If Goldilocks were in the market for a new vehicle today, she might choose a compact crossover. Minivans and SUVs are simply too big and thirsty for some, while station wagons and hatchbacks are too small and inflexible for growing families. Compact crossovers can be just right. They’re relatively fuel efficient, spacious enough to make the occasional Ikea run and typically deliver a little more panache than your average family car. We asked our expert panel to try out five of the top vehicles in this segment and see which one leads the pack in performance, value and safety.
Launched last year, Mazda’s newest crossover is meant to replace the underperforming Tribute SUV, a twin of the far more popular Ford Escape. Everything the Tribute lacked is here in abundance with the CX-5. “The functional and stylish interior, smooth and spirited driveability and incredible fuel mileage make this my top pick,” says Nika Rolczewski. All versions of the CX-5 come fully loaded, but only the mid-priced GS and top-of-the-line GT models get the punchier 2.5-L SKYACTIV engine recommended by our experts. “Mazda’s trademark ‘Zoom, Zoom’ is definitely built into the CX-5,” says Petrina Gentile. “It’s zippy and around corners, is surefooted with little body lean. As an added bonus, you can even get a manual transmission on the base model.”
2nd place: Kia Sportage | $21,995 – $37,395
The Kia is definitely the value leader in this group, with the lowest starting price and an unbeatable five-year comprehensive warranty. Every Sportage comes packed with power options, satellite radio, heated seats and plenty of other features. “The well- executed interior is a delight and unique in a vehicle selling in this price range,” says Ron Corbett. Some reviewers have complained of a harsh ride, but Corbett says Kia has promised updates to the 2014 model that will smooth out those concerns.
3rd place: Subaru Crosstrek | $24,995 – $28,995
Subaru doesn’t add new vehicles to its line-up often, so the Crosstrek’s debut this year was big news for fans of the company’s rally-inspired offerings. The Crosstrek borrows some mechanical bits from the smaller Subaru Impreza, including its 2.0-L engine, which strains a bit under the added heft of the Crosstrek’s frame. “It’s easy to manoeuvre thanks to its crisp steering response. While it can get a little wheezy when you really step on it, the 2.0-L engine works fine under most driving conditions,” reports Jil McIntosh.
The Rogue is Nissan’s best- selling vehicle and priced to sell, with hefty cash rebates of up to $5,000. Its pleasant handling and responsive steering also make it popular with commuters, McIntosh says. Owners generally love this vehicle, which has remained largely unchanged since 2008. However, most of our experts noted problems with rearward visibility. A new generation is due in 2014, so you may want to postpone purchasing a Rogue until the new and improved version arrives.
5th place: Buick Encore | $27,130 – $32,505
Built largely from the same parts bin as the more affordable Chevy Trax, the Encore offers many premium touches in a small package meant to woo drivers younger than traditional Buick owners. Our experts applaud the effort but question its pricing and some of the design choices. “It has a luxurious cabin and quiet operation balanced with very odd styling, tight cabin space and high pricing. The price exceeds that of a Honda CR-V Touring, which has more space and more power,” notes Ron Corbett.
How we came up with the numbers: Scores listed are out of 10; the higher the number, the better. Cost of ownership data comes from Kelley Blue Book. Safety data comes from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the U.S. Department of Transportation. Reliability data comes from Consumer Reports. Driving experience is the average of scores provided by our expert panel. To determine our top car, we allocated 20% of the overall score to cost, 20% to reliability, 10% to safety and 50% to driving experience.
Petrina Gentile producer of CTV and BNN’s Car/Business
Ron Corbett automotive editor at the Automobile Protection Association
Mohamed Bouchama executive director of Car Help Canada
Nika Rolczewski automotive columnist for the Toronto Star
Jil McIntosh auto writer with the Toronto Star and Metro