2013 Compact SUVs Compared
2013 Mazda CX-5 vs. 2013 Honda CR-V vs. 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS vs. 2013 Nissan Rogue SV/SL
Two of these compact family SUVs have been on the market for quite a while now whereas the other two have been the newest dominating forces on the scene for just the last model year. Now we all know that in this competitive segment attention stays on one model for about as long as a Youtube video sensation is talked about online. Now we are all for another cute “cat meows along to Justin Bieber song” video but can’t we try and pay attention to something for more than 15 minutes?
Okay, perhaps that’s stretching the point a little too far. You are probably just in the market for a new compact family SUV and want to know if the two current heroes in the market segment currently (CR-V, CX-5) are really worth the extra money compared to these two less expensive alternatives known for quite a while as the Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson. In this road test we drove a mid-level GLS variant of the Hyundai SUV and a pretty much loaded SV with SL trim Rogue whose naming structure (SV with SL trim?) wins the award for stupidest naming structure on any vehicle that we have seen this year. Or possibly ever.
Now, with an average of about 160-185 horsepower spread out among these still rather porky SUVs, none of these compact family SUVs is going to replace that hot hatchback you drove all the way through college. But with kids, mortgages, in-laws and the appearance of gray hairs comes an extra level of responsibility that these kinds of SUVs can provide all without breaking the bank or the gas card. Have you seen the cost of regular unleaded lately? And a couple of them might just entertain you from time to time.Exterior Styling
Now this is always purely a personal decision but taken objectively, we have to say that the 2013 Honda CR-V is easily the most attractively handsome in a conservatively inoffensive way. It fits in at Home Depot, the grocery store or a Country Club parking lot. In second place is the 2013 Mazda CX-5 which despite a somewhat gawky looking front schnoz whose size would force any Beverly Hills teen into emergency Rhinoplasty with her plastic surgeon, at least looked sporty and compact from most other angles.
Although we aren’t the biggest fans of Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” design language, our Tucson tester’s red exterior paint really made this design pop when looking for it in crowded parking lots full of silver SUVs. Last and definitely least is the 2013 Rogue which features a beady set of front headlamps/bug eyes, a cheap looking egg-crate grille and none of the exterior class and sass that makes the larger Nissan Murano such a visual and stylistic hit. (1st Place: 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L, 2nd Place: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport, 3rd Place: 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS, 4th Place: 2013 Nissan Rogue SV with SL Trim)Interior Styling, Layout and Utility
Whereas the 2013 Hyundai Tucson has plenty of legroom for six-footers in the front and back seats, the cargo hold is a bit smaller than in competitors like the new CR-V. So if outright utility is what you are after there are better choices than the Tucson. Cargo capacity is 25.7 cubic feet behind the second row and 55.8 cubic feet with the second row folded flat. Interior plastics and the seat fabrics could have done with some upgrades but I you want more high quality class in your Hyundai then check out the Tucson Limited which still only starts at $25,000. At that level leather seats come as standard.
Or you could just go for the one with the highest quality interior that truly feels assembled to withstand a full scale nuclear attack or yet another world-wide tour by pop singer Cher—the 2013 Honda CR-V has the lowest lift-in height to the cargo hold which simply wallops all comers thanks to a brilliant set of handles set into the sides of the rear cargo hold which once pulled they manage to perform an acrobatic ballet of seat folding engineering artwork that truly should be lauded for being both useful and dramatic to watch.
Behind the second row of the roomy CR-V there is 37.2 cubic feet of room for most any sane suburban shopping excursion but in case of an 80% off “going out of business sale” emergency then fold those seats to offer up a nearly miraculous 70.9 cubic feet which is more room than most Manhattan, New York residents have in their entire studio apartment. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 offered also offered impressive amounts of cargo hauling ability of 34.1 cubic feet behind rear seat passengers and that grows to over 68.1 when the second row is folded semi-flat. The dashboard of our CX-5 had a sporty and straightforward layout and interior materials were impressive considering its too good to be real entry level price point.
The 2013 Nissan Rogue’s interior plastics have been upgraded a few times during its life but it still looks, feels and smells no better than an SUV that has been rented through three tropical Hurricanes in Florida and has about 50,000 creaking, ill-fitting miles on it. Behind the second row the Rogue can haul cubic feet of cargo growing to over 54 cubic feel when you attempt to fold the cheap mechanisms hiding under the nasty and cheap feeling rear leather covered bench seat that perhaps was instead made from Armadillo skin.
Even worse, the front seats were heated and would smell awful when they got warmer. On positive notes, the 2014 Nissan Rogue SV with SL tri did come with a decent Bose 8-speaker AM/FM/USB/I-Pod integrating audio system with a unique subwoofer, a power driver’s seat, automatic climate control (the CR-V gets that standard), 18-inch alloy wheels, Bluetooth, keyless entry and push button start. a power glass sunroof as well as an in-dash navigator. However, despite its high feature count, the one thing it is sorely lacking is in the possibility of the owner ever having a pleasant interior environment. (1st Place: 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L, 2nd Place: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport, 3rd Place: 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS, 4th Place: 2013 Nissan Rogue SV with SL Package)Value, Pricing and Fuel Economy
Our four compact family SUV entrants all range in pricing from generally about $20,000 to a little over $30,000 so they are within the budget of most new SUV buyers as the average transaction price for any new vehicle stands at a little over $27,000. Our testers were from trim levels all over the map including the basic yet very enticing 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport which was so basic its transmission came with a clutch pedal. When was the last time you saw an SUV with a stick shift option even with its most basic trim level? More importantly, when did any SUV’s stick shift come with such a sporty shift action and positive modulation through the clutch that you wonder if Mazda is the last automaker intent on building fun cars for lovers of the manual transmission?
Not only that but our front wheel drive 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport stickered at just $20,695 yet still came equipped with air conditioning, AM/FM/CD/USB/iPod integrated audio system with 4 speakers, power windows, power mirrors and locks, cruise controls, steering wheel mounted audio controls, 17-inch alloy wheels, floor mats and pretty much every essential most families look for besides Bluetooth but you can survive with an aftermarket headset for this price, can’t you? Over the course of 7 days with us, the 2.0 liter 155 horsepower SkyActiv 4-cylinder and six-speed manual returned an as yet to be better by any other compact SUV we have ever tested 32.4 miles per gallon average. Yes foks, that’s a record for us.
Our 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS was also a screaming bargain with prices starting at just $22,295 for this mid-level trim which definitely didn't lack for features. Spend a few grand more for a Limited model and you can even add leather, cooler looking alloys, navigation and an upgraded premium audio system. But to our way of thinking the GLS is the smartest buy in the Tucson lineup and even the standard 6-speaker audio system in the GLS does a terrific job in its attempts to sound "premium."
Standard with every 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS are features like power windows, door locks and mirrors, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD 6-speaker audio system, USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth, a 2.4 liter 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque 4 cylinder, a 6-speed automatic, tinted glass, alloy wheels, keyless entry and a whole lot more. It is, in short all of the compact family SUV that most people ever really need all with a handy 10 year/100,000 mile powertrain warranty. The 2013 Hyundai Tucson gets an EPA estimated 21 city/30 highway and we were pleased to find our tester averaged 26.1 miles per gallon during its stay with us.
Both the CR-V EX-L and Rogue SV with SL trim were priced pretty near the top of their respective model lines and packed with top notch features and luxuries that most new SUV buyers lust after but do keep in mind all of the aforementioned SUVs were front wheel drive. Still, the 2013 Honda Civic EX-L we tested lacked only a navigation unit and rear seat DVD entertainment unit from the options list and stickered for just a bit over $27,000. The 2013 Nissan Rogue SV with SL trim stickered for $28,950 and attempts to trump the CR-V by including a cheap in-dash navigator with a tiny 5-inch screen and dated looking graphics. Or you could get a CR-V with their far superior navigation unit for a total MSRP about $100 higher than the Rogue we tested. Seriously, don’t eat out for two weeks and buy the Honda!
Sadly, no matter where the sticker price goes, the 2013 Nissan Rogue is always outclassed by the CR-V, CX-5 and even the Tucson. Also remember that a Honda CR-V will hold its resale value class leadership status that it has retained for years whereas that is one detail that is not yet clear for the Mazda as of yet. It’s a small but important detail as is the CR-V’s as tested fuel economy figure of 29.7 miles per gallon fuel economy average which was a couple miles below that of the CX-5. Bringing up the rear as usual was the rebellious for no reason Nissan Rogue which returned a tolerable 24.7 miles per gallon. (1st Place: 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L, 2nd Place: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport, 3rd Place: 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS, 4th Place: 2013 Nissan Rogue)Safety and Driving Experience
The first concern of any parent buying a compact family SUV is how safe it will be in an accident and we have the answers for you. According to the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), the 2013 Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson all got top scores in all categories meaning that they were named “Top Safety Picks” in their class. Unfortunately for the 2013 Nissan Rogue, it only scored a less than perfect “Acceptable” rating from the IIHS in the crucial roof strength test that helps ensure your family stays safe in the event of a rollover accident in your SUV.
Part of the reason why the admittedly underpowered 2013 Mazda CX-5 felt like such a cheeky laugh riot to drive was due to the fact that in our base Sport trim it comes with a sweet six-speed manual gearbox that offers up the same engaging smiles per mile transferred to your brain via the clutch and shift lever much like in a Mazda2, Mazda3 or Miata with one of their artfully engineered stick shifts. As part of its SkyActiv program, Mazda instilled the six speed manual gearbox with the shortest shift stroke of any vehicle in its class thereby giving the shift lever a quick and sporty feel that you can enjoy in many “regular” cars. Steering feel is quick and the Mazda corners with very little body roll and while it can feel a bit more antsy to play than the more refined CR-V, the CX-5 definitely feels like it could handle more power.
The 2013 CR-V may not be tuned quite as much for track day cornering like the CX-5 but the eloquent collaboration from the 2.4 liter 185 horsespower 4-cylinder engine, 5-speed automatic transmission and expert ride and suspension tuning mark it out as the most grown up feeling small SUV on the market. You might notice the CR-V’s steering offering up less feel than the CX-5 but only after driving them back to back.
The 2013 Hyundai Tucson’s 2.0 liter engine 176 horsepower/168 lb. feet of torque gives the driver a decent amount of power in most situations but just isn't as smooth as the motors found in the CX-5 or CR-V. For some reason, this same engine seems better isolated and less rough sounding in its fraternal twin the 2013 Kia Sportage EX. Perhaps Hyundai thought better to save some money on sound deadening measures that Kia kept in place despite it causing that model to sometimes cost more when equipped like for like.
Now, the Tucson's engine isn't horrible by any means but it does sound a bit like a bucket full of thimbles being thrashed around under full throttle acceleration maneuvers and the like. But then you could always turn up the very capable stereo system and never be bothered by it so really it could only prove problematic to those odd souls who drive without music playing. Otherwise, steering feel is impressively taut and offers better feel than the racks in either the Elantra or Sonata sedans. SUV's aren't supposed to be driver's cars but the Tucson does allow you to have a little bit of slightly unrefined fun on the drive to pick up the kids from soccer practice.
Lastly, is it right to even go into how much we abhorred driving the Nissan Rogue given its unshakably nervous and jittery suspension tuning, vague as a newly elected politician-style steering feel and a moaning CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic gearbox which turned Nissan’s normally quite pleasant 2.5 liter 175 horsepower 4-cylinder engine into something that sounded like a cow being tortured. Low speeds, freeway passing passing speeds, and even idling in a parking lot, we always felt that there was some odd engine, wind, tire or transmission noise there to annoy you. We know that the 2013 Nissan Juke may only offer 10.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row of seats but somehow it manages to suffer from none of the Rogue’s utterly inexcusable driving dynamics. (1st Place: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport (Manual), 2nd Place 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L (Automatic), 3rd Place: 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS, 4th Place: 2013 Nissan Rogue)Conclusion (And the Winner is…)
If you are one of the very few people who would ever consider purchasing your next new compact family SUV with a stick shift (we would now!), the winner would have to be the 2013 Mazda CX-5 which whipped up so much value, utility and fun to drive “zoom-zoom” that we would have a hard time passing by this incredible SUV buy. But if you want an automatic, things become more muddled and the CR-V clearly takes the lead as the more sensible and practical choice which still offers enough behind the wheel entertainment to keep the driver engaged.
As for the Tucson and Rogue, they are quite obviously a generation behind these two but it is the Tucson which easily nabs third place thanks to its high style, value and vastly superior transmission in the form of its Hyundai designed 6-speed automatic. Not only is the 2013 Nissan Rogue a bit cramped and overpriced for what you really get but it also comes with Nissan’s most obnoxiously whiny sounding CVT (continuously variable transmission) automatic that alone would banish it to last place simply on its own negative mechanical merit. (1st Place Tie: 2013 Mazda CX-5 Sport (Manual Transmission) and 2013 Honda CR-V EX-L (Automatic), 2nd: 2013 Hyundai Tucson GLS, 3rd Place: 2013 Nissan Rogue SV with SL Trim)