The 3 Best-Selling Vehicles in America's Hottest Automotive Segment

Gone are the days of massive SUVs clogging the roads and, if you drove one, depleting your wallet at the gas station. However, many Americans still love the idea of the SUV and its usefulness. Thus was born the crossover, an SUV design built on a smaller, car-based platform, and it was an instant hit. Crossover sales are red hot, with year-to-date U.S. sales up three times higher than those of the overall light vehicle segment, compared to 2013. As crossovers continue to win over American consumers, the number of models on the market has nearly doubled since 2006. Without further ado, here are the best-selling crossovers so far this year.

Annual information source: Automotive News Data Center. * Full-year 2014, projected from sales through May.

1. Honda CR-V
Honda's CR-V tops the crossover ranking with nearly 129,000 units sold in the U.S. through May. That's enough sales to rank the CR-V as the 10th best-selling vehicle overall through the same time period.

Honda's 2014 CR-V. Source: Honda Motor.

Sales really took off when the vehicle's 2012 redesign hit the market. While not much has changed with the vehicle in the two years since its redesign, I suppose the age old cliché stands: "If it's not broke, don't fix it."

Aside from being very affordable -- U.S. News & World Report named the CR-V the 2014 "Best Compact SUV for the Money" -- the CR-V boasts a spacious interior with plenty of room in the front and back seats. As is common with crossovers, the CR-V's fuel economy is a bonus compared to larger SUVs: the EPA rates the CR-V up to 23 mpg in the city and up to 31 mpg on the highway.

Honda's CR-V has plenty of pros going for it, which include practicality and reliability, but it isn't exactly a sexy choice. Its exterior is a bit bland, in my opinion, and while the interior is well designed and comfortable the materials seem cheaper than those used in many competing vehicles. Other common knocks against the CR-V is that competing vehicles often offer a more powerful engine, and that no six-cylinder option is available.

The above cons are nitpicks, and the CR-V is the best-selling crossover for a reason: It's going to check off a lot of boxes on your shopping list of wants and needs -- even if it isn't a sexy option. 

2. Ford Escape
Ford's  Escape has been one of the best recent success stories for the Blue Oval. It ranks just behind the CR-V in sales this year with just under 128,000 units sold through May. The Escape has a chance in 2014 to do what no other Ford vehicle, besides the F-Series truck, has done in nearly a decade: top 300,000 sales in a year.

Ford's 2014 Escape shows off an aggressive exterior. Source: Ford.

The Escape, which costs a little more than the CR-V, was completely redesigned for 2013. Despite the slightly higher price, customers have raved about the redesign's new aggressive exterior look, high-end interior styling, and sharp handling.

The Escape's sharp handling and performance is driven by something its competitors can't match: Ford's popular EcoBoost engines. The 2014 Escape comes standard with a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine, but customers have a couple of engine upgrade options available. The turbocharged 1.6-liter and 2.0-liter EcoBoost engines produce 178 and 240 horsepower, respectively. The second option compares very favorably to the CR-V's 185 horsepower produced from its 2.4-liter, in-line, four-cylinder engine.

The Escape's interior boasts high-quality materials not typically seen in its class, although the company has received complaints regarding its MyFord Touch electronic infotainment system. That said, Ford has been working diligently to improve the previously buggy system. The Escape also earned four stars, out of a possible five, in government crash tests.

Ultimately, the Escape is a very popular option because of the flexibility it provides consumers through many engine and trim package upgrade options

3. Chevrolet Equinox
Sales of General Motors' Chevy Equinox have rebounded strongly in recent years. Sales through May topped 99,000 units, which narrowly edged out Toyota's RAV4.

Chevrolet's slightly larger Equinox. Source: General Motors

Since the Equinox is slightly bigger than most vehicles in its class (including the Escape and the CR-V), it provides more of the style and utility consumers expect from a more traditional SUV, but with better handling and much improved fuel economy. Its base 2.4-liter, in-line, four-cylinder engine will get 22 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway, though many consumers complain the performance and power of the base engine is underwhelming. Perhaps for that reason the Equinox offers a more powerful V6 engine option that ranks high among some consumers, since many automakers are dropping the V6 option from their crossovers.

Chevy's Equinox is better prepared to haul small to moderate trailer loads; its 3,500-pound towing capacity with the V6 engine is better than what most of the competition can handle. While the Equinox also boasts a comfortable ride and a pleasantly quiet cabin, if practicality and usefulness is a top priority, Honda's CR-V might be a better option. If you're looking for sporty performance and handling, a Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5 will be worth investigating.

If you're looking for a comfortable and slightly larger crossover, yet something small enough to not be a burden in parking spaces or at the gas pump, the Equinox is a solid choice.

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Daniel Miller owns shares of Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool recommends Ford and General Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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