DRIVEN: Seven Up: Picking the Best Compact SUV

June 23, 2014
2014 Compact SUV Rear Front Three Quarter
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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:
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.
2014 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L w/navigation
We may as well start with the Honda CR-V, since most buyers do. The CR-V was America's bestselling compact crossover last year and the year before that, and it looks like it will be again in 2014. In fact, it was not only the bestselling compact SUV, but the CR-V was also the bestselling SUV in all the land.
The CR-V's popularity is no anomaly. Although its exterior dimensions are among the more compact, the interior is quite roomy. Three-abreast seating is possible in back, and the wide front seats and low center console make for a spacious-feeling cabin. The cargo area is the largest here (with the rear seats up), so the packaging is efficient. Large side windows afford a decent view out, although the rear-quarter view is blinkered -- helpfully, a backup camera is standard.
Honda's 2.4-liter four, the only engine offered, makes 185 hp and 163 pound-feet of torque. The latter figure is the weakest in the group, but acceleration is adequate -- better around town than at highway speeds. The fact that the CR-V's automatic transmission is only a five-speed wasn't much of a hindrance in acceleration or fuel economy, although the 22/30 mpg EPA ratings are no better than mid-pack. Our 2014 Honda CR-V was the absolute top-spec EX-L Navi, priced at a reasonable $31,125. Honda doesn't really offer options, so everything is included in that figure.
Combine all that with Honda's long-earned reputation for reliability, and there's a lot to like here; or, more accurately, a lot to respect. The 2014 Honda CR-V doesn't really engender strong feelings. It's very competent but it's blandly competent—there's nothing about it that feels special. As staff videographer Sandon Voelker said, "The CR-V does everything well but nothing great."
The CR-V's styling, such as it is, has been stuck in a rut for the past two generations. Combine that with the model's ubiquity, and a 2014 Honda CR-V couldn't turn heads unless it was on fire. The industrial-grade leather and acres of gray plastic -- relieved only by black plastic -- make the interior a depressing place. Nor is there any design pizzazz in the dash or the instrument panel. The navigation graphics look like something designed by Atari, and Honda's dual-screen system is annoying to use. Several of our test drivers complained about the high seating position, and editor-in-chief Mike Floyd said, "The high seating position and wide seats make me feel like I'm piloting a small bus."
Blandly competent also describes the driving experience, from the throttle response, to the steering, to the chassis tuning. The CR-V also lacks many of the latest high-tech safety features, at least some of which can be had on all the other cars here. The CR-V may be the most popular of its ilk, but while we respect it, it's not our favorite.

2014 Honda CR-V AWD EX-L w/navigation

MSRP (with destination) $31,125
Price as Tested $31,125
Engine 2.4-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp) 185 @ 7000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 163 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 22/30/25 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs
LxWxH 178.3 x 71.6 x 65.1 in
Wheelbase 103.1 in
Track f/r 61.6/61.6 in
Curb weight 3545 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 37.2/70.9 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 41.3/38.3 in
Headroom (first/second row) 38.0/38.6 in
Towing 1500 lb
2014 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD
The Ford Escape regularly dukes it out with the Honda CR-V for the SUV crown in any given month, and that's interesting because the Escape is such a different vehicle. Where the Honda is staid, the Ford is flashy. Where the Honda is practical, the Ford is stylish. Where the Honda can be dull, the Ford is fun.
Resplendent in its sunset metallic paint (a new color this year) set off with 19-inch "Luster Nickel" wheels ($695) and silver roof rails, our nattily attired Ford Escape Titanium was the style maven of the group. There's nary a dowdy line on the creased and angular exterior, and the cabin is similarly amped up. The wide center console sweeps up to meet the dash and is decked out in gloss black trim. The center stack houses Ford's MyFord Touch full-color touch screen, which is very pretty to look at but, owing mostly to its tiny touch points, not so fun to use. The dash's deep-set gauges, which feature flashy bright blue accents, flank a second reconfigurable TFT screen. The whole presentation is modern and high-tech. Once you've taken it all in, however, you notice that there's nowhere to stash your stuff, and that the long A-pillars and rising beltline constrict the view out. Nor is the 2014 Ford Escape the best choice for ferrying passengers, since its back seat, while adequate, is smaller than most of the others here.
With an output of 168 hp and 170 lb-ft of torque, the base Escape's 2.5-liter four, or even the SE/Titanium's standard engine, a 1.6-liter EcoBoost making 178 hp and 184 lb-ft, would have better lined up against our assembled group. Ford, however, sent us the optional 2.0-liter EcoBoost ($1195), which packs a blistering 240 hp and 270 lb-ft of torque. Unsurprisingly, it made the 2014 Ford Escape the hot rod of the bunch. The EcoBoost provides energetic throttle response, and the powertrain electronics and a snappy six-speed automatic effectively mask turbo lag. The sound quality might not be great, and there's a faint vibration at idle, but those are minor issues. More disappointing is the 2.0-liter's fuel economy: at 21/28 mpg, it's tied for second worst in the group, but given the available power, that might be a tradeoff worth making.
Outside of the engine room, the 2014 Ford Escape was also pretty entertaining -- for the category, at least. Deputy editor Joe DeMatio praised the chassis for its body control and brake pedal feel. We found the steering well weighted and the handling quite good. The ride is fairly busy -- probably not helped by those big wheels -- but the 2014 Ford Escape is great at soaking up nasty pavement. You can hear the suspension working, but jarring impacts don't make their way to the passengers.
The 2014 Ford Escape might have won it all were it not for one big sticking point: the price. The Ford's as-tested total came in at a laughably expensive $37,295, which was $3555 more than the next-priciest contender and a whopping $8080 more than the lowest-priced entrant. With AWD and the 2.0-liter turbo, the Titanium starts at $32,380 and comes with leather and pretty much everything you need -- unless you need navigation. Even adding navigation ($795), you might still have a winner, albeit not a great bargain. But our test car was larded with a panoramic sunroof ($1495) and an equally expensive package that included a power liftgate, rear parking sensors, HID headlights, blind-spot warning, cross-traffic alert, active park assist, and a bunch of lesser items. Add navigation, the aforementioned 19-inch wheels, and a towing package, and you get a compact SUV that priced itself well into the midsize class.

2014 Ford Escape Titanium 4WD

MSRP (with destination) $32,380
Price as Tested $37,295
Engine 2.0-liter DOHC turbocharged I-4
Horsepower (hp) 240 @ 5500 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 270 @ 3000 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 21/28/24 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs
LxWxH 178.1 x 72.4 x 66.3 in
Wheelbase 105.9 in
Track f/r 61.5/61.6 in
Curb weight 3769 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 34.3/68.1 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 43.1/36.8 in
Headroom (first/second row) 39.9/39.0 in
Towing 3500 lb
2014 Chevrolet Equinox AWD 2LT
The 2014 Chevrolet Equinox quite literally stretches the definition of a compact SUV. We debated whether to include it, but in the absence of any other contender from General Motors, and given its annual sales of over 200,000 units, we decided that its overall length of only five or so inches more than the Jeep or the Nissan wasn't a huge deal and so the Equinox belonged in the mix. Its size could have been an advantage, but it didn't really turn out that way.
Granted, the Chevy does have an exceptionally large back seat, able to accommodate the lankiest teenagers, with huge doors that make for easy access. But roomy back seats are pretty easy to come by in this group, and the Jeep Cherokee and Subaru Forester both claim greater rear-seat legroom. Surprisingly, the Chevy's cargo hold was actually one of the smallest (with the rear seats up), although it can be made larger by sliding the rear seat forward. Intrusions on both sides crowd the space, and the rear seatbacks do not fold flat. The interior of our 2LT test car had a lively two-tone color scheme but it couldn't disguise the cheap materials. Fat pillars afforded the worst visibility of any car here and made the cabin seem oppressive despite its size. Interestingly, although the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox is one of the oldest models in the group, its touch-screen navigation interface ($795) is attractive and modern -- one of the best in the test.
Given the size of the 2014 Chevrolet Equinox, its substantial curb weight of 3777 pounds (the second highest of the group) is not exactly a revelation. Nor was it a surprise that the Chevy's 2.4-liter four-cylinder (with 182 hp and 172 lb-ft) struggled to move it. The Equinox is slow. And, unfortunately, there's no reward at the gas pump, as its 20/29 mpg EPA ratings are the worst of our seven contenders.
Chevrolet also offers the Equinox with a 3.6-liter V-6. With a substantial 301 hp, that would definitely be our choice over the four-cylinder. And it's not as if the Equinox has no redeeming qualities. The ride is quite good, the chassis is tied down, and even the electric power steering is nicely weighted. As associate editor David Zenlea noted, "GM does a great job tuning the primary controls."
Overall, though, bigger did not equal better for the Equinox. Its performance, fuel economy, and visibility all disappointed. Said Floyd: "As we've seen with the Corvette and the Cadillac CTS, GM can absolutely do better, and in order for the Equinox to be competitive with buyers other than the A-plan set, it needs to revamp the Equinox soon."

2014 Chevrolet Equinox AWD 2LT

MSRP (with destination) $30,500
Price as Tested $33,740
Engine 2.4-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp) 182 @ 6700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 172 @ 4900 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 20/29/23 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs
LxWxH 187.8 x 72.5 x 66.3 in
Wheelbase 112.5 in
Track f/r 62.9/62.1 in
Curb weight 3777 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 31.5/63.7 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 41.2/39.9 in
Headroom (first/second row) 40.9/39.2 in
Towing 1500 lb
2014 Nissan Rogue SV AWD
The new 2014 Nissan Rogue is like a family room on wheels. Plop yourself down inside and you almost expect to find someone's socks on the floor or a TV remote in the seat cushions. The comfy interior combined with excellent fuel economy and a bargain price make the redesigned 2014 Nissan Rogue a strong rival to traditional favorites like the CR-V.
The Nissan's melted-looking exterior design doesn't make much of a style statement -- instead, it's the Rogue's inside story that impresses. The cabin is furnished with oversized chairs and cushy armrests. The seats are soft and comfortable and upholstered in a plush fabric that doesn't make you feel like a cheapskate for skipping leather. The back bench is raised significantly and is flat enough to seat three across. And, get this, carpoolers: Nissan has even wedged in a third row! Unfortunately, it's about as tiny as you'd expect -- after attempting to squeeze back there, Voelker called it "a joke." If you really need a third row, you're better off shopping the next size class up.
The Rogue's 2.5-liter four puts out 170 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. That horsepower figure ties with Subaru's as the lowest in the group. Combine a not-very-powerful engine with a CVT transmission, though, as Nissan does, and you get very good gas mileage -- the best in the group, in fact, at 25/32 mpg. What you don't get is particularly sprightly acceleration, although at least Nissan programs its CVT to emulate gear changes under hard acceleration. In most driving, its stepless torque manipulation creates the kind of engine droning and elastic throttle response that make CVTs such a bummer despite their undeniable efficiency. Buried on the lower left of the dash is a sport button, which struck us as a cruel bit of irony. There's not much sportiness to be had here, but as Floyd noted: "It handles and tracks well, with a heavy steering effort that I personally like."
The 2014 Nissan Rogue was the least expensive of all our SUVs, despite a heaping helping of equipment. Ours was the mid-level SV, which starts at $26,440 with all-wheel drive. This strikes us as the sweet spot in the Rogue lineup, provided you can live without leather, which requires moving up to the SL. The $1420 SV premium package added a host of items, including Nissan's excellent Around-View monitor (supplementing the standard backup camera), a blind-spot warning system, lane departure warning, a power liftgate, and navigation with a seven-inch touch screen. The latter isn't always responsive, though, and the small touch points and lack of physical radio preset buttons are annoying. Throw in a couple of minor items and the third-row seat, and the total reached $29,215, making the 2014 Nissan Rogue the only entrant to slip under the $30,000 barrier. Skip the third-row seat, and the price drops by nearly $1000. "Like a lot of Nissan's mainstream products, the 2014 Nissan Rogue hits enough high notes to make it a contender," said DeMatio. And its price makes it a bargain. But a powertrain that prizes fuel economy above all else kept it from being our winner.

2014 Nissan Rogue SV AWD

MSRP (with destination) $26,440
Price as Tested $29,215
Engine 2.5-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp) 170 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 175 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 25/32/28 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs
LxWxH 182.3 x 72.4 x 67.5 in
Wheelbase 106.5 in
Track f/r 62.8/62.8 in
Curb weight 3545 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/7
Cargo (behind second/first row) 9.4/32.0/70.0 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 43.0/37.9/31.4 in
Headroom (first/second row) 41.6/38.5/34.6 in
Towing 1000 lb
2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude 4x4
Time was when clambering over rocks and powering through muck would have been a major component of this drive, since that's what everybody thought SUVs were for. Now we know that they're really used just like cars, so we never put a tire off the pavement. More's the pity, as far as the 2014 Jeep Cherokee is concerned. If you really want to go off-road, your SUV search begins and ends here. More specifically, it ends with the Trailhawk version of the Cherokee, which has the most serious of the Jeep's three (!) available four-wheel-drive systems, with a locking rear differential, Select Speed Control (which functions like cruise control for off-road), and a low range -- although the latter comes on the mid-level 4WD system as well.
In contrast, our Cherokee Latitude, which is one level up from the base Sport, was equipped with the most basic AWD system, Active Drive I. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder paired with Chrysler's new nine-speed automatic completed the powertrain of this mainstream offering. Although nine speeds sounds impressive, it is less so in practice. The top four ratios are all overdrive, and the car almost never makes it into the super-tall ninth. The MultiAir four puts out a respectable 184 hp and 171 lb-ft of torque, but it's overmatched by the heavy Cherokee, which at 3941 pounds is easily the porker of the group. With so much weight to contend with, and the engine's torque peak at 4600 rpm, the transmission is very busy, regularly sending the engine well up into the rev range, where it made lots more sound than fury. At the same time, fuel economy is unimpressive at 21/28 mpg (city/highway), which is no better than the far more powerful Ford Escape, whose turbo 2.0-liter bristles with an additional 64 hp and 99 pound-feet of torque. The Cherokee's available 3.2-liter V-6 offers a lot more power (271 hp) with not much of a fuel-economy penalty.
Aside from the powertrain, the 2014 Jeep Cherokee mostly made a good showing. "It feels really solid, supple, and refined," said DeMatio, who also praised the back seat for its room and comfort. The front seats, though, felt soggy and unsupportive. Nearly everyone liked the interior design and materials, and the available eight-inch UConnect touch screen was deemed the best here. The interior looks nice; too bad it's so hard to see out of. The chassis generally received high marks, although, as one driver said, "from behind the wheel the Cherokee still seems more Dart than Grand Cherokee." While the 2014 Jeep Cherokee has very good space for people, we were disappointed by the cargo bay, which is the smallest of the group by a substantial margin and suffers a high load floor—which seems like poor packaging given that the Jeep was one of the larger vehicles overall.
With a light load of options, the Cherokee's as-tested price was the second lowest here, at just a shade over $30,000. Our test example was missing leather -- which requires a step up to the Limited model -- as well as navigation and a sunroof. It did come with the $1995 comfort/convenience package, which netted a backup camera (an essential), a power driver's seat, keyless ignition, satellite radio, a power liftgate, and several lesser items. The Altitude package, with black exterior trim and 18-inch black wheels, bought a lot of visual punch for $500. The Cherokee driving experience, though, was defined mostly by the $1495 that wasn't spent -- for the optional V-6.

2014 Jeep Cherokee Altitude 4x4

MSRP (with destination) $27,490
Price as Tested $30,485
Engine 2.4-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp) 184 @ 6400 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 171 @ 4600 rpm
Transmission 9-speed automatic
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 21/28/24 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs
LxWxH 182.0 x 73.2 x 66.2 in
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Track f/r 62.2/61.9 in
Curb weight 3941 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 24.6/54.9 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 41.1/40.3 in
Headroom (first/second row) 39.4/38.5 in
Towing 2000 lb
2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring
No one was surprised when we opened the liftgate on the 2014 Subaru Forester and found a rubberized plastic mat with water-trapping raised edges covering the entirety of the cargo area. It seemed a shame that we hadn't bought a pair of wet, muddy golden retrievers along for the ride. Then we noticed that you can drop the rear seatbacks via buttons in the cargo area, a neat touch. Practicality, thy name is Subaru.
Given that this company first made a name for itself with small, four-wheel-drive station wagons, the compact crossover -- arguably the modern evolution of that genre -- seems like the definitive Subaru. Indeed, the Forester is the brand's bestselling model, with the larger Outback not far behind. Certainly, the auto-buying public is hip to the fact that these vehicles are a Subaru specialty. As road test editor Chris Nelson relates: "I've had three different people ask me recently which of these vehicles they should buy. I gave each a different answer, based on what I thought would be ideal for them. But all three ended up getting the Forester."
The Forester's popularity has shot up since its redesign last year. The biggest change compared with the previous model is the much greater fuel economy, achieved mostly by junking the old four-speed automatic in favor of a CVT. At 24/32 mpg, the Subaru's EPA ratings are just a shade under the other CVT-equipped car in this test, the Nissan Rogue. Although the 2014 Subaru Forester's four, like the Nissan's, makes only 170 hp (with 174 lb-ft of torque), its acceleration was more energetic thanks to the Forester's light weight.
Unfortunately, Subaru does not tune its CVT to mimic the behavior of a conventional automatic, and our testers all bemoaned the boxer four's loud droning under acceleration. Subaru offers two workarounds here. First, you could go for the manual transmission -- yes, there is one, and no, it's not relegated only to the base car. Additionally, the manual lowers the price of entry by $1500. Or you could step up to the turbocharged 2.0XT model. The 2.0XT, which is about $3000 more than an equivalent 2.5i, brings 250 hp to the party, along with 258 lb-ft of torque.
In our test car, the 2.5-liter/CVT powertrain combo didn't exactly encourage energetic driving, nor did the vague electric power steering, but as Voelker noted, the 2014 Subaru Forester "corners well but rides firmly." There might not be a lot of joy to be had behind the wheel, but you do have to marvel at the view out. The upright styling, thin pillars, and huge side windows create an interior that one tester likened to "a glass cube." The cabin is quite roomy -- much more so than before -- but the seats are too hard to be truly comfortable.
Our top-spec Touring model's leather upholstery and interior finishes were neither plush nor stylish, a reminder that when Subaru tries to do luxury, it only reinforces the notion that the brand's strong suit is practicality. The touch-screen navigation radio is a disaster that looks and functions like a cheesy aftermarket unit from ten years ago; it's best avoided. To its credit, Subaru, unlike Honda, does offer a suite of high-tech safety features -- its EyeSight driver assistance system, which includes adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, and lane departure warning. Bundled with keyless ignition and HID headlights, it adds a substantial $2400 to the price. With it, the as-tested total for our 2.5i Touring was $33,220, a figure that raised a few eyebrows given that this was not the more powerful, turbo model. To us and, we suspect, to its buyers, the Forester makes more sense in lower-spec trim -- but if we were looking to spend more, we'd go for the turbo engine here rather than a lot of fancy equipment.

2014 Subaru Forester 2.5i Touring

MSRP (with destination) $30,820
Price as Tested $33,220
Engine 2.5-liter DOHC flat-4
Horsepower (hp) 170 @ 5800 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 174 @ 4100 rpm
Transmission Continuously variable
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 24/32/27 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Control arms, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs
LxWxH 180.9 x 70.7 x 66.4 in
Wheelbase 103.9 in
Track f/r 60.9/61.1 in
Curb weight 3366 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 31.5/68.5 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 43.0/41.7 in
Headroom (first/second row) 40.0/37.5 in
Towing 1500 lb
2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD
The Mazda CX-5 may be dwarfed by the big-name players in the field -- the Honda CR-V outsells it 4 to 1 -- but it made a big impression on us. "The best to drive by a considerable margin," said associate editor David Zenlea, and DeMatio agreed that the 2015 Mazda CX-5 overall was "hard to beat."
The Mazda's chassis is its standout feature. DeMatio again: "Great body control, excellent brake pedal response, superb steering feel and accuracy -- at least in this crowd." Zenlea seconded those thoughts, noting that, compared with the others, the CX-5's steering and handling are "in a different league." It's not just in its responses that the 2015 Mazda CX-5 distinguishes itself as the driver's choice. The seating position and the relationship to the controls brought to mind the BMW 3 Series.
Fortunately, this 2015 Mazda CX-5 was equipped with the larger, 2.5-liter four whose 184 hp and 185 lb-ft of torque provide a major upgrade over the base version's overworked, 155-hp 2.0-liter. The 2.5's much-needed extra oomph does not exact a major penalty at the pump, as the CX-5 returns the best mileage of any non-CVT vehicle in this group. The Mazda's conventional six-speed automatic snaps off crisp and smooth shifts that keep response lively. The only downside is that the engine is vocal and road noise is pronounced.
Outside of dynamics, the Mazda isn't quite as much of a standout. Its interior is rather plain, even in our top-spec Grand Touring trim. Mazda's TomTom-based navigation system is pretty basic, and the screen graphics look cartoonish next to the Chevy's or the Ford's. We were pleased, though, by the straightforward controls and the outward visibility. Interior space is decent. The Mazda is compact overall but still manages to package a good-size cargo hold, and the liftover height is low.
The Mazda's as-tested price of $31,760 was exactly mid-pack. With AWD, the Grand Touring model starts at $30,050 and includes leather, a blind-spot warning system, a backup camera, a sunroof, and a small touch screen. Navigation is bundled with adaptive HID headlights, smart city brake support, and an auto-dimming mirror for a pricey $1425. We'd skip it.
The reasonable price rounds out a strong story that makes the 2015 Mazda CX-5 our pick. As Floyd said, "The CX-5 is a straightforward, honest package that has a few flaws and is mid-pack in most dimensions but is definitely the most engaging from a ride-and-handling standpoint." And even when we're driving something as mundane as a compact crossover, we still appreciate a good drive.

2015 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

MSRP (with destination) $30,050
Price as Tested $31,760
Engine 2.5-liter DOHC I-4
Horsepower (hp) 184 @ 5700 rpm
Torque (lb-ft) 185 @ 3250 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic
Drive 4-wheel
Fuel Economy (city/highway/combined) 24/30/26 mpg
CHASSIS AND MEASUREMENTS
Steering Electrically assisted
Front suspension Strut-type, coil springs
Rear suspension Multilink, coil springs
Brakes f/r Vented discs/discs
LxWxH 178.7 x 72.4 x 65.7 in
Wheelbase 106.3 in
Track f/r 62.4/62.5 in
Curb weight 3532 lb
CAPACITIES
Doors/Passengers 4/5
Cargo (behind second/first row) 34.1/65.4 cu ft
Legroom (first/second row) 41.0/39.3 in
Headroom (first/second row) 39.0/39.0 in
Towing 2000 lb

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2015 Mazda CX-5

Sport FWD 4-Dr Sport Utility I4
starting at (MSRP)
$21,545
Engine
2.0L I4
Fuel Economy
26 City 35 Hwy
2015 Mazda CX-5