Re: Advice on small SUVs / first car purchase
Just my dos centavos, there's rarely a single "right" way to buy a car. One thing I don't think you mentioned is how long you plan on having this vehicle.
You obviously have some concerns on monthly cash flow, and are starting a family so you may not necessarily want to be forking out a lot of cash upfront for a car and instead keeping those funds liquid and available to you. Now I know some people will scream bloody murder, but a lease could be an option for you. Granted, there are people who get killed on leases because they just don't understand them, and/or leasing wasn't a good option for them to begin with...but if you brush up on things like money factor, cap cost, residual, you can get good deals on a lease, and that's true even on leases that allow up to 12K-15K miles/yr.
I've done many leases and purchases...new and used. My preference is to buy "newer used" that are still under warranty, but we have leased new before and done very well. It's really just a matter of what works best for us at that particular time.
And not a lot of people know this, but you can take over someone else's lease, provided of course you qualify with the leasing company, etc. And quite often people really need to get out of the leases, so they offer cash incentives for you to take over, effectively reducing the monthly lease payment. A couple good sites where you can search these deals are Lease Trader and Swap A Lease.
Finally, I've never owned/driven any of the cars you mentioned, but a great site for user reviews is Edmunds. As for ratings, Consumer Reports is okay, although a site with MUCH better methodology for collecting ratings on reliability, mileage, repairs, etc. is TrueDelta.com.