October 1, 2004

Consumer Reports announces test results for four small SUVs

Yonkers, New York – In a recent test of four compact sport-utility vehicles, the Toyota RAV4 received a “Very Good” rating, and was the only one recommended by Consumer Reports. The RAV4 achieved the second-best overall score in CR’s ratings of 16 small sport-utilities that CR has tested. Consumer Reports’ top-rated small SUV is still the Subaru Forester, which was a Top Pick in CR’s 2004 Annual April Auto issue.

The other small sport utility vehicles tested for the October issue of the magazine were the Ford Escape, Saturn Vue, and Chevrolet Equinox, but none were recommended. CR will only recommend vehicles that have performed well in its tests, have at least average reliability based on CR’s surveys of its subscribers, and have performed adequately if crash tested or included in government rollover tests. The Escape and Vue tipped up in the government’s rollover tests; the Vue has had below-average reliability as well. The Equinox is still too new for CR to have reliability data.

“The RAV4 is a well-rounded SUV that’s easy to manoeuvre in tight spaces,” said David Champion, senior director of Consumer Reports’ Auto Test centre in East Haddam, Connecticut. “The RAV’s new, 161 horsepower engine gives the 2004 model notably better acceleration than its predecessor.”

Freshened for 2005, the Escape is more comfortable and quieter than the model Consumer Reports tested in 2001. The Escape ($25,545 as tested) is powered by a 200-hp, 3.0-liter V6 that provides adequate acceleration. Its four-speed automatic transmission is smooth but doesn’t always downshift quickly. Braking performance is good. The Escape has the largest cargo capacity of the four vehicles in this group, with 38.5 cubic feet. Reliability for this SUV has been average. The two-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive versions of the 2004 Escape tipped up in the government’s dynamic rollover test.

The Vue provides ample interior space and a new 250-hp, 3.5-litre V6 made by Honda that is quicker, quieter, and more fuel-efficient than its GM-built predecessor. But overall, the Vue doesn’t compete well with the better SUVs in this class because of its sub-par fit and finish and uncomfortable seats.

Reliability for the Vue has been much worse than average. (Both two- and all-wheel drive versions of the Vue recently suffered broken suspensions and collapsed rear wheels in National Highway Transportation Safety Administration rollover tests. As a result, Saturn recently issued a voluntary recall for 2002 through 2004 models.)

The Equinox has a roomy rear seat that rivals some large sedans and SUVs. But overall, it scored the lowest in the group, hurt by its below-average interior quality, uncomfortable seats, unsettled ride, and clumsy handling. The Equinox, ($26,290 as tested) has a 185-hp, 3.4-liter V6 that delivers good performance but feels rough. The five-speed automatic transmission is smooth but slow responding. Braking performance is very good. The usefulness of the Equinox’s 33-cubic-foot storage area is limited by rear seats that don’t fold flat and obtrusive rear wheel wells. CR does not yet have reliability information on this new model.

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