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New baby SUVs - small on size, big on features

January 1, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
Sport utility vehicles continue to be a hot seller, but with rising gas prices, some car makers are trying to make them more fuel-efficient by introducing a new class of "baby SUVs."The new Kia Sportage is the latest compact SUV to hit the market. The segment called "compact" has become one of the most popular SUV categories as these vehicles are big enough to be handy but not so big as to use a lot of gas.

But the compact segment is being undersized by a new segment that doesn't really have a name yet - perhaps subcompact SUVs.

First out of the gate was the Nissan Juke. Its rakish roofline and hidden rear door handles give it the look of having only two doors, but there are four for easy access.

The styling is a little on the funky side, including the interior. But it's got nice features like a standard turbo engine that lets it scoot along nicely with either two- or all-wheel drive.

You can also decide on how you want the engine to respond - sport mode gives maximum power while the eco setting helps save fuel.

Next up to bat is the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. It measures in more than a foot shorter than the regular Outlander and is very nimble on the road.

Power is just adequate but it moves OK and offers lots of technology for today's tech-minded drivers. It can also be loaded up with options for an upscale feel.

As people pay more attention to gas prices and their personal consumption, these junior SUVs are likely to become more popular.

Mini has brought out the Countryman, which is large for a Mini but certainly small for an SUV.

Ford has a cute little baby SUV in Europe called the C-Max. The slightly larger model will debut in the U.S. later this year. It's a bit more like a van than an SUV, though it will have seven seats inside.

They may be small but they do have many of the useful features the bigger ones do in a trimmer and slimmer size.