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Compact crossover cars surge in sales

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American Suzuki Motor Corporation/PRNewsFoto/File

(Read caption) A Suzuki SX4 compact sport crossover. Crossover vehicles are surging on popularity among American buyers.

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People love their SUVs. You can't move for the things these days, but the good news is they could be getting smaller.

An influx of compact SUVs and crossovers in recent years has struck a chord with buyers, and sales have grown at a faster rate than the rest of the industry in the first three months of 2013.

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"It's a real sweet spot in the marketplace," said R.L. Polk & Co analyst Tom Libby in an interview with The Detroit News, "the right combination of functionality and size and gas mileage."

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For SUV-loving consumers, a car offering the same chunky looks and raised seating position but with significantly lower running costs is an attractive proposition--and sales of around 450,000 small SUVs in the first quarter back this up.

According to Kelly Blue Book, small SUVs and crossovers now make up 12.1 percent of all new car sales, up from 11.2 percent over the same period last year and only 6.7 percent in 2007.

Leading the charge is Ford's new Escape, which sold 72,983 units in the first three months--an improvement of 24.5 percent on the same period in 2012.

In contrast, sales of Honda's CR-V are down by 12.4 percent, though the Japanese automaker still sold a healthy 65,374 CR-Vs from January to March.

Toyota RAV4 sales crept up by 3.9 percent over January to March 2012, for a total of 41,413. Other success stories include the Subaru Forester, up almost a quarter to 21,144, and the Mazda CX-5 with almost 18,000 in the first quarter.

While most automakers are also putting heavy incentives on the smaller SUVs--an average of $2,383 in Ford's case--Ford and Toyota are offering lower incentives now than they were in previous years.

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With incentives like better gas mileage and better handling than traditional SUVs and high levels of technology and equipment, it's little surprise small crossovers and SUV sales are increasing.