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Larger and higher off the ground than sedans but less heavy-duty than traditional SUVs, crossover vehicles are one of the fastest-growing categories of cars in the United States.

With their gas efficiency and generous interiors (they carry five to seven passengers), it's easy to see what's driving this family-friendly trend. Good Housekeeping Research Institute engineers gave 19 of these cute "utes" (utility vehicles) a hood-to-trunk examination to compile a list of top performers. Testers assessed 41 different performance measurements, with an assist on the track from Car and Driver Magazine.

Best overall

Ford Escape • This popular vehicle has had a gorgeous makeover. The 2013 model is sleeker and less trucklike, and it uses eco-conscious material such as recycled denim. Price: $23,295 base ($34,735, as tested), MPG: 22/30/25

Pros • Near the top for performance, with superior braking, cornering and interior-noise level. Handling is nimble; parking is no sweat. Other pulses are fuel economy that's among the highest, a roomy feel and easy-fold rear seats. The spacious trunk's optional auto liftgate is great when hands are full.

Cons • Its transmission doesn't shift as quickly as some, and blind spots may make the optional back-up camera and side-mirror blind-spot indicators worth the expense. With many small, redundant buttons and a lagging touchscreen, the infotainment system is initially confusing.

Most fuel-efficient

Mazda CX-5 • Mazda's first true crossover has great sporty styling. The 2013 2WD version gets the best highway fuel economy of any SUV crossover. Price: $21,490 base ($30,415 as tested), MPG: 25/31/28

Pros • Its fuel economy beats all others tested, and its braking distance is on par with the Escape's. Its base price belies bells and whistles, such as thoughtfully designed controls and displays. The infotainment system is simple to use. Car seats attach easily.

Cons • Has the slowest acceleration of our winners and shifts haltingly between gears. Visibility isn't perfect, although side-mirror turn signals let others see you coming. Seat belts may need to be pushed aside to lay the rear seat totally flat. A lip on the trunk hinders sliding things directly out of it.

Best family car

Chevrolet Equinox • Chevy's small SUV crossover feels more spacious than the others in this category, and tops out at a wallet-friendly price. Price: $24,335 base ($26,305 as tested), MPG: 22/32/26

Pros • Roominess, comfort and fuel economy make the Equinox a great value. Highway confidence, cushiness over bumps, high government crash-test scores, easy-fold seats and simple tech setup are some major plusses. The 1LT includes a back-up camera, a 7-inch color touchscreen and roof rack side rails.

Cons • The ride was quiet except at full throttle (when passing or going up a hill). Sluggish handling makes the Equinox less fluid to drive; thick pillars impact visibility and create blind spots in the rear. Some of the controls (music tuning, door unlocking) aren't intuitive.

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