Comparison Test: Five Compact Crossovers Battle For Supremacy

The newcomer 2014 Subaru Forester takes on the big-engine 2014 Mazda CX-5 and stalwart 2013 Honda CR-V, 2013 Ford Escape, and 2013 Toyota RAV4 in our latest comparison test.

By Jacob Brown | Photos By Jason Davis | May 29, 2013
Ahead of the first parent-teacher conference I had in grade school, I told my parents about "creative" spelling we'd been learning, a concept that my first grade teacher said put each kid on a level playing field. Spell a word like it sounds. If you spell a word incorrectly, at least you put in the effort. After all, all first graders are winners, and you can't crush a child's morale under the harsh weight of reality at just six or seven, can you? My parents argued that there was only one way to spell: The right way. The first-grade teacher wouldn't have it, kicking them out indefinitely. Happy to pat myself on the back, a few years later, I'd go on to win the school spelling bee. For what it's worth, my first grade teacher was in attendance. I bring this up because, while I'm sure there was a point in all of our lives when we were mommy's little angel, it's unrealistic to think that everyone gets a gold sticker. Some people can spell better than others. Some people can do math better. And some can engineer and build a better car, no matter what your biases may tell you.
On the surface, the compact crossover segment looks like it has five can-do-no-wrongs from a list of more than a dozen vehicles: The 2013 Ford Escape, 2013 Honda CR-V, 2014 Mazda CX-5, 2013 Toyota RAV4, and 2014 Subaru Forester. If you're an urbanite, have a young family, or your recent hip replacement makes it a bit tough to get into or out of your Park Avenue, the above vehicles probably look a lot like the top-5 on your shopping list.

The Lineup

Our criteria for this roundup of crossovers called for all-wheel-drive, four-cylinder models with sub-200-horsepower engines, and prices around $30,000, in other words, the meat of the market. However, we did have one that fell well outside of our criteria in two respects: The 2013 Ford Escape Titanium, which cost $34,735, and instead of the 178-horsepower EcoBoost 1.6-liter engine, it had a turbocharged 2.0-liter EcoBoost ringer with 240 horsepower. Aside from the engine, the Escape was equipped fairly similarly to the rest of the bunch.
Next up was the $30,825 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L with Navigation, a vehicle which goes head to head with the Escape for segment sales dominance. Redesigned for 2012, we have to admit that we're still heartbroken that Honda eliminated its built-in picnic table in this generation, but the 185-horsepower four-cylinder engine and ample cargo space still make this a compelling choice. Following the CR-V was the 2013 Toyota RAV4 XLE, coming into our test as an all-new model. A midrange model at $28,149, our RAV4 lacked leather and a few of the fancier options of the other vehicles in the test, but it still had most of its options bases covered. All RAV4s now come equipped with a 2.5-liter, 176-horsepower four-cylinder engine, no longer having an optional hot rod-like V-6, or even a third row of seats for that matter. Fourth up was the 2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring, $32,220, also an all-new model. While a turbocharged 2.0-liter flat-4 is available, we opted for parity with most of the group, picking a Forester equipped with a 170-horsepower, 2.5-liter engine without the extra boost. Rounding out the top five was another newcomer, the $31,890 2014 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring, which returns in its second model year with 29 much-needed extra horsepower by way of a larger 2.5-liter engine, bringing the total to 184. At this point, you'd think ranking them from one to five would be like splitting hairs with the bowl-end of a spoon. But it didn't take long to figure out which was going to be first and which was going to be last. Two through four were the toughies. To test them, we put the five crossovers through their paces in Ventura County, at one point braving an 8,000-acre wildfire to measure their performances, features, fuel economy, and value. Then we sorted through the muck of decision-making. Now that we've introduced the contenders, it's time to get this party started.
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CX5 all the way...  the only car here that has premium feel for low econo price.  Subaru looks old already and CVT plus soft suspension with rather isolating steering feel and mushy breaks can bearly beat CRV and Toyota...

Ranger Minney
Ranger Minney

The Ford Escape and Honda CR-V are good buys and nice looking, not sure about the Toyota, Mazda is sporty...but I can't even look at the Subaru it's just too fugly!

Michael Mabus
Michael Mabus

Subaru or Ford. They're the only ones who passed the new crash test