2019 Compact SUV Challenge — Cars.com

2019 Compact SUV Challenge — Cars.com


What is the best compact SUV? Well to
find out we gathered seven models for the 2019 Compact SUV Challenge included
in days of testing were top trim levels of the Honda CR-V, the Hyundai Tucson, the
Jeep Cherokee, the Nissan Rogue, the redesigned Subaru Forester, the
redesigned Toyota RAV4 and the Volkswagen Tiguan. We’ve been doing these
multi-vehicle tests for more than a decade and sometimes we find things we
really don’t like and you know, consumers sometimes buy hundreds of thousands of
them anyway or even millions of them. Well this time around we the judges
agree that everything in this test is actually quite good. The differences
aren’t nearly what they used to be so be sure to pay real close attention to what
we found that distinguishes them from each other and decide what matters most
to 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’t
necessarily doom a model to failure but in the case of the Rogue it didn’t do as
well 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 that
really stood out to me in the inside. I mean we had the highest trim levels of
these ones but you see it in the Rogue, it’s not a consistent look, it didn’t look
it. Right, there’s some really nice stuff next to really basic materials and also
in some of the technology – it had a really small screen and the look
of the graphics it’s behind behind the times. There
were things I also noticed that maybe features that weren’t real
important several years ago like having driving modes like sport and eco. They
have them but they’re kind of down out of not just out of sight but out of
reach. By your left knee so you can’t even tell by feeling where they are. Stuff like that has been better integrated in
the other vehicles in the test because they put it right where they know you’re
gonna use it and see it. But then there’s the flip side to it which is it has Pro
Pilot Assist which is a really well done like driver aid umbrella
package of features like adaptive cruise control and lane
centering. 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’t
aging well. They were one of the first with it, right, they’ve gotten much
better. 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 Jeep
Cherokee. What stood out to you guys about the Cherokee? One thing for me, this
was the only model in our test with a V6 engine, all the others had the four
cylinders of various turbos and non turbos and I thought the V6 hid a lot of
the ills of the 9 speed automatic that we’ve noticed over the years but not all
of them. At least for me I noticed it has a really, I thought annoying
tendency to kind of short shift right when you’re starting off and also
occasional clunking when you’re just cruising along. That 9 speed’s
refinements improved quite a bit over the years but it’s still not where it
needs to be. I mean when you look at the others yeah
and for what it’s worth I mean people will look at it and say V6 oh that’s got to
be better, not necessarily. Nowadays with direct
injection and turbo charging a smaller displacement engine can be just as
powerful but having said that I will mention that the output on that thing is
quite high and even though the Cherokee is one of the heaviest, possibly the
heaviest model in the test, it still has a lot of power. I really felt like it was
it was robust, definitely one of the strongest points about it and interior
quality is another area where I thought, maybe it was it was partly because of
the light-colored upholstery which I always find you know more rich, I thought
it had a really nice nice interior, nice execution. Yeah it’s it’s definitely held
up better than the Rogue in that regard, talking about kind of vehicles from
similar eras. And I think they do a really good job on
the multimedia front. No absolutely though, I mean the UConnect system, the
speed, the ease of use is really great. I still don’t like how they hide
like seat heaters and steering wheel heaters in the screen
but even in that case it’s all on the same screen. Exactly, you control all the
heaters, the steering wheel, everything all right there. They make good use of
that touchscreen in ways that others don’t.
Subaru we’ll get to you in a moment. Number five in the count up, the Toyota
RAV4. I think we have to say first off that the Toyota RAV4 is way more
competitive in its redesigned form in this test then the previous generation had
been for a long time. I mean frankly it was the stinker in these comparison
tests for years and years and it is much stronger and that we have to emphasize
that things are so tight now and the differences are so small that even the
RAV4 placing lower in the in the class was really good. I wanted to like it
better. I like how it looks number one, we didn’t score that, but it is a bit bigger
but when I got inside not as much bigger as it looked. The backseat is really not
very accommodating. The cushions low, if you’re my height which is
six-two, you sit with your knees up on a low cushion and the whole
thing feels narrower. The front seats feel closed in. One of the areas
where the RAV4 has improved is drivability. Not best-in-class but
improved. I was a little disappointed in the drivetrain. I thought early on that
it was a continuously variable transmission because it had this droning
sound to it. You would accelerate and then let up and it would just keep that
drone sound going and then later we found out it’s an 8-speed conventional
automatic transmission which is mind-boggling to me because it had
some of the characteristics of a CVT including one important one which is
it’s really efficient. I mean in our mileage test the the RAV4 came in first
which is impressive. The other reason that I wasn’t as wild about it is the
the all-wheel drive system seemed to be the most most reactive. Like I had the
front wheels spinning, like losing traction
or the rears would kick in and it was the only vehicle like that in the whole
test and it just didn’t have the refinement I had expected. I like what
they’ve done with the design there and the layout. I like where that
screens positioned its up high. I thought it was pretty easy to use. It
doesn’t have Android auto that was the only one in this test I think that was
was missing it but in terms of the layout, the materials, it wasn’t quite
where in my view Tiguan was, but it was pretty well done. The RAV4 also has
more cabin storage than the old one did. I always like the sort of under-shelfs
that the Highlander had and they’ve sort of done a version of that above the
glovebox. I thought so too – I think it’s pretty well
laid 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 . Was
pretty impressed overall with the semi-autonomous features. It’s worth noting
on 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 of
the most complete packages in terms of features. All right let’s move up in the
count up to number four, the Honda CR-V. It didn’t do as well as as some people
might have thought but it did have some very clear, repeatable flaws that we all
kind 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, four
cylinder, and the one we had most of the time – you’re driving, it’s fine, but
that first couple of seconds of acceleration off the line, even if you
floor it, is extremely slow and if you own this you really have to get used to
that and know that you’re not going to be the guy that’s diving into traffic
from a standstill because it can be dangerous. It’s consistent so it’s not
like 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 to
do something a little bit larger here for people who might want it but
don’t have that right now in terms of like the high-power engine. I thought the
handling was quite good in the CR-V. I don’t know how you guys graded it but I
really like the steering and I thought it was possibly the one
vehicle out of this whole group that as opposed to just feeling competent like
the Tiguan felt a little sporty, if that, a little more agile to me
than some of the others. I I did get more body lean than in some of them and the
other thing that that I noticed in addition to being a little bumpy when I
got 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 category
for a long time and everybody’s catching up as and as we’ve said they’re all very
close here. I think what most of us downgraded in are things that we’ve known for a
while and they haven’t fixed as they’ve refreshed the vehicle. One of them is the
multimedia system. It still has way too many menus and you have these little
buttons that are way too small for my fingers that are just
part of the touchscreen, there’s no physical buttons and they finally added
a volume nob but that’s like a band-aid on what needed an overhaul and it hasn’t
got it. Yeah one area though I thought in terms of the other cabin things where it
did separate itself from the others was in cabin storage. Most of them have kind
of the traditional and a small console box but Honda has a really nice console
bin that’s sizable. We found it you can configure it different ways, it was
noticeable especially in a field where they just weren’t giving you a lot of
storage overall. I mean there were some nooks in some of them here but most had
these tiny little consoles under the armrest that were just just seemed like
they hadn’t hadn’t touched it in years but even though these are brand new
vehicles. 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 flashy
way but nothing was overdone but the materials were all really nice and had
kind of a nice feel to it. It’s the best for family hauling in addition to the
cabin storage for your stuff, your gear, your devices, it also has the most
cargo room both in the rated cargo room and in the testing we did which involves
fixed size boxes and we filled them up to the height of the rear seat. Shall we
move on to the podium? What might be a surprise, the third place
finisher overall was the Hyundai Tucson. It is we should mention right off the
bat, the smallest model in the class and some of its shortcomings are because of
that. 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 to
see that Hyundai discontinued the 1.6 liter turbocharged engine with the
7-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission because it was a bulky
pairing. So you get a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission which
there’s no question has lower mileage so there’s a bit of a there’s a trade-off
but the drivability is much better and I just found that it drove very well
despite the fact that it is very modestly powered. It’s very modestly
powered and the power that you do have, which is similar to the old turbo, comes
higher in the RPM range so it really you feel it in traffic off the line. I was
also impressed with how it rides. I mean it rides pretty comfortably despite
being so small it didn’t feel super sporty but it was fine. The steering I
thought 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 of
those things I thought. On the interior aspect of it it doesn’t have nicest
switches and controls but it’s really thoughtfully laid out. Like in every
other vehicle where everything was where you’d expect to find it. We
talked about in the RAV4, the elevated screen, this also has kind of that
high up easy to use multimedia system, the controls right below it for everything from seat heaters to heated
steering wheel, all the other climate stuff. The instrument panel was
basic 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 it
added a 360 camera as well in the wider media screen. You can
split the backup camera and a 360 view, again, a very nice thing if you live in
the city. A lot of those driving aids, the adaptive cruise and the lane centering
and such, pretty well executed and it’s making that available pretty much almost
across the line where you know used to not have half of these features to begin
with. I thought like the RAV4 too though, the backseat to me felt low sitting, kind
of low, giving you a better headroom but kind of compromising on the seating
position a little bit compared to some of the others. And is where the slightly
smaller 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 for
us doesn’t mean it costs less, it means what you get for what you pay for. Even
though this was the least expensive as equipped it had a lot of features anyway
like the generous warranty and a lot of other features that you might have to
pay extra for in other vehicles. Let’s move up to number two in the test. A
newcomer though you might not be able to tell from the outside, the redesigned
Subaru Forester, 2019. It looks a lot like the old one but it is a new platform so
it is all-new. It turned out quite well in the overall scoring and in our tests
came in second. As usual we can’t talk about a Subaru without
talking about outward visibility. All of these cars again pretty good, I
can’t say any one of them was really hard to see out of but Subaru, and in
the Forester in particular, they take it a step farther by having a low beltline
and 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 with
the really thin roof pillars. Like that was what was noticeable to me how you
just have so much glass around you. The amount of leather and wraps and
stitching, fancier than anything I’ve seen in a Forester before. It’s really
just 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 a
little in the execution is it left you with lots of switches and controls moved
to lots of different places so you had to kind of figure out where. Absolutely, I
was disappointed in that largely and not to say that that doesn’t
exist in other vehicles but because it was a redesign and it has this
relatively new touchscreen, I view that as an opportunity for the automaker to
have more holistic design. Now you have the instrument panel display, a
touchscreen, an additional display above that and all of them, you
configure them using buttons on the steering wheel, the two that aren’t the
touchscreen, and then you have buttons by your left knee and above you and it’s
just like they said “all right where we’re gonna put all these things. Put
some here, we’ll put some here, we’ll put some there.” And the instrument panel is
very 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 you
crazy forever probably. Just depends on how far along you were
when you started. It might be enough for me and it also
depends 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’s
not just a display, that it’s another thing you’re controlling using buttons
here. But I had so much fun controlling it. Because I can dial around, I can see
what 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 a
feeling he has a much more interesting life than I do. I
always have the time and temperature available, the compass is in there. Isn’t
that what your phone is for? The graphics are really sharp and a little eccentric
but well done. There there’s a feature called driver focus which is an
attention monitor, driver aid alertness monitor which is not the first
time we’ve seen it. They’re on other vehicles but in this case they use an
actual camera that’s looking at your eyes.There’s also a feature
where 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 and
unfortunately I was driving the Forester when we went by a wind farm and all
these wind turbines were there and I’m fascinated by them, I never get to see
them and I’m driving the Subaru and I’m trying to look at these things and it
keeps 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 out
to me is that it felt like it has a really low center of gravity like more
than the other ones even though none of these are really extremely high riding
vehicles, this one and even though it does have that tall roof everything, is
low and that helped it in corners and kind of the handling aspect. I thought
even though the ground clearance is 8.7 inches, we know you’re
up there, it feels like you’re lower and I like that. Tell me if
you think this is the wrong characterization, I’m not gonna say that the Forester doesn’t do anything right, it does several things
very well and we’ve talked about some of them, but one of its real strengths is it
doesn’t do anything really badly. Pretty balanced overall. Yeah I think that
definitely came through and when I was looking at the categories like it didn’t
have that one for me where it just was really the worst in the test. In terms of
the practicality of it the cargo room was very capacious so in terms of what
you need to haul and particularly, Subaru likes to make the point that people with
adventurous lifestyles would buy this, so you’d be putting you know that kind of
gear in the back whatever it is whether you’re antiquing and putting a chair
there, it’s easier to get everything in. I’m pretty sure Subaru already has the
active 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 to
number one. I’m really glad to to see and also report that our number one model in
this test is a returning winner from the previous test, even though we are
different judges than last time. Number one in this case is the
Volkswagen Tiguan which was redesigned just a couple of years ago and it has a
lot going for it. It also happened to be the most expensive vehicle in the test I
believe like several thousand dollars more than some, but we do take that into
account and that is not the reason that it climbed to the top. What were
some of the reasons? Well drivability for me. If you need an SUV but you would
really rather have a Golf GTI this is the one to get. It’s obviously not that
good but it’s closer than anything else in this group. One of the complaints
I think people had about the redesign of the Tiguan, that were the version we’re
in now, is that it when it got bigger it lost some of that sportiness of the
smaller one and I don’t I agree that it’s not as sporty as the smaller one
but to me it’s just about how competent it feels and weirdly this had 20 inch
wheels, which because it’s the R-line version. Save your money and don’t get
them. 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 still
rode well. I mean this was a vehicle that to me just felt richer and again it’s
about how poised it is, how well it handles, to me less about sportiness more
about just effortlessness. Good steering feel and I like the the drivetrain as
well and I mean $40,000 is a lot to think about if you’re looking at this
class but this one I felt like it justified it in a lot of ways not just
from the driving side but also when you get into the inside. It had that
premium feel. Like you look at the all digital instrument panel that could have
been in an Audi. Right, that’s where it comes from instead of two gauges and a
display 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 understated
but it’s well done and then when you talk about like the space and
roominess you get to in the second row, it’s a really complete package of a
small SUV. And one thing that this vehicle rose to the top, in spite of not
because of, is the fact that it had a third row. We didn’t ask for a third row
seat but it’s an option and it appeared and it actually decreases the cargo.
Decreases the cargo space and it also gives you a
little bit odd or cargo floor that’s raised the raised and goes uphill a
little bit. Why, I don’t know, I don’t see the point of it. It’s a tiny, cramped
third row. Small children? Maybe, but are you gonna put small kids back there? I
don’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 pretend
third 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 pockets
in the front and I was thinking oh look at this is great. Because
these cars are so similar and we’re looking for things that differentiate
them I was all excited and then I turned to the center storage console, it’s the
smallest one in the test, so these vehicles all seem to find ways to like
kind of end up, when you consider everything, end up going back to
the 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 you
would use it and what kind of stuff you take. I think sometimes when we have
these discussions a consumer might be watching and thinking well that’s pretty
esoteric, I mean is that really what’s most important? Oddly enough for people
who’ve been doing this work as long as we have we’ve kind of come
around to the the idea that esoteric stuff is often what matters these days
because all these vehicles are so good. We’ve had some stinkers in our
comparison tests and they’re probably still a couple stinkers on the market
but they weren’t in this test and it can come down to something like you know
whether it has Android Auto or not, like the RAV4 does not, or something that
might be completely irrelevant to one person might matter to you so it’s even
more 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 exactly
the same and different people have different deal-breakers. For some people
it might be heated backseat, you only have two or three choices here, out
of this group anyway that we have, for other people there are things that you
just never want to see on the car or you couldn’t live with
and it would bother you for the next three years every time you got in you
saw it, it would drive you crazy. And I think it’s also the use cases we
were talking about like certain ones are gonna line up better for someone in this
type of lifestyle like your life stage, versus this one. Your
geography, the neighborhood you rent, what your parking situation is, how
many 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 can
determine you know how easy it is to install a child safety seat and such so
it really depends on the individual maybe more than ever to dig in and find
out what works for them.