The small SUV world has exploded in popularity and sales in recent years, goading automakers to keep their product fresh.
Take Honda, to start. The segment stalwart Honda CR-V has been refreshed ever so slightly for 2012 in order to protect the high-flying sales of the best-selling SUV/CUV in America. Ride quality is smoother and the addition of more sound-deadening and insulation materials help keep driver and passengers comfortable. Fuel economy has improved 3 mpg highway, plus another 1 and 2 mpg city for the front- and all-wheel drive models, respectively.
Underneath the hood, the same 2.4-liter inline-four soldiers on but Honda squeezed another five horsepower thanks to various friction reduction measures, reducing mechanical losses for better efficiency. Inside, there's an extra 1.5 cubic feet of cargo space freed up by the interior packaging team.
The small changes not cutting it for you with the CR-V? There's also the new Ford Escape and Mazda CX-5. Replacing the platform-sharing and well-aged Escape and Tribute, respectively, the 2013 Escape and CX-5 have both finally diverged in style and powertrain.
The 2013 Ford Escape will no longer look like it came out of the Clinton era and stylistically fits in with the rest of the Blue Oval's kinetic style product, namely the Fiesta and Focus. The old 2.5-liter four-cylinder carries over for fleet sales; the big news is the 1.6- and 2.0-liter Ecoboost fours will be subjected to mass torture when the Escape finally goes on sale. Handling and steering are said to be on the sporty side and we'll be seeing the first implementation of Ford's hand-free liftgate.
Predictably, Mazda put a smile on the 2013 Mazda CX-5. The sheetmetal is familiar, and if we know our Mazdas, the focus on driving quality will be immediately apparent to the driver. The CX-5 is the first vehicle to be built around Mazda's suite of Skyactiv technologies. Most notably, the Skyactiv-G 2.0-liter gasser rolls with 155 horsepower and is mated to either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic. There's hope the Skyactiv-D diesel makes it to the United States too.
Of these three family-carrying machines, which one would you pick?