They're easy on gas -- and easy on your wallet, too. But unlike typical low-bucks/fuel efficient cars, these wagon-like, roomy-on-the-inside crossover vehicles are good for more than just commuting. With high roofs and large doors, they're easy to get into and out of. And with versatile interiors and plenty of cargo space, they can tackle road trips or trips to the store better than the typical economy car. Also, several offer the bad-weather bonus of available all-wheel-drive, and all are a lot more fun to drive than the typical fuel efficient, economical car.
Which vehicles might these be?
Compact crossover vehicles.
Here's a sampling of the latest and greatest in crossover vehicles -- "out of the box" alternatives to your traditional economical, fuel efficient cars:
The five-door 2008 Kia Rondo looks a lot like a downsized minivan similar to the urban runabouts you see zipping around London or Tokyo. Like them, it's small on the outside, so it's well-suited for congested driving. And yet, the Kia Rondo's got room enough for up to six passengers inside, thanks to an available third-row seat and surprisingly generous head and legroom for everyone. That means it can work as a primary family car -- especially for young families with toddlers and kids. It can cart them and their stuff around to after-school activities just as well as a standard-sized minivan. But unlike the typical minivan, the Rondo is more fuel efficient and can approach 30 mpg on the highway versus mid-low 20s for the typical minivan. And it's considerably less expensive "up front," too. Even loaded with options -- including a 2.7 liter V-6 engine in place of the standard four-cylinder -- the Kia Rondo barely crests $20K "out the door." Base models come standard with features like 16-inch alloy wheels, CD-playing stereo, power windows/door locks, electronic stability control and full-row curtain airbags.
MSRP: $18,980 - $22,775
The Honda Element is a boxy-looking five-door, 4-5 passenger vehicle designed to appeal to active lifestyle Gen X and Gen Y types -- and continues to be one of the most distinctive vehicles on the market. The Honda Element may not be consided handsome by all, but it has a friendly, low-key personality that's an appealing contrast to today's frantic, stress-crazed world of vehicular one-upmanship. The Honda Element is pleasantly unpretentious, inexpensive and extremely versatile. Unusual features include ambulance-style fold-down cots for beach parties or camping trips, a removable rear sunroof, backward-opening rear doors (and a pickup truck-like split-folding tailgate out back), waterproof seats and a rubberized, "hose it clean" interior. If you are old enough to remember good-natured oddballs of the past like the 73-'74 VW Thing and the Subaru Brat of the early-mid '80s, you will recognize a kindred spirit in the Honda Element -- albeit one with modern amenities and safety upgrades, as well as a lot more cargo room (70-plus cubic feet with the backseats down). Fuel efficiency is solidly in the mid-20s, too.
MSRP: $14,770 - $16,870
Let's say you're in the market for a compact, AWD-equipped crossover sport wagon like the Subaru Impreza -- but don't have the $18K Subaru wants for this model. Enter the Suzuki SX4. It's a new model for Suzuki and like the Subaru Impreza comes standard with all-wheel-drive -- and similarly snarky exterior and interior styling. But its base price of $14,999 means it's exactly $3,000 less than the base model '07 Subaru Impreza -- and thus, one of the least expensive new crossovers with standard AWD you can buy right now. The Suzuki SX4 also has a pretty powerful engine for its class/price range. The standard 2.0 liter engine is rated at 143 horsepower, or about 10-20 more than typical front-drive economy cars in this price range. It's not going to win you any races against the 173 horsepower Subaru Impreza -- but then again, you'll have that extra three grand in your pocket for consolation. Its EPA-rated mileage of 25 city/30 highway makes it one of the most economical, fuel efficient AWD-equipped cars available today.
MSRP: $16,475 - $22,255
The Compass offers traditional Jeep styling and (when equipped with the optional AWD system) Jeep-like surefootedness on snow and rain-slicked roads. But because it's built on a car-based chassis and has a car-like independent suspension, the Jeep Compass is also a lot more civilized on road than traditional Jeeps like the Wrangler and Liberty. Its interior has been designed for versatility, with features like a fold-down front passenger seat, which makes it possible to carry things like a surfboard (or even a kayak) inside the vehicle rather than strapping it to the roof. Even the Jeep Compass base model gets standard 17-inch wheels, full-length head/curtain air bags, traction control, MP3-capable stereo system with CD player and an easy-clean cargo area. Numerous options are available, too -- including GPS, Sirius satellite radio and a booming Boston Acoustics audio system. Base models don't come standard with air conditioning, however, and it's the one necessity that's missing from the "as it sits" package.
MSRP: $17,735 - $21,500
Just 181.5 inches long and about 3,300 pounds, the Mazda 5 is shorter and weighs about as much as a typical mid-sized sedan (a Toyota Camry is 189.2 inches long and weighs around 3,100 pounds). But unlike any mid-sized sedan, the Mazda 5 offers third row seating -- and room for up to six people. Whoever gets to drive will also enjoy the available manual transmission, standard 17x6.5-inch alloy rims and 50-series, VR speed-rated high-performance tires and sport-tuned suspension. Throw it hard into a corner and see; you'll think you bought a Miata that seats six. The fuel-efficient Mazda 5 can also tickle 30 mpg on the highway -- the definition of having your cake and eating it, too.
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