After driving 15 compact crossover sport-utility vehicles, researching a ton of specs and data, and consulting with other auto experts and reviewers, we determined that the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring is the best choice for most people seeking one of these versatile vehicles. Inside and out, it looks, feels, and operates like something much more expensive than what it costs. It’s also the best compact crossover SUV to drive, by far, feeling more like a fun-to-drive car than a dull wagon. Priced at just over $26,000,1 the Touring trim level of the CX-5 is our favorite because it’s the second-least-expensive vehicle we looked at yet it comes with more premium features than most competitors offer. What’s more, the CX-5’s fuel economy and estimated cost to own are among the best we found, and it exhibits excellent reliability and boasts top safety scores.
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There are only a few compact crossover SUVs we would buy ourselves or recommend to our closest friends and family, and only one, the Top Pick, we believe is best for most people.
I’ve spent the past three decades reporting on and writing about autos strictly from a consumer’s perspective. I spent 17 years as automotive editor for Consumers Digest magazine, where I remain a contributing editor. I serve as a regular contributor on automotive issues for Forbes.com, I write a syndicated newspaper column called Wheel Deals, and I provide car-based articles to other print and Web-based publications, too. I drive at least one new car, supplied by an automaker, per week. Although I now tend to avoid paid press junkets, I have tested new cars on highways, back roads, and racetracks across the United States, and because I have attended a high-performance driving school, I’m sufficiently adept behind the wheel.
I am proud to be the go-to guy among my circle of relatives, friends, and acquaintances for car-buying advice; I take it personally whenever someone I know buys a new car without consulting me first. Outside the auto arena I am an avid bargain hunter who over-researches even modest purchases, slavishly compares prices, and looks for coupons and discounts in search of the best deals.
For this guide, I also consulted a few other automotive experts, including Joe Lorio, senior online editor at Car and Driver (and formerly with Automobile Magazine); Scott Burgess, Detroit editor at Motor Trend (formerly with The Detroit News); and Thomas Mutchler, program manager for vehicle interface at Consumer Reports.
Now comprising one of the largest and most popular vehicle categories, compact crossover SUVs are versatile enough to fit many lifestyles yet small enough that they’re still enjoyable to drive and relatively fuel-efficient. They also offer the security of available all-wheel drive, as well as the higher-riding, see-over-traffic stance and go-anywhere image of an SUV. Most of these vehicles are very good, and they’re close enough to one another in pricing, features, and capabilities that choosing the best of the bunch is challenging.
Crossovers are basically tall, car-based wagons that can carry more in the cargo space than can fit in a car’s trunk, especially when you take advantage of their split-folding rear seats. Most compact crossover SUVs are tall enough to carry potted houseplants or other odd-size objects that would never fit easily in an ordinary passenger car. Their inherent versatility makes them a great option for lots of people, including small families looking for a starter vehicle, empty-nesters who want to travel with a new grandchild (and the accompanying baby paraphernalia) on occasion, young millennials who have lots of stuff to carry around, and active people who need room for all their gear.
Their appeal is among the most wide-reaching in the car business, says Joe Lorio of Car and Driver: “I don’t think you can say that there’s one buyer for whom a compact crossover is perfect. Compact crossovers appeal to a wide variety of people, which explains their booming popularity.”
Thomas Mutchler of Consumer Reports agrees: “Compact crossovers will replace the midsized sedan in many driveways because they can do more things.” That’s true—they have about the same pricing, can carry more, sit up higher, and offer AWD across the board.
Because compact crossover SUVs are usually based on the same platform as compact cars, they also have relatively small exterior dimensions that make them easy to maneuver and park in tight spaces. For instance, the Ford Focus sedan/hatchback and Ford Escape crossover are built on the same car platform, which makes the Escape something like a tall, high-riding wagon version of the Focus with available AWD.
Compact crossovers sit a few inches higher off the ground than cars do, which gives drivers a taller, more commanding view of the road and lets them look out over traffic. The design also makes getting in and out of them easier (yet they don’t ride so high as to require side steps or running boards). Loading and unloading cargo is also easier because it doesn’t necessitate stooping over, as is the case with the trunk of a car. But while the added ground clearance helps to create a higher seating position, it doesn’t mean that the typical crossover is engineered to climb over rocks and fallen tree branches away from the pavement.
Lastly, you might consider how you look when driving one. The image that these vehicles project is largely influenced by the hardier SUVs that inspire their shape. Crossovers aren’t actually any more robust than the typical passenger car, but to many people their rugged, go-anywhere image is more appealing than that of a staid station wagon or an economical hatchback, even if they all have similar capabilities. Shoppers looking for more room for larger families should consult our guide to large seven-passenger crossover SUVs, while those who would like to save a few bucks and aren’t tied to the idea of an SUV should check out our guide to compact cars.
Even though we call the vehicles in this guide “compact crossover SUVs,” you may see them referred to elsewhere as simply “crossovers” or “SUVs.” That’s because the terms often show up interchangeably in advertisements and reviews. The bottom line is that what a vehicle is called is less important than whether it has and does the right stuff for you. Still, you can find real differences between a crossover SUV and a traditional sport-utility vehicle, and each category has its own strengths and weaknesses. The two types look similar, as they project a go-anywhere sense of freedom; their differences lie under the skin.
Put simply, traditional SUVs are built on truck platforms and crossovers are built on car platforms. This means that SUVs have stronger frames and beefier suspensions, generally have bigger dimensions, and feel more like a truck to drive. Crossovers are lighter and more fuel efficient, ride smoother, and feel more like a car to drive. (You’ll encounter exceptions to the rule, though, as well as gray areas.) The compact crossovers we’re talking about here are built on compact car platforms; the Ford Escape, for instance, uses the same car platform as the Ford Focus compact.
Back in the late 1980s and 1990s, SUVs were incredibly popular and hardly any of what we now call crossovers existed. But then gas prices rose and the environment became a hot topic, and SUVs suddenly became the poster car for waste and excess. Meanwhile, car buyers became more demanding, wanting a more car-like driving experience from their SUVs. That demand opened the door for crossovers, which look almost identical to SUVs on the outside but are lighter, more fuel efficient, and more comfortable to ride in. Today, crossovers are the hottest thing being sold, and automakers are creating them in all shapes and sizes, from tiny subcompacts like the new Mazda CX-3 to big ones like our top pick for large crossover SUVs, the Honda Pilot. Meanwhile, their forebears, the true SUVs, have only a fraction of their former ranks remaining, including larger vehicles like the Chevrolet Suburban, Ford Expedition, and Toyota Sequoia.
But SUVs still have their place because of their unique strengths. Their extra-strong, truck-based platforms make them much better suited for towing than crossovers. Although some larger crossovers can tow a fair amount of weight, they can’t match what a full-size SUV with a big V8 engine can pull. Plus, true SUVs can be more capable in off-road situations than crossovers can. Many offer a true four-wheel-drive system, in contrast to the all-wheel-drive systems you’ll typically find in cars and crossovers. While both systems provide power to all four wheels and extra grip in slippery conditions, 4WD also includes an extra set of gears (a transfer case) that helps in difficult terrain by allowing the SUV to creep along very slowly. In addition, SUVs often have more ground clearance, which lets them go places where a car-like crossover might get stuck. Even though many true SUVs aren’t really designed for such driving anymore, some, like the Jeep Wrangler and Toyota 4Runner, can happily clamber around off-road in places where most crossovers would cry for mercy.
Crossovers, meanwhile, have become incredibly appealing to regular folks who just want something that’s comfortable and safe for their growing families. It also doesn’t hurt that crossovers look way more cool than a stodgy minivan or a throwback station wagon. Indeed, the fact that crossovers look just like the SUVs we remember is one reason they’ve become so popular. A crossover lets you have your cake and eat it too: You get the rugged, adventure-seeking persona of an SUV with the comfort and higher fuel efficiency of something that’s car-based.
Most compact crossover SUVs offer all-wheel drive as a stand-alone option, with the added cost ranging from $1,250 to about $2,000 (the exception in this regard is the Subaru Forester, which comes with AWD as standard equipment). AWD adds some cost, weight, and mechanical complexity (with that last factor leading to a higher potential for repair bills down the road) while lowering fuel economy by about one or two miles per gallon. Still, AWD is popular for the added security it gives in maintaining traction under bad weather conditions. Most midsize sedans and compact cars don’t offer AWD, so compact crossover SUVs are a great choice (and sometimes the only choice) for buyers looking for this feature in a relatively small and inexpensive vehicle.
Keep in mind, though, that AWD helps only when you’re driving straight ahead (or in reverse). It doesn’t help when you’re braking or when cornering, so you still need to be careful in slippery conditions. Your best aids for those situations are an antilock braking system and electronic stability control, which are standard on all new vehicles.
Most AWD vehicles are not intended for serious off-roading, other than perhaps traversing dirt roads or packed gravel or sand. The most noteworthy exception in the group of compact crossover SUVs we looked at is the Jeep Cherokee, which you can have fitted with a more rugged AWD system and a special traction-management system that allows moderate trailblazing abilities. Still, those systems are not nearly as rugged as a bona fide truck-based SUV’s four-wheel-drive system.
Do you need AWD? Thomas Mutchler of Consumer Reports told us, “Skip AWD if you live where it doesn’t snow. That saves about $1,500 and will give 1-2 mpg better.” But even in snowy areas, Mutchler thinks, AWD might not be necessary: “As with other cars, winter tires can help a lot in the snow.” In addition, all new vehicles come with traction control, which performs almost as well as AWD on slippery roads. Scott Burgess from Motor Trend agrees. “Honestly, AWD is pretty overrated,” Burgess told us. “Most systems are not nearly as capable as owners think and they add additional weight to a vehicle, hurting gas mileage.” He went on to explain: “A FWD Honda Civic will do just fine in most snow. So will a crossover with AWD. The one advantage a compact crossover might have over a similar car is [ground] clearance, as it can drive over more things. But that’s not a matter of AWD vs. FWD, it’s a matter of the body.”
We chose the Mazda CX-5 as our top pick among the 15 compact crossover SUVs we considered based on extensive research that began with comparing each model’s specifications, projected ownership costs, fuel economy, safety ratings, and warranty coverage. We not only consulted the opinions of other automotive experts but also conducted our own test drives of each model under real-world circumstances.
The universe of compact crossovers we considered includes the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Cherokee, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, MINI Cooper Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan. Most of them are reasonably close in dimensions and pricing. The least expensive among them is the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, which starts at around $20,800,5, whereas the costliest is the Volkswagen Tiguan at a base price of around $25,000.6 Most of these compact crossovers, however, start in the $22,000 to $23,000 range; in our research, after we configured them the way we wanted, they wound up in the $25,000 to $28,000 range.
As the saying goes, the devil is in the details, and you can learn a lot about a given group of cars by studying each one’s published specifications, which we took directly from automakers’ websites. In addition to information on pricing and available features, this gold mine of resources includes a vehicle’s engine horsepower and torque ratings (to give an indication of how quickly a vehicle accelerates), its passenger room, its cargo capacity, and so on. We checked each compact crossover’s estimated fuel economy ratings from the Environmental Protection Agency, and we researched crash-test scores from both the insurance-industry-sponsored Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Keeping a steadfast eye on the bottom line, we also compared five-year ownership costs for each model as estimated by Kelley Blue Book, and we looked at the warranty coverage each automaker offered, including value-added roadside assistance and free maintenance programs.
We also studied what other expert sources had to say about these vehicles, in both consumer-oriented and enthusiast-oriented contexts. Among these sources were published reviews and multi-vehicle comparisons from Consumer Reports, U.S. News & World Report’s Best Cars, Edmunds.com, Autos.ca, Automobile, Car and Driver, Motor Trend, The New York Times, and RideApart. In addition, we consulted a few crossover experts, namely Joe Lorio, senior online editor at Car and Driver (and formerly with Automobile Magazine); Scott Burgess, Detroit editor at Motor Trend (and formerly with The Detroit News); and Thomas Mutchler, program manager for vehicle interface at Consumer Reports.
Most important, we’ve personally given each of the vehicles in this guide a thorough test drive thanks to press-fleet vehicles that their respective manufacturers loaned to us, typically for a week at a time. Though we might tend to push a vehicle we’re testing a bit harder at times than the average driver would during a daily commute, for the most part we set out to use the vehicles the way they’re intended to be used, as in taking the kids to school, hauling a week’s worth of groceries home from the supermarket, parallel parking on a crowded street, cruising at highway speeds, traversing pockmarked pavement, and winding our way through twisty two-lane roads. During our tests we paid close attention to performance attributes such as acceleration, handling, steering, ride quality, and braking, as well as other attributes like the legibility of the gauges, how easy the controls are to operate, seat comfort, rear passenger room, cargo space, and the quality of materials used throughout the cabin.
After evaluating all of the data, driving each of the 15 models in our comparison, and consulting outside sources and experts, we determined that the Mazda CX-5 is clearly the best choice for most compact crossover SUV buyers.
Many of the compact crossover SUVs we looked at can run well into the $30,000 range when fully loaded. So we configured the vehicles in this guide with only what we thought were essential features that most people want and can afford.
Though all compact crossover SUVs come standard with basic equipment such as a decent audio system, air conditioning, and power windows, locks, and mirrors, only the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport offers all the features we required in its base version (although we had to add a $1,350 options package to obtain a few necessary items). At the other extreme, we found that top-of the-line versions of these compact crossovers were loaded with several costly conveniences that we think are unnecessary. Like Goldilocks, we found that most compact crossover SUVs’ midlevel versions—including the Touring trim of our top pick, the Mazda CX-5—were “just right” in terms of the features they give you and their affordability.
These midlevel trims usually come with amenities such as dual-zone automatic climate control, a keyless entry system, a power driver’s seat, alloy wheels, and a 60/40 split-fold rear seat for extra flexibility in carrying cargo. We also looked for models that offered a rearview camera for easier parking and safer backing up, an in-dash information and entertainment system with a large touchscreen, Bluetooth phone connectivity for hands-free calling while you’re driving, and Bluetooth audio capability for wirelessly listening to music on your smartphone through the car’s stereo.
Unfortunately, not all of the compact crossover SUVs we looked at offered these features, at least not in the trim levels we selected. For instance, the Chevy Equinox, GMC Terrain, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, and Volkswagen Tiguan didn’t come with dual-zone automatic climate control in the trims we considered, or they had it as an option at a higher price we weren’t willing to pay. Similarly, we were unable to equip either the MINI Cooper Countryman or the Toyota RAV4 XLE with a power driver’s seat. A rearview camera was unavailable on the MINI, as well, and the midlevel Honda CR-V trim lacked satellite radio.
Only the Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Nissan Rogue, and newly redesigned Hyundai Tucson came with all of the essential features we targeted, though the Escape, Sportage, and Tucson are all more expensive than most of the other compact crossovers, with pricing that crests $27,000. The exception is the Nissan Rogue SV, which despite its bounty of features costs the least among this entire group of similarly equipped crossover SUVs at a little over $25,500. 7
Other amenities we considered to be nonessential, but nevertheless handy to have if you can afford them, included smart keys (also called passive-entry keys because they let you unlock the doors without taking them out of your pocket or bag), push-button start, heated side mirrors with integrated turn signals, fog lights, automatic headlamps, a sunroof or moonroof, reverse parking sensors, a remote start function, heated leather seats, and a power-operated rear tailgate.
Luxury-oriented options we didn’t think were worth the extra money included a heated steering wheel, power folding side mirrors, a premium audio system, and GPS navigation (the last being a feature that’s already included with most motorists’ smartphones).
Many compact crossovers now offer some of the latest high-tech crash-avoidance systems for added safety, but we didn’t include such systems on our required features list. Among the most common are blind-spot warning and rear cross-path alert, which notify you of vehicles to the side and rear that might not otherwise be visible. The Mazda CX-5 Touring, our top pick, and the new Hyundai Tucson Sport are the only two models in our test group to come standard with these features on their midlevel trims. Some other less common safety systems include lane-departure warning, which signals whenever the vehicle is inadvertently crossing highway lane markers, and forward-collision warning, which indicates that the vehicle is approaching another car or other obstruction too quickly. None of the compact crossovers we looked at came standard with either of those systems on their midlevel trims.
Typically a higher-end item, adaptive cruise control uses sensors to maintain both a set speed and a set distance from a vehicle ahead on the highway. Automakers often pair it with what is the current crème de la crème of safety features, an auto-braking system that will slam on the brakes at full stopping power to help avoid or lessen the effects of an impending crash. Unfortunately, on the models that offer those systems, they’re often restricted to the costliest trim levels. The Subaru Forester stands out in this regard by offering its optional EyeSight suite of accident-avoidance systems (lane departure, adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision warning/auto-braking) on all versions but the base model. What’s more, the suite is available as part of an affordable $1,295 package with heated seats, side mirrors, and windshield washers, as a welcome bonus to those buyers living in colder climates. The 2016 Toyota RAV4 likewise offers a blind spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, and automatic braking in all versions but the base model, but they’re optional on the XLE version we chose as part of a $2,370 Convenience Package with other features (proximity keys, forward and reverse parking sensors, heated mirrors, and a navigation system) included.
All of the compact crossover SUVs we considered come standard with a four-cylinder engine, and most (the exceptions being the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, and Volkswagen Tiguan) offer an upgraded engine as an option. On some, the upgrade simply consists of a larger four-cylinder engine; for example, the CX-5’s base model includes a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder, whereas a 184-horsepower, 2.5-liter version is standard on the other trim levels, including the Touring model we selected.
With other crossover SUVs, the upgrade engine adds turbocharging, which forces more air into the cylinders to boost power while maintaining a smaller engine’s fuel economy (the Ford Escape offers two turbocharged, four-cylinder engines in addition to the non-turbo four that’s standard on the base model). Meanwhile, the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain, and Jeep Cherokee also offer optional V6 engines, which tend to accelerate more smoothly than turbocharged four-cylinders but cost more to buy and burn more fuel. Where we had a choice, we selected the base engines for the sake of up-front affordability and lower long-term operating costs; most such engines are plenty powerful for what drivers routinely ask these relatively small vehicles to do.
We considered only those models equipped with an automatic transmission, which was as much by default as by choice. In our research, the Mazda CX-5, MINI Countryman, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, and Subaru Forester were the only models in the group that offered a manual transmission, and typically that feature was limited to base models and/or engines.
Automatic transmissions among compact crossovers are typically six-speed units, though the Jeep Cherokee’s version comes with nine gears (more is usually better, but not in the case of the Cherokee’s gearbox, which we found shifted too busily under normal circumstances and was painfully slow to downshift when necessary). The Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, and Subaru Forester instead offer a different automatic type called a CVT (continuously variable transmission), which more automakers are employing to help maximize a vehicle’s power and fuel economy. Though many CVTs—particularly those from Nissan—can feel and sound harsh as they push the engine’s revs up to the maximum allowed limit, the latest ones (particularly Honda’s) do a better job of replicating a “normal” automatic transmission.
In general, as a cost-saving measure, we also stuck with front-wheel drive over all-wheel drive, which most people (aside perhaps for those living deep within the Snowbelt) do not need; the exception in this regard was the Subaru Forester, which was the only model we looked at that came standard with AWD. Check out the Choosing between front-wheel and all-wheel drive section for a larger discussion about this important decision.
And then there are the more fanciful, though hardly necessary, accessories that automakers offer to help their compact crossover SUVs stand out in a crowded marketplace. Among these is the Ford Escape’s optional self-parking function, which automatically steers the car into a parallel parking space while the driver simply shifts gears and modulates the brake pedal. Unfortunately, it works only with open parking spaces, which are already large enough for most motorists to manage without fuss. Both the Escape and the Hyundai Tuscon offer a nifty hands-free liftgate that you can operate by either waving a foot under the rear bumper (Escape) or simply standing for a few seconds at the rear of the vehicle (Tuscon) with the keyfob in your pocket or bag.
As for unique safety gear, the Honda CR-V offers a Lane Watch system that, when the right-turn signal is activated, displays a passenger-side view of the car to help the driver spot bicyclists, pedestrians, and other vehicles adjacent to it; the system works as advertised but unfortunately requires the driver to look away from the road, which can be a dangerous distraction.
The 2016 Mazda CX-5 Touring, for about $26,000,8 is the best compact crossover SUV for most people because it does just about everything right and exceeds expectations. It looks and feels like a luxury model that should cost far more money, and it’s the most stylish and fun-to-drive compact crossover SUV you can find. At the same time, it appeals to an owner’s more practical side with its generous assortment of features for the money, its frugal fuel economy, its low long-term operating costs, and its top-notch marks for projected reliability and safety. Not coincidentally, these are are the same reasons that make the Mazda3 our top pick among compact cars, and they’re fast becoming Mazda hallmarks.
Speaking of the Mazda3, the CX-5 shares its underlying chassis and most components with that car, though the CX-5 is about 3 inches longer, 2 inches wider, and more than 8 inches taller, with more passenger room and cargo volume. That makes the CX-5 a great choice for young singles, empty-nesters, and small families looking for an affordable vehicle that’s more practical than a small sedan yet still entertaining to drive and easy to park. Available in Sport, Touring, and Grand Touring trim levels, the CX-5 received a modest refreshing for 2016 that includes nominal exterior styling tweaks, a redesigned dashboard that in most versions comes with a big touchscreen entertainment system and rotary-dial controller, added interior storage space, a selectable Sport mode for the automatic transmission, and a revised suspension to help maintain a smoother ride over pockmarked pavement. Mazda quickly followed that with a second minor update that made a backup camera standard on all models equipped with the automatic transmission, and added a navigation system and heated seats as standard equipment on the Touring version – both with no increase in price – which makes our pick an even better value.
I had a blast taking a manufacturer-supplied CX-5 through its paces during a week’s test drive in and around Chicago. I felt like I was driving a far more expensive luxury compact crossover SUV; in fact, I’d easily choose the CX-5 over some bona fide luxury-branded compact crossovers for its standout combination of visual and visceral appeal. It accelerates eagerly and handles quickly through winding rural roads, and it’s every bit as enjoyable to drive around town, darting in and out of traffic tenaciously. Neither my height-deprived spouse nor our 6-foot-tall teenager complained about their alternating front/rear seat accommodations. With the rear seatbacks upright, the cargo area was sufficiently spacious to accommodate any of our frequent family shopping trips—and with the seats folded down, the CX-5 could handle a full-blown warehouse-store outing.
The CX-5’s exterior design has an appealing “just right” look about it, with Mazda’s bold signature grille up front and enough sweeping curves running front to rear to give it a distinctive look that will wear well over time. The design is a refreshing counterpoint to the nondescript bodywork that’s common among compact crossover SUVs, and it succeeds in being different without being flamboyant, as is the case with the Ford Escape and its multiple creases and slashes. But what really sets the CX-5 apart from a crowded field of competitors is its top-quality passenger cabin: With the dashboard and door panels covered in rich materials, the interior looks and feels to us as if it could have been lifted from a far costlier German luxury-branded model. First-class interiors are becoming the norm for Mazda, with models like the Mazda3 and the recently introduced Mazda CX-3 subcompact crossover SUV featuring equally endearing cabins.
Included on all versions except the base model is a large 7.7-inch touchscreen display for the new Mazda Connect information and entertainment system that sits atop the center stack of controls (a conventional but not as elegant audio system comes standard with the base model). Aside from using the touchscreen, you operate the system via a small dial-like rotary controller situated just below the shift lever, as well as a smaller rotary dial for the volume plus a few shortcut buttons. Though mastering Mazda Connect involves a certain learning curve (see Flaws but not dealbreakers below), the system works efficiently and elegantly, and it features artful screen graphics and smooth animations. It works a lot like similar systems in Audi and BMW models and easily outclasses the systems in any compact-crossover competitors.
RideApart’s Justin Fivella likewise found the new “infotainment” array to be a big step up for the CX-5: “The new interface is a well oiled machine that betters the driving experience by a large margin. Seriously, if this were the only upgrade for 2016, it would still be worth the wait. The new interface is that much better.”
The CX-5 is about average for its class in terms of passenger and cargo volume, though it makes the most of both. It has plenty of legroom up front for even tall riders to stretch out in comfort, but as is the case with most compact crossover SUVs, the rear legroom becomes snug if the front seats are adjusted all the way rearward. If you’re keeping score, the backseat legroom is officially 39.4 inches; the roomiest rear seat among models we considered is in the Jeep Cherokee, with 40.3 inches of legroom (not much more), while the tightest, a mere 33.8 inches, is in the MINI Countryman. Officially the CX-5 has a five-passenger capacity, though you’d be hard-pressed to squeeze three adults in the rear seat under any circumstances, the same of which is true for all compact crossover SUVs.
Like all of the vehicles we considered, the CX-5’s split rear seatbacks can fold down for added cargo-carrying flexibility, though its 40/20/40 split rear seatback configuration is rare not only for this group but also for all vehicle types (most have a less-versatile 60/40 split). For instance, you could transport two rear-seat riders (or have two child seats installed) and still carry long and narrow objects, such as skis, at the same time. Also, as you fold the seatbacks forward, the seat bottoms on the Touring and Grand Touring versions automatically retract to create a level load floor, whereas most models’ rear seats fold in a far less elegant and flat manner. The CX-5’s cargo capacity with the rear seats up is 31.4 cubic feet, or about 12 paper grocery bags in real-world terms. Its maximum cargo volume with the rear seatbacks folded forward is about average for the group at 64.8 cubic feet, or about 26 grocery bags’ worth of space. That’s perhaps a grocery bag short of the top model in this regard, the Subaru Forester at 74.7 cubic feet. The MINI Countryman lags behind all comers with a maximum of just 41.3 cubic feet of stowage.
The CX-5 outclasses all compact crossover SUVs with its energetic driving manners, which are not merely car-like but sporty-car-like, especially in comparison with the uninspiring motoring experiences that most of its competitors afford. It handles quickly and confidently with good road feel. It also maintains a decent ride over most road surfaces, though it can get somewhat harsh and bumpy over, say, extended stretches of broken pavement or railroad tracks. Other models in this class, like our alternate picks, the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester, tend to be a somewhat smoother ride but are less engaging and fun to drive around town. Of the CX-5’s competitors, the Volkswagen Tiguan and MINI Countryman come about the closest to the Mazda on the fun-to-drive factor, though the former typically feels heavy around town and the latter subjects its occupants to an unacceptably rough ride.
Edmunds.com’s review of the 2016 CX-5, in particular, singles out the vehicle’s handling prowess as a winning attribute: “Even if you’re just looking for a small crossover to drive to work every day, you’ll notice that its steering, brakes and suspension are uncommonly capable for a vehicle in this class. It’s an enjoyable vehicle to run errands in, and if you happen to turn onto a road with twists and turns, the CX-5 can be downright fun. On the highway, the Mazda rides just as comfortably as most other crossovers, making it a fine road trip companion.”
While the base model comes with a 2.0-liter, 155-hp four-cylinder engine that most reviewers find to be lacking, the rest of the CX-5 line—including the Touring version we chose—comes with a larger, 2.5-liter four-cylinder that generates a stronger 184 horsepower for quicker acceleration. Moreover, the 2.5 doesn’t take a big toll in fuel economy: Both engines provide 29 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The less powerful 2.0 is slightly more efficient on the highway (35 mpg versus the 2.5’s 33 mpg), while both get 26 mpg in city conditions. And unlike the upgrade four-cylinder engines that the Ford Escape and Subaru Forester offer, the CX-5’s larger engine does its job without the extra cost and complexity of turbocharging.
The CX-5 is one of only a few compact crossover SUVs to offer a six-speed manual transmission, though it limits that to just the front-wheel-drive base model. The 2.5-liter engine in the Touring model we looked at comes standard with a six-speed automatic transmission. Note that the CX-5 has a conventional automatic transmission at a time when most compact crossover SUVs offer a CVT, or continuously variable transmission. Many automakers are switching to CVT automatics, especially for use with smaller engines such as these, to help maximize a car’s power and fuel economy. The trade-off is that many CVTs tend to sound and feel harsher than conventional automatics. The CX-5 somehow manages to offer the best of both worlds by achieving excellent fuel economy—among the best in this group—while using a traditional automatic transmission that shifts smoothly and keeps the volume down. For 2016, Mazda added a selectable sport mode that holds on to gears longer before shifting to put every bit of the engine’s power to the pavement, but it sacrifices a lot of the transmission’s smoothness and feels harsher in the process; we bet most owners will engage it a few times and then forget it’s there.
Consumer Reports says: “The larger engine makes the car feel much more eager and willing to accelerate in everyday driving… The six-speed automatic shifts smoothly and responsively with either engine but with the 2.5, it doesn’t have to shift as often to maintain speed, making the whole powertrain feel more relaxed and less busy.”
While the Mazda CX-5 is definitely desirable on the emotional scale, it’s also a solidly rational choice in terms of its available features for the money, its cash-saving fuel economy, its long-term ownership costs, and the added peace of mind that its top-ranked safety and reliability ratings afford.
The CX-5 comes well equipped, even in its base Sport version. The midlevel Touring model we chose includes most of our desired features at a very competitive sticker price of just $26,0009 (the third-lowest price among the 15 compact crossovers we considered). Though we were unable to get dual-zone automatic climate control on the Touring (Mazda offers that only on the top Grand Touring trim), we did get a few unexpected amenities such as a convenient passive-entry system, a navigation system (the only mid-level model we looked at to include this upscale feature), heated front seats, and push-button start, which allows you to keep the keys in your pocket. This version also includes a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert for added safety that warns of cars to the side and rear that you might not be able to see, as well as vehicles crossing your path while you’re backing out of a garage or parking space. The Hyundai Tucson Sport is the only other vehicle in this group to offer such safety features at this price, but it costs about $1,000 more than the CX-5.
If you have deeper pockets, you can equip the CX-5 like a luxury crossover with its top leather-clad Grand Touring trim and further fit it with an array of top-shelf options like adaptive headlamps, radar-guided cruise control, a lane-departure warning system, and both a highway-speed auto-braking function and one that works at low speeds to help you avoid collisions with other cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists in city traffic (the latter function is also available on the Touring).
As we mentioned earlier, the CX-5 delivers an EPA-estimated rating of 29 miles per gallon combined, 26 mpg in the city, and 33 mpg on the highway. With those numbers, it comes in as a super-close second to the Honda CR-V. The CR-V gets an equally good 29-mpg combined rating but edges out the CX-5 by 1 mpg in the city and on the highway. The least-efficient compact crossover SUVs are the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport and Volkswagen Tiguan, with combined ratings of just 23 mpg each. Judging from the EPA estimates, buying the Mazda instead of the Hyundai or the VW would save you $1,250 over a five-year ownership period in fuel costs alone.
Even better, Kelley Blue Book estimates the overall cost to own a CX-5 over the first five years to be among the most affordable of this group, at a projected 48 cents per mile (the CR-V again leads the pack at 44 cents per mile). Meanwhile, the Volkswagen Tiguan registers the highest long-term costs at 55 cents per mile. These estimates include factors like how much a vehicle depreciates in value and the costs of fuel, insurance, repairs, maintenance, financing, and fees. Overall, Kelley Blue Book says that choosing the Mazda instead of the VW would save a motorist around $4,500 after five years.
As for safety, the CX-5 gets top Good marks in all of the crash tests conducted by the insurance-industry-supported Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, including the challenging small overlap frontal crash test. Designed to replicate the effects of hitting a tree or pole with the front corner of your car, this newer test has posed a particular challenge to several compact crossovers, including the Ford Escape and Kia Sportage, which received Poor scores, as well as the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, Jeep Cherokee, and Volkswagen Tiguan, which received Marginal ratings. What’s more, the IIHS gave the CX-5 Touring and Grand Touring versions its highest designation of Top Safety Pick+ for excellent crashworthiness and for offering optional auto-braking collision-avoidance features. The CX-5 also scored four out of a perfect five stars for occupant protection in frontal crash tests and five stars for side-impact protection from the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Lastly, both Consumer Reports and the car-complaint registry TrueDelta give the Mazda CX-5 top ratings for predicted reliability. The CX-5 and the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport are the only models among those we considered to garner an Excellent projected reliability rating from CR based on annual owner surveys of more than 1.1 million vehicles, with the Ford Escape, Jeep Cherokee, and MINI Countryman earning the lowest ranking of Poor in this regard. The CX-5 also resides among the top-rated compact crossovers in terms of the fewest recorded repair trips reported among the 101,000 registered users at TrueDelta.
Though excellent in most regards, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 does have a few peculiarities. Specifically, the vehicle’s otherwise slick Mazda Connect information and entertainment system could be more intuitive to operate, some road and wind noise becomes noticeable at highway speeds, and Mazda offers a few key features—including automatic climate control and some of the latest high-tech accident-avoidance systems—only on the top Grand Touring version.
While we were generally impressed with the look and feel of the CX-5’s new-for-2016 Mazda Connect system, which is included on all versions except the base model, its graceful graphic interface takes a while to master. Looking and feeling like similar systems in upscale Audi and BMW vehicles, it gives you a center-console-mounted rotary dial and a series of three shortcut buttons for entering commands. Among multimedia systems, it’s far from being the most onerous to control, as the secret, we discovered, lies in the series of icons situated across the bottom of the screen that serve as gateways to specific tasks. Had the menu icons been labeled, as they are in the Jeep Cherokee’s popular UConnect system, learning Mazda Connect might have been easier. Like many such “infotainment” systems in competing models, however, Mazda’s makes some ordinarily simple operations, such as changing a radio station, a bit more difficult—not to mention distracting—than they are with old-fashioned analog buttons and dials.
One area in which the CX-5 could use some added refinement is its tendency to transmit road and wind noise into the passenger cabin at highway speeds, though the sound is not so droning as to stifle conversation or become exhausting over time. Mazda told us that the 2016 model has reduced cabin noise by 10 percent during highway travel, but we think the company’s engineers should have gone even further. That said, we suspect most owners will just turn the audio-system volume up a notch to override the intrusion.
Another aspect that might turn off some prospective buyers is that the CX-5 rides slightly harder over uneven road surfaces than the average compact crossover SUV does. This roughness is largely a by-product of the stiffer suspension components that Mazda uses to provide the vehicle’s excellent handling abilities. Conversely, a more softly tuned suspension would better soak up bumps and jolts but wouldn’t be nearly as fun and engaging to drive. Again, Mazda says it has tweaked the suspension of the 2016 model to be smoother than prior versions, but this version is still among the firmest you can find.
And although the CX-5 delivers many features for the money, we think that a few of them shouldn’t be restricted to more expensive trim levels in the model range. Granted, the midlevel Touring trim level comes with a blind-spot monitor and rear cross-traffic alert systems, and it offers an optional low-speed auto-braking system to help prevent hitting cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists in urban traffic. But Mazda provides other important accident-avoidance systems only as part of an equipment package on the top-of-the-line Grand Touring version. The $1,500 Grand Touring i-ACTIVESENSE option package includes active cruise control, automatic high-beam headlamps, a lane-departure warning system, and a high-speed forward-collision warning system that automatically engages the brakes to avoid a crash or help lessen the effects of a crash. By comparison, one of our alternate picks, the Subaru Forester, makes its EyeSight suite of accident-avoidance systems (lane departure, adaptive cruise control, and pre-collision warning/auto-braking) optional on all versions except the base model as part of a reasonably priced $1,295 option package that also gives you heated seats, side mirrors, and windshield washers.
We can understand, if not appreciate, the rationale behind Mazda’s limiting some costly new features to higher trim levels, but the CX-5 betrays the high standard set by its otherwise luxury-car quality interior by limiting dual-zone automatic climate control to the most expensive Grand Touring version (where it’s standard). Auto A/C may have been a luxury car item 20 years ago, but it’s relatively common today, and most models in this segment either include or at least offer automatic climate systems as an option in their midlevel trims.
In February, Mazda temporarily stopped selling the CX-5 after discovering that examples built between 2014–2016 have a flaw in their fuel filler pipe. We think Mazda is right to be proactive and won’t be changing our top pick, but the CX-5 might be scarce for a while until Mazda fixes all the new ones it hasn’t sold yet. When it is available again, new owners won’t have to worry about this recall. The plan for recalling and repairing the already-sold examples has not been announced, but if you’ve recently purchased the CX-5, you can contact Mazda customer service at 1-800-222-5500 for more instructions and possibly a free loaner vehicle while yours is being fixed if it turns out to be affected.
We consulted reviews from assorted trusted sources, both consumer oriented and enthusiast oriented, to see how other experts regard the models in this congested field of worthy compact crossover SUVs. Not surprisingly, reviews of our pick, the Mazda CX-5, were universally positive, with this vehicle topping most of the head-to-head comparison tests we checked.
We started with the bible of buying guides, Consumer Reports, which placed the CX-5 near the top of the segment. CR’s editors sum up the CX-5 thusly: “For enthusiast drivers looking for the versatility of a small SUV in a sporty-handling package, the CX-5 may be just what they’re seeking. Very good fuel economy, agile handling, a roomy interior and a generous array of features put the Mazda CX-5 in the top tier of small SUVs.”
U.S. News & World Report, which consolidates vehicle reviews and opinions from multiple sources on its Best Cars website, gave the CX-5 a score of 8.4 out of a possible 10, placing the Mazda among the top-scoring compact crossovers. The only models to beat the CX-5 were the Honda CR-V with a score of 8.9 and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport with a mark of 8.6. In a nutshell: “Automotive journalists praise the CX-5 for its sporty handling, sharp steering and strong brakes, which they agree make the CX-5 more enjoyable to drive than most rivals.”
Writing on Autoblog, reviewer Seyth Miersma says the 2016 Mazda CX-5’s engaging handling abilities help the vehicle stand out in a group that’s otherwise packed with worthy choices: “With practical matters like cost to own, size and fuel economy all neck and neck, the choice of your new crossover really could come down to ‘intangibles’ like handling. In that way I think the added driving joy of the CX-5 becomes a difference maker, even if the driver in question isn’t of the enthusiast bent. The added tech and quieter cabin won’t hurt, either, of course.”
Meanwhile, the editors at Edmunds.com say that shoppers shouldn’t overlook the CX-5’s more practical side: “With its spacious, functional interior, impressive fuel economy and top safety scores, the 2016 Mazda CX-5 is a top pick among small crossovers. The CX-5’s fun-to-drive demeanor is just a welcome bonus.”
As we did, Motor Trend selected the CX-5 as its top pick in a direct comparison of compact crossovers that included the Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4: “Picking the Mazda CX-5 as the winner was easy for every editor. It simply stood above the competition with its graceful exterior, superb performance, and well-planned interior … When life’s crossroads bring you to a small crossover, the CX-5 reminds you that the move isn’t punishment. It’s just the next step. You can still have fun and carve a mountain road every now and then.”
In addition to a slew of positive reviews, this year the Mazda CX-5 received an Automotive Performance Execution and Layout (APEAL) award from the market research firm J.D. Power, garnered a Car and Driver Editors’ Choice Award, and earned a Best Buy nod from Consumers Digest magazine (full disclosure: I am on the jury that selects that publication’s annual autos picks). The CX-5 also ranks among Kelley Blue Book’s “10 Best All-Wheel-Drive Vehicles Under $25,000” and the website’s “10 Most Fun SUVs” for 2015.
The 2016 Honda CR-V EX, priced around $26,500,10 is a highly regarded compact crossover SUV, but where it beats our top pick, it does so only by a little, and where it falls short, it does so by a lot. Roomy inside and economical to own, the CR-V is an admirable performer, but it isn’t as pleasurable to drive as the Mazda CX-5, and it lacks that model’s upscale look and feel.
Compact crossover SUV shoppers who might not care for the Mazda CX-5’s expressive styling or its sporty driving dynamics, or who just prefer a Honda for its perceived reliability and brand status, should consider the solid and capable Honda CR-V. We chose the midlevel front-wheel-drive EX version to get most of our required features—Honda typically doesn’t offer stand-alone options or packages. Though the EX doesn’t come with satellite radio, we did get bonus items such as push-button start, a passive-entry system, fog lights, auto headlights, a sunroof, heated seats, and Honda’s Lane Watch blind-spot display system, which shows on the car’s large touchscreen display a view of what’s next to the passenger side when the right turn signal is activated.
Those with added cash could trade up to the EX-L version to obtain a few frills like leather seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated side mirrors, and, yes, satellite radio, but that collection of features isn’t worth the extra $2,450. High-tech safety systems like lane-departure warning and forward-collision mitigation with auto-braking are also available, but only on the top Touring model, where they’re standard for just under $33,000.11
Garnering positive ratings from both consumer and enthusiast reviewers alike, the Honda CR-V delivers good all-around performance. Its 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine generates a peppy 185 horsepower, so it’s about on a par with our pick, the 184-hp Mazda CX-5. The CR-V’s engine comes mated with a CVT, one of the better automatic transmissions in the business, with minimal harshness. Still, it isn’t as smooth or responsive as the traditional automatic in the CX-5. Handling is also far less enjoyable than it is with the CX-5 while not providing any smoother of a ride.
The CR-V’s interior is about as roomy as the CX-5’s, with both models boasting an equal amount of space as measured by the tape, though the Mazda offers slightly more rear-seat legroom. The CR-V features a tall cargo hold that can swallow 35.3 cubic feet of gear with the rear seatbacks upright and 70.9 cubic feet with them folded flat, a bit more than the CX-5 in both cases. The Mazda is somewhat more flexible in this regard, however, by virtue of its three-way 40/20/40-split rear seatbacks (versus the simple 60/40 split in the CR-V), which can accommodate both long objects (such as skis) and two backseat passengers at the same time.
To its credit, the Honda CR-V is one of the least expensive compact crossover SUVs to own. It also offers the best fuel economy among compact crossovers, with an EPA-estimated rating of 29 mpg combined, 27 mpg in the city, and 34 mpg on the highway. With those numbers, it barely edges out the CX-5 and the redesigned 2016 Hyundai Tuscon at 29/26/33 mpg. Kelley Blue Book predicts the Honda will have the cheapest long-term ownership costs in the group at an estimated $33,355 over the first five years (versus the CX-5 at $36,790); although KBB quotes this figure for a 2014 model, we suspect that ownership costs for a 2015 CR-V will be similar.
While otherwise a good choice, the CR-V is less attractively styled on the outside than the CX-5, and it has a rather bland interior that pales in comparison with the luxury-grade cabin in our pick. We found Honda’s information and entertainment system to be particularly lacking, with a smallish screen, crude graphics, and clumsy animations, as well as small and poorly located buttons that are difficult to reach. The CR-V also drives more like an efficient appliance—with about as much emotional appeal—than the far more fun CX-5.
The Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium with EyeSight, which goes for nearly $28,000,12 stands out in a crowded field. It’s the only one to offer its full suite of advanced safety features, a package called EyeSight, for a reasonable price on its midlevel trim. The Forester also has a roomy interior with great outward visibility, as well as good fuel economy and the lowest long-term ownership costs among compact SUVs. Plus, it has a top rating from Consumer Reports. We didn’t name it our top pick, though, because it isn’t nearly as stylish as the Mazda CX-5, inside or out, or as fun to drive. It’s also about $2,000 more expensive than the CX-513 when equipped with EyeSight. The Forester is the only vehicle in this group to provide all-wheel drive as a standard feature, although some people may not need that.
We chose the midlevel Forester 2.5i Premium version with a CVT automatic transmission to get all of our required features, and we added Subaru’s affordable EyeSight suite of advanced safety features, which also includes a Cold Weather Package for just $1,295. The 2.5 in the version’s name refers to the Forester’s standard 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, which delivers a sufficient but hardly stirring 170 horsepower. By comparison, the lighter, 184-hp CX-5 feels quicker. Forester 2.0XT versions boast a significantly more powerful turbocharged engine, but at a price premium of around $3,000. As is Subaru’s tradition, both engines are “horizontally opposed” (or “boxer”) engines that position the cylinders directly across from each other, rather than in-line or in a V-shaped arrangement. This design is said to lower a vehicle’s center of gravity to help improve its handling (which is why this type of engine is also present in Porsche sports cars), though the Forester is far from sporty. Its gearless CVT transmission works well enough, but we prefer the smoothness and responsiveness of the CX-5’s conventional six-speed automatic, and while the Forester delivers a slightly smoother ride, carving through curves isn’t nearly as fun with the Subaru as it is with Mazda’s compact crossover SUV.
Like most Subarus (the exception being the FR-S sports coupe), the Forester provides all-wheel drive as a standard feature. AWD does tend to boost the vehicle’s price a bit versus the front-wheel drive models from other carmakers, but the Forester remains competitive. Subaru’s AWD has a wide reputation as being among the best in the business: It reacts in accordance with road and driving conditions to maintain optimum traction, and unlike most crossovers, it allows for at least modest off-road driving abilities. It’s best for those living in snowbound areas, which is why Subarus traditionally sell well in the Northeast and Northwest regions of the US. Still, we don’t consider AWD essential for drivers in less blustery parts of the country, and we prefer to do without it, if we can, as a cost-saving measure.
Another aspect that sets the Forester apart is Subaru’s aforementioned EyeSight suite of high-tech safety features, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision auto-braking, and lane-departure warning. Though these features are becoming more widely available in virtually all types of vehicles, many automakers restrict their availability to perhaps only the one or two costliest trim levels in the line, while Subaru offers EyeSight in all Forester versions except the base 2.5i model and the 2.0XT Premium. Further sweetening the deal, the EyeSight group costs just $1,295 on the 2.5i Premium and also includes the Cold Weather Package with heated seats, side mirrors, and windshield washers that should come in handy even to owners living outside of the Snowbelt. Not offered, however, is a blind-spot monitor, which we think is one of the most useful of the latest accident avoidance systems; it comes standard on our pick, the Mazda CX-5 Touring.
The fact that you can get EyeSight on the Forester’s midlevel trim for a reasonable price is terrific, but the 2.5i Premium doesn’t come with many core features like dual-zone automatic climate control, satellite radio, auto headlights, a passive-entry system, and push-button start. And at nearly $28,00014as we configured it, the Forester 2.5i Premium with EyeSight is the costliest compact crossover SUV we considered (just beating the Jeep Cherokee, out the door, by five bucks).15 The Forester should be more like its brand sibling, the Legacy, which we chose as our top pick among midsize sedans because, even with EyeSight included, it costs less than nearly all of its competition.
Measured by the tape, the Forester has the most amount of passenger room among all the compact crossovers we considered, though its rear legroom is only middle-of-the-pack (the CX-5 has slightly more, while the Jeep Cherokee has the most). A respectable amount of cargo space behind the rear seats swells to a group-leading 113 cubic feet when you fold the 60/40-split rear seatbacks forward. What’s more, the Forester’s tall roofline and large windows provide excellent outward visibility for a commanding view of the road, though the EyeSight hardware, mounted behind the rearview mirror, is a little intrusive.
The 2016 model’s new Starlink information and entertainment system—with a 7-inch high-resolution touchscreen and full smartphone connectivity with Internet streaming and hands-free text messaging—is a nice addition. Still, Subaru has a long way to go to match the lofty design and quality standards of the CX-5’s upscale cabin in general and its elegant multimedia control system in particular.
The Subaru Forester is relatively affordable to own. At a combined 28 mpg (26 mpg around town and 33 mpg on the highway), it’s among the most fuel-efficient models in the group, beaten only in that regard by the CR-V, Tuscon, and CX-5 at 29 mpg combined. Its five-year ownership costs, as estimated by Kelley Blue Book, are also among the lowest in this group at 48 cents per mile, which puts the Forester in a virtual tie with the CX-5. The Forester has a top rating among compact crossovers in Consumer Reports rankings, and it also earned top safety scores from the IIHS, but like the CX-5 it missed earning perfect scores in NHTSA crash tests due to a score of four out of five in frontal-crash protection.
Ultimately, we didn’t choose the Forester as our top pick because it lacks the emotional appeal that the CX-5 affords. Its upright exterior appearance may be functional in terms of adding headroom and improving visibility, but it’s far less attractive than the CX-5; its interior is likewise a bit plain-looking, especially when compared with the Mazda. Although the Forester performs well enough, it’s far less fun to drive—even just around town—than the CX-5. And when equipped with EyeSight, it’s nearly $2,000 more expensive than the CX-5, and you can’t get a Forester without all-wheel drive, which you may not want.
Just redesigned, the 2016 Hyundai Tucson is much improved with a handsome new look inside and out, added features, and better overall refinement, but it still lacks the upscale interior and the entertaining driving manners that our pick, the Mazda CX-5, gives you.
With its 2016 makeover, the Hyundai Tuscon takes a major step forward in its styling, performance, and refinement. Longer, wider, and lower than before, it’s cleanly designed with an oversize front grille and just enough curves to be visually interesting. It comes very close to our top pick, the CX-5, in that regard. We bypassed the base model and its underwhelming 164-hp engine and instead chose the Sport model for around $27,00016 (about a grand higher than the Mazda), which comes with a 175-hp four-cylinder engine. That sounds about average among compact crossover SUVs, but its generous 195 pound-feet of torque make it feel livelier than most. Further aiding it in that respect is a seven-speed dual-clutch automated manual transmission; this is a configuration that European automakers favor for its quick-shifting nature, and it’s the only such transmission currently offered on a compact crossover SUV. EPA-rated at a combined 29 mpg (26 mpg around town and 33 mpg on the open road), the Tucson is on a par with the CX-5 in fuel efficiency. But even though the new Tucson rides more smoothly than before and takes corners easily, the playful handling qualities of the CX-5 still outclass it.
The Tucson’s redesigned interior is efficiently styled, with most buttons and dials logically situated within a tastefully trimmed dashboard, but it lacks the visual panache of the CX-5’s interior, especially in its entertainment and information system. The Sport version comes with a blind-spot warning and cross-traffic alert system, as does the CX-5 Touring, but adds lane-change assist for extra security. Unique features include a passive, remote tailgate that opens when you simply stand close to the rear end for a few seconds with the key fob in your pocket or bag, as well as ventilated front seats, which is a feature usually found in costly luxury cars. Like all Hyundais, the Tucson comes with a generous warranty (5/50 comprehensive and 10/100 on the powertrain). As it’s a fully redesigned model, however, the new Tucson’s crash-test results and ownership cost estimates aren’t available yet. While the total package is impressive, especially in comparison with the previous generation, the Tucson is still a notch away from ranking among the top compact crossover SUVs.
The roomy Nissan Rogue offers the most features for the money and delivers acceptable levels of performance, but it suffers from lower-quality materials in the interior, intrusive road and engine noise, and an overall lack of refinement. It’s a great bang-for-your-buck option, but it’s far less stylish inside and out, and downright boring to drive, compared with our pick, the Mazda CX-5.
On paper, the Nissan Rogue looks like the model to beat among compact crossover SUVs, with good specs and a long list of standard features at a decent price. In this case, however, the whole is not equal to the sum of its parts. We chose the midlevel SV to get the most features for the money; at a little over $25,000,17 it’s several hundred dollars cheaper than the CX-5 as we equipped both models. Powering the Rogue is a 170-hp four-cylinder engine that delivers adequate though not exhilarating acceleration, while a CVT automatic transmission helps maximize power and fuel efficiency (at an above-average 27 mpg in combined city/highway driving). The CVT, however, is loud and harsh-feeling, especially under moderate-to-full acceleration, when it pushes the engine up to the maximum rpm.
With a roomy interior and generous cargo space, the Rogue is the only model among those we looked at to offer a third-row seat (at an added $940), though it’s suited for only the smallest of children and its inclusion requires giving up the spare tire and getting run-flat tires, which can make the ride stiffer. The interior is otherwise cheaply trimmed, though Nissan sells a $1,620 SV Premium Package that adds a 360-degree-view Around View backup display, a navigation system with mobile apps, heated seats, a power liftgate, and blind-spot warning (standard on the CX-5 Touring we chose), lane-departure warning, and forward-collision warning systems. While the Rogue gets top scores for crashworthiness from the IIHS, like the CX-5 it receives only four out of five stars in overall occupant protection from the NHTSA.
Solidly built and decently capable, the Toyota RAV4 was freshened for 2016 with updated interior and exterior styling, revised steering and suspension systems, and a few added features, though most of its mechanicals carry over. It comes well equipped, but still lacks a few some features as we configured it. And while its early reviews are positive, we’ve yet to give one an extended test of our own, so we’ll reserve final judgment for now.
The Toyota RAV4 was freshened for 2016 with assorted updates, including revised exterior styling, especially with regard to its front and rear ends, and an upgraded interior that features new cupholders, a sunglass holder, and premium materials added throughout the cabin. Several accident avoidance safety features are newly available (optional on the XLE and the newly added SE trim level, and standard with the top Limited model), including a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, lane departure warning, active cruise control, and a forward-collision mitigation system with auto-braking. The vehicle’s steering and suspension systems have been revised to help enhance its ride and handling qualities, and a 360-degree around-car monitor is newly available on the Limited. What’s more, a new fuel-frugal RAV4 Hybrid has been added to the line for 2016. The vehicle’s basic dimensions and its mechanicals carry over unchanged, however.
The RAV4’s 170-hp four-cylinder engine carries over and should remain sufficiently peppy; it comes mated with a six-speed automatic transmission that operates more smoothly than the CVT automatics included with several other compact crossover SUVs. It’s solid and practical, with a decently roomy interior and a spacious cargo area. We stuck with the mid-grade XLE trim level at around $27,000,18 which includes most of our required features, minus a power driver’s seat that’s now standard on a new higher SE trim level and top Limited models. You can’t get heated seats, however (again, they’re standard on the SE and Limited), though a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, forward collision warning, and active cruise control are newly bundled in a $2,370 Convenience Package with proximity keys, forward and reverse parking sensors, heated mirrors, and a navigation system with Toyota’s Entune infotainment system. That’s a decent deal, but adding it would bring the RAV4’s sticker price up near the $30,000 mark.
Of note, the IIHS now designates the 2016 version as a “Top Safety Pick+” by virtue of its optional forward collision auto-braking system, and the vehicle’s NHTSA overall crash test rating has been upgraded from four stars to a perfect five out of five stars.
Though the cosmetic revisions seem worthwhile, the newly available safety features are a plus, and early reviews of the 2016 update have been generally positive, we’ve yet to give a 2016 RAV4 an extended test drive of our own, so we’ll have to pass on a final judgment to see how it fares against our pick, the Mazda CX-5 and especially our second-choice alternative pick, the Honda CR-V, which is traditionally the RAV4’s prime contender.
The Cherokee, which is the only compact crossover that you can equip for rugged off-roading, updates the classic Jeep look with a futuristic though polarizing design. This vehicle offers a nice amount of room and performs well. In only its second year on sale, however, it has garnered a dubious reputation for quality. It also lacks the fun-to-drive qualities and upscale look and feel of our top pick, the Mazda CX-5.
The most rugged choice among compact crossovers, the Jeep Cherokee can tackle moderate to challenging off-roading thanks to either of two optional 4WD systems, though they add at least $2,000 to the cost. We stuck to the front-wheel-drive Latitude version (the second of four trim levels) and added a $1,745 Comfort/Convenience package to get dual-zone auto climate control; it also comes with a passive-entry system, push-button start, a power driver’s seat, a power liftgate, and remote start. These options raised the price to nearly $28,000,19 making the Cherokee the second-most expensive vehicle in this group, just $5 behind our alternate recommendation, the Subaru Forester 2.5i Premium with EyeSight, which comes with a lot more features to justify its higher price. The Cherokee offers a long list of convenience and safety features, too, though a fully loaded Trailhawk model costs a crazy $40,000.
Our test vehicle came with a 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that’s sufficiently powerful but could be smoother. A new 271-hp, 3.2-liter V6 is also available for an added $1,745, but we passed on that to keep the Cherokee’s cost competitive. All Cherokees come with a nine-speed automatic transmission, which offers three more gears than most automatics but shifts busily and tends to delay downshifts when you need to make a quick pass, which can be annoying. Multiple sources (including Consumer Reports) have noted reliability issues with the Cherokee after just a year on the market, especially with regard to the nine-speed transmission. The Cherokee also got less-than-perfect crash-test scores.
The Cherokee provides a roomy interior, though it’s short on cargo space. While the dashboard is nicely designed and includes the much-loved UConnect media control system as well as physical controls for the stereo and climate control system, it isn’t as rich-looking or rich-feeling inside as the CX-5. And the Cherokee delivers well-balanced ride and handling manners, soaking up pavement imperfections nicely while taking corners confidently, but it’s still far less enjoyable to drive than the CX-5.
The Ford Escape is an amenable compact crossover that (to paraphrase one reviewer we consulted) does many things well but excels at none of them. It offers the most varied and fanciful set of features to choose from in this group but falls short of our top pick in areas such as value, driving feel, and safety.
As with most Ford models, the Escape offers a dizzying array of trim levels, engines, and options. We settled on the SE version, which should appeal to most buyers with its peppy 178-hp, 1.6-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine (you can have it replaced with the base version’s 168-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder at a $300 discount, but other than the savings you get no particular advantage in doing so). The Escape also offers a third engine option, a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder with a brisk 240 horsepower for an extra $1,195. We passed, though, as the 1.6-liter turbo four offers perfectly adequate performance, costs less, and consumes less fuel. We did add a $1,395 Convenience Package to get dual-zone automatic climate control, the new SYNC 3 multimedia control system, reverse sensors, roof rails, a perimeter alarm, and even a 110-volt outlet, which is handy for powering portable electronic devices. At around $27,500,20 the Escape costs about $1,500 more than the CX-5 as we configured both models. And that’s without more-fanciful stuff like a power rear liftgate that operates when you merely wave a foot under the bumper and a self-parking feature that automatically steers the car into a parallel parking space.
The Escape delivers ride and handling qualities that are just above average among compact crossovers, though it isn’t nearly as playful as our top pick, the Mazda CX-5. Its styling is polarizing—some people find it attractive, but we think it’s too busy-looking, with way too many curves and creases for our taste. We prefer the cleaner lines of the CX-5. The Escape’s interior likewise falls short compared with the top-quality look and feel of the Mazda’s cabin, and though we’ve yet to give the new SYNC 3 multimedia operating system an extended test, it seems to be easier to master than the onerous MyFord Touch system it replaces; even so, however, the CX-5’s dial-operated system remains the one to beat among compact crossovers.
Unfortunately the Escape disappoints in its safety ratings, as it received a Poor score in the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test and four out of five stars from the NHTSA in its overall rating for occupant protection. And though Consumer Reports awarded the Escape good marks for performance, the testing house gave the vehicle a Poor rating for reliability.
The Chevrolet Equinox is the largest compact crossover we looked at, but its added length offers little advantage in the way of either passenger room or cargo space. And although Chevrolet has applied some nominal updates for 2016, the Equinox still lags far behind our pick, the Mazda CX-5, in styling, value, features, and overall refinement.
Aside from the mild, mostly cosmetic update for 2016, which includes a new-look front end and a few added features, the Chevrolet Equinox carries over mechanically and remains mired in mediocrity. We chose the LT trim level—the second-highest of four in the line—to obtain most of our desired features for about $27,500,21 which puts the Equinox up there with the most expensive compact crossover SUVs we looked at.
It comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that generates 182 horsepower. In that regard, the Equinox is about on a par with the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V, but its sheer bulk (it’s about 500 pounds heavier than the CX-5) tends to slow it down. It still gets decent fuel economy, though, at a combined 26 mpg (22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway). The only available transmission is a conventional six-speed automatic that, to its credit, helps make the Equinox feel smoother than many competitors with CVT automatics, particularly the Nissan Rogue. It also remains one of the only compact crossover SUVs to offer a V6 engine, which produces a surprisingly powerful 301 horses. While that engine does enliven the Equinox, it costs more and takes a toll at the gas pump with an EPA rating of 20 mpg combined, or 6 mpg fewer than the four-cylinder.
The Equinox’s interior is sufficiently handsome but no match for the upscale treatment in the CX-5. For 2016, Chevrolet updated it with revised dashboard controls and graphics, plus a new storage shelf. A 7-inch touchscreen display comes standard, and the LT version we picked includes the Chevrolet MyLink information and entertainment system; while its controls are reasonably easy to master, MyLink isn’t as elegant as the multimedia system in the CX-5. The second-row seat slides fore and aft to help give rear passengers a tad more legroom, but this feature encroaches on the already snug cargo room behind the seats. The Equinox also offers fewer features than many of its competitors do, missing some basics such as dual-zone climate control and a passive-entry system with push-button start. A blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert is optional on the LT in an affordable $495 package that also includes a rear-traffic proximity alert, but it also requires the $1,200 Convenience Package. Other high-tech safety features are available only on the top LTZ version.
The Equinox rides smoothly, though it’s far less fun to drive than the CX-5, and as it’s around 9 inches longer than our pick, it’s more difficult to parallel-park. At an estimated 54 cents per mile in five-year overall costs, this Chevrolet is also one of the costliest compact crossovers to own.
A more truck-looking alternative to the mechanically equivalent Chevrolet Equinox, the GMC Terrain shares that model’s measure of mediocrity, but it carries an even higher price and remains outgunned by our top pick.
The GMC Terrain is modestly updated for 2016 with a freshened front-end design, a revamped interior, and a few added features that mirror the changes to the Equinox. Unfortunately, the tweaks are not sufficient to raise this bulky compact crossover anywhere near the lofty standards that our top pick, the Mazda CX-5, sets.
We considered the second-lowest of the Terrain’s four trim levels, the SLE-1, to obtain most of our essential features and keep the price competitive. At nearly $28,000,22 though, it ended up over $1,800 costlier than the CX-5, with few advantages. The standard engine continues to be a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 182 horsepower, just as in the Equinox, and it’s matched with a conventional six-speed automatic transmission that adds smoothness compared with any of the models we looked at that come with a CVT automatic. It still feels sluggish, however, given the truck’s portly curb weight; at 3,853 pounds, the Terrain is the heaviest vehicle we looked at. Surprisingly, the Terrain manages to remain close to the leaders of the pack in fuel economy at an EPA-estimated combined 26 mpg (22 mpg in the city and 32 mpg on the highway). As with the Chevy, a powerful 301-hp, 3.6-liter V6 is optionally available in the Terrain’s higher trim levels, but that engine gets dismal fuel economy at an estimated 20 mpg in combined city/highway driving. The Terrain rides smoothly but feels heavy, and in the way it drives, it’s far less entertaining than the CX-5.
The Terrain’s dashboard is decently attractive and functional, though its information and entertainment system isn’t as engaging or upscale-looking as Mazda’s excellent array in the CX-5. People with slightly longer legs will appreciate its second-row seat, which can adjust fore and aft. But just as in the Equinox, adjusting the seat all the way back cuts into the vehicle’s cargo space, which is already lacking next to the leaders in this group. Another similarity with the Equinox: The Terrain lacks a few essentials like dual-zone automatic climate control and a passive-entry system with push-button start. One unique feature it shares with its Chevy sibling is a power liftgate that can open to one of two heights to accommodate different garage-door heights.
The 2016 Terrain offers a full array of the latest high-tech safety systems in two separate option packages, but GMC doesn’t sell them on the SLE-1 model we chose. In contrast, a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-path traffic alert comes standard with our top pick, the CX-5 Touring. At an estimated 54 cents per mile in five-year overall costs, the Terrain is also one of the costliest compact crossover SUVs to own. And although it gets good grades across the board in IIHS crash tests, the NHTSA gives it just four out of five stars in its overall rating for occupant protection.
Nearly big enough to be considered a midsize crossover SUV, the spacious Hyundai Santa Fe Sport performs sufficiently well but lacks the visual panache, rich interior, and engaging driving dynamics of our top pick, the Mazda CX-5.
Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport is the shorter, five-passenger version of the slightly larger Santa Fe, which comes with three rows of seats. We chose the base version with its 190-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which is the second most powerful crossover engine we compared; unlike many other models, which have a CVT transmission, the Santa Fe Sport includes a smooth-shifting conventional six-speed automatic. A more energetic 2.0-liter turbo four with 268 horsepower is also available, but choosing that version adds $6,300 to the price tag, so we passed. We did add the $1,350 Popular Equipment Package, which comes with fog lights, auto headlights, heated side mirrors, a power driver’s seat, heated front seats, a 4.3-inch color touchscreen, and a rearview camera; with that addition, we reached an out-the-door price of just over $27,000,23 which puts the Santa Fe Sport among the most expensive compact crossovers we looked at. The Santa Fe Sport does offer a number of features that are rare among compact crossovers, including ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, and a hands-free auto-open power rear liftgate, but these and other options—including dual-zone climate control—are available only in costly packages.
One of the largest crossovers we considered for this guide, the Santa Fe Sport provides a generous amount of interior room; it ranks second only to the Subaru Forester, and just edges out the CX-5, for passenger space. Cargo space is likewise ample, though not class-leading. While the interior is tastefully and functionally designed, it isn’t as elegantly finished as the interior of our top pick, the CX-5. Performance-wise, the Santa Fe Sport feels about average among compact crossovers, with well-balanced ride and handling qualities that Hyundai has improved slightly for 2016 with revisions to the steering and suspension systems. Still, even with the vehicle’s sport mode engaged, the Santa Fe Sport is neither as energetic nor as stable through the turns as the CX-5 is. What’s more, this vehicle’s fuel economy is the lowest among the crossovers we compared at a combined 23 mpg (20 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway), and it gets only a Marginal rating in the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test. On the plus side, like all Hyundai models, the Santa Fe Sport comes with a generous comprehensive warranty of five years/50,000 miles, with 10 years/100,000 miles coverage for the engine and transmission components.
Kia’s compact crossover largely carries over for 2016 and delivers good value for the money, though it offers fewer features and lacks the level of sophistication and style of many of its competitors, especially our top pick, the Mazda CX-5. One of the older models in this group, the Sportage is on track to be replaced by an all-new version next year.
The Kia Sportage is Kia’s longest-running model in the US. Nearing the end of its product life, the Sportage remains handsome, though its narrow side windows tend to limit your view outward. The straightforward interior design lacks the visual panache of the CX-5. Although the cabin is about average in passenger room, the cargo space is below average among compact crossovers. Because of this model’s age, it also lacks the latest accident-avoidance features.
We chose the midgrade EX version for a little over $26,00024 to get our desired features, and we received several bonus items, including leather seats and a passive-entry system with push-button start, which are newly standard in this trim for 2016. The Sportage comes decently powered by a 182-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. An optional turbocharged 2.0-liter four makes a truly brisk 260 horses, but it comes only with the top SX model, which starts around $29,000. Though the Sportage rides smoothly enough, it doesn’t feel as well put together as the best models it competes with, nor is it particularly fun to drive, lacking the engaging quality of the CX-5. At 24 mpg in combined driving (21 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway), it also has the second-worst fuel economy of the models we compared. While the Sportage comes with a generous warranty that covers major engine and transmission components for 10 years/100,000 miles, its five-year ownership costs are among the highest in this group. The Sportage also had a Poor rating in the IIHS small overlap frontal crash test and got four out of five stars for overall collision protection from the NHTSA.
One of the sportiest compact crossover SUVs, the Volkswagen Tiguan gets both a drop in price and added features for 2016 that enhance its value, though it still omits some key features and remains outclassed by our top pick, the Mazda CX-5.
This small and sporty crossover SUV performs well, and Volkswagen has given it a boost for 2016 with a base-model price reduction and a few added features that might elevate its standing among compact crossover SUVs if not for its assorted shortcomings. The Tiguan continues with a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that puts out a full 200 horsepower, making it the most powerful compact crossover we considered, and that engine is paired with a smooth-shifting and responsive six-speed automatic transmission. With a few key features added for 2016, we were able to stick with the base model S version, which costs nearly $26,000,25 about $3,000 less than the SE version we were considering for the 2015 model. This year’s base-model S version now includes VW’s latest information and entertainment system with a 5-inch touchscreen, passive entry with push-button start, heated front seats, heated windshield washer nozzles, automatic headlights, rain-sensing wipers, and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The S doesn’t offer dual-zone automatic climate control, however, and the Tiguan lacks the latest accident-avoidance systems at any price.
The Tiguan delivers lively handling that comes close to that of our top pick, the CX-5, though we think it rides rougher. The turbo-four engine delivers energetic acceleration, but it requires premium gasoline and suffers from the worst fuel economy—23 mpg in combined driving—of all the models we considered. That jacks up the car’s five-year estimated ownership costs, which, as Kelley Blue Book projects for the 2015 model, are high at 55 cents per mile. On the plus side, VW includes a year of free maintenance.
Though cleanly styled inside and out, the Tiguan is far less elegant looking than the CX-5, with a particularly stark dashboard design. It also affords less passenger room and cargo space than most compact crossovers we looked at, and it falls short in occupant protection, having received only three out of five stars for frontal crash protection from the NHTSA.
The Cooper Countryman is a MINI that isn’t particularly mini, though it’s still the smallest and least expensive model we considered. While the Countryman retains much of the brand’s renowned go-kart-like handling abilities, it lacks in practicality next to all of the other models we tested.
Taller, wider, and considerably longer than a standard MINI Cooper, the Countryman is appealing thanks to its quirky styling and the crisp way it drives. However, as a compact crossover sport-utility vehicle, it’s all sport and no utility. We chose the base model, which comes with an underwhelming 121-hp, 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine and delivers good but not great fuel economy of 27 mpg combined. The Countryman is one of the few models we looked at that comes with a six-speed manual transmission, though we chose the optional six-speed automatic for an additional $1,250. We also added the $750 Media Package for (among other items) Bluetooth with full smartphone connectivity and satellite radio, but we saw neither a rearview monitor nor a power driver’s seat on the options list for 2016. Our final price was around $25,500,26 which makes the Countryman the least expensive model among those we considered by a slight amount. Adding AWD means upgrading to the even sportier, more powerful S version, but that adds a stiff $5,100 to the cost.
The Countryman is one of only two models (along with the Volkswagen Tiguan) that can give the Mazda CX-5 a run for its money in the fun-to-drive category. Its handling is precise, though the ride can be unmercifully rough over bad pavement. The interior is a love-it-or-hate-it affair, with exaggerated controls crafted more for the sake of styling than ease of operation. Overall, the Countryman is affordable compared with the larger compact crossover SUVs it competes with, but it provides fewer features, sits among the lowest-ranking models according to Consumer Reports, and offers little practicality because of its cramped backseat and limited cargo space, both of which are the smallest among the models we considered.
Though the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is among the lowest-priced compact crossovers we considered, the savings don’t outweigh this vehicle’s shortcomings, especially its uninspiring styling, cheap materials, and insufficient passenger and cargo room.
The best attribute of the Mitsubishi Outlander Sport is its affordable price. Starting at under $21,000,27 we chose the midgrade SE 2.0 version and treated ourselves to the Premium Package for $2,100, which includes a panoramic roof, a premium stereo, and a power driver’s seat. For a little under $26,000,28 the Outlander Sport still works out as one of the least-expensive models we considered. But you get what you pay for, and the Outlander Sport looks and feels cheap compared with the best models it competes against, especially our top pick, the Mazda CX-5. Our Sport SE came with a 2.0-liter engine that’s noisy and underpowered, with just 148 horsepower; its admirable fuel economy, at an estimated 28 mpg in combined city/highway use, redeems it just a bit. Mitsubishi supplies a more-powerful 166-horsepower alternative with the two costliest trim levels, but that one still isn’t particularly quick. A CVT automatic transmission is included, but it isn’t as smooth or as quiet as Honda’s, and we’d prefer an even smoother and quieter-operating conventional automatic transmission like the CX-5’s. The vehicle affords a reasonably smooth ride, but again, it’s much less enjoyable to drive than the CX-5.
The Outlander Sport’s exterior is cleanly cast, though it’s saddled with Mitsubishi’s cartoonishly large front grille, which tends to dominate the look (and not in a good way). This vehicle is lacking in both passenger room and cargo volume, too, and the interior is blandly designed and finished in subpar plastics. It also gets less-than-perfect safety ratings, but while Consumer Reports gives it the lowest road-test rating among compact crossovers, the publication rates it highly for long-term reliability. The Outlander Sport does come with a longer-than-average warranty that’s similar to those of the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, which is probably a good thing.
Over the next couple of years, automakers will continue to attract buyers with new and revised compact crossovers that offer the latest features, particularly advanced connectivity and safety systems. Smaller, turbocharged engines will become widespread for their appealing combination of power and frugal fuel economy, with the last of the V6-powered models eventually phased out. Prices should continue to rise, especially in top trim levels with a full rack of added features; automakers will likely court price-conscious shoppers with the growing number of slightly more affordable subcompact crossover SUVs that are just becoming available, including the Honda HR-V, Jeep Renegade, and Mazda CX-3. (Look for a separate guide to those models soon.)
A slew of models are expected to receive major redesigns for the 2017 model year. Honda is reportedly set to build the next-generation Honda CR-V on a new platform and likely to drop the current 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine in favor of a new 1.5-liter turbo four. The Kia Sportage is due for a 2017 makeover, though it’s expected to retain the same mechanical components. Reports suggest that MINI will make the 2017 MINI Countryman larger to better distinguish it from the rest of the line, and that the Countryman will receive new features such as a head-up display and assorted collision warning systems. The 2017 Volkswagen Tiguan is expected to be longer and wider than the current model to add much needed passenger volume and cargo room, with a third-row seat a possibility. A new European version of the Tiguan just debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show, and it should be a lot like the one we’ll get in the US.
Meanwhile, the Subaru Forester will likely receive a less-radical freshening for 2017 that will probably be limited to a few visual changes and a couple of added features. Finally, a fully redesigned Ford Escape is on tap for the 2018 model year; it will reportedly get a new nine-speed automatic transmission and the same 1.5-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder that’s now available in Ford’s midsize Fusion sedan.
The Mazda CX-5 Touring is the best compact crossover SUV out of the 15 models we considered because it does just about everything right and exceeds expectations. Tastefully stylish on the outside, it treats its occupants to a roomy, thoughtfully designed, and richly trimmed interior that makes it look and feel like a more expensive model. The CX-5 delivers energetic levels of performance that most drivers should appreciate, with peppy acceleration and precise cornering abilities that make it truly fun and engaging to drive. This affordable-to-purchase vehicle offers a full array of features, gets good fuel economy, promises good reliability, and should cost less to own over time than the others. For our money, no other compact crossover SUV excels in so many areas as the CX-5.
(Photos by Drew Phillips Photography.)