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The family car: Crossover appeal

Don't want a gas-hogging SUV? Minivan too grim? Car too cozy? Then this ultra-hot auto category may be for you.

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A surprising success
A surprising success
Woe is your auto dealer: Last year closed out with what looked like the worst sales in a decade. In fact, he might be at the soup line right now had it not been for one surprising success: the crossover.

A bright spot in an otherwise abysmal year, some 2.4 million of these half-car, half-SUV vehicles were sold in 2007, an increase of 16% over '06, according to Autodata.

What's not to love? "They're the best of cars and the best of SUVs," said Tom Libby, an analyst with J.D. Power & Associates. Crossovers generally have wagon-shaped bodies, tall rooflines, "high in the saddle" ride height and standard or optional all-wheel drive. They also offer interior flexibility and roominess similar to minivans.

What crossovers lack - besides mom-mobile styling - is the SUV's heavy underbody frame and tough-as-nails engineering. But really, how often do you tow or go off-road? Being lighter than SUVs, crossovers are also more nimble and boast slightly better fuel economy (though, admittedly, they still guzzle more gas than cars).

No wonder auto manufacturers are rushing to bring more to market. The hearty class of '08 alone offers one for every driving style. Click below for some road-tested picks in several categories - and maybe meet the vehicle that will earn your car salesman a rare steak dinner.


NEXT: The starter car: Scion xB
Last updated February 22 2008: 12:35 PM ET