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14 Small Crossovers: How They'd Fare Against the 2015 Honda CR-V

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 10/16/2014 Benson Kong

By now, we hope you've learned the 2015 Honda CR-V is Motor Trend’s 2015 SUV of the Year, or else the point of this article will be completely missed.

Armed with the "most ambitious mid-cycle CR-V update in history" (Honda's words), the current mainstream compact crossover top seller of 2014 scored the best in our Sport/Utility of the Year criteria of Design Advancement, Engineering Excellence, Performance of Intended Function, Efficiency, Safety, and Value. Meaningful styling touch-ups for the exterior and interior, a revised four-cylinder engine, the exchanging of the old five-speed automatic transmission for a CVT, and the launch of the Honda Sensing suite of active safety equipment resonated well with our judges. We'd feel confident recommending the CR-V to a wide swath of consumers.

Since the CR-V does not compete in a category of one, perhaps you're wondering where its competitors lie in the wake of our SUV of the Year selection. And a fine inquisition that is, as the CR-V does play in one of the most critical and diverse segments in the auto industry.

Please note these aren't actual, full comparisons between the CR-V and the chosen competitive set, though two of the vehicles did go toe to toe with the Honda during the 2015 SUV of the Year event. Let's check the pulses of 14 other mainstream small CUVs, shall we?

Ford Escape

© Provided by MotorTrend The latest iteration of the industry's second-top-selling compact crossover (behind the CR-V) debuted with a bang in 2012 to bag a Motor Trend comparison win. Since then, the opposition has upped its game, thrusting the Ford farther down the pecking order. The Escape remains one of the sportier-driving and visually inspiring picks of the class, with a highly enjoyable and optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost inline-four complementing the volume 1.6-liter EcoBoost engine. With EPA fuel economy numbers that are competitive for the group and neat features including a hands-free power liftgate and auto parking assist, there are worse choices to be had in the segment.

Strengths: Dynamic driving prowess, 2.0-liter EcoBoost engine power, feature content

Weaknesses: Bumpy ride, IIHS small-overlap crash test rating, value against the competition

Motor Trend recent sighting:

Comparison: 2013/2014 Compact Crossover

"'I like the Escape's looks a lot. Its connectivity is tops, and its driving dynamics are solid,' added technical director Frank Markus. 'But there are corners cut, low-cost evidence in some places (cargo hold), and wasted investment in others (soft-touch but cheap-look dash).'"

Toyota RAV4

© Provided by MotorTrend Like the CR-V, the RAV4 is built with only one engine underneath its hood and one transmission latched to said engine's crankshaft. The 2.5-liter inline-four and six-speed automatic competently hustles the mostly competent RAV4 around, yet we're still searching for some creative thinking to leak into Toyota's smallest SUV. The cabin design has been redone to mostly positive acclaim, with a nice selection of colors and a simple, easy to understand layout. If we picked one word to describe our reception of the RAV4 after several different encounters, it'd be "lukewarm."

Strengths: Improved interior, storage space, back seat space

Weaknesses: Poor ride quality, lackluster drive experience, IIHS small-overlap crash test rating

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2014 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contenders

"A lengthy list of interior refinements may alleviate the ride concerns: much improved cabin styling, eight standard airbags, lots of storage space, and an optional (even on our $29K-plus Limited test vehicle!) 11-speaker JBL sound system with a 6.1-inch touchscreen and nav."

Jeep Cherokee

© Provided by MotorTrend It came down to the wire during the 2015 SUV of the Year deliberations, with the Cherokee the only vehicle standing in the way of the CR-V's win. The Cherokee has proved to be the rejuvenator that Jeep needed for its stable of small SUVs, offering credible Jeep-ness at the compact end of the brand's spectrum. A new 3.2-liter V-6 does the heavy lifting for customers not interested in the base 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and technology such as Uconnect infotainment and the standard nine-speed automatic transmission raises eyebrows. Of course, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' celebrated off-road marque wants to peddle plenty of non-hardcore Cherokees too.

Strengths: Trailhawk model, ride quality, interior design

Weaknesses: EPA fuel economy, non-Trailhawk styling, nine-speed tranny response

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contenders and Finalists

"Per Jurnecka, 'Styling is fantastic in Trailhawk guise. Made it up the off-road hill like there was no hill -- a champ in the dirt.' In terms of ride, the front-drive 2.4 Limited was deemed the most supple and luxurious of all the contenders, including the BMW X5 and Lexus NX, with Markus noting, 'I'm not sure I've driven a better-riding SUV this year.'"

Nissan Rogue

© Provided by MotorTrend As the Cherokee strongly resisted the CR-V's march to victory during the 2015 SUV of the Year tourney, the also-present Rogue resisted too … except less. What we've learned about the Rogue is that it'd be a fantastic crossover if it never had to move under its own power. The interior design, build quality, and packaging all work in the Nissan's favor, but the weakest link -- the 2.5-liter inline-four -- effectively halted the Rogue's progress during the competition. If you can live with the powertrain, the rest of the CUV is actually rather stunning.

Strengths: Value, crash safety, Divide-N-Hide cargo system

Weaknesses: Coarse engine, acceleration, observed long-term fuel economy

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2015 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contenders and Finalists

"There are 45/10/45 split-folding rear seats with a pass-through in the middle for long items. Two other players in the Rogue's segment in this competition, the Cherokee and the CR-V, don't have a pass-through. Those adult-friendly rear seats also slide fore and aft, boosting legroom and allowing access to the available third row."

Subaru Forester

© Provided by MotorTrend We believe our 2014 SUV of the Year titleholder would give the CR-V a solid run for its money, with an excellent blend of daily drivability, spacious interior accommodations, and active and passive safety equipment. With the regular 2.5 model holding down the Forester's fort and the more powerful 2.0XT moonlighting as a rally-ready machine, there's a bit of powertrain variety the Honda doesn't have. How would the Forester fare against the CR-V, mano a mano? The answer to that will have to wait for another day.

Strengths: Crash safety, on- and off-road drive character, cabin layout

Weaknesses: Infotainment system could be better, wind noise, manual shifter feel

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring Verdict

"For a solid 12 months, our 2014 Sport/Utility of the Year had me abandoning all worries of where to go and what to do. I simply went anywhere and brought everything and everyone I needed along. It withstood the rambunctiousness of a staff that is particularly demanding of vehicles. To which I say: Awesome."

Chevrolet Equinox

© Provided by MotorTrend As one of only three brands (and one of two in the GM family) to carry a V-6 within their small crossover portfolio, Chevrolet isn't afraid of trumpeting the merits of the six-cylinder Equinox. It's been quite some time since we've had extended seat time with the four-cylinder model (the CR-V's rival), and we're eager to get our hands on one for testing.

Strengths: EPA fuel economy for its age, crash safety, OnStar with 4G LTE

Weaknesses: Press fleet availability

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Drive: 2013 Chevy Equinox LTZ V-6

"After our day at GM's proving grounds, Chevy provided the four-cylinder model for the drive to the airport. We won't say the difference is night and day, but it's much more discernible, as it should be. While the four-banger would be fine for solo commuting and errand runs, we would definitely recommend spending the extra $1,500 for the V-6 if you like your crossovers with more guts, or if shuttling passengers and gear is part of your daily routine."

GMC Terrain

© Provided by MotorTrend Like with the Equinox, we haven't seen the GMC Terrain much around these parts. Even our most recent encounter (a mini comparison between a '13 Terrain Denali and a Kia Sorento SX) was limited to a four-hour window. The last time we drove a 2010 Terrain with a four-cylinder and all-wheel drive, we found it too heavy and too pricey to beat out a then-new 2010 Hyundai Tucson and refreshed 2010 CR-V in a crossover four-way.

Strengths: EPA fuel economy for its age, crash safety, OnStar with 4G LTE

Weaknesses: Press fleet availability

Motor Trend recent sighting:

Comparison: 2013 GMC Terrain Denali 3.6 vs. 2012 Kia Sorento SX

"Those schlepping a pair of daddy-long-legs teenagers will love the Terrain's sliding middle row seat. The interior trim and exterior ornamentation is noticeably fancier in the Denali; the Sorento cuts a lower profile but subjects the fingers to harder plastic on the dash and door panels."

Mazda CX-5

© Provided by MotorTrend With the bigger 2.5-liter inline-four doing the pushing, the CX-5 is a Motor Trend favorite. It tickles the right enthusiast switches: sporty handling without an overly punishing ride, proper power with respectable fuel economy, and a functional complete package. It's solidly mid-pack in the grand game of compact CUV sales, but we're certain the individuals who spend their hard-earned cash on the Mazda are enjoying their purchase. Would the presence of the then-not-available 2.5-liter engine have helped advance the CX-5 when it partook in our 2013 SUV of the Year?

Strengths: Mazda handling, heady EPA fuel economy, crash safety

Weaknesses: Dull cabin design, small infotainment screen, 2.0-liter I-4 is still around

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Test: 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring

"As was the case with last year's model, the updated CX-5 handles its weight on curvy civilian streets with dexterity that's rare for the segment. Controllability is predictable, and speed arrives progressively without the need to strangle every last conceivable rev."

Kia Sportage

© Provided by MotorTrend The third-generation Sportage helped kick off Kia's design renaissance when it was released in 2010, inducing a total 180-degree shift in exterior appearance direction (observe the generic proportions of the second-gen Sportage). A 2.4-liter four-cylinder props up the powertrain array, with a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four producing more grunt for more cost. For 2014, Kia sought to improve the ride quality, engine output, and content packaging, but we haven't been able to confirm whether the sum of the changes can elevate the MT office's opinion of the Sportage.

Strengths: Peter Schreyer's exterior, easy-to-use interior, cooled front seats

Weaknesses: Ride and handling tune, IIHS small-overlap crash test rating, EPA fuel economy

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Test: 2012 Kia Sportage EX

"While we like the styling of the exterior and interior quite a bit, the quality of the interior materials is a letdown. Most vehicles in this segment use a combination of hard plastics and soft-touch materials for the dash and door panels, but Kia has molded the dash almost entirely from hard plastic."

Hyundai Tucson

© Provided by MotorTrend The 2010 Tucson looked to shake up the small CUV segment when it first hit the market, but it's been pretty quiet ever since, even after a refresh for the 2014 model year. In fact, the more exciting news for the Tucson is the hydrogen fuel cell version of the crossover with its free H2 and At Your Service maintenance. Forward motivation for the gas-drinking Tucson is sourced from two naturally aspirated four-cylinders: 2.0- and 2.4-liters. We expect a more comprehensively redesigned Tucson within the next couple years.

Strengths: Sachs ASD shock absorbers, infotainment interface, interior fit and finish

Weaknesses: IIHS small-overlap crash test rating, aging styling, EPA fuel economy

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Test: 2014 Hyundai Tucson Limited FWD

"While the Tucson posted slightly better handling figures than the Mazda, the CX-5 feels more confident in extreme driving conditions such as highway interchanges or dodging other traffic. In normal driving, the Tucson felt solid and rode comfortably."

Volkswagen Tiguan

© Provided by MotorTrend Volkswagen has been laboring to improve the visibility and quality of its lineup in the U.S. (it's done a bang-up job on the 2015 Golf and Jetta), but having an outstanding compact CUV would mesh well with American consumers. We've found the present-generation Tiguan to be a hard sell with the sheer number of competitive products available in the segment, with it falling alarmingly flat in value. VW has been making a lot of noise about its upcoming three-row crossover, but we hope it gives the littler Tiguan more love as well.

Strengths: Turbocharged engine power, transmission response, standard straight-line speed

Weaknesses: EPA fuel economy, IIHS small-overlap crash test rating, value for content

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Test: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL 4Motion

"During the test, we dinged the Tiguan for its high price, rough ride quality, small cargo area, and 'tall and tippy' feel under hard cornering. So we decided to give the V-dub crossover another shot by testing the top-of-the-line 2012 Tiguan SEL 4Motion. Would all-wheel drive and premium trim make us change our tune about VW's Golf-based crossover?

"In a word, no."

Jeep Compass/Patriot

© Provided by MotorTrend What leftover thunder the Compass and Patriot collectively shared because of their relatively new six-speed automatic transmissions (for 2014 models) has been wholly usurped by the Cherokee. The two compact Jeeps have done little to burnish the brand's adventuresome reputation since they were first put out on dealer lots, although attractive price points and decent styling has helped sustain surprising sales momentum. A single replacement vehicle is en route for 2016 (around the same time the Cherokee is to be refreshed); we don't foresee many tears being shed for this duo.

Strengths: Cost of entry, cool names, improved armrest padding

Weaknesses: Underwhelming drive, EPA fuel economy, IIHS small-overlap crash test rating (Patriot)

Motor Trend recent sighting:

First Drive: 2011 Jeep Compass

"On pavement, the Compass was a pleasant piece of transportation. It feels about as quick as the average compact sedan and handles like a tall car. Improvements to the suspension and steering mean reasonably flat cornering and a pleasant ride."

Subaru XV Crosstrek

© Provided by MotorTrend Subaru's Impreza-derived XV Crosstrek drives and handles more like a small car than a small crossover. This facet alone could be a big plus to many a prospective buyer. Designed less for an active family and more for the active couple with the infrequent plus-two, the XV Crosstrek could be just the ticket if parking is an especially big concern. The hybrid model achieves the highest fuel economy in this list at 31 combined mpg on the EPA cycle. The standard version with CVT ties the front-drive CR-V and CX-5 for a second-best 29 mpg.

Strengths: EPA fuel economy, ride and handling, crash safety

Weaknesses: Power delivery, interior material quality, ride noise

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2013 Motor Trend SUV of the Year Contenders

"Frequent readers will note the Crosstrek is basically a raised version of the Impreza hatchback CVT that did so poorly in the 2012 Car of the Year competition. True enough. Ordering the manual gearbox over the CVT can make a big difference, and it's part of the XV Crosstrek's value proposition."

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

© Provided by MotorTrend For certain and likely older car fans, Mitsubishi is fondly remembered as a company that produced hardy SUVs and eclectic all-wheel-drive performance cars, including for a brief time a twin-turbocharged, grand-touring hardtop convertible with AWD and a manual transmission. Today, one of Mitsubishi's most important vehicles and the brand's undisputed sales leader is the Outlander Sport. As an overall package, it isn't terribly impressive -- our old long-term test car struggled to accumulate 20,000 miles in 12 months, because staffers weren't eager to drive it -- though the content offered isn't bad.

Strengths: Bulldog exterior styling, driver-selectable AWD system, crash safety

Weaknesses: Acceleration, infotainment system response, uninspired interior design

Motor Trend recent sighting:

2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWD Verdict

"On a drive down the Pacific Coast Highway, art director Alan Muir questioned the Outlander Sport's handling abilities. After the crossover's stability control intervened in a corner, Muir concluded that the Outlander Sport 'doesn't like to be driven hard around corners or even on the straights.'"

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