Cute utes — compact sport utility vehicles — with their roomy cabins, small footprint, good fuel economy and affordable price have become the most popular part of the market. Here's a look at a few:
The CR-V has regained a measure of style lost in the previous model. The interior sports better-quality materials and thoughtful touches such as seats that fold flat into the floor. It's modestly sporting to drive, with nicely weighted steering and an absorbent ride. The four-cylinder engine ably balances fuel economy and power. No, it's not flashy. But it is highly functional.
This unprepossessing crossover banished its boxy lines in exchange for the modern design aesthetic of the Ford Focus and Fiesta. The instrument panel has a sporty, over-caffeinated look. Interior space seems a bit snug. There is a choice of engines, and they provide plenty of power. The car has a lively feel and nimble handling.
The best part of the 2012 RAV4 remains: its perfect size and efficient-but-peppy four-cylinder drivetrain. But its less desirable traits — like the downscale cabin trim and odd styling — have been ditched in favor of a less-dowdy personality. Improvements have been made in rigidity and sound deadening, making it more appealing.
This is one of the few cute utes to offer a V-6 engine. It's also the longest vehicle here. The seats are comfortable and the cabin is roomy. Legroom is generous. Acceleration is fairly good, but not as strong as you might wish. On the other hand, fuel economy is better than expected.
Using the platform of the previous Sentra and the four-cylinder engine used in the Altima, the Rogue's tidy size makes it easy to maneuver. Handling is similar to that of a small family car: nimble, but not sporty. With its quiet, roomy interior and firm seats, this is a stylish people-hauler with laudable utility and frugality.
Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Who would think that a Hyundai would be among the most expensive vehicles in this group? But it doesn't seem overpriced. Four-cylinder engines, with or without a turbocharger, provide power without pain at the pump. Handling is fairly good, but to name this five-passenger wagon Sport is a stretch. It's nimble, but it's not sporty. Still, this cute ute follows the path blazed by the Sonata sedan: a premium feel at a reasonable price.