Mighty Tykes

Mountain Life
Mountain Life 0304

The X3 is hardly the first compact SUV on the block. The Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Ford Escape have romped along city blocks for years, squeezing into parking spots too small for Excursions. Compacts get better mileage and are generally more agile and less expensive than their massive counterparts. (The three models above go for as low as $19,000.) Land Rover's classy, full-time-AWD Freelander has a facelift for 2004 and is a great option at $26,000. Chevy will step up boldly in 2005 with the Equinox-a smart-looking V6-at an estimated $20K tag. Also in '05, Ford will introduce the Freestyle-a crossover in size between the Escape and Explorer, with a probable mid-$20K tag.

Few of the compact SUVs are equipped for serious off-roading (except the Freelander), but most have ample passenger and cargo space, and they're perfectly appropriate for the snowy and muddy roads often encountered in ski country.