Small SUVs: Expert and User Reviews

Updated June 30, 2011
In this report

Small SUVs: Ratings of Sources

1. ConsumerReports.org New SUV Ratings and Reliability, ConsumerReports.org, As of July 2011
Credibility:
ConsumerReports.org tests most new automobiles for a variety of factors, including useful factors like reliability, safety, and owner satisfaction, among other things. ConsumerReports.org ranks vehicles by class against the competition and recommends models that meet their criteria for performance, safety, and reliability.
2. Motor Trend 2011 Motor Trend Sport/Utility of the Year: The Contenders, Motor Trend, Dec. 2010
Credibility:
The Porsche Cayenne, a pricey luxury SUV, wins Motor Trend's Sport/Utility of the Year award for 2011. Among the contenders for the award though are a few small SUVs: the Hyundai Tucson, Nissan Juke, Kia Sportage and the Mitsubishi Outlander. The criteria for choosing the field of competitors included design advancement, engineering excellence, intended function, efficiency, safety and value. Each of the contenders gets a full page write-up describing what the editors like and don't like.
3. Motor Trend Comparison: 2010 GMC Terrain vs. 2010 Honda CR-V vs. 2010 Hyundai Tucson vs. 2010, Motor Trend, Jan. 2010
Credibility:
In this direct comparison of small SUVs, the Honda CR-V is crowned king. Overall, the reviewer concludes that the CR-V has the best blend of refinement, handling, interior quality and practicality when compared to the others in this group.
4. Motor Trend Comparison: 2009 Audi Q5 vs. 2010 Lexus RX 350 vs. 2010 Mercedes-Benz GLK350 vs. 2010 Volvo XC60, Motor Trend, July 2009
Credibility:
This crop of similarly sized SUVs gets tested by Motor Trend in mostly off-road conditions (something that most drivers won't experience on a day-to-day basis). Motor Trend likes the Audi Q5 the best among these SUVs, as it's a more involving driver and has exceptionally good interior comfort. The Mercedes-Benz GLK350 comes in last place, as the reviewer is let down by the numb steering that betrays its sharp looks and finely tuned chassis.
5. Car and Driver 2009 Audi Q5 vs. 2009 BMW X3, 2010 M-B GLK350, 2010 Volvo XC60, 2010 Lexus RX350 -- Comparison Tests, Car and Driver, June 2009
Credibility:
Car and Driver reviews a group of five small luxury SUVs, and the Audi Q5 emerges as the winner for its composed handling and unmatched interior fit and finish. The reviewer sums up the Audi as "a high-class package." As in a similar review by Motor Trend, the Mercedes-Benz GLK350 comes in last place for a few quirks that make it seem less sophisticated than the other models here.
6. Car and Driver Terrain vs. CR-V, RAV4, Tiguan, Mariner, Outlander, Forester, Grand Vitara -- Comparison Tests, Car and Driver, Jan. 2010
Credibility:
This Car and Driver comparison test includes eight vehicles in total. The Toyota RAV4, tested in V6 guise, is picked as the favorite for its impressive refinement, solid acceleration and car-like handling. Each of the models gets a write-up about their pros and cons.
7. Car and Driver 2011 Editors Choice -- Awards, Car and Driver
Credibility:
Each year, Car and Driver editors compile their "Editors' Choice" awards, which include their favorite vehicles in a variety of categories. Among small SUVs, Car and Driver editors like the Audi Q5, Honda CR-V, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and Volkswagen Tiguan. These models also tend to be the favorites of other reviewing sources as well.
8. Edmunds.com 2011 Top Recommended SUVs, Edmunds.com
Credibility:
Edmunds.com editors compile a list of their favorite models in various categories on a yearly basis, highlighting SUVs that are the best all-around performers. Similar to 2010, the Chevrolet Equinox, Honda CR-V and the Audi Q5 can be found on this list for their combination of refinement, practicality and, in the case of the Audi Q5, luxury. This year the Kia Sportage is selected as well, replacing the Toyota RAV4 on their list of top choices. For SUVs, they select their choices based on price classes: under $25,000, under $35,000, under $45,000, and over $45,000.
9. Edmunds.com Comparison Test: Toyota RAV4 vs. Chevy Equinox vs. Honda CR-V vs. Hyundai Tucson, Edmunds.com, April 12, 2010
Credibility:
This comparison test from Edmunds.com pits four small SUVs against one another. Models are from the 2010 year, but are all identical to their 2011 versions. The 2010 Chevrolet Equinox comes away in first place as Edmunds.com says it's stylish, fuel efficient and the best choice for passenger comfort. The 2010 Hyundai Tucson comes in second place, with the 2010 Honda CR-V and the 2010 Toyota RAV4 trailing in third and fourth place, respectively.
10. Inside Line Long-Term Road Tests, Inside Line, Various 2011 Dates
Credibility:
InsideLine.com is the blogging arm of Edmunds.com, one of the best sources for automotive reviews and information on automobiles. In addition to reviewing cars and performing comparison tests, Inside Line also has a fleet of long-term vehicles, which they cover in frequently updated blogs. The 2011 Nissan Juke, 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport and 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT are the small SUVs long-termers of this writing (June 2011).
11. Automobile Magazine SUV Reviews, Automobile Magazine, As of July 2011
Credibility:
Editors at Automobile Magazine have tested many new small SUVs, including but not limited to the 2011 Volkswagen Tiguan, the 2011 Kia Sportage, the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the 2012 Saab 9-4X and the 2011 Mercedes-Benz GLK350. Automobile Magazine has a 2011 Kia Sportage in its long-term fleet as well, and provides updates regularly on how their "ownership" experience is panning out.
12. Cars.com New Best Bets, Cars.com
Credibility:
Cars.com produces a list of its "Best Bets" for the major categories of cars, including SUVs. This list includes SUVs of all sizes, with a generous selection of small ones making the cut -- 11 models in total. Clicking on each model brings up a short summary of what makes it a "Best Bet," as well as specifications and links to full reviews from Cars.com
13. Cars.com The $29,000 SUV Shootout: Overview, Cars.com, Jan. 31, 2011
Credibility:
The title says it all here: this Cars.com comparison test took a smattering of popular midsize and compact SUVs and tested them all back to back. Testing included a full day of tests by various experts (detailed in the article's introduction), a day-long examination by a "test family" guided by the experts, and a full day of mileage observations. The 2011 Chevrolet Equinox comes out on top and the revamped 2011 Dodge Journey places second, both beating out many of the SUVs that have won other comparisons in the past.
14. ConsumerGuide.com 2010 Best Buy and Recommended Awards, ConsumerGuide.com
Credibility:
ConsumerGuide.com editors rate vehicles on a variety of factors such as acceleration, fuel economy and value within class, providing a numerical score for each of the 11 categories. The website names the Audi Q5, Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Tiguan "Best Buys." Seven other models across the compact SUV and premium compact SUV categories get the "Recommended" designation.
15. FuelEconomy.gov 2011 Most and Least Efficient Trucks, Vans and SUVs, FuelEconomy.gov
Credibility:
The EPA's FuelEconomy.gov website includes a "Best and Worst MPG" chart and, for 2011, the only non-hybrid small SUV to make this list is the manual transmission-equipped 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, which achieves 24 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway. The most fuel-efficient small SUV is the 2011 Ford Escape Hybrid, which is rated at a class-leading 34 mpg city and 31 mpg highway rating. The 2011 Hyundai Tucson, 2011 Kia Sportage and the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox can all achieve more than 30 mpg on the highway, according to the EPA, but fall short of making this list in overall fuel efficiency.
16. IIHS.org Top Safety Picks 2011, IIHS.org
Credibility:
The insurance industry-backed Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) performs its own crash tests independently of the government. The best-performing vehicles get the IIHS's "Top Safety Pick" award, which indicates that a model received the highest rating of "Good" in frontal offset, side impact, rear impact and roof strength tests. Top Safety Picks for small SUVs can be found in the small SUVs and midsize SUVs sections, and include the following models: Volkswagen Tiguan, Subaru Forester, Honda Element, Jeep Patriot, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Volvo XC60, GMC Terrain, Chevrolet Equinox, Cadillac SRX and Mercedes GLK.
17. SaferCar.gov 5-Star Safety Ratings, SaferCar.gov
Credibility:
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is the government body that performs crash tests for new models in the U.S. For 2011, the NHTSA has adopted new (and more stringent) criteria in its crash testing. Because of this, results for 2011 models cannot be compared to results from previous years. Also, many models have yet to be tested under the new guidelines. Various models get a good 4-star overall rating for crash protection, but no small SUVs in this report achieve the highest 5-star rating.
18. Automobile Magazine Crossover SUV Comparison: 2010 Subaru Outback, 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander, and 2010 Suzuki Grand Vitara, Automobile Magazine, March 2010
Credibility:
This Automobile Magazine comparison test pits Japanese crossover SUVs against one another, including the Subaru Outback wagon. The Outback wagon wins, though the reviewer doesn't particularly like any of the test subjects. The Mitsubishi and the Suzuki are both considered generally unrefined compared to the Legacy and other small SUVs.
19. Autoblog.com Reviews, Autoblog.com, As of July 2011
Credibility:
Autoblog.com posts the latest auto news as well as single-model reviews. Recent reviews, and older applicable reviews include the 2010 Cadillac SRX, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty and a dog-friendly version of the Honda Element. The 2011 Saab 9-4X, the 2011 Kia Sportage, the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT, and the Acura RDX get shorter "First Drive" impressions. No direct comparison tests are performed by Autoblog.com
20. The Truth About Cars Category: Car Reviews, The Truth About Cars, As of July 2011
Credibility:
The TruthAboutCars.com (TTAC) prides itself on its straightforward, no nonsense reviews, where reviewers don't mince their words. The most recent small SUV reviews include the 2011 Nissan Juke, the 2011 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, the 2011 MINI Countryman, and the 2011 Kia Sportage, among others. Reviews of 2010 small SUVs like the Mercedes-Benz GLK350, the Cadillac SRX, the Chevrolet Equinox, GMC Terrain and Hyundai Tucson are useful as well. TTAC doesn't perform direct head-to-head comparisons, but within reviews its contributors do discuss individual models against the direct competition (and they let you know what they really think, rest assured).
21. Autos.ca Autos.ca Reviews, Autos.ca, As of July 2011
Credibility:
Autos.ca reviews many new vehicles, including small SUVs, and tests models specific to the Canadian market. In nearly all cases, these models are essentially identical to their U.S. counterparts. Special attention is often paid to winter capabilities and the offering of all-weather features, due to the colder climate. In addition to initial drives and thorough full reviews, Autos.ca also long-term tests a handful of models, including the 2010 Chevrolet Equinox and the 2010 Toyota RAV4.
22. CNET Best Affordable Tech Cars, CNET, Updated Aug. 24, 2011
Credibility:
CNET tests automobiles with an emphasis on in-cabin and drivetrain technology. Each model is given a thorough review and a rating of up to 5 stars. For 2011, CNET has chosen favorites in four categories, including best affordable tech cars, in which two small SUVs appear: the 2011 Kia Sportage and the 2011 Nissan Juke. Confusingly, the summary of the Nissan Juke says that it "suffers from some weak cabin tech," despite the editors naming it one of the best affordable tech cars. Reviews of many other small SUVs are available from CNET as well.
23. Kelley Blue Book Recommended Shopping Lists: Small Crossovers and SUVs, Kelley Blue Book
Credibility:
Kelley Blue Book names its top recommended small crossovers and SUVs in a slideshow. Write-ups are short and light on criticism, but they are based on hands-on testing. Links to full reviews are provided, where available. Two of the winners -- the Honda CR-V and Subaru Forester -- also win Best Resale Value awards; editors say they are among the top 10 vehicles in any category for retaining value. Furthermore, Subaru is named the best brand overall for resale values.
24. GreenerCars.org The Best Vehicles by Class, GreenerCars.org
Credibility:
GreenerCars.org picks compiles a list of the "greenest" cars by category for 2011, based largely on fuel economy and pollution emissions. The 2011 Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Compass, Jeep Patriot, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage and Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute are considered the greenest compact SUVs. The 2011 Nissan Rogue and Chevrolet Equinox are among the greenest models in the midsize SUVs category.
25. Motor Trend Long Term Car Reviews, Motor Trend, Various Dates
Credibility:
Motor Trend performs long-term reviews on a select group of models. Among small SUVs, Motor Trend has a few small SUVs in its long-term fleet: most recently, the 2011 Nissan Juke, the 2010 Mitsubishi Outlander GT, and the 2010 Hyundai Tucson. Long-term reviews provide a valuable perspective on models by mimicking the ownership and livability experience, as well as highlighting any potential quality issues.
26. About.com Top Five SUVs and Crossovers Under 25K, About.com
Credibility:
Jason Fogelson, About.com's guide to SUVs, includes three small SUVs in this top-five list: the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan Rogue. Links lead to full reviews though they aren't the most up to date for the CR-V and RAV4 in terms of the model years reviewed. Furthermore, this list isn't dated, so newer entrants may not have been included. More recent reviews with star ratings can be found under the Read Reviews tab. (Note: ConsumerSearch is owned by About.com, but the two don't share an editorial affiliation).
27. U.S. News Rankings and Reviews U.S. News Rankings: SUVs, U.S. News Rankings and Reviews
Credibility:
U.S. News Rankings and Reviews bases its numerical rankings on reviews published by other sources. Based on their scoring, the 2011 Chevrolet Equinox comes out on top of the highest rated affordable compact SUVs, and the same for the Audi Q5 in the luxury compact SUV category.
28. Motor Week Drivers' Choice Awards, Motor Week
Credibility:
The PBS TV show "Motor Week" reviews many new cars and gives awards yearly to the models its editors deem to be the best. Their "Drivers' Choice Award" for best small SUV goes to the Chevrolet Equinox for its good fuel economy and "upscale amenities." Full reviews are provided for many models, though the reviews tend to fall short of offering useful criticism.
29. Kiplinger.com 2011 New Car Rankings: Compare Costs, Performance Data, Kiplinger.com
Credibility:
Kiplinger.com's auto ratings factor in service costs, fuel efficiency, resale value and insurance costs, but editors don't test the cars first-hand for on-road performance. The Honda CR-V wins the Best Resale Value award.
30. J.D. Power & Associates Dependability Ratings by Category, J.D. Power & Associates
Credibility:
J.D. Power and Associates rates vehicles based on owner surveys. Several awards are presented, but the dependability ratings are the most informative. The Honda CR-V gets the award for highest overall dependability for "compact crossover SUVs," while the Jeep Liberty and Suzuki Grand Vitara trail the pack.
31. Truck Trend Untitled, Truck Trend, March 2010
Credibility:
While Truck Trend's Best In Class Compact SUV goes to the off-road capable 2011 Toyota FJ, the 2011 Ford Escape (and by extension, its 2011 Mazda Tribute twin) is given runner-up status for its good selection of powertrains, passenger comfort and light towing capabilities. The Ford Escape is set to be fully redesigned in 2012.