Are fast-selling small SUVs right for you?

The new Jeep Renegade is on display at the 84th International Motor Show in Geneva, Switzerland. AP Photo/Keystone, Sandro Campardo

As Jeep displayed a new smaller SUV at the Geneva Motor Show this week, industry figures showed that small SUVs continued selling well in the U.S. even during lackluster overall sales in freezing February. Small SUV sales rose 16 percent in February following a 21 percent gain for all of 2013, according to data compiled by Kelley Blue Book.

That makes small SUVs -- also known in the industry as crossovers -- one of the fastest-growing segments in the U.S., according to Karl Brauer, senior analyst for Kelley. The just introduced 2015 Jeep Renegade will fit into the smaller end of this segment as a subcompact SUV similar to the Kia Soul or Nissan Juke.

Buyers increasingly have turned to small SUVs as a more stylish alternative to minivans or large sedans that provide enough room to haul people and gear. But prices can be high, with fully-equipped models ranging above $30,000. That may be where the Jeep Renegade comes in. "Subcompact SUVs are going to be the next big thing," says Kelley analyst Brauer. "They offer features people are looking for, including a low purchase price, functionality and excellent fuel efficiency." Jeep officials are saying Renegade's highway gas mileage will be above 30 MPG. Prices have not yet been announced, but the Renegade will clearly be priced below the Jeep Cherokee model. One potential competitor, the Kia Soul, has a list price in the $15,000 to $20,000 range.

Should you be considering a small SUV? A wide range of shoppers are interested. Brauer says potential buyers include "younger buyers looking to get the most car for their money, small families or retired couples that need adequate interior space but are on a budget."

The Renegade isn't scheduled to appear in U.S. showrooms until the end of this year. In the meantime, let's have a look at some of the top-selling small SUVs that were recently ranked by Consumer Reports. Here are details, plus a look at what the magazine's test drivers had to say:

Honda CR-V: The best-selling small SUV for all of 2013, the CR-V gets a Consumer Reports recommendation for its smooth ride, roomy rear seat and ample cargo space. Like all Hondas, it has excellent resale value. The CR-V ranges in list price from $22,945 to $30,445 and is rated by the EPA for 23 MPG in city driving and 31 on the highway.

Ford Escape: The Escape, which often competes with the CR-V for the sales lead, is described by Consumer Reports as lively and fun to drive. But the magazine faults it for poor reliability, especially with its MyFord Touch music, information and navigation system. The Escape ranges in list price from $23,100 to $30,850 and is rated by the EPA for 22 MPG in city driving and 31 highway.

Toyota RAV4: Described by Consumer Reports as reliable and roomy with a standard backup camera, RAV4 has been a CR recommendation in the past. But poor results on the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's so-called small overlap test, which simulates a corner of a vehicle hitting a tree or pole, kept the RAV4 from being a recommended model. The RAV4 ranges in list price from $23,550 to $29,720 and is rated for 24 MPG in the city and 31 highway.

Subaru Forester: Consumer Reports gives the Forester its top rank, praising it for its fuel efficiency, good visibility and easy access for passengers. The Forester got the best score of the category in the Insurance Institute crash test. Like all Subarus, it comes with standard all-wheel drive. The Forester list prices range from $21,995 to $32,995 and it is rated for 24 MPG in city driving, 32 highway.

  • Jerry Edgerton On Twitter»

    View all articles by Jerry Edgerton on CBS MoneyWatch»
    Jerry Edgerton, author of Car Shopping Made Easy, has been covering the car beat since Detroit companies dominated the U.S. market. The former car columnist for Money magazine and Washington correspondent for Business Week, Edgerton specializes in finding the best deals on wheels and offering advice on making your car last.

Comments

Market Data

Market News

Stock Watchlist