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Best and Worst Affordable Compact SUVs

Looking for a small SUV? Here's some good news: In the competitive affordable compact SUV class, it's easy to find the practicality and fuel economy you need and the nice styling you want. The under-$25,000 compact SUVs were ranked based on an in-depth analysis by U.S. News editors of published auto ratings, reviews and test drives. 

Overall, the U.S. News analysis of the category's expert reviews finds that SUVs and crossovers that have good looks and excellent safety features.  The class includes both traditional SUVs, which are based on a truck body and usually offer better off-roading and towing ability, and crossovers, which are built on a car body and generally provide a smoother ride and better gas mileage.

With 27 small SUVs to choose from, finding the one that's right for you can be overwhelming.  We've compiled the best, the worst, the hybrids and one surprisingly good-looking choice to help you cut through the class and get to what you need. You can also check out the full Affordable SUV ranking list

The Winners

At #1, the 2008 Honda CR-V had the top scores for safety, performance and interior.  Reviewers like how it drives, its good storage space and sleek design. Close behind is the #2 ranked 2008 Toyota RAV4, with surprisingly powerful performance for the class. The SUV that first launched the compact class more than a decade ago now offers a V6 engine and third-row seat. The #3 ranked 2008 Subaru Forester earns kudos as a fun, family-friendly SUV. Its positive features outweigh complaints about a bland exterior and balky transmission.

At the Other End . . .

The last-place Saturn VUE Hybrid is at the bottom of the list because reviewers say it isn't as refined or as fuel thrifty as some other hybrids. The non-hybrid Saturn VUE, however, doesn't have to suffer comparisons to fuel-sipping hybrids and ranks at #4.  Also in the bottom three are the Mazda Tribute, which doesn't match the handling and power of its rivals; and the Mercury Mariner, which has an aging powertrain that can't match the performance of its competition. 

Speaking of Hybrids . . .

Along with the Saturn VUE two other hybrids are on the list, the #15-ranked Ford Escape Hybrid and its corporate sibling, the #20-ranked Mercury Mariner Hybrid. The Escape Hybrid is seen as an environmentally conscious car. It combines a comfortable interior with a tough exterior. But it falls behind rivals for driving performance and overall quality. Mariner gets points for elegant looks and good value, but its performance and available gadgetry lag the competition.

Hmmm . . .

The winner for exterior looks is the 2008 Grand Vitara from Suzuki (which ranks #10 overall), not a brand known for its styling prowess. Reviewers like that the Grand Vitara looks beefy and rugged but still refined enough to drive around town. Grand Vitara's warm reception may also benefit from lower expectations and a sense that by starting under $20K, it's a good value.

See the Full List

There you have it -- the class winners and losers, hybrids and the surprisingly sexy Suzuki. Check out our photo gallery of the class highlights. There's a lot more going on in this class, so be sure to visit the full ranking list of Affordable Compact SUVs to see how your favorite cute 'ute compares to the competition.