Nearly one out of every three vehicles sold from January through May 2012 was some sort of SUV. Just look at any parking lot—the one in this photo, for instance. The damn things are everywhere.
And if you find yourself in the market for a compact SUV, good luck picking out one. As the most affordable form of the species—generally starting below $20, 000—these small two-boxers are by far the most popular and numerous. Lucky for us, two earlier comparos helped pare down a list of contenders. In those tests, we had eight and nine examples to sort through; both times a V-6–powered Toyota RAV4 emerged victorious.
With the industry on a downsizing kick, at least when it comes to engines, we felt it best to look at the strongest-selling configurations this time around. In other words: four-cylinder engines and four-wheel drive. A targeted as-tested price of $30, 000 gave us most of the bells and whistles.
Despite its popularity, a RAV4 meeting those specifications was nearly impossible to find. Toyota was forced to borrow a Limited model from a dealer so it could defend its title as king of the small SUVs.