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Chevrolet Equinox is the best all-around compact SUV

There are many good choices in the crowded field of small SUVs and crossovers but, according to reviewers, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox sits at the top of the heap. The Equinox excels in the areas of practicality and comfort, in part because of its larger size compared to some other small SUVs. Front and rear seat comfort is excellent in this class, and features like a sliding rear seat provide extra leg room for rear passengers. Testers compliment the Equinox's supple and sophisticated ride quality. These traits help the Chevy feel more "expensive" than the competition. For instance, Edmunds.com says the Equinox provides "a buttoned-down feel indicative of bigger SUVs." A nicely finished interior and ample cargo room (63 cubic feet. with the rear seats down) finishes off the well-rounded package.

The Equinox gets good fuel economy from its 2.4-liter, four-cylinder base engine, achieving 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway/26 mpg combined with front-wheel drive, according to Environmental Protection Agency estimates. Efficiency doesn't come at the cost of performance, as reviewers find that the Equinox's four-cylinder engine delivers ample acceleration. A more powerful V6 engine is also available for the Equinox, as is all-wheel drive. Finally, the Chevrolet Equinox performed very well in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's crash-testing: the Equinox is a 2011 Top Safety Pick, indicating that it got the highest possible scores in the front, side, rear and roof strength tests.

For a complete analysis on what the experts are saying and what makes the Equinox the best-reviewed overall small SUV, see our short report on the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox (Base MSRP: $22,995 to $30,320) and our comprehensive report on the essentially identical 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. (Base MSRP: $22,995 to $30,320) .

Honda CR-V and Hyundai Tucson are noteworthy runners up

According to reviewers, the 2011 Honda CR-V (Base MSRP: $21,895 to $28,095) and the 2011 Hyundai Tucson (Base MSRP: $18,895 to $26,345) are also excellent all-around small SUVs. The Honda CR-V stands out for its good handling, superlative reliability and overall interior quality and packaging. The Hyundai Tucson is an impressive all-around performer with sharp styling and one of the lowest base price points in this class of vehicles. Despite its low cost, reviewers find the Tucson to be attractive inside and out, fun to drive and packed with a full complement of standard equipment. Our dedicated reports on both the 2011 Honda CR-V (Base MSRP: $21,895 to $28,095) and 2011 Hyundai Tucson (Base MSRP: $18,895 to $26,345) provide more information on these models including expert opinions.

Sportiest small SUVs blend fun and practicality

If you want a little more excitement behind the wheel, reviews say that the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan (Base MSRP: $23,720 to $35,090) is the small SUV to beat. According to Cars.com, "the Tiguan's handling is downright sporty" with "precise steering." The article goes on to gush about the Tiguan's "always exceptional" interior quality. Those sentiments neatly summarize the Tiguan's selling points: reviewer consensus is that it's the most fun-to-drive small SUV around, is good looking inside and out, and a refreshing departure from more generic options. Not all reviewers are sold on the firmer ride, smaller cargo capacity, and higher price than many excellent (but less sporty) competitors. Those looking for a fun, near-luxury small SUV will surely be pleased by the Tiguan's sporty, car-like feel. The Tiguan is also a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meaning it achieved the highest rating of "Good" in their various crash-test scenarios.

See our full analysis of what the experts think about the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan (Base MSRP: $23,720 to $35,090) for more information.

The 2011 Kia Sportage (Base MSRP: $18,295 to $27,295) is another small SUV that reviewers agree is an all-around great performer. The Sportage has a relatively low base price, particularly when compared to the Tiguan, and it also has sporty handling, sharp exterior looks and an attractive interior. In addition to its low base price, the Sportage is backed by a 10-year/100,000-mile warranty. See our report on the 2011 Kia Sportage (Base MSRP: $18,295 to $27,295) for a complete overview of the model and for links to many expert sources.

Audi Q5 is reviewers' favorite small luxury SUV

Critics can't find enough good things to say about the best-reviewed compact luxury SUV, the 2012 Audi Q5 (Base MSRP: $35,200 to $42,500) . Many say that the Audi Q5 simply has the best blend of attributes, including sport-sedan dynamics, plus an exceptional interior, sleek looks, and an entirely upscale feel to the ride. Autoblog.com explains that "good, expensive hardware always has some kind of indefinable mojo that makes the output of its efforts flat-out brilliant, and that's what the Q5 feels like." In addition, the Q5 is designated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, meaning it received the highest possible ratings in all safety test scenarios. Standard all-wheel drive is also a plus. The biggest drawback that reviewers cite is the Audi's high price relative to other non-luxury SUVs, especially the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan (Base MSRP: $23,720 to $35,090) , the Q5's cheaper relative that is mechanically similar in many ways. Another weak point is that the Audi Q5‘s cargo volume is less spacious compared to other small SUVs.

Experts also like the 2011 Infiniti EX35 (Base MSRP: $35,200 to $38,800) for its luxurious ride, technology options, attractive looks and "zesty" performance, as Edmunds.com puts it. Like the Q5, the EX35 is pricier than other non-luxury options, and its relatively limited cargo capacity and rear seat space don't impress reviewers.

See our full analysis of the 2012 Audi Q5 (Base MSRP: $35,200 to $42,500) and the 2011 Infiniti EX35 (Base MSRP: $35,200 to $38,800) for an in-depth look at the model and links to many expert reviews.

Small SUVs Runners Up:

2011 Nissan Juke Base MSRP: $19,570 to $25,200

1 pick including: FuelEconomy.gov, InsideLine.com…

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