Practical Matters: Every Compact Crossover SUV Ranked from Worst to Best

Born by blending the genetic makeup of the car with that of an SUV, most crossovers aim to seamlessly blend utility and a touch of off-road capability—although one of our entries is the quintessential off-road SUV—with a touch of carlike refinement. In general, they avoid the dismal fuel mileage or unwieldy handling characteristics of the colossal truck-based vehicles that predate their existence. Now the marketplace is crowded with so many of these vehicles that simply sorting through them can be a daunting task. But never fear: We’ve assembled these rankings of the players to help you zero in on which one is right for you.With its angular looks, the Outlander Sport is visually distinctive and stands out in a crowded field. A 148-hp 2.0-liter four with front-wheel drive mates to a five-speed manual; a CVT is optional and can be had with all-wheel drive. For more power, there is a 168-hp 2.4-liter four with a CVT; front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive optional. There are some pluses—a low base price and a 10-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty—but the Sport won’t steal an enthusiast’s heart.16. Mitsubishi Outlander SportAs five-seat crossovers go, the Terrain is comfortable, well equipped, and larger than the competition. However, it suffers from ubiquitous American obesity; as a result, fuel economy, braking performance, and handling suffer. A 182-hp 2.4-liter four with front-wheel drive is standard; a 301-hp 3.6-liter V-6 is optional, as is all-wheel drive for both engines. The Terrain is a sensible choice but is far from the top of its class. The good news: An updated model goes on sale in fall 2015.15. GMC TerrainThe aging Equinox is spacious and well-equipped, but is easily bested by newer and more entertaining rivals. Two engines are offered—a 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 301-hp 3.6-liter V-6—and a six-speed automatic drives the front or all four wheels. Technology like 4G LTE and built-in Wi-Fi hotspot, forward collision alert, and rear park assist are nice additions, but much more is needed to keep pace with the segment. Fortunately, a restyled Equinox will debut this fall as a 2016 model.14. Chevrolet EquinoxThe Rogue’s name and its snappy looks might fool you into thinking it’s an entertaining drive, but instead it’s simply a competent family hauler with an easygoing nature. A 2.5-liter four-cylinder and a CVT drive the front or all four wheels. The ride is comfortable and the suspension controls body motions well enough, but the steering is numb and uncommunicative. Inside, the Rogue provides seating for up to seven passengers in an upscale and high-lux cabin, especially on upper trim levels.13. Nissan RogueWith its roomy back seat, clearly laid-out controls, and well-tuned suspension, the Tuscon has a lot going for it; its small-ish cargo area and huge blind spots keep us from gushing too much. Engines include a 164-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder or a 182-hp 2.4-liter four; a six-speed automatic drives either the front or all four wheels. A Tucson powered by a hydrogen fuel cell offers an impressive 300-mile range, but is sold only in California. An all-new Tucson goes on sale in July.12. Hyundai TucsonCombining functionality and engaging driving dynamics, the Sportage lives up to its name. Two engines are available: the base 182-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder and an optional 260-hp 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder; both come with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. The turbo model is flat-out fast, but the sport-tuned suspension offers a rough ride over bad pavement. We like the Sportage for its balance of sport, style, and utility.11. Kia SportageThe new Outback is minimally larger and has a roomier cabin, but still refuses to answer the old “high station wagon or low crossover?” query. Perhaps it doesn’t matter anymore because it’s gained a cult following. It still has 8.7 inches of ground clearance and a choice of a 2.5-liter flat-four or 3.6-liter flat-six, but this year a continuously variable transmission is standard across the board. All-wheel drive is standard on all models, giving it sure-footed, all-weather grip and handling.10. Subaru OutbackThe Forester is a genuinely useful crossover, offering both room and a view. Engines are a 170-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder (with a six-speed manual—our choice—or a CVT) and a 250-hp 2.0-liter turbo/CVT combo. Despite its comfort-tuned suspension, standard all-wheel drive contributes to surprising pace on winding roads and takes the Forester farther off-road than most in its class. The turbo is the rally car for hikers, kayakers, and alpine postal services—too bad it only comes with the CVT.9. Subaru ForesterPractical and functional, enthusiasts might find the “sport” part missing from “sport utility.” The gas-powered RAV4 has a 176-hp 2.5-liter four mated to a six-speed automatic. A hybrid powertrain will be available later in 2015; Toyota promises more power and better fuel economy than its traditional sibling. Front-wheel drive is standard for the gas version and all-wheel drive is optional; it’s standard on the hybrid. A low rear load floor and ample cargo room yield a useful all-weather ute.8. Toyota RAV4The Tiguan offers a German alternative in a segment full of entries from the U.S. and Asia. Basically a Golf on stilts, the Tiguan features a single engine—a 2.0-liter turbo four—and trim levels ranging from the base S with a six-speed manual to the sporty R-Line with a six-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. We like the handling, brakes and steering, but wish we could get VW’s turbo-diesel and a manual. Also, the design is getting a bit old.7. Volkswagen TiguanThe Santa Fe Sport is the smaller, five-passenger crossover in the Santa Fe lineup, with handsomely rugged styling. Engines include a 190-hp 2.4-liter four-cylinder or a 264-hp 2.0-liter turbo four; both mate to a six-speed auto. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional. Also optional is a power liftgate that opens when you stand behind it with the fob. Handling is acceptable, if not sports-car sharp. With a nicely appointed cabin, the Santa Fe Sport is a solid all-rounder.6. Hyundai Santa Fe SportOkay, so this isn't a crossover, but against what else are we going to rank it? If you’re looking for the most serious of off-roading vehicles available, look no further than the legendary Wrangler. It takes all of the right features—four-wheel drive, ample ground clearance, and a nimble suspension—and puts them all in one go-anywhere package. A 285-hp, 3.6-liter V-6 is the sole engine; it teams up with either a six-speed manual or a five-speed automatic transmission. For the ultimate Wrangler, check out the Rubicon—it’s as tough as the legendary trail that inspired it. It's not nearly as refined or day-to-day practical as any of the other entries on this list, but it is perhaps the most lovable.5. Jeep WranglerPolarizing to purists and newcomers alike, the Cherokee is the best-driving small Jeep. Solid, not light, with good on-road dynamics, the Cherokee offers a 2.4-liter four-cylinder and 3.2-liter V-6 engines (the V-6 is better for all-wheel drive and towing) and a nine-speed automatic for highway cruising. Cabin tech and materials rival the Grand Cherokee; cargo capacity, however, is average at best. Designed for “Jeepin’,” the Trailhawk rivals a larger, equally capable, Grand Cherokee on cost.4.  Jeep CherokeeThe Escape’s sportier, upmarket look improves its curb appeal, and the interior continues that stylish motif. To defend itself against a slew of competitors, the Escape offers premium features and a choice of three different four-cylinder engines, two of which are turbocharged. A six-speed automatic is standard on all models, while a stout chassis and a firm ride provide a surprisingly engaging driving experience.3. Ford EscapeHonda turns up the CR-V’s amperage with a round of updates that make it better in every way. A freshened exterior gives it a look that is stylish and modern, while the interior is quieter and made from soft-touch materials. Handling is improved, too, with a retuned suspension and better brakes. A new 2.4-liter four-cylinder makes the same 184 hp as before, but now connects with a CVT. Front-wheel drive is standard; all-wheel drive is optional. If you liked the old CR-V, you’ll love the new one.2. Honda CR-VThe apex-loving CX-5 is the sports car of crossovers, with an athleticism you have to experience to believe. A 155-hp 2.0-liter four-cylinder is available only with a six-speed manual and front-wheel drive; all-wheel drive is not offered. For more zoom, choose the 184-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional; either teams with a six-speed automatic. The CX-5 is tech savvy and offers useful cargo room, but its strength is its poise on the road.1. Mazda CX-5

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