Cars.com Compact SUV Challenge
Automotive trends come and go, but the rising popularity of small crossover utilites shows no signs of receding any time soon. But with so many new choices which one is best? Well, that’s what we’re about to find out. Joined by colleagues from cars.com, let’s dive right into our latest compact SUV comparison.
With so many new and carryover compact utes in this segment, it’s impossible to include them all in our test. So, we chose seven, starting with the winner from last time, the Ford Escape. Now, add in the current sales leader, which was the Nissan Rogue at the time of our outing, and then sprinkle in five more compacts that have been most recently revised or updated.
The leaner and meaner Chevrolet Equinox…
…perennial favorite Honda CR-V…
…the totally revamped Jeep Compass…
…the always dynamic Mazda CX-5…
…and the bigger, redesigned Volkswagen Tiguan.
So, unfortunately that leaves out such fan favorites as the Toyota Rav4, Hyundai Tucson, and Kia Sportage.
But, onward we go, with one more detail, a price cap of $35,000.
We gathered our competitors in the suburbs of Chicago. All are 4-cylinder powered, some turbo and some not. All use an automatic transmission, and 6 of our 7 were all-wheel-drive; Chevrolet Equinox being the lone front-driver.
In addition to the usual driving, comfort, practicality, and value criteria; advanced safety features were factored in. For the complete scoring breakdown, head to cars.com; but, know that our bottom three finishers consisted of the Jeep Compass, Nissan Rogue, and Chevrolet Equinox.
Starting off a more detailed look at our top four begins with last year’s winner, the Ford Escape. This time in 4th place, it continues to be a lot of fun to drive, has a good use of space for daily necessities, with an improved SYNC3 interface. It also remains a good value, as its $33,615 price tag was 2nd lowest here. It’s just that rivals have stepped up their game more.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “The Escape looks good, handles well, and the 2.0-liter turbo has some serious punch to it; inside however, things are a little cluttered and it’s just not as comfortable as many of the others here.”
FRED MEIER: “…the Escape has plenty of power, a crisp transmission, good handling, it was fun to drive; but I didn’t find it, for a person my size the most comfortable, it felt narrower and the design of the interior is more of a cockpit style that felt confining…”
JOHN DAVIS: We had high expectations for the Mazda CX-5 and it finished 3rd. Its redesign includes all of the Mazda zoom-zoom we love, yet brings a lot more comfort and luxury with it; proving that it’s what’s inside that really counts. Pricing was right in the middle of our pack at $34,380.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “Wow, the CX-5; what a transformation. It still has all the handling characteristics that we’ve always loved about it, but Mazda’s finally gotten serious about quieting things down inside, and that interior is more luxurious than may luxury brands.”
JOE BURZEK: “So, I’m lookin’ at how much the CX-5 costs and I just can’t comprehend how a car this nice only costs this much money; I wouldn’t have any problem taking the CX-5 and putting it up against a $40,000 Acura or Infiniti; that’s how nice this is.”
JOHN DAVIS: Amazingly, our top two were separated by only two points. So, the Honda CR-V shouldn’t feel too bad in the 2nd spot. Interior room is as copious as always, ride quality remains quite good, while comfort is top notch; all for just a couple hundred dollars over the CX-5, at $34,635.
BRIAN ROBINSON: “You get in the CR-V and everything just feels right; it’s super comfortable, there’s lots of room everywhere, it has a nice ride to it; the only things that’s really frustrating about it is the touchscreen interface.”
KELSEY MAYS: “The Honda CR-V has a ton of family friendly features; it’s really kind of the minivan of this segment. From that giant center console box that you can store tons of stuff into… …things like a conversation mirror, just a lot of family friendly features baked into that CR-V.”
JOHN DAVIS: That leaves the all-new Volkswagen Tiguan as our winner by a narrow margin. There’s an amazing amount of space inside, the tech is simple to use, and it drives really nice as well. All for the lowest price in our test at just $32,625
BRIAN ROBINSON: “Like a lot of recent Volkswagens, the Tiguan has went from a smaller, Euro-style ute to a much larger one, it feels almost midsize inside; it has all the features you want in this segment for a price that’s a couple grand cheaper than all the others.”
KELSEY MAYS: “This Tiguan just has tons and tons of space; the 2nd row slides forward and back, a ton of range, lots of space back there for passengers, lots of cargo room behind it, lots of room up front; just a very, very spacious SUV; rides pretty well, handles okay too.”
JOHN DAVIS: Small crossover utilities are continuing to gobble up more and more of the SUV market share. So, while they’re better than ever, and quite practical vehicles for growing families, you probably won’t be getting any great deals right now. But, then, there really are no absolute losers in the segment either. It just so happens that all of them are looking up at the Volkswagen Tiguan…for now. Stay tuned though, as that probably won’t be the case for long.
2018 Chevrolet Equinox
2017 Ford Escape
2017 Honda CR-V
2017 Jeep Compass
2017 Mazda CX-5
2017 Nissan Rogue
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan