Compact crossovers have been rising in popularity for years—to the point that they're replacing mid-size sedans in many households—and in turn, we've seen nearly every automaker step up its game. So in short, it's a great time to be in the market for a vehicle in this class.
Take Hyundai’s Tucson, for example. Until 2010, it was near the back of the pack in this crowded field, notable primarily for its low cost. But in its current generation, the Hyundai Tucson is a serious contender—and one that Hyundai has fine-tuned to be even better with some 2014 updates. The Honda CR-V, which was new for 2012, is also a very strong, popular entry, and benefits from an improved interior and sharper exterior styling in its current generation. Both the 2014 Honda CR-V and 2014 Hyundai Tucson remain great choices in the compact crossover segment, but we find one to be just a bit more to our liking.
Honda’s much beloved CR-V wears more contemporary styling on the outside, while benefiting from a smartly redesigned interior as well. The CR-V’s seats, both front and rear, benefit from an improved shape and additional padding that now makes them day-long comfortable. Rear seats feature a pull-strap that releases the seat and tumbles it forward to create additional cargo room. We love the one-handed operation, too, and would call cargo room generous, even with rear seats in place. Seats folded, the CR-V offers up over five feet of cargo room, now with a lower deck for easier loading.
Up front, the sole engine choice is Honda’s 2.4-liter i-VTEC four-cylinder engine, mated to a five-speed automatic transmission. While other manufacturers are moving towards six-, seven- and eight-speed transmissions, Honda opted to keep things cost-effective by simply adopting taller gear ratios for improved fuel economy. The engine is up to the added work, so the new CR-V doesn’t feel any slower or less responsive than the model it replaces. As before, both front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive variants are available, with front-drive models delivering 23 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. All-wheel-drive versions lose 1 mpg in both categories, returning 22 mpg city and 31 mpg highway.
On the road, the CR-V delivers a comfortable ride and predictable handling, although we’re not fans of the isolated feel delivered by the new electric power steering. While previous versions of the CR-V weren’t sporty, they did deliver noticeably more steering feel than the current version. Aside from that point, the new CR-V has proven to be one of the safest vehicles in the compact crossover segment, with Top Safety Pick status from the IIHS and a five-star overall score from the federal government.
As sharp and refined as the new Honda CR-V is, Hyundai’s recently updated Tucson wears exterior styling that stands out in a crowd. One of the first models to embrace Hyundai’s “fluidic sculpture” styling, the Tucson’s outside carries a bold blend of creases, swells and lines, culminating in the now familiar hexagonal grille. It could be seen by some as “too busy,” but in our opinion Hyundai’s designers carried it off well. The interior, with its mix of vertical metallic trim and tightly-grained black plastic, is both pleasing and familiar to anyone who’s driven a new Sonata or Elantra.
Tucson buyers get a choice of two engines, starting with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder, good for 164 horsepower. The smaller engine is available with front-wheel drive only, and it delivers an estimated 23 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. Opt for the larger, 184-hp, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, and you’ll automatically get the six-speed automatic transmission. With both of these engines, Hyundai has added direct injection, and they're smoother and more responsive at low revs than before. All-wheel drive is available, but in front-drive form the larger engine returns 21 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
As with the Honda CR-V, the weak point of the Tucson’s ride and handling is the electric power steering. While it helps to deliver a tight turning radius, the steering effort isn’t as linear as we’ve come to expect in systems from VW and Ford. That aside, the new Tucson rides better and offers up a far more comfortable cabin than the model it replaces, and new dampers this year further improve comfort without negatively affecting handling. It’s a safe compact crossover, too, earning a “Top Safety Pick” award from the IIHS, although the federal government gives it four stars overall. Neither of these vehicles do well in the new IIHS small overlap frontal test, it's worth noting, although the Tucson gets an especially concerning 'poor' score.
The new Tucson is more spacious than the model it replaces, too, but it’s still noticeably smaller on the inside than the Honda CR-V. It’s worth a test drive to see if the Hyundai Tucson will be big enough to meet your needs. While we do like the Tucson's stronger style, the CR-V's interior versatility, ride, fuel efficiency, and safety all position it as the winner here.