Most gas efficient minivan

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For years the RAV4 has consistently been among the top-ranked small SUVs. The current RAV4’s cabin is quieter, the ride is smoother, it has a suite of advanced safety features, and it offers a frugal hybrid version. The energetic 2.5-liter four-cylinder and smooth six-speed automatic returned 24 mpg overall in our tests of an AWD version. The hybrid version gets a terrific 31 mpg overall. Handling is responsive and very secure. Inside, the controls are clear and intuitive. Though the XLE comes with automatic climate control and a sunroof, you must step up to the Limited trim to get adjustable lumbar support and the more comfortable faux-leather seats. Access is very easy, and the rear seat is roomy. For the 2017 model year, automatic emergency braking is standard.

The RX has avant-garde exterior styling and lots of advanced safety features. Its 3.5-liter V6 is linked to an eight-speed automatic, delivering ample power and a commendable 22 mpg overall. The fuel-thrifty 450h hybrid gets an excellent 29 mpg overall. Inside, the RX is very quiet and well-finished. Ride comfort is plush, whether you get the base car on 18-inch tires or more uplevel versions with 20-inch tires. Handling, however, is ponderous and devoid of any sporty feel but ultimately secure. The mouselike controller and distracting interface require a steep learning curve. Rear passengers get lots of leg and knee room. For 2017, the Lexus Safety System+, which includes automatic emergency braking and lane-departure warning, is standard.

Based on the Toyota RAV4, the compact NX delivers a less opulent driving experience than the typical Lexus. Handling is responsive, but the ride is more firm than cosseting, and cabin noise isn’t particularly hushed. The NX 200t’s 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder works well and delivers 24 mpg overall. The NX 300h hybrid returns 29 mpg overall, making it one of the most fuel-efficient SUVs we’ve ever tested, but it feels a bit underpowered. Snazzy details lend the interior some appeal, but a number of cheap touches remain. Front cabin room is tight, and the styling compromises rear visibility and crimps cargo space. The infotainment system’s fussy touchpad is frustrating and distracting to use when driving.

Based on the Fit subcompact, the HR-V gets a versatile, cargo-friendly rear seat that flips up or folds down flat and low. Considerably smaller and less expensive than the CR-V, the HR-V is loud and the ride is stiff. Handling is responsive and secure. Power comes from a 141-hp four-cylinder driving either the front or all four wheels. But the HR-V feels underpowered, an impression amplified by the continuously variable transmission. The Honda’s trump card is its excellent 29 mpg overall, very flexible interior, and generous rear seat and cargo room. The front seat is short on support, however. Available premium features include heated leather seats, a sunroof, and keyless entry, and a rearview camera is standard. We prefer the LX trim over the EX for its simpler audio controls.

Mazda’s entry in the mini-utility segment delivers agile, fun-to-drive handling; a solid and substantial feel; and good fuel economy. The ride is firm but does a good job absorbing impacts, although noise levels can be high. The CX-3 is available with front- or all-wheel drive, and the sole powertrain is a 146-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a six-speed automatic. It’s a smooth, willing mill but isn’t overly powerful. The infotainment system includes a 7-inch center display screen and a rotary knob to control phone and audio functions, but it takes time to get familiar with its operation. The rear seat is very tight, and cargo space is modest. This is the first nonluxury mini-SUV to offer blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.

Essentially a raised hatchback version of the CLA sedan, the GLA performed better in our tests than its sibling. It got 26 mpg overall from the 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. But the seven-speed dual-clutch automatic is unrefined, and power delivery is not even. This makes the GLA feel lethargic at first, then power comes on abruptly. Handling is nimble, but the ride is stiff and the cabin is loud. Visibility, particularly to the rear, is poor, and head room is snug. Safety features include a forward-collision mitigation system. Automatic emergency braking and blind-spot monitoring are optional. A front-drive version and a high-performance 375-hp GLA45 are available. The infotainment system has become more complicated for 2017 but is now compatible with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

The Crosstrek is a small quasi-SUV version of the previous-generation Impreza hatchback, with a raised ride height that gives it enough clearance to slosh through deeply rutted roads. It may appeal to those people who live at the end of a dirt road and don’t want anything big and bulky. The cabin is rather noisy, the ride is stiff, and the 148-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine occasionally has to work hard, but fuel economy is a gratifying 26 mpg. The costlier Hybrid, which got 28 mpg, has been discontinued for 2017. In the end, the regular Impreza hatch may be a better choice: It’s quieter, quicker, cheaper, and better riding, even if its lower ride height makes cabin access a bit more difficult. A redesign based on the new Impreza arrives this summer.

In spring 2017, a new Countryman based on the Clubman will go on sale in Cooper and Cooper S versions. Engine choices are a base 1.5-liter turbo three-cylinder and a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder for the S. Front- and all-wheel drives are offered. In June an all-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid version follows, with a promised all-electric range of 24 miles. This SUV-like Countryman has grown longer than the original, bringing in more interior space and flexibility. The optional Mini Driving Assistant system includes forward-collision warning with low-speed automatic emergency braking, pedestrian warning with brake assist, and automatic high beams. The outgoing Countryman ranks among the most fuel-efficient SUVs.

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