What is the best compact SUV? Well tofind out we gathered seven models for the 2019 Compact SUV Challenge includedin days of testing were top trim levels of the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Tucson, theJeep Cherokee, the Nissan Rogue, the redesigned Subaru Forester, theredesigned Toyota RAV4 and the Volkswagen Tiguan. We’ve been doing thesemulti-vehicle tests for more than a decade and sometimes we find things wereally don’t like and you know, consumers sometimes buy hundreds of thousands ofthem anyway or even millions of them. Well this time around we the judgesagree that everything in this test is actually quite good. The differencesaren’t nearly what they used to be so be sure to pay real close attention to whatwe found that distinguishes them from each other and decide what matters mostto you. So why don’t we start with the model that came in last, the Nissan Rogue,which was in seventh place. It is one of the oldest in the test and that doesn’tnecessarily doom a model to failure but in the case of the Rogue it didn’t do aswell as it could have despite being one of our award winners in previous years.Yeah it’s not aging as well as some of the other ones in our test and thatreally stood out to me in the inside. I mean we had the highest trim levels ofthese ones but you see it in the Rogue, it’s not a consistent look, it didn’t lookit. Right, there’s some really nice stuff next to really basic materials and alsoin some of the technology – it had a really small screen and the lookof the graphics it’s behind behind the times. Therewere things I also noticed that maybe features that weren’t realimportant several years ago like having driving modes like sport and eco. Theyhave them but they’re kind of down out of not just out of sight but out ofreach. By your left knee so you can’t even tell by feeling where they are. Stuff like that has been better integrated inthe other vehicles in the test because they put it right where they know you’regonna use it and see it. But then there’s the flip side to it which is it has ProPilot Assist which is a really well done like driver aid umbrellapackage of features like adaptive cruise control and lanecentering. So it’s a weird mix of noticeably aged and pretty modern stuff.And then drivability , the CVT. I mean talk about things that aren’taging well. They were one of the first with it, right, they’ve gotten muchbetter. In the Rogue, you step on the gas it’s like you stepped on the cat’s tail.I mean, it just roars. Well we should move on to number six in the test, the JeepCherokee. What stood out to you guys about the Cherokee? One thing for me, thiswas the only model in our test with a V6 engine, all the others had the fourcylinders of various turbos and non turbos and I thought the V6 hid a lot ofthe ills of the 9 speed automatic that we’ve noticed over the years but not allof them. At least for me I noticed it has a really, I thought annoyingtendency to kind of short shift right when you’re starting off and alsooccasional clunking when you’re just cruising along. That 9 speed’srefinements improved quite a bit over the years but it’s still not where itneeds to be. I mean when you look at the others yeahand for what it’s worth I mean people will look at it and say V6 oh that’s got tobe better, not necessarily. Nowadays with directinjection and turbo charging a smaller displacement engine can be just aspowerful but having said that I will mention that the output on that thing isquite high and even though the Cherokee is one of the heaviest, possibly theheaviest model in the test, it still has a lot of power. I really felt like it wasit was robust, definitely one of the strongest points about it and interiorquality is another area where I thought, maybe it was it was partly because ofthe light-colored upholstery which I always find you know more rich, I thoughtit had a really nice nice interior, nice execution. Yeah it’s it’s definitely heldup better than the Rogue in that regard, talking about kind of vehicles fromsimilar eras. And I think they do a really good job onthe multimedia front. No absolutely though, I mean the UConnect system, thespeed, the ease of use is really great. I still don’t like how they hidelike seat heaters and steering wheel heaters in the screenbut even in that case it’s all on the same screen. Exactly, you control all theheaters, the steering wheel, everything
same screen. Exactly, you control all theheaters, the steering wheel, everything all right there. They make good use ofthat touchscreen in ways that others don’t.Subaru we’ll get to you in a moment. Number five in the count up, the ToyotaRAV4. I think we have to say first off that the Toyota RAV4 is way morecompetitive in its redesigned form in this test then the previous generation hadbeen for a long time. I mean frankly it was the stinker in these comparisontests for years and years and it is much stronger and that we have to emphasizethat things are so tight now and the differences are so small that even theRAV4 placing lower in the in the class was really good. I wanted to like itbetter. I like how it looks number one, we didn’t score that, but it is a bit biggerbut when I got inside not as much bigger as it looked. The backseat is really notvery accommodating. The cushions low, if you’re my height which issix-two, you sit with your knees up on a low cushion and the wholething feels narrower. The front seats feel closed in. One of the areaswhere the RAV4 has improved is drivability. Not best-in-class butimproved. I was a little disappointed in the drivetrain. I thought early on thatit was a continuously variable transmission because it had this droningsound to it. You would accelerate and then let up and it would just keep thatdrone sound going and then later we found out it’s an 8-speed conventionalautomatic transmission which is mind-boggling to me because it hadsome of the characteristics of a CVT including one important one which isit’s really efficient. I mean in our mileage test the the RAV4 came in firstwhich is impressive. The other reason that I wasn’t as wild about it is thethe all-wheel drive system seemed to be the most most reactive. Like I had thefront wheels spinning, like losing tractionor the rears would kick in and it was the only vehicle like that in the wholetest and it just didn’t have the refinement I had expected. I like whatthey’ve done with the design there and the layout. I like where thatscreens positioned its up high. I thought it was pretty easy to use. Itdoesn’t have Android auto that was the only one in this test I think that waswas missing it but in terms of the layout, the materials, it wasn’t quitewhere in my view Tiguan was, but it was pretty well done. The RAV4 also hasmore cabin storage than the old one did. I always like the sort of under-shelfsthat the Highlander had and they’ve sort of done a version of that above theglovebox. I thought so too – I think it’s pretty welllaid out. They did a nice job of integrating stuff where it should be.They did a nice job on the new and larger display in the instrument panel. Pretty easy to get through using controls on the steering wheel . Waspretty impressed overall with the semi-autonomous features. It’s worth notingon this one is you don’t have to get the high-end, most expensive one that we had.Safety Sense package is now standard on all the RAV4s and it’s it’s one ofthe most complete packages in terms of features. All right let’s move up in thecount up to number four, the Honda CR-V. It didn’t do as well as as some peoplemight have thought but it did have some very clear, repeatable flaws that we allkind of seemed to zero in on. I will just mention what my main one was for driving.Despite having enough power, it has a turbocharged 1.5 liter, I think, fourcylinder, and the one we had most of the time – you’re driving, it’s fine, butthat first couple of seconds of acceleration off the line, even if youfloor it, is extremely slow and if you own this you really have to get used tothat and know that you’re not going to be the guy that’s diving into trafficfrom a standstill because it can be dangerous. It’s consistent so it’s notlike it surprises you but that was one of the things that I really, you know,counted it down for. Yeah it was noticeable to me. I wondered,that’s the same sized engine they put in the Civic so seems like there’s room todo something a little bit larger here for people who might want it butdon’t have that right now in terms of like the high-power engine. I thought thehandling was quite good in the CR-V. I don’t know how you guys graded it but Ireally like the steering and I thought it was possibly the onevehicle out of this whole group that as
it was possibly the onevehicle out of this whole group that as opposed to just feeling competent likethe Tiguan felt a little sporty, if that, a little more agile to methan some of the others. I I did get more body lean than in some of them and theother thing that that I noticed in addition to being a little bumpy when Igot on a rough road, I was getting a little more noise than I expected to get in the CR-V. The CR-V owned this categoryfor a long time and everybody’s catching up as and as we’ve said they’re all veryclose here. I think what most of us downgraded in are things that we’ve known for awhile and they haven’t fixed as they’ve refreshed the vehicle. One of them is themultimedia system. It still has way too many menus and you have these littlebuttons that are way too small for my fingers that are justpart of the touchscreen, there’s no physical buttons and they finally addeda volume nob but that’s like a band-aid on what needed an overhaul and it hasn’tgot it. Yeah one area though I thought in terms of the other cabin things where itdid separate itself from the others was in cabin storage. Most of them have kindof the traditional and a small console box but Honda has a really nice consolebin that’s sizable. We found it you can configure it different ways, it wasnoticeable especially in a field where they just weren’t giving you a lot ofstorage overall. I mean there were some nooks in some of them here but most hadthese tiny little consoles under the armrest that were just just seemed likethey hadn’t hadn’t touched it in years but even though these are brand newvehicles. One thing I liked in the interior is it seemed very serviceable,it seemed very sturdy and yet it was very nicely designed and not in a flashyway but nothing was overdone but the materials were all really nice and hadkind of a nice feel to it. It’s the best for family hauling in addition to thecabin storage for your stuff, your gear, your devices, it also has the mostcargo room both in the rated cargo room and in the testing we did which involvesfixed size boxes and we filled them up to the height of the rear seat. Shall wemove on to the podium? What might be a surprise, the third placefinisher overall was the Hyundai Tucson. It is we should mention right off thebat, the smallest model in the class and some of its shortcomings are because ofthat. As we said earlier with the Toyota RAV4 I want to mention the current one,the 2019, versus what might have been available in the past, I was thrilled tosee that Hyundai discontinued the 1.6 liter turbocharged engine with the7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission because it was a bulkypairing. So you get a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission whichthere’s no question has lower mileage so there’s a bit of a there’s a trade-offbut the drivability is much better and I just found that it drove very welldespite the fact that it is very modestly powered. It’s very modestlypowered and the power that you do have, which is similar to the old turbo, comeshigher in the RPM range so it really you feel it in traffic off the line. I wasalso impressed with how it rides. I mean it rides pretty comfortably despitebeing so small it didn’t feel super sporty but it was fine. The steering Ithought was pretty good because that has been a weakness of Hyundai over the years, so has ride, it’s better at both of them. Yeah they’ve improved on both ofthose things I thought. On the interior aspect of it it doesn’t have nicestswitches and controls but it’s really thoughtfully laid out. Like in everyother vehicle where everything was where you’d expect to find it. Wetalked about in the RAV4, the elevated screen, this also has kind of thathigh up easy to use multimedia system, the controls right below it for everything from seat heaters to heatedsteering wheel, all the other climate stuff. The instrument panel wasbasic but it but it gave you what you needed to know so I thought a well done layout for all the controls in it. And for the first time this year itadded a 360 camera as well in the wider media screen. You cansplit the backup camera and a 360 view, again, a very nice thing if you live inthe city. A lot of those driving aids, the adaptive cruise and the lane centeringand such, pretty well executed and it’s making that available pretty much almostacross the line where you know used to
tiguan adventure making that available pretty much almostacross the line where you know used to
making that available pretty much almostacross the line where you know used to not have half of these features to beginwith. I thought like the RAV4 too though, the backseat to me felt low sitting, kindof low, giving you a better headroom but kind of compromising on the seatingposition a little bit compared to some of the others. And is where the slightlysmaller footprint shows up we should point out. One of the areas that the Tucson did well in was value and that is not uncommon for a Hyundai. Now value forus doesn’t mean it costs less, it means what you get for what you pay for. Eventhough this was the least expensive as equipped it had a lot of features anywaylike the generous warranty and a lot of other features that you might have topay extra for in other vehicles. Let’s move up to number two in the test. Anewcomer though you might not be able to tell from the outside, the redesignedSubaru Forester, 2019. It looks a lot like the old one but it is a new platform soit is all-new. It turned out quite well in the overall scoring and in our testscame in second. As usual we can’t talk about a Subaru withouttalking about outward visibility. All of these cars again pretty good, Ican’t say any one of them was really hard to see out of but Subaru, and inthe Forester in particular, they take it a step farther by having a low beltlineand that also means the hoods lower so you can see better when you’re parking,you can see behind, you see more stuff below. They just go beyond withthe really thin roof pillars. Like that was what was noticeable to me how youjust have so much glass around you. The amount of leather and wraps andstitching, fancier than anything I’ve seen in a Forester before. It’s reallyjust a sight of gaudy and I never thought I’d say that about a Subaru.They really upped their game and unfortunately where it fell down alittle in the execution is it left you with lots of switches and controls movedto lots of different places so you had to kind of figure out where. Absolutely, Iwas disappointed in that largely and not to say that that doesn’texist in other vehicles but because it was a redesign and it has thisrelatively new touchscreen, I view that as an opportunity for the automaker tohave more holistic design. Now you have the instrument panel display, atouchscreen, an additional display above that and all of them, youconfigure them using buttons on the steering wheel, the two that aren’t thetouchscreen, and then you have buttons by your left knee and above you and it’sjust like they said “all right where we’re gonna put all these things. Putsome here, we’ll put some here, we’ll put some there.” And the instrument panel isvery cluttered, you really got to learn it to know where everything is.So I’m not sure they’re quite there yet in that regard. You do get used to it.So if it were your car it’s not something that would drive youcrazy forever probably. Just depends on how far along you werewhen you started. It might be enough for me and it alsodepends on what you like. I personally like the second little screen up there.Yeah I don’t mind it either I just think it’s weird that you that it’snot just a display, that it’s another thing you’re controlling using buttonshere. But I had so much fun controlling it. Because I can dial around, I can seewhat the weather is and it tells me where I am, it’s the weather right here,the approach angle or descent angle if I’m using the hill descent. I’m getting afeeling he has a much more interesting life than I do. Ialways have the time and temperature available, the compass is in there. Isn’tthat what your phone is for? The graphics are really sharp and a little eccentricbut well done. There there’s a feature called driver focus which is anattention monitor, driver aid alertness monitor which is not the firsttime we’ve seen it. They’re on other vehicles but in this case they use anactual camera that’s looking at your eyes.There’s also a featurewhere it can recognize you, facial recognitio,n which I did not do because -no. But this thing will watch your eyes and if you’re not looking andunfortunately I was driving the Forester when we went by a wind farm and allthese wind turbines were there and I’m fascinated by them, I never get to seethem and I’m driving the Subaru and I’m trying to look at these things and itkeeps beeping at me and flashing. Pay
trying to look at these things and itkeeps beeping at me and flashing. Pay attention and watch the road you fool.There was no one around it was perfectly safe,so I found the solution I put my sunglasses on. Joe one, Subaru zero.Speaking of the drivetrain and the driving experience something stood outto me is that it felt like it has a really low center of gravity like morethan the other ones even though none of these are really extremely high ridingvehicles, this one and even though it does have that tall roof everything, islow and that helped it in corners and kind of the handling aspect. I thoughteven though the ground clearance is 8.7 inches, we know you’reup there, it feels like you’re lower and I like that. Tell me ifyou think this is the wrong characterization, I’m not gonna say that the Forester doesn’t do anything right, it does several thingsvery well and we’ve talked about some of them, but one of its real strengths is itdoesn’t do anything really badly. Pretty balanced overall. Yeah I think thatdefinitely came through and when I was looking at the categories like it didn’thave that one for me where it just was really the worst in the test. In terms ofthe practicality of it the cargo room was very capacious so in terms of whatyou need to haul and particularly, Subaru likes to make the point that people withadventurous lifestyles would buy this, so you’d be putting you know that kind ofgear in the back whatever it is whether you’re antiquing and putting a chairthere, it’s easier to get everything in. I’m pretty sure Subaru already has theactive lifestyle and antiquing market cornered. And your dogs will fit. The third was the dogs, yes, they got the dogs as well. So that brings us tonumber one. I’m really glad to to see and also report that our number one model inthis test is a returning winner from the previous test, even though we aredifferent judges than last time. Number one in this case is theVolkswagen Tiguan which was redesigned just a couple of years ago and it has alot going for it. It also happened to be the most expensive vehicle in the test Ibelieve like several thousand dollars more than some, but we do take that intoaccount and that is not the reason that it climbed to the top. What weresome of the reasons? Well drivability for me. If you need an SUV but you wouldreally rather have a Golf GTI this is the one to get. It’s obviously not thatgood but it’s closer than anything else in this group. One of the complaintsI think people had about the redesign of the Tiguan, that were the version we’rein now, is that it when it got bigger it lost some of that sportiness of thesmaller one and I don’t I agree that it’s not as sporty as the smaller onebut to me it’s just about how competent it feels and weirdly this had 20 inchwheels, which because it’s the R-line version. Save your money and don’t getthem. Save aside from the fact that they’re expensive to repair and replace,it actually made it ride more firmly than then it would have but it stillrode well. I mean this was a vehicle that to me just felt richer and again it’sabout how poised it is, how well it handles, to me less about sportiness moreabout just effortlessness. Good steering feel and I like the the drivetrain aswell and I mean $40,000 is a lot to think about if you’re looking at thisclass but this one I felt like it justified it in a lot of ways not justfrom the driving side but also when you get into the inside. It had thatpremium feel. Like you look at the all digital instrument panel that could havebeen in an Audi. Right, that’s where it comes from instead of two gauges and adisplay a growing display in the middle, it’s all display, configurable. and it looks like it’s out of a luxury vehicle. I like the materials consistency throughout the cabin. It’s understatedbut it’s well done and then when you talk about like the space androominess you get to in the second row, it’s a really complete package of asmall SUV. And one thing that this vehicle rose to the top, in spite of notbecause of, is the fact that it had a third row. We didn’t ask for a third rowseat but it’s an option and it appeared and it actually decreases the cargo.Decreases the cargo space and it also gives you alittle bit odd or cargo floor that’s raised the raised and goes uphill alittle bit. Why, I don’t know, I don’t see the point of it. It’s a tiny, crampedthird row. Small children? Maybe, but are you gonna put small kids back there? Idon’t know, I’m not sure who wants it and I wouldn’t waste my money on it.Yeah it’s a really nice, roomy front seat, backseat SUV, the third row isn’t pretendthird row and if you need a third row Volkswagen has an Atlas.One of the things that stood out to me was really large door pocketsin the front and I was thinking oh look at this is great. Becausethese cars are so similar and we’re looking for things that differentiatethem I was all excited and then I turned to the center storage console, it’s thesmallest one in the test, so these vehicles all seem to find ways to likekind of end up, when you consider everything, end up going back tothe center in a way that they’re all comparable in some way. That also makes a good point about you getting in the vehicle and figuring out how youwould use it and what kind of stuff you take. I think sometimes when we havethese discussions a consumer might be watching and thinking well that’s prettyesoteric, I mean is that really what’s most important? Oddly enough for peoplewho’ve been doing this work as long as we have we’ve kind of comearound to the the idea that esoteric stuff is often what matters these daysbecause all these vehicles are so good. We’ve had some stinkers in ourcomparison tests and they’re probably still a couple stinkers on the marketbut they weren’t in this test and it can come down to something like you knowwhether it has Android Auto or not, like the RAV4 does not, or something thatmight be completely irrelevant to one person might matter to you so it’s evenmore important for people to dig in and look at all the minutiae here and find what works most for them. Right, all of the feature sets are not exactlythe same and different people have different deal-breakers. For some peopleit might be heated backseat, you only have two or three choices here, outof this group anyway that we have, for other people there are things that youjust never want to see on the car or you couldn’t live withand it would bother you for the next three years every time you got in yousaw it, it would drive you crazy. And I think it’s also the use cases wewere talking about like certain ones are gonna line up better for someone in thistype of lifestyle like your life stage, versus this one. Yourgeography, the neighborhood you rent, what your parking situation is, howmany people you have in your family and you know how big they are.And part of our testing is the car seat checks for that reason so you candetermine you know how easy it is to install a child safety seat and such soit really depends on the individual maybe more than ever to dig in and findout what works for them.