Cars.comparison: Fuel-Efficient Crossovers

Fuel economy is a big deal these days. The Chevrolet Equinox and Hyundai Tucson — both redesigned for 2010 — offer more than 30 mpg on the highway, and they square off against one of the most popular models in the class: the Honda CR-V.

 = Category winner
The Contenders
2010 Chevrolet Equinox 2LT 2WD2010 Honda CR-V EX 2WD2010 Hyundai Tucson GLS 2WD
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Price as tested
While the Equinox is handsome in a buttoned-down kind of way — and more appealing than its predecessor — its sheet metal doesn't have the fluidity of the Tucson. One of the CR-V's most controversial design elements, the front-end's underbite isn't as jarring as it seemed upon its introduction. Taut lines and an athletic stance make the Tucson the most stylish — and interesting-looking — crossover here. It's a dramatic break from its homely predecessor, and we like it a lot.
Acceleration and gas mileage
The Equinox's four-cylinder doesn't feel as quick as the Tucson. Gear kickdowns could be smoother, too, but the front-drive Equinox's gas mileage shines at 22/32 mpg.The CR-V's four-cylinder is the least buzzy, but it struggles to get up to highway speeds despite a horsepower bump for 2010. Gas mileage trails the others at 21/28 mpg. The Tucson feels quickest, though its touchy gas pedal contributes to the sensation. It offers more passing power and achieves an impressive 23/31 mpg in front-drive form with an automatic transmission.
Ride comfort
The Equinox's suspension is taut, which keeps body motions in check, but the Chevy's longer wheelbase helps smooth out the ride and puts it ahead of the CR-V and Tucson. It's the quietest of the three.The CR-V's suspension does a good job handling large bumps, but like many Hondas it's sensitive to smaller pavement irregularities. Grooved pavement makes the tires sing — and the cabin loud.The Tucson doesn't handle larger bumps as gracefully as the CR-V does, and the backseat is downright bouncy. The suspension sends quite a bit of noise into the cabin on rough roads. We expected better.
The Equinox's larger dimensions and higher curb weight work against it, and it can't match the CR-V's cornering poise. All of these crossovers will push wide when driven hard, but the CR-V feels the most balanced and offers more of a driver's experience. The Tucson's steering is vague and underassisted and its roadholding is sloppy. Again, disappointing results for a brand-new crossover.
Interior quality and controls
The Equinox has eye-pleasing materials and detailing, but the center control panel is busy and not intuitive, and some of the knobs feel rickety.
The CR-V's inconsistent materials quality can't measure up to the Equinox or Tucson, which have stepped things up with their redesigns. The simple analog gauges are quite bright.
The Tucson and Equinox use high-grade interior materials, but what puts the Hyundai ahead is its simple, easy-to-use center panel with controls where you expect them to be.
Seat comfort
The power-adjustable driver's seat offers a wide range of motion. There's also a lot of seat travel to accommodate taller drivers. The seats are finished in a unique mesh fabric, and the Equinox's backseat is the best positioned and offers good thigh support. The CR-V's front and rear seat cushions garner praise, but the front seat's bottom cushion could have been longer, and an ill-positioned armrest is attached to the inside of the driver's seat. Wide-opening rear doors make the backseat easy to access, but passengers sit with their knees raised. There's a natural upturn to the Tucson's driver's seat that we liked — though you'll have to see if it fits you — and a little more front legroom than what the CR-V offers. The backseat, however, is too low to the ground. What's more, it's fixed; both competitors' backseats recline and slide.
Cargo space (backseat up/folded, cu. ft.)
The Equinox is larger on the outside, but that extra size doesn't pay dividends in cargo space. There is, however, a cover to hide the gap between the cargo floor and the sliding backseat, which is thoughtful.
The CR-V gives you more cargo room than you expect. It has the biggest opening to the cargo area, and when you fold and secure the backseat, you have an impressively tall space. An available (washable) cargo shelf holds up to 20 pounds.
The smallest space in this comparison, the Tucson's cargo area isn't very tall, either. The backseat folds easily, nearly flat with the cargo floor, and the small bumper affords better access to the cargo area.
Overall value
With the group's highest starting price — and a comparatively costly $1,750 all-wheel-drive option — the Equinox lacks the value proposition of the CR-V or bargain-basement Tucson. Throw a few options on the well-appointed LTZ, and you could easily spend close to $35,000.The CR-V starts at a reasonable $21,545, and Honda charges just $1,250 on any trim for all-wheel drive. Factor in the car's excellent reliability, and Honda makes a decent case for value — but it doesn't quite match Hyundai's. Few will buy the $18,995 stick-shift Tucson, but even automatic models start a tick under $20,000. All-wheel drive is another $2,500, but even a loaded model tops out under $29,000. That's the lowest in the group, with luxury features comparable to the others.
Editors' choice
The Equinox performed well in the areas that matter most, providing very good gas mileage; a controlled, quiet ride; and comfortable seating. Its reliability is unknown, but unlike the other two, the Equinox didn't have any significant strikes against it, which helped solidify its position as our editors' choice.The CR-V remains a reliable choice in the small-crossover segment, but the newer Equinox and Tucson offer better gas mileage and interior quality. The Honda's uninspiring four-cylinder and loud cabin diminished our overall impression.The Tucson has some really good attributes, like a strong, efficient four-cylinder engine and an attractive interior, but it also has more than its share of negative qualities. Those include an unrefined and loud suspension and an ill-fitting backseat. In this comparison, the negatives were just too much for the Tucson to overcome.
© 6/1/10
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