$25,000 Compact SUV Shootout: Overview

We pitted six small SUVs against each other in our latest Shootout.

The compact SUV segment remains one of the most popular for car shoppers. Luckily, new entries are getting more affordable with more content. Features like backup cameras and Bluetooth were expensive options when we tested the segment 18 months ago, but now they're often standard equipment.

That's why in this Shootout we wanted to see just how much we could get at a more affordable price. Three of the crossovers are all-new for this test and illustrate the changes we've seen across the industry. The 2013 Mazda CX-5 we tested is just $150 more than a similar version of the discontinued Mazda Tribute, yet it packs a 5.8-inch touch-screen display, backup camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity and audio streaming. It's also a whopping 26 percent more fuel efficient. 

As gas prices regularly spike to $4 a gallon, mileage is more and more important. That's why we set our bar at a minimum of 30 mpg in highway driving. The contenders, then, in alphabetical order:

All the automakers except for Ford were able to find us a vehicle in their press fleets. Because the new Escape is likely to be a big seller, we used a broker to get an Escape from a Chicago-area dealer for our testing. We also asked Mitsubishi for an Outlander Sport to include in the testing, but the automaker declined since it was in the middle of the model-year turnover.

One important note about some of the contenders: At least a couple of these SUVs' next-higher trim levels exceed our $25,000 limit by less than $100. While many consumers see $25,000 as a high price, you owe it to yourself to see if there are more-expensive versions out there that will — for a few extra dollars a month — give you a more powerful engine or extra features. However, the top-rated SUVs in our comparison weren't the ones pushing the price cap, so the price gap between them and the versions that just missed the cut is significant.

We tested the six SUVs on roads spanning the Chicago area, putting them through three days of testing:

  • A 200-mile drive, ranging from urban driving to wide-open interstate driving.
  • One day of expert round-robin testing, where our five experts drove the SUVs over the same course again and again to experience differences in ride, handling, acceleration, braking, etc.
  • Finally, one day with an in-market family of four that's looking for a compact SUV to replace their aging car.

To help you make your own comparisons, we've pulled together a list of what you get for $25,000.

Our experts for this test were:

  • David Thomas, Cars.com managing editor and father of two
  • Jennifer Geiger, an editor at Cars.com and mom of one
  • Bill Jackson, a Cars.com senior editor and experienced triathlete, who often uses compact SUVs to carry equipment to his races
  • Fred Meier, automotive writer and editor for USA Today
  • Brian Robinson, automotive journalist and "MotorWeek" producer

Check out our complete coverage and see which compact SUV was crowned the winner in this competitive segment:

 

© Cars.com 07/23/2012