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New Autos for 2012: Crossovers and Sport Utility Vehicles

New Autos for 2012: Crossovers and Sport Utility Vehicles

By Jeff Youngs, March 05, 2012
One of the biggest changes ever to sweep across the American auto industry began during the Nineties, as sport utility vehicles (SUVs) gradually supplanted the sales of large sedans and minivans for moving lots of people and stuff.

Over the last several years, a change potentially as significant has changed the place of the SUV for the first time: "Crossover" utility vehicles have steadily taken over the key marketplace position previously occupied by SUVs. Smaller, lighter, with a more integral underlying structure--and therefore nimbler (more "car-like") and more fuel-efficient--a stable of CUVs has joined small sedans and pickup trucks among full-line auto manufacturers in the U.S. market.

Here's a look at some of the most interesting new CUVs and SUVs slated to debut during the 2012 calendar year, as well as some new 2012-model cars that debuted in late 2011:
The all-new, 2013 Ford Escape  will see a spring replacement. Even as the previous version of the Escape  was preparing to make way for a different new one, last year Ford  sold more than 254,000 of the 2011 version, up 33 percent from the previous year.

The new Escape demonstrates the most significant redesign of the nameplate in its history, sporting a roof that curves down slightly, triangular tail lights, and other touches very different from its predecessor -overall, producing 10 percent less drag, according to Ford.

The new Escape will feature all-new powertrains: three 4-cylinder options, including the new 1.6- and 2.0-liter EcoBoost engines, the smallest of which is expected to deliver more than 31 mpg on the highway, according to Ford.

The Escape also offers amenities such as a parking technology package that bundles a blind-spot warning system, rain-sensing wipers, front and rear parking sensors, a rearview camera, and Ford's self-parking system. Most unusually, the 2013 Escape offers a "kick-to-open" power liftgate: Owners with their hands occupied simply wave a foot beneath the rear bumper, and sensors tell the liftgate to open or close.

Honda's late-2011 launch of a completely redesigned, 2012 Honda CR-V  will be an important entry in the segment as the new year unfolds.

For most of 2011, Honda had a difficult time, of course, supplying the U.S. market with the previous version of the vehicle. The company was able to restore its supply chain nearly completely in time to introduce the new CR-V and believes it is poised for a big sales year in 2012.

The "new" CR-V really represents an evolution of the previous model. Fuel economy for the new CR-V has improved by as much as 2 mpg, which is significant. It's about one inch less in height and length, yet clever packaging has added 1.5 cubic feet to the cargo area and lengthened the load floor by 5 inches through folding of the rear seats.

Actually, the biggest change in the 2012 CR-V from last year's version may be the styling, which includes a more raked windshield and a completely new tail.

Set to be unveiled at the New York International Auto Show in March, the 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe  is expected to be launched by the end of 2012. It is expected to represent a significant overhaul of a model that was last reconfigured for 2010 , including a slightly larger overall size and an interior and exterior recast in Hyundai 's evolving design language.

Mazda  unveiled its 2013 Mazda CX-5  at the Detroit auto show. Expected to go on sale in the spring, the new CX-5 will offer fuel economy of 35 mpg on the highway, 26 in the city and 29 in combined driving, according to Mazda. Cast in a new design with scalloped sides and a new grille, the CX-5 will showcase Mazda's suite of new drivetrain and weight-saving techniques.

Called Skyactiv, Mazda's approach includes new engines, manual and automatic transmissions, and energy-saving components and design, according to the automaker. All versions of the new CX-5 offer segment-leading fuel economy, Mazda says, yet the new 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 155 horsepower.

Another significant new SUV for 2012 is the 2013 Nissan Pathfinder . The Pathfinder is one of the most recognized nameplates in the Nissan  lineup.

The new Pathfinder, which goes on sale in the fall, is built on a car platform, ditching the truck platform that supported previous versions. That makes for a lighter and more fuel-efficient vehicle, promising a 25-percent increase in fuel economy versus the current model, to around 21 mpg in combined city and highway driving, according to Nissan.

A concept version of the new Pathfinder displayed at the North American International Auto Show in January featured a V-6 engine with continuously variable transmission and all-wheel drive. A more fuel-efficient, front-wheel-drive version also will be available.

Yet the new version retains its 7-passenger seating. And Nissan promises towing capacity for the 2013 Pathfinder that will be comparable to leaders in the segment.
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