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Which Is Right for You: Midsize SUV or Compact SUV?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro June 2014

If you're interested in a new vehicle for your family, you're probably trying to decide between a compact and a midsize SUV. So which one should you choose? We've covered a few of the benefits and drawbacks of both body styles to help you make your decision.

Size Is Key

Of course, the biggest difference between a midsize crossover or SUV and a smaller model is size. Namely, midsize SUVs will have more of it, meaning smaller crossovers or SUVs are usually at a disadvantage for new parents or those with multiple children.

Cargo space is one potential source of problems. Small crossovers often boast ample cargo space, but it's not necessarily enough for new parents who have to carry not only the baby, but also baby accessories and other items. It's the same story for parents whose children participate in activities that require lugging around large items, such as a musical instrument or a bag with sports equipment. This is one reason why many parents often choose a midsize SUV or crossover over a compact.

Think Passenger Room

Before you buy your next family vehicle, you'll want to consider whether you need two rows of seats or three. Most compact crossovers or SUVs only offer 2-row seating, while most midsize models provide three rows. There are a few exceptions -- the compact Nissan Rogue offers 2-row seating, for instance, while the Jeep Grand Cherokee has only two rows -- but this is generally true for most midsize and compact SUVs.

For most parents, two rows are all they think they'll need until it comes time to do carpool duty or transport the kids and a few classmates or friends. Then three rows can be extremely handy, and that's saying nothing of their importance for breaking up fights, allowing you to stick one kid in the second row and another kid in the third.

As a result, we suggest a midsize crossover for families who often transport multiple children or adults -- or those who think they might. For many drivers, simply having the third row provides important peace of mind.

Save Money and the Environment with a Compact?

While a midsize crossover or SUV may offer better passenger room and more cargo space than a compact, compact SUVs have a few benefits, as well. The two primary advantages are cost savings and fuel efficiency.

When it comes to cost savings, the difference over a midsize SUV is obvious: Most small crossovers are priced several thousand dollars below their midsize SUV counterparts, which means that drivers can save big money if they can cram their family -- accessories and all -- into a smaller SUV. As for fuel economy, many small crossovers boast a 15 percent to 25 percent boost in gas mileage over a larger model, which would be a big concern if passenger room and cargo volume are less important attributes than fuel efficiency and ownership costs.

Our Take

To us, the difference between a midsize crossover or SUV and a smaller one largely comes down to cost. For drivers who don't mind paying more, it's nice to have the larger cargo area and third-row seat usually offered by an SUV. But for shoppers interested in a cost-effective new vehicle with a lower sticker price and better gas mileage, a compact SUV or crossover may be the way to go, assuming that everything and everyone can fit inside.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
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Which Is Right for You: Midsize SUV or Compact SUV? - Autotrader