The Car-SUV Hybrid

Find an eco-friendlier alternative to the SUV.

Can't decide between a car and an SUV? How about a CUV? Crossover utility vehicles are based on passenger-car platforms, or unibodies, rather than truck platforms. Result: a more comfortable sedan-like ride, easier handling, better gas mileage, and styling that combines a wagon and an SUV. Cargo space and passenger room make CUVs ideal for business, and they don't carry the guilt of a gas-guzzling SUV or the fuddy-duddy image of yesteryear's station wagons.

Ford's 2007 Edge CUV, which at press time is expected to debut at about $25,000, isn't designed for off-roading, but an optional moon roof lets nature in. The 3.5-liter 250 horsepower V-6 engine provides muscle, along with a six-speed automatic transmission. Thirsty road warriors can store 20-ounce cups while working on the center console's removable tray that can hold a laptop. Seats five; holds 68.7 cubic feet of cargo. Mileage: mid-20s both city and highway.

Also debuting this year is Mazda's 2007 CX-7, which costs $23,750. Engineered like Mazda sports cars, the five-passenger CUV boasts a 2.3-liter 244-horsepower four-cylinder turbo engine with a six-speed automatic transmission. The lockable center console can hold a compact laptop. The rear holds 58 cubic feet, and the reversible trunk board can be flipped over for carrying soggy cargo you don't want on the carpet. Choose between two- or four-wheel drive with traction and stability control. Six air bags; roll-over sensor; remote engine start. Mileage: 19 city/24 highway.

Another hot CUV is Mercedes-Benz' new $48,775 R-Class, a four-wheel drive model that seats six, has six air bags, holds 85 cubic feet of cargo, and has a seven-speed automatic transmission with manual TouchShift, a 3.5-liter 268-horsepower V-6 engine, and automatically adjusting load-leveling air suspension. Options include an iPod kit, a navigation system and a panoramic retractable sunroof. A luxurious interior is a given. Mileage: 16 city/21 highway.

Other CUVs include the Acura MDX, Chevrolet's cross-over HHR van, the Lexus RX330 and the Lincoln MKX.

Jill Amadio is an award-winning automotive journalist and author.
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