Let’s be honest: You’re not exactly going to find the world’s most exciting cars in the compact crossover segment. They’re not sexy, they don’t handle great, and even in the best ones, performance is usually a suggestion. But they offer the interior space of a minivan, a tall ride height, and the option of four-wheel drive like an SUV – making them irresistible to millions of young families around the country. In short order, crossovers have become the modern day people mover of choice, joining that all-important pantheon of suburban cruisers right alongside the station wagons of ’60s and ’70s, the minivans of the ’80s and ’90s, and the SUVs of the aughts.
Over the past decade, they’ve become some of the hottest-selling vehicles in America, falling in that sweet spot that makes automakers smell profits. As a result, the compact segment is one of the most crowded and competitive in the industry, with no less than 16 different models offered. To help cut through the chaos, the writers at Car and Driver got together and ranked these trucklets in order from worst to best. Compared side by side, the segment is transformed from a bland monolith to a surprisingly diverse group of vehicles, and one that truly does offer something for just about everyone.
So here are all 16 models that make up today’s compact crossover segment, presented all in one place.
16. Mitsubishi Outlander Sport
Mitsubishi is clinging to life in the American market, and it’s pinning its hopes for survival on an all-new Outlander due for 2016. We drove the current Outlander Sport, and while it’s by no means bad, a cheap-feeling interior, rough ride quality, and sluggish base 2.0 liter four make it a pretty tough sell in this highly competitive segment.
15. GMC Terrain
The Terrain has been available with minimal updates since 2009, but its platform and mechanicals date even further back to the 2005 Pontiac Torrent. Its boxy, upright looks and sluggish performance don’t do it many favors, but its comfortable interior and impressive amount of cargo space have helped make it GMC’s second best-selling model. For 2016, a facelifted Terrain will debut that should keep the GMC faithful happy.
14. Chevrolet Equinox
Nearly identical to the Terrain mechanically, the Equinox offers most of the same amenities at a slightly lower price. It’s Chevy’s best-selling crossover, but after six years on the market the current generation is beginning to feel dated. Look for a refreshed 2016 model to hit the showrooms later this fall.
13. Nissan Rogue
Like the Terrain is to GMC, the Rogue is the second best-selling model in Nissan’s lineup. But after a ground-up redesign in 2014, the Rogue is a throughly modern, attractive, and competitive crossover. We tested the Rogue, and found it to be responsive, comfortable, and accommodating in every way. If it weren’t for the sheer number of quality competitors, the Rogue would’ve probably been ranked higher.
12. Hyundai Tucson
The Tucson is down toward the bottom of this list because it has two big strikes against it: terrible visibility, and a disappointingly small cargo area. Aside from these two flaws, Hyundai has an attractive, competitively-priced crossover on their hands. Like GMC and Chevy’s offerings, an updated 2016 model is right around the corner, so if Hyundai can get the new Tucson right, it may have a real contender on its hands.
11. Kia Sportage
Hyundai’s corporate cousin ranks slightly higher due to its attractive styling, and better powertrain options. But poor ride quality and an interior that leaves something to be desired keep it from the top ten. Kia hasn’t announced a next-generation Sportage yet, but we’d be surprised if it came any later than 2017.
10. Subaru Outback
Subaru has been on a tear as of late, and much of its success can be attributed to its strong showing in the crossover segment. The Outback nameplate dates back to 1994, and its distinctive station wagon-meets-SUV profile helped give the crossover segment its name. While its standard all-wheel drive, and high resale value have made the Outback a winner of late, its wagon-like shape and styling that recalls Subaru’s days as Japan’s quirkiest automaker aren’t for everybody.
9. Subaru Forester
Unlike the Outback, the Forester is a high-riding modern crossover through-and-through. With an available 250 horsepower 2.0 liter turbocharged model, the Forester can optioned as the WRX’s buttoned-down suburban cousin, and is one of the liveliest offerings in the segment. But its overall lack of refinement stand out in a class that seems to be upping its game every year. Still, the Forester’s combination of power and real-world practicality make it a compelling choice against some of its duller competitors.
8. Toyota Rav4
Like Subaru’s offerings, the Rav4 has been around since the beginning of the crossover segment. But unlike the Subaru twins, the Rav4’s lack of personality make it difficult to love. Like any Toyota, the Rav4 does just about everything well, but nothing great. Little surprise then, that it sits right in the middle of the pack.
7. Volkswagen Tiguan
It’s no secret that Volkswagen has a sales problem in America, and part of that is due to its lack of a competitive SUV lineup. With the Tiguan, it’s gotten just about everything right. It’s compact, good looking, well-appointed, and even offers a six-speed manual transmission for drivers who want to have a little more fun. Unfortunately, its relatively high buy-in (starting at $26,255) makes it a little too pricey of a proposition for many buyers. With VW committed to turning around sales, look for the next-generation Tiguan (due for 2017) to be even more competitive.
6. Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
Like Volkswagen, Hyundai has admittedly never been comfortable building trucks or SUVs, but it’s done a fine job with the Santa Fe Sport. Redesigned for 2015, it’s a more focused effort than the Tucson, and it’s position above better-selling models is testament to how good of an automaker Hyundai has become. With good looks, a well-appointed interior, and an impressive ride, the Santa Fe Sport stands out in the pack.
5. Jeep Wrangler
The Wrangler stands out in the crossover segment – but then, the Wrangler stands out just about anywhere. Its architecture may be downright archaic compared to its rivals, but it handles great, has legitimate off-roading chops, is plenty powerful, and holds its resale value better than almost anything else on the road. It may not be the most comfortable crossover, but it’s certainly the most capable.
4. Jeep Cherokee
For those that want the ruggedness of a Jeep, but don’t want to pay extra for a hardtop, the Cherokee is the way to go. When it was reintroduced in 2014, many were taken aback by its, ahem, polarizing looks, but the Cherokee has proven itself with its strong performance on almost any terrain. With a host of trim levels, the midsize Jeep can be outfitted as anything from a posh grocery-getter to a highly-capable soft roader, making it one of the most versatile crossovers in the segment.
3. Ford Escape
As the highest-ranking American on the list, the Escape has transformed itself from an also-ran to a leader in the span of about three years. With a solid feel, good driving manners, strong fuel economy, and good looks that share a familial resemblance to the Focus and Fiesta cars, the Escape is a true contender, and proves that Detroit really can run with the world’s best.
2. Honda CR-V
Like Toyota and Subaru’s offerings, the CR-V has been a stalwart in the crossover segment since the ’90s, but unlike its rivals, it hasn’t lost a step. The CR-V was America’s best-selling crossover in 2014, and benefitting from a facelift for 2015, it’s become even more focused. Honda’s crossover offers the combination of handling, comfort, and strong performance that put most others in the segment to shame. Toyota may still outsell Honda overall, but it really could learn a thing or two from its biggest rival.
1. Mazda CX-5
Mazda’s CX-5 is head and shoulders above its competitors, despite being outnumbered on the roads by the mighty CR-V by more than three to one. Declared “the sports car of crossovers, with an athleticism you have to experience to believe” by Car and Driver, the CX-5 is good looking, has an interior that punches well above its weight, and handles like a sporty car – and it’s still a five-passenger people mover. The CX-5 wrecks the bell curve; it proves that crossovers don’t have to be boring. A facelifted model is on the way for 2016, so don’t expect anyone to overtake Mazda anytime soon.
Despite the number of fast, beautiful, technologically advanced cars on the market today, for millions of non-gearheads, this is the era of the crossover. They’re found clogging the highways during rush hour, packing supermarket parking lots on weekends, and sitting in driveways in every suburban street in the country. They’ll be the first cars millions of kids remember, and later, their embarrassing first cars. But despite their bland reputation, there really are a few gems here. It’s nice to know that if you’re in the market for a family car, you don’t have to be stuck driving something you hate.