Seven Up: Picking the Best Compact SUV

Andrew Trahan
#Ford, #CR-V

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
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
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
Richard Edwards
I wonder how the luxury models in this segment would fair.  Considering how long a Honda or Toyota lasts, I might be able to justify the "luxury" version or one of its competitors.  Or maybe that is a separate test.
I find myself looking more broadly in my comparison than merely a configuration and narrow price range.  Of course my "new" car is a 10 year old CRV, and my old cars are a '97 and '99 2 door coupes. . 
Harry Ohe
We've considered this market segment for some time and came to very similar conclusions. The Mazda is clearly the drivers car. Pricing from $21K for openers to an internet price today of a loaded Grand Touring of $26,700. I am not sure sure what brand Ford is smoking, but they need to get real! Options: We liked the BMW X1 the best and found a fairly loaded model w/ sun roof for $27995. w/ 5 yrs of free maintenance included and a "Lifetime" warranty on the drive train. The deal breaker could be the Mazda when it is equipped w/ the new diesel which rumor has it that the CX5 will deliver approx. 50 MPG HWY. The BMW is not equipped w/ diesel yet, buts it's turbo (comes Standard)  runs well at 240 HP  and for $1700 the dealer installed kit brings it to 340 HP and full warranty.  If you're concerned about the vehicle  lasting, the BMW will do just that "IF" you service it correctly. One of my cars is a BMW that 13 years old and looks and runs like new. Few minor repairs along the way, but I am NOT MAKING CAR PAYMENTS! Would be nice if BMW put their new diesel in the X1. Their Diesel upgrade is a deal at only $2000.
I have the 07 CRV and it's less power but really it's enough most of the time. if you need to haul stuff...get american suv with v8.
A few things buyers think about that car maganizine tester never will...1. How long does my 30K SUV last ?   American car? 100-150K mile on average.   CR-V, RAV4?  200K mile to 250K mile on average....    so for amount of money spend and how long it will last, and trouble free in between (instead of staying in repair shop all the time) That's why CRV, RAV4, camery and accords are selling big.It's dollar vs life time of the car.if the car last twice as much...that means my cost of car is way my TSX last 250K mile (and still running without major issue) for 30K price vs a smilairly priced american car only last 150K mile and you need to buy another one for another 30K......that is a lof of saving....for the price of a second car....people will overlook boring exterior, interior, noise, even fuel efficiency (that does not really save you nearly as much)2. interior noise....yes...rough engine sould ok for a short test's really annoying when you have to keep it for 10 years...espically it only get worse when the engine gets old.
The CR-V is in deperate need of Honda's new direct-fuel injection engine which they are using in the new accords; but its still a just nice enough vehicle that nobody's leap frogged over them yet; though Mazda and Subaru combined sales are close to doing that.
C Richard Lane
The GM version (all three on same base(Chevy,GMC and Buick) are lacking rear vents to the second row.  We just go rid of a 2013 GMC and will never buy another GM product.  They cut any thing to save a penny (Ex. their faulty ignition switch).
Alan Seitel
Just got a CX-5 Touring a couple of months ago to replace a Mazda 6 Sportwagon which is no longer imported to the USA. Mileage has been decent-averaging about 29 mpg combined. Very comfortable but the connectivity is not up to what I would like. As to the driving, very good feel and response on the road. I needed a hauler for the family and this is as close to a drivers vehicle as it comes in this class.
Zack Kibler
I've never been able to get over Subaru's interiors and powertrains (base ones, anyway). They just kill the whole car for me.
Wow, Automobile is really DOA......7 comments?  If this was CD, there would be hundreds!
So the Mazda placed mid-pack in most areas but was the most fun to drive so it was your top pick. Not a surprise. But with a poor infotainment system and drab interior it will not be the top pick by most shoppers. A friend of mine test drove one and agreed it was nice to drive. But features/utility were just not best in class. Also the road noise - common in many reviews of Mazdas - is a big negative when it comes to needing a highway cruiser. I think if Mazda drops the new Mazda3's infotainment in it will help make it more competitive. Of this group I would probably go with a Jeep with the V6 and FWD with UConnect at my own personal pick. But of the models you tested I actually think the Rogue is probably the best all around CUV for the target market/buyer. The Honda is simply outdated now. The Rogue is sort of the new CR-V.
"The seating position and the relationship to the controls brought to mind the BMW 3 Series."
HUH?  I know they really wanted the Mazda to win, but I have driven both and the 3 series in no way has a driving position like a Mazda CX5.  BS, Pure and simple.  Internet auto mags are just pathetic.
Am I missing something?  Where are the comparison charts?
"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"TRANSLATION:
We said this to try in any way to make the Mazda look better.  In other words, the Mazda was third in MPGs. 
I'm looking to replace A 2002 GMC Envoy which averages around 19 mpg combined driving. This CUV class is too small and the Highlander sized vehicle is no more efficient than mine 12 years later. I realize the Highlander is slightly larger than the Envoy but still the power train options are not very efficient yet. These CUV's are popular not for their utility so much as the lower price point vs more spacious but pricey to own larger units. I have settled on the 2015 updated Outback when it arrives as the least offensive replacement but am not happy with the choices available today.  Where are the reliable, affordable AWD wagons? VW has poor overall dependability long-term even though the diesel Sportwagen re-do looks good. Mazda won't bring the wagon Mazda 6 to the US. They also can't get their diesel to perform properly with US emissions. Subaru engines haven't been modernized yet, maybe their Toyota partnership will result in something for 2016. Toyota's new engine family is also a 2016 event for larger displacement needs. Overall really amazed what $30K doesn't buy these days.
Subaru didn't sell as many units as the CRV, but they also didn't product as many and their profit margin is a lot higher.

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