It seems that lately, whenever anyone asks us what car they should buy, the type of car they want is a compact crossover. These formerly smallish -- but now pretty midsize -- SUVs are wildly popular and getting more so all the time. Americans, it would appear, are abandoning their coupes and sedans in droves and stepping up (literally) into more upright, but not trucklike, SUVs.
If we're being totally honest, however, this is not a group of vehicles that gets auto writers all worked up with excitement. Frankly, we'd rather be wringing out the latest hot hatches on the Tail of the Dragon, or blitzing down the Autobahn testing the top-speed claims of a bunch of supercars. While compact SUVs might not be where the excitement is, they're where the action is in the marketplace, so we gathered the most popular entries and headed out from Ann Arbor to Kalamazoo, Michigan, and back, via an indirect but interesting patchwork of roads that would put these SUVs through a gamut of real-world driving.
Many Are Called, Seven Are Chosen
As with so many vehicle types today, the compact SUV category is somewhat hard to draw a line around. Entries grow larger with each redesign, and then new models slot in below to fill the empty space in manufacturers' lineups. As much as we like driving, we didn't want to be on the road for days on end, so we decided that a group of eight vehicles would be a reasonable number. In order to make this exercise as valuable as possible, we chose our entrants based on their popularity.
Looking at sales from January through May of 2014, the leader board looks like this:
- Honda CR-V - 128,563
- Ford Escape - 127,780
- Chevrolet Equinox - 99,083
- Toyota RAV4 - 95,363
- Nissan Rogue - 84,236
- Jeep Cherokee - 67,095
- Subaru Forester - 61,083
- Mazda CX-5 - 42,332
For each vehicle, we wanted all-wheel drive, because we believe that's a big factor driving buyers into this category. We also tried to get the mainstay powertrain, in order to give us the most representative picture. In the end, Toyota was unable to get us a RAV4, which was a disappointment because it's such a popular model and was just recently redesigned. Without it, we soldiered on with our Group of Seven, which are presented here in order of their market popularity.