I'll tell you a little something about myself: I cheer for the underdog. I actually kind of have to be anyway, as I'm an Orlando Magic fan. But anyway, I will offer more encouragement and support to anything that seems to be at a disadvantage. That goes for machinery, too. I will be more impressed when a small or seemingly incapable apparatus produce results as good or even better than its full-sized counterpart. Thus, I was particularly delighted to test and compare three midsize crossovers that all were powered by 2.0L turbocharged engines. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucker for turbo boost, but in these three vehicles, it went beyond that for me. When I see a big, tall crossover and take one for a drive, I have certain expectations for its performance, and every one of these three crossovers fulfilled those expectations. But what I find the most fascinating is when I take a look under the hood and find an engine the size of what I would expect to find in a compact car. That's what appeals to my underdog instinct.
But this comparison isn't about appealing to any of my instincts. It's about seeing which of these turbocharged crossovers - the Ford Edge EcoBoost, the Hyundai Santa Fe 2.0T Sport, and the all-new Subaru Forester 2.0XT - works the best in real-world environments, from dealing with Florida's flash rain deluges, to an impromptu transport of racing tires, to just offering a nice ride to work in the morning. All three manufacturers claim that the boosted engines in these vehicles offer the same power and refinement as 6cyl engines but with 4cyl economy, and on top of that, they all have price tags approaching $40,000, so they have to deliver "approaching $40,000" levels of luxury and style as well. So I'll compare the three of them in seven different categories: practicality, performance, styling, driving experience, value, and fuel economy. Whichever one claims the most categories is the boosted crossover you'll want to give the most serious consideration.
Practicality: It's amazing how just a few years' time can actually change a car model's purpose. Case in point: the Santa Fe and Forester have grown so much in size that they're no longer comparable to the Escape or RAV4. They're in fact so close in size to the Edge that each vehicle has an advantage over the other two in one or more dimensions. The Edge may lead the pack in rear headroom, but it's dead last in front legroom. Rear legroom is most plentiful in the Forester, while the Santa Fe can haul the most cargo. All things considered, though, the Edge is still the biggest vehicle here and it has the most useable interior space, so it wins the practicality category.
Performance: If there is ever a testament to the notion that numbers on paper don't always translate to real-world results, it's this comparison. The Santa Fe has the most horsepower of our turbocharged trio, but peculiarly, it's the slowest. The Edge has the least horsepower, but it's the second fastest, and it's also the heaviest by a wide margin. But Subaru has clearly sprinkled some magic pixie dust under the hood of the 2014 Forester XT, as its boosted BRZ engine offers both the fastest acceleration and the best fuel economy in this comparison. For smooth and quiet powertrain operation, the Santa Fe is still top dog, but if you want to put your money where your mouth is when you say your crossover has a turbo, your money is best bet on the Forester.
Styling: There's no internal debate in my head with this one... the Santa Fe carries this torch. The Edge has to be in Sport trim with the blacked-out grill and 20" wheels to catch my eye, and let's face it... only Subaru people like Subaru styling. As I said with the Elantra in the MPG Beatdown comparison, Hyundai has blown us all away with their newfound ability to not just make well-built cars that compete formidably in the marketplace, but cars that look good while doing it too. The Santa Fe's grill is very prominent, but tasteful as well. The body lines continue Hyundai's "fluidic sculpture" design theme, and I especially like the understated back end design. If you're a prospective boosted crossover buyer who's also concerned with style and presence, you're definitely going to look the most closely at the Santa Fe.
Driving Experience: The design of the Edge is the oldest of the three crossovers here, and since it's the largest, heaviest, and most practical, it feels the most mature of the three, further exemplified by its commanding driving position. The Santa Fe is for a younger buyer, but one who values refinement and class above all else. Finally, the Forester is a Subaru, which obviously means it's an oddball and also a bit more informal, but it also offers a cozy familiarity that puts you a bit more at ease. As far as enthusiastic driving, none of them are going to be rewarding on a twisty mountain road, but the Forester offers the most fun driving experience of the three as it's by far the fastest, and it can still offer 8/10ths of the refinement and livability of the other two. That makes it a little more special, and when you're talking about a category as subjective as the driving experience, something's the best when it's the one that's special.
Value: This isn't just about the lowest price, otherwise I'd just say the Santa Fe wins by being the cheapest. Value means getting the most for your money. The Edge is unfortunately out of this running, getting too close to $40,000 for its own good. The Santa Fe is all of $295 cheaper than the Forester, but the Forester has a more impressive options list. It has HIDs while the Santa Fe doesn't, it has a roof rack while the Santa Fe doesn't, and it has Subaru's EyeSight active driver safety system offering pre-collision warning and lane departure warning, while the Santa Fe's only active safety system is stability control. So though the Forester isn't the cheapest, it offers the most value for the money, and it wins another category in this comparison.
Fuel economy: Now the misconception with this trend toward small, turbocharged engines is that they will offer hybrid levels of fuel economy and gobs of power simultaneously. That's unfortunately not the case. In theory, these three crossovers should offer 15-20% better fuel economy than they would if they had 6cyl engines, without losing any horsepower. So no one considering any of these turbo crossovers should expect anything near 30mpg. Those kind of figures are possible in the Santa Fe and Forester, but you'll be in the nonturbo 4cyl variants, without the performance. With that in mind, the Forester once again comes through on top in this comparison, averaging 21.4 mpg while the other two remain in the high teens.
The Edge EcoBoost is an excellent crossover, but it's starting to grow whiskers, and all it's getting for 2014 are two new colors. We'll see a completely redesigned Edge in 2015. The Santa Fe is freshly redesigned and more appealing than it's ever been, but I'm still curious as to why the Theta engine doesn't have as much power in the big Santa Fe as it does in the small Sonata, when it should be vice versa. That leaves us with the Forester 2.0XT, which has won the Boosted Crossover Bonanza by a landslide.
Being the newest design here is clearly in its favor, but the new Forester demonstrates just how hard Subaru is working to be recognized as more than just a quirky niche automaker.
Or as others might say... an underdog.
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