Turn rate: 18 days
The made-in-Canada RAV4 is spacious, comfortable and easy to drive. Anyone looking for a small-to-mid-size crossover wagon should give it a test drive - especially if you want fuel-efficient V-6 power, a third-row seat or both.
One great strength of the RAV is roomy second-row seating. Another is a huge cargo space with a flat load floor. Build quality is excellent, crash test scores are top-notch and the ride and handling is comfortable and responsive.
Okay, okay, some parts of the cabin look and feel cheap and that side-hinged rear gate gets in the way of curb-side loading. But Toyota has done a good job here.
Of course, Toyota has had some practice at this. The world's No. 1 car company launched the RAV4 some 14 years ago. Some would say Toyota invented the car-based utility wagon segment, in fact. That first RAV was pretty small, though. This version is not.
Toyota offers two engines: four-cylinder engine (179) and the V-6 (265 hp). Go for the V-6 if you can afford it. It has basically the same fuel economy as the four-banger (9.7 litres/100 km city/7.2 highway for the four-cylinder, versus 10.7/7.4 for the V-6).
The RAV is safe, too. In crash tests by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the RAV earned the top rating of "Good" in both the frontal-offset and side-impact crash tests. It achieved the second-best rating of "Acceptable" in the roof strength test.
Inside, the controls are simple and well-placed. There is plenty of storage space and with all the rear seats folded, the RAV can handle more cargo than, say, a bigger Ford Edge. Passenger space is also excellent. The optional third-row seat will handle a pair of kids. The downside is a budget feel to the plastics.
2010 Ford Escape
Price range: $24,999-$34,549
Average transaction price: $29,550
The hot deal: Up to $7,500 in rebates, plus a dealer discount
Turn rate: 23 days
The Escape is a very good buy, though the last serious upgrade came several years ago. And if you want a compact hybrid SUV, this is where you shop.
The most basic model has a 171-hp four-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive. Ford sells the Escape with full-time four-wheel drive, too, and with a 240-hp V-6.
The Escape is discounted; there are many newer competitors in the segment. But reliability is good and so are the crash test scores.
The Escape has one thing going for it that is unique in this group: Microsoft's Sync communication and entertainment system is available. It allows for hands-free operation of all sorts of functions.
As for the rest, the interior is spacious, with plenty of leg, shoulder, and head room in both the front and rear seats. Visibility is good, too. The cabin is reasonably quiet at highway speeds, too.
Ford's discounting puts a nice shine on the Escape, but if you want something totally new and fancy, this SUV doesn't fit the bill.
2010 Dodge Journey
Price range: $19,995-$29,895
Average transaction price: $27,593
The hot deal: Up to $3,750 in rebates, plus a dealer discount
Turn rate: 28 days
Three noteworthy things about the 2009 Dodge Journey:
1) The sharp-edged looks scream "I am NOT a minivan nor am I a station wagon" and they work
2) the cabin is festooned with cubbies and storage bins and boxes and this matters
3) the price is right, officially starting at just under $20,000. And then there are the discounts …
Size-wise, the Journey fits in somewhere between the hulking Grand Caravan minivan and the Jeep Patriot SUV. The Journey has three rows of seats and is nicely sized for shopping malls and rink parking lots. You'll have no trouble manoeuvring it in the suburbs and city core. Remember, though, that the Journey's third row is optional; the five-passenger configuration is standard across the lineup.
For power, Chrysler offers two gasoline engines here: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (173 hp) and harnessed to a four-speed automatic transmission and 3.5-litre V-6 (235 horsepower) with a six-speed automatic.