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Thursday Throwdown: 2014 Compact Crossovers

In today’s Thursday Throwdown, we’re looking at compact crossover sport utilities. These are small, efficient vehicles with high ground clearance that are aimed toward a buyer in the low- and mid-priced market. Our roundup of 2014 models includes some great little family machines with plenty of capability, all for an average purchase price (new) of under $30,000.

Our top picks are chosen for their cost-effectiveness, efficiency, and safety. These are all things that buyers in the compact SUV market are looking for. Our chart of Top Picks below will rank these small sport utilities by average purchase price when new, MPG, and total Safety rating. These 2014 models are beginning to appear as used car and dealer demonstration vehicles now, so be sure to check the CARFAX report for one you might purchase used and our Used Car Listings to find one for yourself.

Side-by-Side Comparison Chart of Top Picks

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2014 Compact Crossovers New $ MPG Safety (of 10)
Honda CR-V $26,300 23/31 9
Jeep Patriot $22,100 23/30 8
Mazda CX-5 $25,200 26/35 10
MINI Cooper Countryman $28,300 28/35 8
Mitsubishi Outlander $21,900 24/30 9
Nissan Rogue $26,200 26/33 9
Toyota RAV4 $26,300 24/31 9
Volkswagen Tiguan $29,600 18/26 8

2014 Top Compact Crossovers Picks

Lowest Entry Price: Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Jeep Patriot
Best Fuel Economy: MINI Cooper Countryman, Mazda CX-5
Quietest Ride: Buick Encore, Toyota RAV4
Most Refined Overall: Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue
Most Refined Interior: Buick Encore, Honda CR-V
Most Fun To Drive: Mazda CX-5, Volkswagen Tiguan

2014 Buick Encore

The Buick Encore and GMC Terrain share several similarities and components, though the Terrain is generally the more luxurious of the two. The Encore is a lower-priced choice to the Terrain, which was slightly too costly to make our list. With an upscale cabin, a host of standard features, the Encore also enjoys high safety ratings. It is slightly underpowered and has a smaller than average cargo area, however, but features an active noise-canceling system that put it on our Top Picks list.

2014 Buick Encore
Average price paid new: $27,600
EPA MPG (city/highway): 25/33
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Chevrolet Equinox

The Equinox is a smooth drive that is sluggish with its underpowered base engine (the most common purchase) and squishy handling. The Equinox does have a good interior with excellent roominess and a good-sized cargo space.

2014 Chevrolet Equinox
Average price paid new: $28,900
EPA MPG (city/highway): 22/32
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good+, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Dodge Journey

The Dodge Journey is a stylish entry into the compact crossover segment, but has poor engine power, a sluggish transmission, and low fuel economy holding it back. Buyers often prefer the larger V6 engine option, but fuel economy again suffers. The Journey is one of the few on our list that has a third-row option and though it is cramped, it is usable by small children. Cargo space when those seats are folded or not optioned, is excellent.

2014 Dodge Journey
Average price paid new: $26,000
EPA MPG (city/highway): 19/26
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Ford Escape

The Ford Escape is a good, all-around compact crossover with all of its engine options delivering smart power and good fuel economy. The best MPGs come from the optional EcoBoost engines, of course, but these upgrades can be pricey. The Escape is also a fun drive and was only just edged out by our top picks in that category. Cargo and interior space are good and features for the price tag are also good.

2014 Ford Escape
Average price paid new: $27,000
EPA MPG (city/highway): 22/31
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Honda CR-V

One of the most popular compact crossovers on our list, the Honda CR-V boasts a lot of family-friendly features that have endeared it to the buying public. We placed it as a win for “Refined Interior” because of those family ergonomics. It engine is good, but not great, while its five-speed automatic transmission is responsive as a balance. Fuel economy is good, interior space is excellent, and drive dynamics are about average for the segment. Maneuverability and safety are also very good.

2014 Honda CR-V
Average price paid new: $26,300
EPA MPG (city/highway): 23/31
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Hyundai Tucson

2014 Hyundai Tucson Ltd-2

The Tucson is one of Hyundai’s best sellers in the U.S. but suffers from an underpowered engine and cramped second-row. The Tucson is very maneuverable and handles well, making it an easy vehicle to park and navigate through tight spaces. MPG is about average.

2014 Hyundai Tucson
Average price paid new: $24,900
EPA MPG (city/highway): 23/29
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Jeep Cherokee

2014 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk - 10 - AOA1200px

The Jeep Cherokee is a redesigned crossover whose exterior look is polarizing. The powertrain, daily use ergonomics, and legendary Jeep offroad capability, however, make it a good choice for many. Fuel economy is average and handling is good, but not above par. Cargo space is limited given the Cherokee’s size, but this allows for plenty of interior room for the front and second row.

2014 Jeep Cherokee
Average price paid new: $27,000
EPA MPG (city/highway): 22/31
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Jeep Compass

The Compass is one of several Jeeps on our list here. Its main selling points are its low base price and Jeep nomenclature, but the Compass lacks engine power and is not as offroad-ready as some might believe. The ride is noisy and MPG is only average in the Compass.

2014 Jeep Compass
Average price paid new: $24,000
EPA MPG (city/highway): 23/30
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – N/A, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Jeep Patriot

Like its near-twin the Compass, the Jeep Patriot is priced well but delivers less than expected. It lacks engine output and capability and gives only average MPG as a result. The interior is noisy, but safety ratings are good.

2014 Jeep Patriot
Average price paid new: $22,100
EPA MPG (city/highway): 23/30
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Jeep Wrangler

One of the only full sport utility vehicles on our list, the Jeep Wrangler is legendary for its capability and is instantly-recognizable to onlookers. The Wrangler epitomizes Jeep offroad prowess and offers good power and capability. It is not, however, very refined on the highway and it delivers some of the lowest MPGs on our list. The Wrangler is really only a choice for those who want the Jeep name and Wrangler capability. Daily use, family shoppers should look elsewhere.

2014 Jeep Wrangler
Average price paid new: $28,700
EPA MPG (city/highway): 17/21
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Marginal, NHTSA – N/A

2014 Kia Sportage

The Kia Sportage has good options for the price point, but delivers only lackluster fuel economy and a small interior by comparison. Performance is good and handling is excellent and while road noise is high, in drive dynamics, the “Sport” in the Sportage’s name is accurate.

2014 Kia Sportage
Average price paid new: $25,700
EPA MPG (city/highway): 21/28
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Mazda CX-5

Often cited as the “most engaging” and “fun to drive” vehicle in this class, the Mazda CX-5 is also roomy and well-designed for family use. With a realistic price point, great driving dynamics, a roomy interior, perfect safety scores, and excellent fuel economy, the CX-5 is one of our top choices in this segment.

2014 Mazda CX-5
Average price paid new: $25,200
EPA MPG (city/highway): 26/35
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good+, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 MINI Cooper Countryman

The “largest” of the MINI Cooper lineup, the Countryman is also the only crossover in their garage. Its primary selling point is its charming British look, which many love, and its good fuel economy. The interior is roomy, but not spacious, and the second row is good on all fronts, though cargo space is smaller than some rivals on this list. With its manual transmission option, the Countryman achieves the fuel economy we list here as that is a popular option for this MINI.

2014 MINI Cooper Countryman
Average price paid new: $28,400
EPA MPG (city/highway): 28/35
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – N/A

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport

The Outlander Sport is the smaller of the Mitsubishi Outlander crossovers. Although its larger sibling gets high marks on several fronts, the Sport model is notable only for its low cost of entry. Engine output and road handling are good, but uninspired and the Sport’s fuel economy is only average while interior noise level and refinement are easily criticized. Functional and easy to use, however, are marks that keep the Outlander Sport in the running when combined with its low price.

2014 Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Average price paid new: $22,000
EPA MPG (city/highway): 24/30
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Nissan Juke

The Nissan Juke is one of the smallest compact crossovers on our list and thus suffers from a lack of interior space. Cargo space is decent for the Juke’s size and drive dynamics are excellent. The Juke is engaging to drive and has good power for its size, but its exterior look is polarizing, and the back seat is really only large enough for children. A good choice for those who don’t need family friendliness.

2014 Nissan Juke
Average price paid new: $24,200
EPA MPG (city/highway): 27/32
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Nissan Rogue

2014 Nissan Rogue - mountains - AOA1200px

The Nissan Rogue is newly-designed for 2014 and features a very refined package overall. It has good exterior looks, excellent family ergonomics, an optional third row that is usable by children and young adults, and a fuel-efficient powertrain that is powerful enough for most needs. It’s also quiet for the class and has excellent maneuverability and good options for the price point. It’s also a Top Safety Pick+, though the NHTSA gave it only four stars.

2014 Nissan Rogue
Average price paid new: $26,200
EPA MPG (city/highway): 26/33
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good+, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid - hills 4 - AOA1200px

The Subaru XV Crosstrek has been selling well in this segment, but is only lackluster in comparison to many of the other options given here. Although its inline four-cylinder engine has good output and all of the excellent offroad and all-weather capability Subaru is known for, the Crosstrek suffers from a loud interior and quirky family ergonomics. The Hybrid option does not improve fuel economy much given its price increase, though urban drivers may enjoy its 29 mpg city EPA estimate.

2014 Subaru XV Crosstrek
Average price paid new: $22,900
EPA MPG (city/highway): 23/30
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good+, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Subaru Forester

2014SubaruForester-houseupclose-1-AOA800px

Although it did not make any of our Top Pick choices, the Subaru Forester is one of the best in the 2014 lineup of compact SUVs. It offers family-friendly ergonomics, a spacious interior, great fuel economy despite its full-time AWD, and smart looks. The segment is competitive, however, and although it’s a great vehicle, the Forester didn’t quite make our Top Picks list. It’s also one of the only vehicles in this group that has a perfect safety score.

2014 Subaru Forester
Average price paid new: $27,500
EPA MPG (city/highway): 24/32
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good+, NHTSA – 5-Stars

2014 Toyota RAV4

A high seller in the compact sport utility market, the Toyota RAV4 is often noted for its great interior and good-sized cargo space. The four-cylinder engine in the RAV4 is slow, but adequate for the class and handling is good as well. Fuel economy is average and crash test ratings are as well, but the price tag for the amount of refinement offered is a bit heavy. It is a pick for Quietest Ride.

2014 Toyota RAV4
Average price paid new: $26,300
EPA MPG (city/highway): 24/31
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

2014 Volkswagen Tiguan

2014 Volkswagen Tiguan - weeds 2 - AOA1200px

The Tiguan has some of the lowest MPG numbers on our list, but that comes because it is a sports crossover rather than a family- or offroad-oriented option like the others. As such, it’s one of the most engaging and fun to drive crossovers on our list. The Tiguan has good interior space and a nice amount of cargo room, but its price tag may put it above what many are willing to pay in this market. This is one of the few crossovers on our list with an available manual transmission.

2014 Volkswagen Tiguan
Average price paid new: $29,600
EPA MPG (city/highway): 18/26
Crash Test Rating: IIHS – Good, NHTSA – 4-Stars

About the Safety Ratings

Safety ratings from the government’s tests are given for each vehicle on our list. Insurance tests are given below that.

NHTSA

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is tasked with crash testing vehicles for the federal government; it rates vehicles with up to five stars in each of three categories. We list them as follows: Overall Rating – Frontal Crash/Side Crash/Rollover. You can find out more about the NHTSA’s testing procedures here.

IIHS
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a not-for-profit cooperative among automotive insurers that tests vehicles aimed at guiding insurance rates and risks for vehicles and to give consumers a better understanding of the safety of the vehicles they purchase.

The IIHS scores on five separate tests which measure crash worthiness and crash avoidance. Scores are rated as Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. We present these as G, A, M, P or N (not tested) in the IIHS presentation standard in order of testing:

  • Moderate Overlap Front
  • Small Overlap Front
  • Side Impact
  • Rear Crash Protection
  • Roof Strength

You can find out more about the IIHS’s testing here.

In the CARFAX Thursday Throwdown, we compare vehicles in a particular class on important merits including safety, performance, and look and feel. Our goal is to highlight not only the excellence that automakers bring to the table in various categories, but also how these vehicles compare and how they appeal to different buyers within their markets. 

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