Americans don't buy hatchbacks (except for Minis), and Europeans don't understand why not. Western Europe's most popular model is the Volkswagen Golf, with hatchback versions of the Ford Focus, Opel Astra, and Renault Megane among best-sellers. Meanwhile, in the U.S. auto market, the compact crossover/utility vehicle is emerging as midsize family-sedan alternative.

"When they're looking for a car, they start in either the C/D-segment (midsize) or in the compact utilities segment," says Samantha Hoyt, marketing manager for the new Ford Fusion. "We're calling this the supersegment, because people cross-shop these so much. It'll be Camry-Escape, Camry-Fusion, Escape-Accord, that whole CR-V-Escape, they're all shopping each other."

The segment has been around for a long time, with the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, and Ford Escape the dominant models. Bigger families looking for minivan alternatives need three-row crossovers like the Honda Pilot and Chevy Traverse. But the success of the latest Chevy Equinox, for one, has put more attention on the compact CUV. Meanwhile, as it tries to clear dealer lots to make room for its all-new '13 Escape, converged with the European Kuga, Ford has been selling boatloads of the old model. Through last November, it sold 228,719 Escapes to 226,445 Fusions (11-month Focus sales totaled 161,436, a combo of '11 and '12 models).

Is the compact CUV becoming our answer to Europe's compact hatchbacks? While suggested retail prices of the Escape, CR-V, RAV4, and Equinox are higher than their midsize sedan counterparts, like the European hatchbacks, they offer the kind of flexibility for cargo space the sedans cannot match, and FWD versions generally outsell the more-expensive, less fuel-efficient AWD-equipped CUVs. In our new age of frugality and tight credit, American consumers are finding the same kind of one-vehicle-does-all economy in a CUV that Europeans find in a four-door hatchback.

The VW Golf remains Europe's most popular model, with 413,156 sold through October, one month short of the figures above. As these specs show, however, the compact CUV is still large American economy sized next to a compact Euro hatchback.

2013 Ford Escape 2012 Volkswagen Golf
Wheelbase 105.9 in 101.5 in
LxWxH 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in 165.4 x 70.3 x 58.2 in
Pass vol 98.1 cu ft 92.9 cu ft
Cargo vol 34.3 cu ft* 15.2 cu ft*
(* with rear seat in passenger position)