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

And the Winner is…

Not the Ford, obviously. It needs more than just a powerful engine to win in this class. Ford needs to go back to the basics. Adding some soul-crushing insult to injury, the Ford was the only one to earn a "Below Average" cost of ownership rating from our sister site, Intellichoice.
Next up are two vehicles, tied for third, the Toyota RAV4 and the Honda CR-V. It sounds like a cop-out, but the Big Two from Japan are evenly matched, with each having strengths over the other. "Handsome, well-crafted interior, but cheap, rubbery steering wheel," said Davis of the RAV4, which didn't come with Toyota's SofTex synthetic leather. In Toyota's defense, the RAV4 we were supplied was by far the cheapest of the group, lacking some of the style and features that would have come with the par-for-this-group RAV4 Limited. The rest of its interior was beautifully laid-out, with a swath of stitched vinyl adorning the dashboard.
Like the RAV4, the Honda CR-V is functional, utterly competent, and you know, like a cockroach, it'll be around forever. The Honda has better ride quality than its Toyota counterpart, but it feels dated two years into its production run, with an antiquated navigation system and the same kinds of plastics we complained about in the 2012 Civic before the car was upgraded. Still, both it and the RAV4 it feel like they've endured 15 years of evolution and refinement; shoppers won't walk away unhappy with either. That brings us to No. 2: the Mazda CX-5. "Why is this thing not more popular?" Davis lamented. That's a good question. It's addicting to drive; a lightweight, chuckable, down-to-business crossover that's nearly anything you could ever want. If only it had a little more interior room. So we arrive at the Subaru Forester, which handily wins this comparison, stealing a page from Honda and Toyota's playbook. Those two thrive on benchmarking the middleground, neither exciting nor disappointing their drivers. The Subaru does the same thing, then adds in some extra credit and captures a solid A instead of the standard Japanese B+. Functional, refined, fun, and frugal at the gas pump, this beast is big enough to legitimately replace your midsize sedan and rides the smoothest of any of the crossovers here. It has the most advanced technology of the group without overwhelming your senses with gizmos and buttons, always sticking to a blatant sense of simplicity. Rather than sticking to the archetype crafted by Toyota and Honda over the last 15 years, Subaru has gone its own way and made a noticeably better crossover as a result. While most of the crossovers come out of our test honor students, the Forester was far and away our valedictorian.
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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