SUVs have taken over the roads and highways. Even with the consumer shift away from the larger of these vehicles at the moment, they are still a dominate product in the automotive industry - particularly, the smaller compact SUV.
They come in three classifications by size. The three groups are mini/compact, midsize and full-size sport utility vehicle. Like all vehicles, as you move up in size of SUV, the engine gets larger, the towing capacity increases and there is usually more room for passengers and/or cargo.
Compact SUVs are one of the more popular segments. They are the most affordable with prices starting under the $20,000 mark. They are also one of the more fuel efficient suvs. These vehicles are offered with both four and six cylinder engines instead of the V8 engines of their larger counterparts. With the four cylinder engine, it is possible to achieve 27 or 28 miles per gallon. When you move to a larger engine, then the fuel economy goes down, in this case to approximately 18 mpg. The hybrid compacts achieve much higher levels.
Compact SUVs generally carry five passengers, and some have the option of a third row of seating if you need to increase the seating capacity. Keep in mind that even the second row of seats is tight for an adult and the third row is best left for children. These rear seats do fold down or can be easily taken out if more cargo space is required. An average compact SUV will have close to 70 cubic feet of cargo area.
Just to confuse the issue, there are also many crossover compact SUVs. These offer a nice crisp handling and a smoother ride. Occasionally there is a little more room inside. They can be two wheel drive, four wheel drive and even all wheel drive. Compact SUVs were built to keep a large cross-section of the market happy.
The compact SUVs have another advantage beside cost and fuel efficiency – insurance companies smile a little brighter on them. The vehicles are lighter and simpler with lower maintenance and repair costs. This translates into lower insurance premiums. The insurance companies also like the fact that the compact SUVs have good safety reputation and usually come nicely loaded with safety equipment. Even the most basic compact SUV will offer full airbags and stability control. These vehicles come with a nice selection of features and have many simple upgrading options to help you customize the vehicle the way you'd like it.
2005-2006 Chevrolet Equinox
This compact SUV was first introduced as a 2005 model and represented Chevrolet’s entrance into the crossover segment. It was built and designed to replace the Chevrolet Tracker in the US but was also intended to go up against the Ford Escape. Powerful and spacious, this vehicle has a unique trendy look for the compact SUV market.
The thoughtfully designed interior is one of the highlights of the vehicle in an age where large is getting smaller. GM has used a multi-flex rear seating system. This has the rear seat on a track that allows it to slide back and forth by eight inches to increase legroom or cargo room. The rear seat has a 60/40 split to allow more cargo use configurations. The front passenger seat folds down flat. There’s hardly any wasted space as the space above the wheel wells is a cargo management system on this vehicle, with an adjustable panel that has three set heights.
The driver sits high up giving him a king of the road view that is to be envied. Power not short on this model either with a 3.4 L overhead-valve V6 engine producing 185 horsepower that’s matched up to a five-speed automatic transmission.. The V6 will reduce the fuel economy of the vehicle but will come in handy if towing. The towing capacity for this crossover is rated at 3,500 lbs.
Relatively new on the market, it’s one of the lesser known compact SUVs. It’s available in four models – LS, LT, LTZ and the Sport. All of these can have front-wheel drive or an all-wheel drive system that has the ability to send power to the rear wheels when required.
This compact SUV gives all the benefit of a larger more cumbersome vehicle but with the easy maneuverability of a smaller vehicle. Still with off road capabilities, this vehicle also works well for any family outing.
2003-2006 Honda Element
Many people have a love hate relationship with the Honda Element. Still for a used compact SUV, the Element has a lot to offer. Originally released in 2003 for the US market the Honda Element has been turning heads ever since. For power and performance the Honda Element offers a 2.4 L K engine which generates 160 horsepower and 160 lb-ft of torque when running 4500 rpm.
Of the many different styles and models of vehicles on today’s roads, the Honda Element is undeniably unique. The vehicle is short and boxy, an advantage when parking, and the inside is open and incredibly spacious for the four occupants. Available in two trim levels – the DX and EX - the vehicle was launched in a myriad of stunning colors like Sunset Orange Pearl and Galapagos Green Metallic. The vehicle is available with front-wheel drive and as an all-wheel drive model but the latter comes with a huge rear sunroof. If you want to use the vehicle to haul toys around, the towing capacity is 1500 lbs. The tow-hitch does not come standard.
Changes over the years are all about colors and models. For the 2004 year new colors were added in and a few more standard features were given to the LX model. By 2005, some colors were eliminated instead of being added and along with them went the DX model. The EX-P model came out the following year with another load of wild colors like Tangerine Metallic. There was an optional four-speed automatic transmission with overdrive. By 2007, the EX-P was gone and so was the Rallye Red color.
The comfortable interior adds to the decent fuel mileage of 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway and the great low price. This is a vehicle that makes everyone take a second look.
2003-2008 Subaru Forester
This compact crossover has won award after award. First introduced to the US market in 1998, it’s already in its third generation. Up until 2008, this vehicle was built on the Impreza platform. This all-wheel drive compact SUV set a new standard, easily wiping out the others in its class. Not only does it offer solid handling but the ride itself is smooth, easily absorbing any bumps and imperfections in the road.
Shorter, yet taller and much lighter, the Subaru Forester has a go anywhere attitude for weekend getaways while being functional enough to serve for everyday commuting. To lighten the weight, Subaru used an aluminum hood, perforated rails, and a hydro-formed front sub-frame.
Highlights for this generation are the inclusion of Subaru’s automobile variable valve timing (AVCS) system as standard for all engines. There are two engines available from the 2.5 L H4 engine offering 173 horsepower and a 2.5 L turbocharged H4 engine offering 224 horsepower. Included in the line are the X, SX and the XT – the turbocharged Forester. The XT was released a few months behind the others as a 2004 model. The Subaru Symmetrical all-Wheel Drive system is also a special feature. The XT offers the same turbocharged engine found in the Subaru Impreza WRX vehicle along with many other drivetrain similarities. This turbocharged engine received the International Engine of the Year award.
The same year the 2.5 X and the 2.5 XT Limited models were on the market which quickly expanded the following year to five models. It has received a perfect five star safety rating in the NHTSA frontal and side crash tests.
Practical, functional and fun to drive, although not designed for heavy off-roading the Subaru Forester is a good vehicle for tough winter roads. It offers a great driving experience with its quick responses and great cornering.