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2014 Family SUVs: Honda CR-V v. Mazda CX-5 v. Nissan Rogue v. Outlander Sport!

SUV craze!
SUV craze!
James Hamel

You need a compact family SUV? Well, you clearly need information and you need it now. So instead of giving you the hard sell in an overlong introduction we are instead going to do what these vehicles are meant to do in your life—get right down to business. So let’s bring out the contending models—a 2014 Honda CR-V EX-L, 2014 Mazda CX-5 Sport, 2014 Nissan Rogue SL and a 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE for a little variety. Don’t laugh at the Mitsu—it comes with a ten year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty.

vs. CR-V, CX-5 and Rogue!
James Hamel

Exterior Styling

Now this is always purely a personal decision but taken objectively, we have to say that the 2014 Honda CR-V is easily the most attractively handsome in a conservatively inoffensive way. It fits in at Home Depot, the grocery store or a Country Club parking lot. In second place is the 2014 Mazda CX-5 which despite a somewhat gawky looking front schnoz whose size would force any Beverly Hills teen into emergency Rhinoplasty with her plastic surgeon, at least looked sporty and compact from most other angles.

Stumpy, short and a little runty with a snout-like pig nose hanging from the front is the best way to describe the tolerable looking 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport. Sadly, its fashion statement makes it less roomy inside than the other three. Lastly, the all-new 2014 Nissan Rogue is now muscular, handsome and elegant looking where last year it was cut rate looking and bulbous from far too many angles. It looked, to our eyes, like an engorged anteater. Well, no more. Kudos Nissan. (1st: 2014 Nissan Rogue SL, 2nd: 2014 Mazda CX-5, 3rd: 2014 Honda CR-V, 4th: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport)

Interior Styling, Layout and Utility

So if outright utility is what you are after there are better choices than the Outlander Sport namely Mitsubishi’s own, larger Outlander seven seat SUV. That SUV is all-new and finally has a third row of seats not seemingly designed as a folding origami limb torture chamber. In the smaller Outlander Sport the cargo hold only carries 21.7 cubic feet with the rear seats up (a Nissan Juke or Mini Countryman only fare worse) and growing to 49.5 cubic when the split rear seats are laid flat.

Or you could just go for the one with the highest quality interior that truly feels assembled to withstand a full scale nuclear attack or yet another world-wide tour by pop singer Cher—the 2014 Honda CR-V has the lowest lift-in height to the cargo hold which simply wallops all comers thanks to a brilliant set of handles set into the sides of the rear cargo hold which once pulled they manage to perform an acrobatic ballet of seat folding engineering artwork that truly should be lauded for being both useful and dramatic to watch.

Behind the second row of the roomy CR-V there is 37.2 cubic feet of room for most any sane suburban shopping excursion but in case of an 80% off “going out of business sale” emergency then fold those seats to offer up a nearly miraculous 70.9 cubic feet which is more room than most Manhattan, New York residents have in their entire studio apartment. The 2014 Mazda CX-5 offered also offered impressive amounts of cargo hauling ability of 34.1 cubic feet behind rear seat passengers and that grows to over 68.1 when the second row is folded semi-flat. The dashboard of our CX-5 had a sporty and straightforward layout and interior materials were impressive considering how inexpensive they are to buy with Sport models costing just over $20,000 with the essentials and (shock!) a slick shifting manual gearbox.

The 2014 Nissan Rogue’s interior was a sea change from last year’s model which boasted tacky plastics, rhinoceros leather and more blind spots than Stevie Wonder’s golf swing. This year the leather is high quality, the interior design is all fluid lines covered in soft touch plastics and the 39.3 cubic foot cargo hold is enhanced by a flexible storage system which features hidden nooks and crannies galore. This then can be expanded all the way to over 70 cubic feet of cargo hauling space. Win Nissan for a move well forward. (1st Place: 2014 Nissan Rogue, 2nd Place: 2014 Honda CR-V, 3rd Place: 2014 Mazda CX-5, 4th Place: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport)

Value, Pricing and Fuel Economy

Not only was our front wheel drive 2014 Mazda CX-5 Sport very, very affordable it still came equipped with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/USB/iPod integrated audio system with 4 speakers, power windows, power mirrors and locks, cruise controls, steering wheel mounted audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, floor mats and pretty much every essential most families look for besides Bluetooth and a USB port. Over the course of 7 days with us, the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower SkyActiv 4-cylinder and six-speed manual returned an as yet to be bettered by any other compact SUV we have ever tested with a 32.4 miles per gallon average.

Both the CR-V EX-L and Rogue SL with Safety Package were priced pretty near the top of their respective model lines and packed with top notch features and luxuries that most new SUV buyers lust after but do keep in mind all of the aforementioned SUVs were front wheel drive. Still, the 2014 Honda Civic EX-L we tested lacked only a navigation unit and rear seat DVD entertainment unit from the options list and stickered for just a bit over $27,000. The Rogue came loaded to the gills with everything from back-up camera, to automatic climate control to a panoramic moon roof, leather interior, 18-inch alloy wheels as well as a full complement of safety tech the others couldn’t match. However, the Rogue did sticker for over $30,000 so you do pay for what you get. Miles per gallon averages in the Rogue and CR-V were in the high 28 mpg range during our drives.

Our 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE wasn’t the bargain we hoped for, however, as options pushed the price up to a bit over $27,000 what with the inclusion of navigation, a notably impressive Rockford Fosgate audio system, panoramic moon roof, 18-inch alloys, HID (High Intensity Discharge) headlamps, automatic climate control and very handy little paddle shifters behind the steering wheel. You see, the Outlander Sport needs these paddle shifters as it only comes with an otherwise breathless 2.0 liter 148 horsepower/145 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder that boasts a 31 EPA highway rating which we never transformed into anything over 24 miles per gallon. Still, those paddle shifters injected some fun into the drive in the Mitsu. And while the Rogue had style and class, it was no fun. (1st Place: 2014 Mazda CX-5, 2nd Place: 2014 Honda CR-V, 3rd Place: 2014 Nissan Rogue, 4th Place: 2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport) (Note: all models tested were front-drive.)

The Drive

The 2014 CR-V may not be tuned quite as much for track day cornering like the CX-5 but the eloquent collaboration from the 2.4 liter 185 horsespower 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed automatic transmission and expert ride and suspension tuning mark it out as the most grown up feeling small SUV on the market. You might notice the CR-V’s steering offering up less feel than the CX-5 but only really if you are driving them back to back. Really, the CX-5 is just as fun to drive as the Mazda3 which is our current favorite compact car on the market. Sure, it’s roomier but on the move the Mazda really shrinks nicely around you like you are piloting a sporty hatchback. The rest drive like SUVs.

We were especially disappointed in the lack of verve from the Rogue’s carryover 2.5 liter 170 horsepower/170 lb. feet of torque 4-cylinder and CVT auto powertrain combo which only ever proved adequate. We think that to make the Rogue a true class leader they need to pull a Mazda and unleash more power for model year number two. (1st Place: 2014 Mazda CX-5, 2nd Place: The Rest)

Conclusion (And the Winner is…)

If you are one of the very few people who would ever consider purchasing your next new compact family SUV with a stick shift (we would now!), the winner would have to be the 2014 Mazda CX-5 which whipped up so much value, utility and fun to drive “zoom-zoom” that we would have a hard time passing by this incredible SUV buy. But if you want an automatic, things become more muddled and the CR-V and Rogue take the lead as the more sensible and practical choices which still offer enough behind the wheel entertainment to keep the driver engaged. Wait, at least that’s the case in the CR-V.

As we haven’t gotten a chance to drive the CX-5 with the uprated engine for a long enough period of time, we must conclude that it ties with the CR-V as tops in the compact SUV class. Still, if we drive that with an automatic and love it then it may prove to be a losing final round for the 2014 Honda CR-V since Mazda is clearly staking out the value end of the market. Are you listening Hyundai and Kia? And Mitsubishi? (Winner: TIE!—2014 Mazda CX-5/2014 Honda CR-V)