compact CUVs
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Comparison Test: Five Compact CUVs

Review by Mike Schlee and Jonathan Yarkony
Photos by Mike Schlee, Jonathan Yarkony, and Brian Weeks

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Compact CUVs, Round Two

Last spring we wrangled up five compact crossover utility vehicles and put them through their paces. Our goal was to determine which one achieved the best blend of comfort, utility and efficiency while still exuding at least a little bit of personality. In the end, the Honda CR-V narrowly prevailed over the impressive Mazda CX-5 and has since defended its crown in an impromptu head-to-head rematch against this rival from Mazda.

But time waits for no man, nor does it wait for any vehicle segment. The compact crossover market is spreading into a pair of sub-segments. Some manufacturers are focusing on utility and efficiency above all else, while others are designing crossovers for those who appreciate their size and nimbleness, but want a bit more power and luxury.

In our previous Comparison Test we focused on the lower end of the market and brought a slew of mid-trim, mid-priced crossovers (with the exception of the V6-powered Toyota RAV4 Limited). This time, however, we are playing in the deep end, the $40,000 compact crossover segment. We invited six crossovers to this challenge equipped with all-wheel drive, loaded leather interiors, and, when available, upgraded engines.

compact CUVs
compact CUVs
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Our first invite went out to the Honda CR-V, our returning champion. As the only vehicle in this test without an engine upgrade, the CR-V would have to bank on its great fuel efficiency and lowest as-tested price to help repeat its victory. Next, we invited two top sellers in this segment that just happen to be all new for 2013; the Ford Escape and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport. The Escape has been the bestselling vehicle in this segment for years and has now received its first full redesign since, well, ever. The Santa Fe, in previous incarnations, may not have been considered a compact crossover. With seven-seat capability and V6 engine options, it was closer in size to mid-size crossovers. However, for 2013 the Santa Fe has undergone a personality split. There are now two versions of the Santa Fe; the five-seat only Santa Fe Sport that features no V6 option, or the V6-only, seven-passenger Santa Fe. Hyundai states that the Santa Fe Sport is aimed directly at the likes of the new Escape, Tiguan, and CR-V, so including it here only made sense.

We also included the Kia Sportage as it received an engine upgrade last year in the form of a 260 hp turbocharged four cylinder; same as found in the Santa Fe Sport. Being smaller than the Santa Fe, and similar to Hyundai’s own Tucson, we thought it would be a good benchmark of which size is right for the closely priced Hyundai Corp. crossovers. With its small size and big power, the Sportage held the potential of being the hot-rod of the group.

Putting the compact in compact crossover, the next vehicle to be included was the Volkswagen Tiguan. Overpriced and over-equipped for our last compact crossover comparison, the Tiguan now slotted in nicely with this grouping of vehicles, even though it still was the most expensive in the test. Deceivingly roomy inside, how would the only European vehicle in this test fare?

Finally, we brought a wild card to round out this grouping of six. After the last comparison test, our forum was aflutter with people wondering why we excluded the Chevrolet Equinox. They demanded it be included in the next test, so who were we to argue? As fate would have it, the Equinox has received an engine upgrade for 2013 and can now be equipped with GM’s 3.6L V6 producing a class demolishing 301 hp. Can this new engine help an old dog stay competitive? Read on to find out.

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