SUVs in a Smaller Package?

It's a common misconception that you need to drive a sport utility vehicle to get more space for rear-seat passengers or even cargo. Unless you opt for one of the largest SUVs on the market, there are some great fuel-efficient cars that beat driving a large gas-guzzling SUV.

Here are five vehicle options to suit different needs that also have good fuel economy. Our choices seat anywhere from five to seven occupants and provide substantial cargo space. So, whether you need to tote the tots and their gear, load up at the local home improvement store or travel with another couple on a weekend road trip, one of these cars will suit your needs without breaking your budget.

2012 Toyota Venza

Starting price: $27,425.
Fuel economy: 21 city and 27 highway mpg.

The five-passenger Toyota Venza is part wagon, part sedan. Riding low to the ground and with a low roof line, the Venza looks more like a chubby passenger car than an SUV, providing a very substantial 30.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a whopping 70.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the split rear seat folded.

Designed for a full load of five, the Venza has a reclining rear seat as well as an array of cup holders and storage bins to accommodate the gear of all occupants. The Venza has a choice of two engines: a 182-horsepower, 2.7-liter, four-cylinder or a 268-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6.

All models of the 2012 Toyota Venza come standard with auto on/off headlights, heated power exterior mirrors that fold, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, dual-zone automatic climate control, seven air bags, and stability-and-traction control. Optional features include a voice-activated navigation system with touch screen, backup camera, power rear lift-gate, leather seating and a panoramic glass roof.

2012 Nissan Quest

Starting price: $25,990.
Fuel economy: 19 city and 24 highway mpg.

The Nissan Quest is a top contender in the minivan segment, offering seating for seven with a roomy 25.7 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats as well as 11.4 cubic feet of under-floor storage in the rear of models not equipped with the Bose audio system.

For those needing to carry more cargo than passengers, Quest has 63.6 cubic feet of storage when the third row is folded flat and a cavernous 108.4 cubic feet when seats in the second and third rows are stowed.

The 2012 Nissan Quest is certainly family friendly -- with its XM Satellite Radio, mood lighting, rear-side window sunshades and optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Adults and kids alike will appreciate the sliding and reclining second-row captain's chairs with a center console for easy-to-reach storage and easily accessible reclining third row, with enough legroom to seat adults reasonably comfortably.

All Nissan Quests come standard with a 260-horsepower, 3.5-liter, V-6 engine, dual sliding rear doors, automatic climate control with second- and third-row vents and second-row controls, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, six air bags, and stability-and-traction control.

2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon

Starting price: $31,160.
Fuel economy: 22 city and 30 highway mpg.

Introduced for 2011, the Acura TSX Sport Wagon is a wagon version of Acura's midsize sedan. Among the smallest of our picks, the 2012 Acura TSX Sport Wagon has 25.8 cubic feet of cargo space with all the seats in use, but that's still only a bit less than the five-seat Ford Escape SUV.

With TSX's rear seat folded, cargo capacity increases to a respectable 60.5 cubic feet. The TSX Sport Wagon comes fully loaded, with the only option being the technology package with an upgraded audio system, rearview camera, in-dash navigation, and voice activation for audio, climate and navigation controls.

Among its standard features are a 201-horsepower, 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine with a sequential SportShift automatic transmission, leather seats, power lift-gate, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front seats with active headrests to reduce whiplash, audio system with XM Satellite Radio, six air bags and stability control.

2012 Kia Soul

Starting price: $13,900.
Fuel economy: 27 city and 35 highway mpg.

In the small car segment, the 2012 Kia Soul offers huge possibilities. The Soul has 23.7 cubic feet of cargo space with all five seating positions in use and the cargo tray removed, plus a sizable 53.4 cubic feet with the rear seat folded. It's impressive considering the Soul is more than 1 foot shorter than a Honda Civic.

The 2012 Kia Soul is powered by a 138-horsepower, 1.6-liter, four-cylinder engine or a 164-horsepower 2-liter. Its standard features include cloth seats, air conditioning, audio system with MP3 capability and XM Satellite Radio, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel, power door locks and windows, a 60/40-split folding rear seat, six air bags, and stability control. Optional features include leather seats, automatic climate control, navigation system, heated front seats and underfloor storage for luggage.

2012 Mazda5

Starting price: $19,625.
Fuel economy: 21 city and 28 highway mpg.

Part minivan, part wagon, the 2012 Mazda5 offers seating for six in a package that is smaller than the typical minivan. The 5.58 cubic feet behind the third row means there isn't room for six as well as a lot of luggage, but it's enough for some small luggage or baby gear, including a stroller.

With the third row folded, there's a respectable 27.5 cubic feet of cargo space, while there's 44.4 cubic feet when the second row also is folded. The two-person third-row seat is easy to access but it is best suited for children, though the second-row seats can be slid forward to provide extra legroom for adults.

Redesigned for 2011, the 2012 Mazda5 is powered by a 157-horsepower, four-cylinder engine with a manual or automatic transmission.

The 2012 Mazda5 comes standard with automatic climate control with second-row fan controls, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel with audio controls, storage under the second-row seats and the rear floor, a foldout tray with a basket for the center of the second row, front-seat cup holders that accommodate a half-liter bottle, six air bags, and stability-and-traction control. Optional features include leather seating, Bluetooth capability and a rear-seat DVD player.