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

On the Road: A Tale of Two Underdogs

The Honda, Ford, and Toyota have long-dominated the compact crossover segment. Curiously, none of the three bowled us over when we got them out on the road. The Honda drove like it was on sedatives: Competent, thoroughly well-thought-out, and devoid of any character. "People-hauling at its absolute finest," said Associate Editor Trevor Dorchies. "As per usual with the CR-V, nothing catches your attention right off the bat," which is a good thing for most people who just want reliable transportation that gets their families where they need to go without fail. It didn't help our opinion of the CR-V in that it was, by far, the loudest of our quintet.
The Ford shares plenty of chutzpah with the Focus on which it's based--a car we like--but its engine didn't feel 70 horsepower punchier than the weakest Subaru's, its brake pedal felt spongy, and its ergonomics, which we'll touch on a little later, dampened our driving aspirations. The Toyota was amicable as could be, gliding over the road. It was just about as utterly forgettable, which made it a pleasant long-distance cruiser. Going toe-to-toe with the Honda, the RAV4 slightly quieter and plusher, but harsher-riding. The biggest problem with any of the three of them is that the Mazda and Subaru simply outclassed them. "Love the suspension," said Associate Editor Jason Davis of the Mazda CX-5. "It's taut, ready for any surface, and maintains traction well. No lean or dive at all." It was hard for any of us to not like the Mazda because its manners on the road felt like they were a class above the competition--like a bargain-priced BMW more than a mainstream people-carrier. In fact, Jason Udy, on loan from our sister publication Motor Trend, said it had a less-is-more approach to interior distractions he described as "Germanic" on top of fantastic driving dynamics. The Subaru didn't wow us quite as much, but with a low center of gravity, it felt planted to the road and fun to drive. And while continuously variable transmissions often get criticism for their rubber band-like feel, the Subaru had the smoothest transmission of our group, besting the conventional five- and six-speeds of the others. At the end of nearly 200 miles of driving, the Forester's fuel economy far exceeded the competition, in spite of its large size, earning a 27.9-mpg average. The Mazda's light weight propelled it to second place among fuel-sippers at 26.3 mpg. The Honda and Toyota clocked in at 25.8 mpg and 25.1 mpg, respectively. And the Escape's engine guzzled gas at a rate of 22.5 mpg. To be fair, the Ford had a larger, more powerful engine than the other vehicles in this comparison, but it should be noted that while all the others all exceeded their combined EPA fuel economy ratings, the Ford fell 1.5 mpg below its projected number.

The Results

1: Mazda CX-5: Fun, frugal, and sophisticated; it drives like a much more expensive vehicle.
2: Subaru Forester: Holy fuel economy, Batman! It also drives really well to boot.
3: Honda CR-V: By the narrowest of margins, it beats out the Toyota. Chalk this one up to personal preferences.
4: Toyota RAV4: Better steering, but a sloppier ride than the Honda. Japan's Big Two once again trade barbs.
5: Ford Escape: Missed the mpg mark; dynamically outclassed by the Mazda and Subaru.
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12 comments
kdom72@gmail.com
kdom72@gmail.com

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

RichardJoash
RichardJoash

@Ranger Minney and you are a dumb poop-eating bumpkin because I am biased with Subaru