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No sacrifices, please

SUVs get a makeover

SUV consumers have tired of dating the lumbering, thirsty linebacker and fallen for his younger brother, a muscular 400-meter runner known as the crossover utility vehicle.

Last year, sales of full-sized SUVs like Ford Expedition and Chevy Suburban took a drubbing while sales of the Nissan Pathfinder, Land Rovers and the Lexus RK saw sales figures that were tantamount to a coronation.

“(Buyers) are used to space and 4-wheel drive, but they’re fed up with lousy fuel economy and lousy handling and all the other negative traits,” says Consumer Reports senior auto test engineer Gabe Shenhar.

Manufacturers know buyers will pay a premium to save the world, but they won’t compromise to do it. Thus the appeal of a CUV, which is essentially an SUV after some serious liposuction. They’re smaller, easier to handle and more socially acceptable, while incorporating electric steering systems, transmissions with more gear ratios, as well as diesel, hybrid, and ultra-lean running engines.

However, if you’re determined to get the ultimate in Earth-saving SUVs with fewer refills than any other, splurge on a vehicle from the Green Hummer Project. A full-sized SUV with no emissions, it seats five — two of them being the people pedaling the bicycles inside of it.

In the meantime, here are four friendly CUVs.

Jeep Liberty CRD

Audi Q7

Jeep Liberty CRD
Audi Q7
Statement: Diesel is the new black.
The heart: 6-cylinder turbo diesel
Fuel economy: 20 city/25 hwy
Nice factor: The first light-duty application of a diesel engine, it’s alternative-fuel capable and cleaner burning. However, in California it’s verboten — no light-duty diesels allowed here.
Statement: Technology will save us all.
The heart: 350 hp V8
Fuel economy: 16 city/20 hwy
Nice factor: Though a tad heavy, it’s immaculately appointed, disturbingly quick, and brimming with Audi technology that will take the SUV edge off. Available in summer.
MSRP: $28,710 MSRP: $50,620

Lexus RX-400h

Saab 9-7X

Lexus RX-400h
Saab 9-7X
Statement: I want it all, and I want it quiet.
The heart: 268 hp from a V6 and two electric motors
Fuel economy: 28 city/33 hwy
Nice factor: The luxury version of the Toyota Highlander that made Consumer Reports Top Ten Auto picks list, it’s an even quieter Lexus, and the electric-assisted V6 performs like a V8 — at 33 miles per gallon.
Statement: Not only am I quirky, I can pull 6,500 pounds.
The heart: 300 hp V8
Fuel economy: 15 city/20 hwy
Nice factor: Saab’s first foray into the CUV market, it’s all Swedish all the time, and the V8 sports an active fuel management system that shuts down four cylinders when not needed.
MSRP: $44,660 MSRP: $39,240