Roomy and comfortable, versatile yet affordable, maneuverable and increasingly fuel-efficient, compact crossover SUVs sell to hundreds of thousands of customers annually, filling needs as diverse as workaday family cars to useful premium vehicles to an amateur handyman's everyday commuter. They're not heavy-duty, but they offer the all-wheel-drive and elevated ground clearance that separate them from station wagons, and the usefully expansive interiors that help them stand apart from sedans.
Standards are high. Buyers increasingly resist tradeoffs – in addition to being tall and roomy, these crossovers are asked to ride and handle like cars. Oh, and by the way, please give them enough capability to plow through some mud or snow. And they should get 30 miles per gallon on the highway. And they should have luxury-grade interiors with all the latest gadgets. But still not too expensive.
Difficult as that seems to achieve, this comparison's nine crossovers offer great promise. Loaded up with all-wheel-drive, heated leather seats and big sunroofs, they still come in under $30,000 and are rated for between 27 and 32 miles per gallon on the highway.
Many of the vehicles in this class look like winners. That said, the different models were each designed with particular tradeoffs that will fit some buyers better than others – style versus utility, ride versus handling, luxury versus value, and others. Some of these cars, too, have flaws that keep them clearly short of that high bar.
This comparison relies on test drives and analyses of price, safety and fuel economy of nine compact crossover SUVs at the heart of the market to pick winners and losers for different types of customers, and to rank them from top to bottom overall.
The tested cars come nicely equipped but are powered by their base four-cylinder engines rather than a pricier and less fuel-efficient V6 or a turbo. Most have sticker prices around $30,000 and are projected to sell in the upper $20,000s after haggling and discounts.
See rankings and mini-reviews of the nine crossovers in this comparison in today's slideshow, and click on the cars' model names linked in the following paragraphs to reach the full reviews.
The compact crossover class was recently shaken up by the introduction of the Mazda CX-5, which went on sale as a 2013 and then received a larger engine for the 2014 model year. Well, at least it rocked car reviewers' worlds, thanks to sportier handling than the class norm, the sales pace isn't threatening the established competition – in part due to pricing that's on the high side of the class.
Three mainstays were recently redesigned for the 2013 and 2014 model years: the Ford Escape, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4. The Escape has polished driving dynamics and the fanciest tech features, but it's not cheap and the gizmos don't always work properly. The Forester continues to be unexciting but is roomy and a crash-test and fuel-economy ace. The RAV4 has class-leading cargo space and fancy interior trim but lacks the ride quality and safety scores of most competitors.
Also new for 2013 is the Buick Encore, which is smaller and more luxurious than the class norm – an anomaly that could fit some buyers' needs.
Hanging in there
The Honda CR-V, always in the race for the No. 1 sales position in the class, was redesigned and improved a couple of years ago as a 2012 model. It's roomy and comfortable, but less eye-catching than the newer competition.
Meanwhile, the Kia Sportage is a year older than the CR-V, but its more adventurous styling means it doesn't look it. (The Sportage is mechanically identical to the Hyundai Tucson.) Older still is the Nissan Rogue, which is expected to be redesigned later this year as a 2014 model; it dates to the 2008 model year with only the slightest tweaks. The two least expensive of these nine crossovers, the Rogue and Sportage let their value compensate for their age.
Another aging value-priced model is the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, introduced for 2011 and updated for 2013. Like the Buick Encore, it's smaller than most competitors, but it's on the opposite end of the luxury spectrum from the premium-trimmed Buick.
Not in this comparison
Not every possible compact crossover could be squeezed into this comparison. Several popular models that straddle the compact and midsize classes are excluded here – the Chevrolet Equinox/GMC Terrain, Dodge Journey, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Kia Sorento and Mitsubishi Outlander. Also left out is the Volkswagen Tiguan, which is significantly pricier than these nine; the Jeep Compass and Patriot, which are due to soon be replaced; and the Chevrolet Captiva Sport, which is sold only to fleet customers. And the promising 2014 Jeep Cherokee, a new crossover that is replacing the discontinued truck-based Liberty, is not yet on sale.
See the ranking order for all nine crossovers in this comparison in today's slideshow, and visit the other pages in this comparison for more information.
More from this comparison:
- Rating the nine compact crossovers: How do they compare in different ways, such as comfort, safety and fuel economy?
- Ranking the nine compact crossovers: How do they stack up for different types of buyers?
- Quick summaries of the nine compact crossovers: Pros, cons, conclusions.
- Full reviews of the: 2013 Buick Encore; 2013 Ford Escape SEL; 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L; 2013 Kia Sportage EX; 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring; 2013 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport; 2013 Nissan Rogue SL; 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Limited; 2013 Toyota RAV4 Limited.
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Comparison review: Compact sedans
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Comparison review: 2010-model compact crossovers
Review: 2013 Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
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