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Five SUV Alternatives

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Fuel efficiency and driving dynamics in vehicles that don’t sacrifice cargo space

The car-buying public often dreams of the versatility, all-terrain capabilities, seating and cargo space afforded by sport utility vehicles but can also be made skittish by the poor fuel economy and perhaps even the sheer size of SUVs. As several new crossovers, sport utility wagons and even vans demonstrate, however, the car-buying public may just be able to have its cake and eat it too.

This month, therefore, we highlight five alternatives to the SUV. Here are five pictures of versatility, some well-known to consumers and others still considered hidden gems.

Subaru Outback

When it comes to SUV alternatives, the Subaru Outback is the genuine article. In fact, it might be the first.

"Though it was originally promoted as the 'world's first sport utility wagon,' the 2013 Subaru Outback is more SUV than wagon, and that's a good thing," says the website KBB.com. "It's as spacious and capable as a conventional mid-size SUV, but delivers the fuel efficiency and driving characteristics of a sedan."

What makes the 2013 Outback (MSRP: $23,495) capable? For one thing, it can handle tough terrain with style. Also, it's one of the safest vehicles on the road today.

"Few vehicles on the market can equal the Subaru Outback's ability to conquer tough terrain while simultaneously delivering carlike fuel economy," KBB.com adds. "Safety buffs will appreciate its perfect crash test marks and the availability of the segment-exclusive EyeSight driver assistance system."

Nissan Murano

With SUV capabilities complemented by sports-car styling, the 2013 Murano (MSRP: $29,960) provides oodles of space, offers impressive fuel economy and, amazingly, is also available as a convertible — the CrossCabriolet.

"The Murano continues to buck the blocky-SUV trend in favor of a rounded, organic shape," explains KBB.com. "As it has from the start, this five-passenger carryall uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a setup that tends to offer better fuel economy than traditional automatics."

As for the convertible option, you are sure to make an impression in this unique vehicle, according to KBB.com. "If you take the plunge on a CrossCabriolet version, well, let's just say that you'll stand out."

Toyota Venza

Noting the spacious interior, powerful and efficient engine options, pleasant ride, and innovative storage capabilities of the 2012 Toyota Venza, Edmunds.com calls it "well-equipped" with features and amenities and defines the vehicle as "very American — designed for comfort, utility and ease of driving."

Indeed, typical of Toyota vehicles everywhere, the 2013 Venza (MSRP: $27,700) is characterized by comfort, safety and convenience. Toyota's STAR Safety System is standard; the center console compartment is equipped with a USB port, auxiliary audio jack and 12-volt power outlet and includes iPod/MP3 holders; and interior storage is further complemented by a total of 10 front and rear beverage holders.

The Venza also trumps the average SUV in the fuel economy department, as the four-cylinder engine option delivers an EPA-rated 21 mpg city and 27 mpg highway, while the V6 yields 19 mpg city and 26 mpg highway.

MINI Clubvan

SUVs and vans offer cargo and seating space but not much in the way of driving dynamics, and the MINI Clubvan sets out to change that. A new vehicle in the MINI fleet, the Clubvan offers "modest hauling capabilities without compromising enjoyment behind the wheel," says Car and Driver.

"Powering the wheeled embodiment of these dichotomous concepts is Mini's 1.6-liter four-cylinder producing 121 hp and 114 lb-ft of torque," according to the magazine. "Coupled with a standard six-speed manual (a six-speed auto is optional), the Italian Job-jobber will march from zero to 60 in an estimated 9.8 seconds on its way to a top speed of 124 mph."

Expected to be marketed in part to small-business owners, the Clubvan offers lockdown capabilities for fragile cargo via six tie-down hooks, in addition to a partition made of stainless-steel mesh and aluminum. And for goods that require a charge, the cargo hold is equipped with 12-volt sockets.

Ford Transit Connect

Also built with active families and small businesses in mind, the 2013 Ford Transit Connect (MSRP: $22,265) is affordable at the time of purchase, is economical to operate and, of course, is a cargo-carrying superstar. In fact, one look at the Transit Connect brings the word "roominess" to mind.

"Although not offering stand-up headroom, the Transit Connect's upright and open architecture provides a convenient work station for the tradesman," KBB.com explains. "And if your activity is recreational, the Transit Connect's small-box profile works beautifully as a fully functional base camp."

Stop by and let us know if we can be of any assistance with the financing of your next vehicle.

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