Small SUVs more popular in recession

LOS ANGELES Inside the /*Mercedes Benz*/ GLK, there are lots of modern amenities. But on the outside, it is different; smaller and more efficient. The GLK starts at under $35,000 and is one of a new breed of compact luxury SUVs.

"We're looking at people not wanting to be very obtrusive about their spending. Even people who can afford to buy a new car don't want to be obtrusive about it, and these crossovers really fit right in there," said Jack Nerad, Kelley Blue Book.

/*Volvo*/ is also introducing a smaller car, the XC60. Like the Mercedes, it has many of the amenities the larger Volvo models have.

"When you look at these luxury crossovers, they've got it all. I mean, you'd be hard-pressed to think of a more expensive vehicle that could add anything more to the whole mix," said Nerad.

The crossovers are essentially shrunken-down versions of larger models. They cost less, get somewhat better fuel economy and project an image of fiscal restraint.

The smaller luxury SUVs lack one element: a third row seat. There simply isn't room for one. Plus, buyers in this segment don't really need one, and there still is a lot of cargo space.

The SUVs fit four or five adults quite comfortably. Analysts say the target demographic for the trim utility vehicles are young couples and empty-nesters.

There is also a new small crossover coming from /*Audi*/ called the Q5, which plays baby brother to the large Audi Q7. For a less expensive model, there is a close cousin to the Q5 called the /*Volkswagen*/ Tiguan. It is more sporty than luxurious, with a younger vibe.

The original in this segment is the /*Lexus*/ RX, which is now in its third generation and will be the only one in the class offering a /*hybrid*/ version.

Even without hybrid power, these compacts have something else over their bigger showroom mates: a greener image.

"I think when you look at something that is smaller, I think people will expect that that's a greener choice. And I guess that makes some sense in this day and age too," said Nerad.

It seems going green for a lower price tag is a popular combination for today's buyers.


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