If you're in the market for a small sport utility vehicle, you'll find most major automakers offer you at least one option in this class. Some comparisons can only be made in person---for example, examining the quality of interior materials, checking the engine's "pep," or determining if you like the way the rear door is operated. But many other features of small SUVs can be evaluated online.
- Skill level:
- Moderately Easy
Things you need
- Internet connection
- Web-browsing software
Review safety ratings. For many people, safety is the most important difference among vehicles. The non-profit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety offers safety ratings you can search online, as does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ratings may not be available for all models.
The institute offers its "top safety picks" in various categories; 2010 selections in the small SUV category were the Honda Element, Subaru Forester, Volkswagen Tiguan and Jeep Patriot (with optional side torso airbags).
Compare seating areas. A comfortable ride may depend on how much head, leg, hip and shoulder room a vehicle offers. You can find these dimensions on the manufacturers' websites. For example, comparing the 2010 Ford Escape and Honda CR-V shows the Honda has almost 3 inches more of leg room in the second-row seat.
You can also compare the number of passengers the vehicle will hold. While most small SUVs have seating for five, the 2010 Toyota RAV4 has an optional third-row seat that can boost seating capacity to seven; be sure to check the dimensions to see how much space passengers will have in that third row.
Check cargo capacity. Vehicle websites can also show you how much cargo space small SUVs offer. Measurements are usually shown in cubic feet and may include one measurement for space behind the back seat and a second that shows the volume if you fold the back seat down. Comparing the 2010 Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage models shows the Kia has about 11 more cubic feet of cargo room.
Investigate fuel mileage. Fueleconomy.gov, a website operated by the U.S. Department of Energy, lists the fuel efficiency for small SUVs. In 2010 small hybrid SUVs top the list at around 34 miles per gallon (MPG) in the city. Non-hybrids like the Mazda Tribute and Nissan Rogue (2010) can get 22 MPG in town when outfitted with front-wheel drive.
Read vehicle reviews. While a test drive allows you to form your own opinions about small SUVs, it can be helpful to get the thoughts of professional car evaluators as well. Automotive magazines offer access to their reviews on the Internet. You can also get opinions from the non-profit "Consumer Reports" publication if you subscribe to it in print or online.
Determine warranty coverage and perks. Vehicle manufacturers generally offer three types of warranties: bumper-to-bumper, power train and rust-through. The length of this coverage varies among manufacturers. While three years or 36,000 miles is common for bumper-to-bumper guarantees, some automakers offer up to five years of basic warranty.
Some vehicles may also come with roadside assistance and free routine maintenance for a specified time period.
Compare prices. Price can also be a deciding factor for buyers, and the cost of small SUVs varies depending on the model, engine size, drivetrain, trim level and accessories of a particular vehicle. Some manufacturers' websites allow you to build your own virtual vehicle so you can see how adding or subtracting various options affects the price. Small SUV prices start under £11,050 for a 2010 Kia Sportage base model; a 2010 Mercury Mariner hybrid SUV starts at £19,568.
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