Originally published March 13, 2015

Honda CR-V vs Hyundai Santa Fe Sport vs Jeep Cherokee vs Mazda CX-5 vs Nissan Rogue vs Subaru Forester vs Toyota RAV4

Review by Jeff Wilson, Lesley Wimbush, Peter Bleakney and Jonathan Yarkony

Photos by Jeff Wilson and Jonathan Yarkony

Introduction, Jeff Wilson

A lot can happen in a year.

Just ask anyone who’s gone from recent graduate to getting his or her first grown-up job (and salary). Or anyone who has witnessed the birth of their first child, depriving them of sleep and sanity. Or those who have gone from working day in and day out to the wonderful freedom of retirement.

Any of these folks will tell you they have experienced profound change at the significant cost of effort and dedication, and yet the payoff is also profound. These consumers are prime buyers for new vehicles that can reliably serve their active, if hectic, lifestyles, regardless of weather; vehicles like the all-purpose compact crossover sport utility vehicle.

It has been a little over a year since Autos.ca called together its evaluation team of testers and the key players in the compact crossover segment for a comprehensive evaluation of the best and brightest available to Canadian consumers. The results once again show profound changes and yet identify a very positive evolution of refinement and quality.

Indeed, after a long day of driving each car back to back under the same weather conditions on the same roads, all agreed that every one of these seven are truly good machines. It is our job to examine the minutiae, consider the merits and criticize the follies of these fine examples of do-everything daily drivers and to ultimately select our favourite.

But before we do, a quick overview of the crossover characters in this year’s test.

Naturally, last year’s winner, the Mazda CX-5 GT, received the first invitation. Not content with taking home the prize last year, the compact crossover from the Hiroshima company has seen a significant improvement to its infotainment system for the 2016 model year as it adopts the more contemporary design from the Mazda3.

Next up, Honda’s CR-V has enjoyed a victory or two in a smaller head-to-head competition and our first major crossover comparison at Autos.ca, but more importantly, it has undergone significant mid-cycle changes to everything from the powertrain to the interior and exterior design and was expected to bring high praise here.

Toyota’s RAV4 continues to be a popular choice with Canadians, who purchased enough of them in January of this year to make it the sales leader in the small SUV category. When the masses speak with their wallets, it is worth giving another look and that’s just what we’ve done.

Hyundai’s Santa Fe Sport placed mid-pack with a moderately optioned SE trim last year, but one driven by the gutsy 2.0L turbo engine. This time, we have a few more options but the base 2.4L engine, to see just how well this ute stacks up in more economical, efficient form.

Nissan’s Rogue is also a top-five seller in Canada, and a past winner of a head-to-head with our beloved Mazda CX-5. At the time, the biggest complaint leveled against the Rogue was toward its uncomfortable seats. As we reported last autumn over a long haul down Route 66, the big news for ’15 is the implementation of Nissan’s “Zero Gravity Seats” that remain comfortable for hours. Will the Rogue steal the throne this year?

While Subaru’s Forester remains a popular recommendation by our staff, it has failed to win a comparison test in recent years. The addition of Subaru’s highly coveted EyeSight safety suite keeps the Forester an excellent value and a top safety – and quality – pick from resources like IIHS and Consumers’ Reports.

Last but not least is the lone representative of the North American brands, with Jeep’s Cherokee having narrowly eked out a victory over the Forester last year, but never yet tested in the crucible of a large Autos.ca comparison. This time the Jeep doesn’t have the 3.2L V6, instead being fitted with the 2.4L four-cylinder engine. Will it still engage our testers?

Conspicuous by its absence is Ford’s Escape, the overall Canadian class sales leader for 2014 by a whopping margin over the number two Honda CR-V. Ford err… escaped our test by not having a competitively trimmed Escape available at test time. With that said, Ford’s smallest North American SUV has not seen any significant change since the last time a top-tier Escape managed no better than 3rd place in an Autos.ca comparison test.

A very busy year has passed in our lives and the life cycles of these very important vehicles. It’s time to pick a new winner.

Connect with Autos.ca