Most days a common, boring, good ol' four-door sedan makes all the sense in the world. It can comfortably swallow a nuclear family, even Lassie and Garfield, as well as a week's worth of groceries or travel bags. It is easy to step into or hop out of, offers a nestled-to-the-pavement driving feel, and swigs fuel at a more miserly rate than a big sport/ute. Yet, some days, when a stroller won't squeeze into the trunk or the old kitchen table needs hauling away to Goodwill or the family is itching for a weeklong camping trip, it's the huge, gas-guzzling sport/ute -- not the frugal, frustrating sedan -- that seems the ideal transporter. And, let's face it: It's days like those that convince a majority of SUV-buying Americans a hulking rig is not only preferred but also absolutely necessary, even for everyday use. But is it really? Isn't there a compromise or, rather, a crossover? A vehicle that bridges the divide-something that drives, handles, and sips like a sedan yet totes passengers and cargo like an SUV?
Indeed, there is, and we've assembled three of the latest and greatest -- the Ford Edge Sport, the Nissan Murano SL, and the Toyota Venza -- to determine which is the ultimate compromise. Each is a car-based, two-row crossover offering athletic moves, peppy front-drive V-6 powertrains, combined fuel economy of at least 19 mpg, and substantially more interior volume than your average family sedan.
For 2009, the new-in-2007 Edge inherits a $35,530 Sport trim, which features a monochromatic eight-piece body kit and, most notable (make that noticeable), 22-inch forged and polished wheels. Our tester, fitted with a $385 audiophile package and the double-deuces, appeared aggressive, a bit menacing, and, well, almost toylike -- a giant, plastic box and a "Hot Wheels" banner could've made it a centerpiece at FAO Schwarz. Given its '09 debut, this $35,915 Sport was the Edge Ford had in its L.A. fleet, so we were happy to see if the modern duds as well as the sport-tuned suspension would engage us more than had previous Edges.
Nissan's Murano, just reintroduced for the 2009 model year, entered this competition with flamboyant fresh styling, a renowned VQ-series V-6, and, as we learned in our 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year testing, a well-sorted chassis. Our $30,010 SL tester, loaded with a $1170 dual-panel sunroof and $4500 worth of packages, all of which included, among other items, a backup camera, Bose audio, Xenon headlamps, Bluetooth, power liftgate, and leather, came in at $35,805.