Value

Dollar for dollar, these compact crossovers were remarkably close in price as tested, with only $2740 separating the most expensive (Subaru Forester, $32,220) and the least expensive (Ford Escape, $29,750).

All came with premier infotainment systems, navigation and satellite radio systems, and a slew of other high-tech and luxury features. For 30 grand, an owner should expect some of the more luxurious features such as electric adjustable seats, push-button start, and power liftgates. The Escape didn't have push-button start or electric adjustable seats, but it did have a power liftgate and was the only crossover with a 110-volt outlet in the second row, which is included with the nav. Sync is standard. It also had a $1395 panoramic sunroof that reached well into the second row. But it lacked a backup camera.

The Toyota RAV4 had the second-lowest price and included the $500 option for blind-spot monitoring and cross traffic alert. Its $1030 navigation system included 90 days of SiriusXM, a backup camera, and a voice recognition system, making it a solid value.

The Subaru Forester's starting price of $29,995 was more than the optioned-up Escape and RAV4, but it also came loaded with standard features such as a panoramic sunroof, 10-way power adjustable seats, dual climate control, and heated seats. All-wheel drive is standard. The aforementioned $2400 EyeSight system included keyless access and starting and HID headlamps.

The Mazda CX-5 was the topline Grand Touring model, so it arrived with a slew of standard features but a starting price of $28,415. Add to that the $1625 technology package which includes HID headlamps, adaptive front lighting and navigation system, plus a $100 rear bumper guard and $200 for a retractable cargo cover and the price jumps to $30,340. Of course, additional options were available on all of the vehicles and none were base models.

For roughly the same amount of money, all of these compact crossovers offer a great mix of luxury features, practical safety devices, and infotainment items that will make all of them comfortable for any occasion.


Cost of Ownership

Even crossovers that cost the same don't really cost the same. We've asked Intelli-Choice, our partner in the Motor Trend Automotive Group, to provide five-year cost of ownership data for our contenders. IntelliChoice is a recognized leader in providing information on average depreciation, fuel cost, fees, insurance financing, maintenance, and repairs on every vehicle in the market.

While the four test vehicles were similar in price, their ownership costs over five years vary significantly more. The Toyota RAV4 stands out as costing the least over five years, more than $4000 less than the most expensive crossover, the Mazda CX-5. The big reason for this is that RAV4 holds its value better than any of the other crossovers. But it also had the least expensive insurance, lowest maintenance costs, and fewest dollars spent on repairs. For a young family, those extra savings could make a big difference.

The Ford Escape also did well on many of its costs, having the second-lowest maintenance, repairs, and insurance costs. The Subaru Forester had the second-best residual value, though it was the vehicle with the highest purchase price. It was also the most expensive to insure and had high costs for repairs and maintenance.

The CX-5 took the biggest hit on depreciation out of any of the vehicles, and that helped give it the highest cost of ownership. It had the second-highest insurance costs and maintenance costs, and the highest repair costs.


Conclusion

Really, the choice was easy: For all-around driving awesomeness, utility, comfort, and performance, the editors unanimously picked the Mazda CX-5.

"Dynamically, the CX-5 is nothing but fun in the twisties," said Martinez.

"The Mazda continues to be the driver's choice," Evans added. "You can really fling it, and it'll just smile and keep on going."

It's spirited, stylish, and connects youthful owners to their past, but makes room for the future. The front of the cabin uses quality materials, but nothing feels overstated. The exterior has strong lines, but it doesn't look jagged or cut with a meat cleaver. There's little flash, but lots of substance.

The CX-5 provides solid fuel economy and lots of power. It's also a good value, something important for the evolving American family.

Perhaps Jurnecka put it best: "Though I can't help but feel I might be getting more for my money with the Subaru, [the CX-5] is the one I'd buy at the end of the day. The driving dynamics and style are that superior to everything else."

In a crossover-eat-crossover world, the CX-5 is the natural selection.


4th Place: Ford Escape SE
Complicated interior and disappointing performance seal its fate.

3rd Place: Toyota RAV4
A safe bet is not an exciting one, and others outperform this perennial top-seller.

2nd Place: Subaru Forester 2.5 Touring
Fun, nimble, and all-wheel drive on the plus side; poor interior choices keep it from the winner's circle.

1st Place: Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring
New engine powers this crossover to the top. Well-planned inside and out.