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Killer Crossovers

Finally, manhood-preserving utility vehicles for the new economy

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Fans of hulking SUVs became a bit less fanatical last year when gasoline spiked beyond $4 per gallon. While the pain at the pump has subsided, our love for high-muscle, low-mileage vehicles may be roadkill. No worries. Here's a new breed, the crossover utility vehicle (CUV) — think shrunken SUVs zipping around on car and minivan platforms mdash; you won't be embarrassed to drive. They boast enough impressive machines to spark a new love. Here are our favorite:

NISSAN ROGUE

From Nissan, this diminutive four-wheeler (22 mpg city and 27 mpg highway) has a cutie-pie exterior that may repel some "tough" guys. That's too bad, because once you're behind the wheel you'll quickly forget its looks. The Rogue's 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine generates a modest 170 horsepower, but a continuously variable transmission ensures you're always in the sweet spot and able to take full advantage of a robust 175 foot-pounds of torque. Speaking of sweet, a Rogue SL with front-wheel drive has a mighty tasty $20,220 sticker.

SATURN VUE

This second-generation Saturn is built in Mexico, but it gets its size and style straight from Europe.  Those international influences make the Vue a thing of beauty with a futuristic exterior that's among the most attractive of its peers. But it's a workhorse for hauling, as well, with 56 cubic feet of cargo space. In addition to standard engine choices, the CUV is also available as a hybrid. It's  powered by a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and a small electric motor that deliver 25 mpg city and 32 highway. Starting price is just $23,745.

VOLKSWAGEN TIGUAN

It delivers a ride that feels much bigger than its old-school VW Rabbit underpinnings. The Tiguan's dimensions, responsive suspension, and steering invite you to toss it around; you'll get between 19 and 26 mpg from its 2.0-liter turbocharged inline four-cylinder. The 200 horses and 206 foot-pounds of torque generated are more than adequate. Be warned, though: The turbo-powered monster requires premium fuel. But with all-wheel drive and navigation system , the Tiguan will set you back a mere $23,300.

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