That said, buyers who head to the dealership armed with solid pricing information and a clear idea of what represents a fair price, can usually muscle their way to a good deal. Just keep in mind that the turn rate on all these suggests there is, for now, no shortage of customers in line behind you.
2011 Kia Sorento
Price range: $23,995-$37,995
Average transaction price: $33,986
The hot deal: Up to $3,500 in rebates, plus a dealer discount.
Turn rate: nine days
The 2011 Kia Sorento really is "all-new"; this is not marketing spin. The design is a radical improvement over the old Sorento and this is the first Kia built in North America - in the United States at West Point, Ga.
More important, the Sorento is now a car-like unibody SUV, not the clunky old body-on-frame truck that used to be the Sorento.
Kia offers a four-cylinder (175 horsepower) with six-speed manual, as well as a V-6 (276 hp) with automatic. The six-speed automatic is a whopping $2,600 extra on the base model. Two- and four-wheel drive versions are available, too.
This new Kia has (optional) three rows that seat seven, though to sit way in back you need to be pretty small. That's not unusual. The RAV4 and Mitsubishi Outlander also are available with a third row designed perfectly for Dorothy's Munchkin friends.
It's possible to spend nearly $40,000 on a Sorento, but you can get lots of crossover here for much, much less. Even the base model has plenty of power accessories and features.
If you want to spend extra, you can get a rearview camera with the screen in a small space on the inside mirror. Ford and Honda do this, too. The display is too small to pick out details, but useful to warn you about bikes left in the driveway.
In driving, the suspension is firm and that makes the handling feel sporty. If you like a softer ride, this may not be the rig for you. The six-speed automatic is okay for the segment, but shifts could be quicker and cleaner in everyday conditions.
Inside, the cabin is roomy enough. The red readouts for the instruments look sharp, but can be hard to see if the sunlight hits just so, or you're wearing sunglasses. Less expensive versions have a lot of hard plastic bits inside. All the controls work really well.
Kia has delivered a fine package here, carving out a corner where buyers want a ride that's a bit sportier than the mainstream. So far it's working.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox
Price range: $25,995-$35,070
Average transaction price: $34,768
The hot deal: Up to $4,750 in rebates, plus a dealer discount.
Turn rate: 14 days
Chevy has a thundering hit on its hands with the redesigned 2010 Chevrolet Equinox. The old Equinox offered only a V-6 engine, but now there is a base 2.4-litre, direct-injected four-cylinder engine (182 hp). It's a good powerplant and very slick.
But there is more. While a direct-injected V-6 (264 hp) is optional, almost no one needs it. The four-banger is as powerful as the Chinese-made V-6 in the old Equinox, yet GM promises 20 per cent better fuel economy over the previous V-6. It even comes with a thoroughly modern six-speed automatic transmission.
As for styling, this Equinox is a looker, inside and out. With leather upholstery, the cabin is pretty rich. Accent lighting is another highlight and the controls operate smoothly.
But the biggest appeal of all is utility. There is a huge centre console storage area, the rear seat slides fore and aft, and the cargo area is big and flexible.
As for the drive, Equinox may ride on a platform that originally arrived in 2002 with the Saturn Vue, but here the engineers have done some excellent tuning. The steering and cornering were sporty for the segment, and the brakes are strong.
GM has three shifts working flat out to build the Equinox in Ingersoll, Ont. There are good reasons why - why so many are buying.
2010 Toyota RAV4
Price range: $24,595-$34,640
Average transaction price: $32,811
The hot deal: Up to $2,000 in rebates, plus a dealer discount