You must take a five-speed automatic when you order the CRD for the Jeep and a continuously variable automatic for the Ford Hybrid, but the RAV4 is still offered with a manual gearbox, so our example in this test gets that fuel-saving advantage. All three were equipped with all- or four-wheel drive--the former for the Escape and RAV4, the latter for the Liberty. The Liberty is the one true off-roader here. Its torque-biased turbo-diesel felt strongest during off-road testing, a dirt-and-sand exercise that was soft-road enough to keep the Ford and Toyota from getting hung up. It's in low-range, when climbing short hills and puttering around in the muck, that the turbodiesel's stump-pulling torque feels powerful and so right for such a vehicle.

This test throws away the vagaries of U.S. EPA-versus-European fuel-mileage cycles, because these three players were driven the way you drive. For the highway loop, roughly 280 miles were covered to and from an off-road course. Highway miles were broken up by a short foray into the off-road park in wet sand following rain and 40-something-degree weather. Off-roading totaled no more than five miles. Traffic flow on Michigan highways runs 70 to 80 mph consistently, which was our maintained speed for the loop.

Two half days were spent in the city in more day-to-day driving conditions. Imagine covering your commute, running errands, picking up the kids from practice, meeting clients for lunch, and the like. The 200-mile route wound through Detroit and its nearby suburbs, once again at speeds to keep up with 25- to 40-mph traffic. There were no drag-racing-style starts, but this was no Sunday drive, either.

Expectations were high for the Liberty CRD. While America still has a bad taste in its mouth from the fumes of late-1970s GM diesels, in Europe, modern diesels are scent-free, smooth, quiet models of good NVH and refinement, with turbocharged loads of low-end torque and decent performance. The prospect of driving a truck and getting economy-car mileage is irresistible. Europeans, who pay upward of $5/gallon to keep these things on the road, must know a lot about economy.