Back in the 90’s, a typical SUV rode and handled like a truck—well, it’s because it was a truck underneath. To cut costs while expanding lineups, manufacturers outfitted their trucks with new cabins and bodystyles to accommodate growing families. Now, manufacturers are chasing a market that yearns for SUV looks and room in a smaller, user-friendlier package, while also chasing stricter fuel economy requirements. The Compact SUVs in this group embody the answer: begin with a sedan unibody then cross it with SUV design cues and light off-road capability. Thus, you’ll find Compact SUVs have SUV-like room, comfort and capability with car-like fuel economy, handling and livability, and are all built on sedan unibody platforms. Here are the Top 5 Recommend Compact SUVs for 2014.
The CR-V is our top pick in the Compact SUV class, and the reasons are well-warranted. Of course, the CR-V has an enviable reliability history. More than that, the cabin has the hushed quality of a fine drawing room, the all-around fit-and-finish is up to snuff and thoughtful details abound. Engine choices begin and end with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and a 5-speed automatic transmission. Options are limited mostly to dealer-installed items like cargo nets and body moldings; shoppers interested in upmarket features such as navigation will have to look at the more expensive trim levels.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 23 city/31 highway.
Mazda’s 2014 CX-5 has a lot going for it. For one thing, it’s a looker— arguably the most attractive SUV of the bunch. Showing that beauty can be more than skin deep, the CX-5 boasts a well-sorted suspension that offers a sporty-yet-comfortable ride. Power comes from a 155-horsepower, 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine matched to a 6-speed automatic transmission. While the power output is a bit lower than its competitors, the upside is the best fuel economy of the bunch. Overall, the CX-5 has the best overall package of fun, economy and driveway appeal.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 25 city/32 highway.
2012 is the end of the road for this generation of RAV4: an all-new, much improved 2014 model is on its way. Still, the 2012 edition has its charms if you can get past all the hard plastic surfaces inside. The available V6 engine is the only V6 in this entire group (it does not continue into 2014) and it delivers silken power. Plus, RAV4 has a well-thought interior, including a set of one-touch levers in the back that fold the rear seats flat. Toyota includes complimentary scheduled maintenance and roadside assistance you’ll likely never need because of RAV4’s reputation for reliability.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 23 city/30 highway.
The redesigned 2014 Escape is one of Ford’s “world cars,” essentially the same as the European Kuga model. For US buyers, that connection brings world-class benefits. For example, among the base engines in this group, Escape’s 1.6-liter 4-cylinder engine is the smallest, yet its standard turbocharger helps it deliver the most torque. Likewise, the available 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder is smaller than competitors’ uprated engines except for the escape, yet the Escape still wears the torque crown. Add to that Escape’s solid Euro-tested chassis and Ford’s SYNC infortainment systems, and it adds up to the best value in this group.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 22 city/31 highway.
As you might expect, the 2014 Sportage has the lowest base MSRP in this group. The question is: can it run with the big dogs? Powertrain choices are solid, with a standard 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine and an available 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbocharged unit, both connected to a 6-speed automatic transmission. At the other end, Sportage has a higher standard tow rating than either CR-V or the base RAV4. Rounding out the package, Kia has the best basic and powertrain warranties of the bunch. While the specs seems good, refinement and handling are not Kia strengths. Still, for shoppers wanting something economical yet edgy, the Sportage is worth a look.
EPA-rated fuel economy: Up to 20 city/26 highway.