With the proliferation of the seven-seat crossover/utility vehicle -- even such cute/utes as the Mitsubishi Outlander and Toyota RAV4 offer a third row-the two-row CUV, the old standby, is seemingly becoming a thing of the past. Several automakers, though, aren't dismissing the five-seat crossover, especially the premium variety, recognizing there are still plenty of singles, couples, and families who aren't willing to take one for the home team-at least not yet. Audi, Infiniti, and Volvo, for instance, are betting that the popularity of the small, snappy CUV is shooting nowhere but skyward, each readying a version of its own (see sidebar). Mercedes and others are sure to follow. Further, prospective customers of these premium crossovers have some money to burn-certainly if they're empty- or never-nesters-and are willing to spend upward of $40,000 on a vehicle that pampers them with luxury, performance, and, of course, fun.

So what such crossovers exist today?

Our radar exposed three all-new blips -- the Acura RDX, the Land Rover LR2, and the Lincoln MKX -- and one familiar bogey, the BMW X3. All these first-class CUVs offer a leather-appointed interior, a navigation system, Xenon headlamps, a premium sound system, all-wheel drive, and well over 200 horsepower. To determine which lavish Lilliputian is the mightiest of the bunch, we paid a visit to the Dumont Dunes, a Mecca of sandy mounds near the Mojave National Preserve, to test off-road prowess and beach benevolence. Along the way, we explored the highways and byways around Devils Playground to score ride, comfort, and luxury, and closed with rigorous handling loops in the San Gabriel Mountains to rate chassis dynamics: 1000 miles accumulated, one CUV had us feeling especially devilish.