In the film “National Lampoon’s Vacation” Chevy Chase drives his family across country in a station wagon that was called The Family Truckster. At the time that this movie was made most families in the United States still used traditional station wagons as their preferred method of transport. But fast forward to today and it is clear from the sales charts that the compact SUV has replaced the station wagon as our nation’s modern day Family Truckster.
Now, given its bulletproof reliability record and seemingly never ending popularity with the buying public, one would assume that the favorite compact family SUV Truckster in the United States would have to be the Honda CR-V. Everyone knows that the recently restyled 2012 Honda CR-V is a truly idiot proof compact SUV choice no matter if you need it to haul around your kids, your friends or just your semi-over indulged pets. It is solidly built, has a proven reliability record, class leading fuel efficiency and is also one of the most fun to drive offerings in its market segment.
But we at Autobytel believe that before you buy any new vehicle you should always see what else is out there. A good rule of thumb is to test drive at least three different models in the vehicle segment you are most interested in and if it so happens you are looking for a compact SUV then you are in luck because there are many fine competitors vying to steal away CR-V sales. But the question is, are they as good as the 2012 Honda CR-V?
Well, we road test a lot of compact SUVs for you just so we can answer that question for so as follows are the five best alternatives you should consider test driving before buying that new CR-V. We aren’t saying you won’t wind up buying the Honda as so is the case with so many compact SUV shoppers but rather we only want to make sure you feel truly confident with your decision.
And the Competitors Are...
2013 Mazda CX-5
The 2013 Mazda CX-5 came out of nowhere at the beginning of this year and snagged Autobytel’s “Crossover of the Year” award right out of the hands of the still deserving 2012 Honda CR-V. Sure, everyone expected the CR-V to be excellent but no one thought Mazda with its SkyActiv Technology would not only create a compact SUV that was light and efficient but also very fun to drive. It doesn’t hurt that the CX-5 has a class leading interior as far as quality goes even if the exterior is a bit frumpy from some angles compared to CR-V. No matter, we think that the 2013 Mazda CX-5 and 2012 Honda CR-V both belong on your compact SUV test drive short list. The rest are really just the wild cards.
2012 Kia Sportage
The Kia Sportage was the first harbinger of exterior style in the compact SUV class what with its vaguely European rear pillar which culminates in one of the tightest near-hofmeister kinks in the auto design world. The 2012 Kia Sportage also appeals thanks to the fact that buyers can specify nice features like in-dash navigation system with a full length panoramic sunroof, multi-colored premium leather or a turbocharged optional 260 horsepower engine. Admittedly, the interior plastics in the Sportage are subpar compared to the Mazda and Honda as is the basic refinement of the 2.4 liter 176 horsepower 4-cylinder engine that comes with most Sportages that are sold. Beyond that, however, the 2012 Kia Sportage is a solid choice.
The Wild Cards
2012 VW Tiguan
In model year 2012 the VW Tiguan underwent a minor cosmetic exterior styling update that brought its front end design in line with the rest of its corporate siblings and helped mature its overall look. Yes, we do realize that the 2012 VW Tiguan has an entry price point higher than the aforementioned compact SUVs as buyers need to fork out $26,200 to get a model with an automatic transmission. VW does offer a “low price special” priced at around $22,000 but that requires buyers use a clutch pedal and not care about rolling with cheap plastic wheel covers. Despite the fact that you expect to pay on the high end for the privilege of owning this VW, take heart knowing it comes standard with superb Germanic build quality, an infectiously powerful 2.0 liter 200 horsepower turbocharged engine and an overall driving demeanor that is definitely playful. It’s not the practical choice, this VW, but it just may be perfect for you.
2012 GMC Terrain/Chevy Equinox
How quickly time flies in this class of vehicles as the Terrain and Equinox feel a bit like the dated duo in this comparison even though they are relatively new entrants in this market segment. No matter, the Terrain and Equinox appeal thanks to their smooth rides, efficient powertrains and most of all their slightly larger size which pays interior passenger and cargo room dividends. If you were looking for a compact SUV that could play like a midsize SUV then you will love the Terrain and Equinox thanks to their clever cargo hold/rear passenger seat slider that allows you to adjust legroom and cargo room relative to your needs at the time.
2013 Ford Escape
Initial reports regarding the newly redesigned 2013 Ford Escape are that it is a stylish, fun to drive and a promisingly family friendly new entry into the compact SUV segment. The Escape and the CR-V usually battled it out in years past for the top spot on the sales charts but the Ford always suffered from more quality issues than its Honda competitor. Given some of the quality niggles we had earlier this year with a 2012 Ford Focus test unit, we will have to hold out our final thumbs up to this new Escape until some quality reports come in on this particular model. At the very least, let’s just hope that MyFordTouch works now.