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  • The crossover utility vehicle, or CUV, is an invention of the last decade and the fastest growing segment of the auto industry.

    Gas guzzling SUVs, for many, have given way to these smaller, more fuel efficient, and terribly handy, vehicles. For many families, especially those stopping at two children, it has become the station-wagon of the 21st century.

    AOL Autos Editors offer here our picks for the three smartest, best CUVs we think you can choose this summer, as well as three we would stay clear of when you are researching your next set of wheels and the deals that go with them.

  • Best CUVs No. 3:  Mazda CX-5

    Best CUVs No. 3: Mazda CX-5

    MSRP: $20,695 - $28,295
    Invoice: $19,794 - $27,056
    Fuel Economy: 26 city/35 highway

    The Mazda CX-5 is a brand new CUV that went on sale this month replacing the Mazda Tribute and competing in this very hot segment. As a brand new entry, we don't have J.D. Power or Consumer Reports ratings to dial in to our recommendation. But we are so impressed with the CX-5's ride, handling, fit quality and fuel economy that we are going out on a limb to rate it No. 3.

    To differentiate the CX-5 from the competition, Mazda gave it distinctive styling the first production car to employ the company's new "Kodo" design language and focused immensely on driving experience at every step of the engineering process.

    Mazda has long prided itself on making fun cars and has maintained that its current production cars are derived from the Miata one of the most loved cars in the industry.

    Fuel economy is a huge win for the Skyactiv powertrain in the CX-5, with manual-equipped models expected to deliver a best-in-class 33 miles per gallon on the highway and 26 mpg in the city. Adding the automatic transmission drops the highway number to 32 mpg, and equipping the CX-5 with all-wheel drive reduces overall economy to 25/30 mpg.

    Research the Mazda CX-5
    Mazda CX-5 Photos & Information
    Mazda CX-5 Specs
    Mazda CX-5 Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Best CUV No. 1: Chevy Equinox

    Best CUV No. 1: Chevy Equinox

    MSRP: $23,530 - $30,970
    Invoice: $22,354 - $29,422
    Fuel Economy: 22 city/32 highway

    The most powerful of the compact CUVs is the Chevrolet Equinox, with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 182 horsepower and 172 lb.-ft. of torque. That engine is mated to a 6-speed automatic transmission. It is also super fuel efficient, at 22 mpg city and 32 mpg highway.

    The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the Equinox and Toyota RAV4 both "good" in frontal offset and side-impact testing. Those two, receiving the best IIHS ratings, also received an "Acceptable"rating in roof-strength tests.

    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave Equinox, as well as Honda CR-V, 5-star ratings in Front Driver/Front Passenger as well as 5-star ratings in Side Driver/Side Rear Passenger impact testing.All that pretty much puts the Equinox atop the category in safety.

    The Equinox is the roomiest of our choices, and the four-cylinder engine is nothing to apologize for, while delivering terrific highway fuel economy. Styling is exceptional, and the vehicle represents Chevy's recently-honed commitment to premium feeling fitments all over the interior. In other words, it feels and looks more expensive than it is.

    For being an all around pleasure to drive and live with, combined with solid hard numbers to show it means business against Asian rivals, the 2012 Equinox is, for us, pound for pound and dollar for dollar the smartest SUV to buy under $30,000 and above $20,000.

    Research the Chevy Equinox
    Chevy Equinox Photos & Information
    Chevy Equinox Specs
    Chevy Equinox Local Dealer Price Quote

  • Worst CUVs No. 2: Jeep Liberty

    Worst CUVs No. 2: Jeep Liberty

    MSRP: $23,395 - $28,995
    Invoice: $22,722 - $27,960
    Fuel efficiency: 16 city/22 highway

    Jeep is a great name in SUVs, but the company lost the plot with this model years ago. We almost hesitate to group with crossovers, but when you search on crossovers in a search engine, up comes the Liberty.

    The V6 is sluggish, out-dated, fuel thirsty and crummy too drive. It is also pathetically mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. The car handles sloppily, and is a beast to drive on a long trip. The only plus we can really muster for the Liberty is that it is pretty serviceable off-road. Chrysler's previous owners spent some much time making sure the darn thing was "trail-rated," they forgot to make it a decent road-going vehicle.

    The Liberty will be phased out next year, and Chrysler, under Fiat management, has strongly suggested the all-new and much needed replacement will be named Cherokee. You might well find deep discounts on the Liberty, but we do not recommend this particular Jeep.

    Better choices in the Jeep lineup would be the Fiat-improved Jeep Patriot and Compass, which will give you better than adequate off-road and on-road capability, as well as nicely upgraded interiors. The Patriot is an especially good value these days.

    Research the Jeep Liberty
    Jeep Liberty Photos & Information
    Jeep Liberty Specs
    Jeep Liberty Local Dealer Price Quote

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