1.6-liter edging ahead thanks to its 23-mpg city and 33-mpg highway rating. All-wheel drive can be had with either turbocharged motor, and a six-speed automatic is standard for each version of the Escape.
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07. 2012 Audi Q5
The 2012 Audi Q5 is frequently mentioned as one of the best compact SUVs thanks to its ability to combine a premium driving experience with interesting handling dynamics and one of the best interiors in the business. The Audi Q5's base 2.0-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine throws down 211 horsepower and 258 lb-ft of torque while delivering fuel mileage of 20-mpg in stop and go driving and 27-mpg on the highway. A 3.2-liter V-6 (270 horses, 243 lb-ft of torque) is also available, and while the turbo unit comes with an eight-speed automatic the V-6 features a six-speed autobox. Quattro all-wheel drive is included free of charge with both motors, and the Q5 can haul a respectable 57 cubic feet of luggage with the rear seats folded forward.
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08. 2013 Mazda CX-5
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 is an all-new compact SUV from the brand that attempts to inject a little of bit sports car performance into each of its products. The Mazda CX-5 is one of the best compact sport utility vehicles for family shoppers that want to be able to enjoy a few curves in the road now and then on top of making practical use of the automobile's 65 cubic feet of total cargo space. The CX-5 is outfitted with a 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine that produces 155 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque, and while a six-speed manual tranny is standard a six-speed auto is available as an option (as is all-wheel drive). Fuel mileage for the CX-5 shows as 26-mpg around town and 33-mpg on the highway.
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09. 2012 Nissan Juke
The 2012 Nissan Juke asks potential compact sport utility vehicle buyers to walk on the wild side and take a chance on an unusual-looking, fun-to-drive option. The Nissan Juke holds its own one of the best compact SUVs to draw attention in, and its funky styling is backed up by an on-road personality that practically begs drivers to push hard through the corners. The Juke's standard 1.6-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine provides 188 horsepower and 177 lb-ft of torque, and it features the availability of either six-speed manual or a continuously-variable automatic transmission. All-wheel drive is optional with the Juke, fuel mileage shows as 27-mpg city and 32-mpg highway, and its quirky nature makes it easier to overlook its 36 cubic feet of cargo space.
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10. 2012 Toyota RAV4
The 2012 Toyota RAV4 has been one of the best compact SUVs since it was first introduced on the market all the way back in the 1990s. The Toyota RAV4 is one of the few compact sport utility vehicles to come with an available third row of seating (boosting total passenger capacity to seven), and it also offers 73 cubic feet of space for hauling cargo. All-wheel drive can be paired with both the RAV4's 179 horsepower, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine as well as its 3.5-liter V-6 (which produces 269 ponies and 246 lb-ft of torque), with the former delivering fuel mileage of 22-mpg city and 28 mpg highway. A four-speed auto manages the four-cylinder's output, while the V-6 graduates to a five-speed automatic transmission.
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