In May 2008, the last time we compared the crop of naturally aspirated four-cylinder compact crossovers, the all-new third-generation Subaru Forester handily conquered the likes of Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Saturn VUE, and Toyota RAV4. Fluke? Hardly. The small-but-stout Subaru only went on to snatch our coveted 2009 Sport/Utility of the Year award.

Since those victories, however, the Forester has happily basked in its glory and evolved, um, not at all. Under the sheetmetal reside the same 2.5-liter, 170-horse flat-four, the same four-speed automatic, and the same AWD system. Conversely, the crossover field has since been recast with new and updated players. The RAV4, for instance, received a power bump from 166 horses to 179, and the CR-V's pony count rose from 166 to 180. Then there are the new kids on the block: GM's fraternal twins, Chevy Equinox and GMC Terrain, and Hyundai's second-gen Tucson. The General's offspring get 182 direct-injected horses and up to 32 mpg highway, while the stylish South Korean answers with 176 ponies and as much as 31 mpg.

To see which crossover now sits atop this feverish fray, we brought back our residing champ and pitted it against the more muscular CR-V, the all-new Terrain, and the promising Tucson. The Rogue failed to prevail in the last go-'round and received no significant changes, so we did not extend an invitation. And, of course, 2009 was the last year for the Saturn VUE. As for the Equinox and RAV4, we wanted both, but neither was available in four-cylinder/all-wheel-drive guise. Perhaps next time.

Until then, let's focus on this contest. After all, the winner may very well surprise you.

Sport/Utility of the Yesteryear
As mentioned, the Forester entered this battle as something of a favorite, what with it taking our SUOTY calipers just 12 months ago. But a year is a long time, and a lot can happen in that span--like an award-winner finishing fourth in a four-car comparison. (Before you start typing angry letters, berating us for getting it wrong, let us remind you that the 224-horse XT turbo played a huge factor in earning the Forester's crown.) This is not to say we no longer like, appreciate, and respect the Forester--far from it. Rather, in light of new and revised offerings, we simply like, appreciate, and respect it a bit less.

In May 2008's test, the Forester's 170 horsepower and 20/26-mpg fuel economy put it near the top of the class. In this 2010 shindig, however, those numbers place it dead last. Further, 2008's test vehicle, a 3308-pound 2.5X Premium, scrambled from 0 to 60 in 9.9 seconds, or a full tick ahead of the VUE. Fast forward 22 months, our 2010 tester--a 3311-pound 2.5X Premium--proved considerably quicker (9.3 seconds), but was nonetheless slower than all three of its foes. Whereas before the Subaru's four-speed automatic was competitive, now it seems conspicuously uncompetitive. "Four-speed auto?" questions editor at large Arthur St. Antoine. "C'mon, Subaru. Hyundai has a six-speed." With the XT's turbo, Subaru can get away with the four-speed, but with the X's naturally aspirated mill, it's no longer cutting it.

What is cutting it, though, are the Forester hallmarks that helped make it a SUOTY--2400-pound towing capacity, 8.7 inches of ground clearance, 0.81g lateral acceleration, 34.4-foot turning circle, and $25,294 as-tested price--all tops in this field. That said, had we gotten a more appropriate Forester, a comparably equipped $26,690 2.5X Limited optioned with nav, premium audio, and satellite radio, the price would have been just under $30,000.

It's likely that for 2011 the Forester will undergo a significant freshening, adopting Subaru's new CVT in favor of the four-speed and a styling update inside and out. To be competitive again, it needs all of the above.

All-Terrain
"After driving the Terrain," says contributor Mike Connor, "I really wish we'd gotten the Equinox. I like the way the GMC drives, but I don't care for how it looks; it just appears so long and boxy, whereas the Chevy looks lean and sporty." Assistant Web producer Scott Evans notes, "I like the interior styling, but it feels cramped inside. With the sunroof pocket in the ceiling, the small windows, the big pillars all the way around, and the wide center console, it feels almost claustrophobic." Truck Trend editor Allyson Harwood adds, "Decent six-speed, but I'd prefer to shift manually with paddles rather than that silly plus/minus button on the side of the shifter." Catch our drift? There's a lot we like about the Terrain, but ...

First and foremost, the price. With such niceties as nav, backup camera, leather, 18-inch wheels, Bluetooth, sunroof, and power liftgate, the Terrain is more than just well equipped. But at $29,945, it carries the highest base price, and at $34,170, it carries the highest as-tested price. But the real kicker: The Tucson includes all those items, sans the dispensable power liftgate, for a whopping $4680 less.

Then there are the Terrain's lackluster test numbers. Despite having the most horsepower and best highway mpg number, it puts up neither the quickest acceleration nor the top observed fuel economy. The culprit? Make that culprits, as in 4035 of them: The Terrain is 724 pounds portlier than the Forester. The styling too is a bit heavy--on the eyes, that is. "Exterior design is a real puzzler," says St. Antoine. "Square wheel arches? Makes the body-to-tire gaps look huge along the top."

Gripes aside, we did find the Terrain an impressive rig when on the move. St. Antoine remarks, "Supple chassis, with good control and solid steering feel." Evans adds, "I'd call it the sports car of the group, as it handles the best on pavement." If it weren't for the hefty price, disappointing performance stats, and elephantine curb weight, the Terrain would have scored higher. But those are big ifs.

Under the Tucson Sun
The Tucson is Hyundai's first crossover to be designed and engineered in Europe, and it shows. From the integrated side-mirror turn repeaters and the three-flash lane-change signals to the Fluidic Sculpture design language and split-spoke 18-inch alloys, the Tucson emanates a personality that could only come from across the Atlantic. And we like it. "Easily the best-looking vehicle of the bunch, inside and out. More than that, the new Tucson is head and shoulders above the old model in design and quality," says Evans. "Love the shark-like surfacing on the sides," adds St. Antoine.

Hyundai aimed for high style and succeeded. It also aimed for a sporty personality and succeeded there as well. "It's obvious Hyundai went the sporty route with the new Tucson--the dynamics feel aggressive," says Connor. The test numbers back up this claim. The Tucson's 0-to-60 (8.8 seconds) and quarter-mile (16.7 seconds at 82.8 mph) times were best of the group, and its lateral acceleration (0.79 g), figure eight (28.5 seconds at 0.58 g), and 60-to-0 braking (120 feet) trail only those of the lightweight Forester. Moreover, of the four CUVs here, the Tucson manages to stay flattest through corners, the byproduct of a firm suspension.

Those taut suspenders, sad to say, don't pay dividends in the ride department. Here the Hyundai comes across as too aggressive, transmitting rather than absorbing road imperfections. "Suspension is overly taut and not nearly as composed as the Honda's or GMC's," says St. Antoine. Our judges found fault with the Tucson's electric power steering, as well. "Steering feels artificial, with too many blips in the arc," claims Connor. Other than the ride and steering, and some second-rate interior plastics and seat stitching, there was nothing to fault. The 2.4-liter is refined and peppy, the six-speed silky smooth and responsive, and the price shock and awe. Try to find another under-$30,000 CUV with Bluetooth phone and streaming audio, nav, panoramic sunroof, heated leather seats, satellite radio, and brake hill-hold and hill-descent control. Let us help--it doesn't exist.

The Tucson will inevitably inherit the new Sonata's direct-injected 200-horse 2.4-liter engine within a couple years. So once Hyundai addresses the stiff ride and artificial steering, look out.

Premium Precision
"This is when Honda is getting it all right," says Harwood of the CR-V. Indeed, the Honda's resume utterly impressed our discerning crew. The tweaked-for-'10 DOHC 2.4-liter, which utilizes a higher 10.5:1 compression ratio, larger intake valves, and a higher flow-rate exhaust to swell horsepower to 180, was rated the envy of the assembled 16-valvers. "I adore this engine," says Evans. "Loves to rev and produces good power across the band, making the CR-V feel like the fastest of the group even though it isn't."

Perhaps the steering, lauded for its organic, nicely weighted heft that made the Honda "a pleasure to carve through the mountain roads around Wrightwood," per St. Antoine, played a role in making the CR-V feel deceptively quick. And unlike the Tucson, whose ride was at times jarring, the Honda's proved supple, well mannered, and responsive, whether on pavement or dirt. "The most fun to drive off-road and great on pavement too," concludes Evans.

Inside the rich, well-executed cabin, which comes replete with nav, backup camera, Bluetooth, satellite radio, heated leather seats, and dual-zone automatic climate control, the Honda's talent show continues. "Surprising elegance at this price level," says Harwood. Evans claims, "Best interior materials in the group. From the quality of the leather to the plastics, the Honda is way above the rest." Connor notes, "Great interior packaging with lots of space (feels wide inside), a roomy, reclining back seat, the most cargo room (love the shelf), and useful storage bins in the center console and dash."

Of course, there were a few traits we didn't love. The five-speed auto, for example, lacked a manual mode and shifted with a slight harshness that didn't exist with the Tucson's six-speed. Some found the brakes a wee bit touchy, the styling so-so, and the cartridge-style six-CD changer outdated. But that's the extent of it.

"In a class by itself in quality feel, classy interior materials, and carefully wrought details--looks and feels like a premium piece," says St. Antoine. Harwood summarizes the Honda as follows: "This isn't just the smart decision when looking at crossovers, it appeals to the emotions too. Both sides of the brain would be very happy with the CR-V." True enough.

1st Place: Honda CR-V 4WD EX-L
Composed chassis, premium materials, and a jewel of an engine equal winner.

2nd Place: Hyundai Tucson AWD Limited
Stiff ride and spotty steering handicap an otherwise quick, agile, and choice CUV.

3rd Place: GMC Terrain AWD SLT-1
GM's boxy newcomer is fun to drive and feature laden, but too heavy and too costly.

4th Place: Subaru Forester 2.5X Premium PZEV
With archaic four-speed and basement power, the former champ shows its age.


  2010 GMC Terrain SLT-1 AWD 2010 Honda CR-V 4WD EX-L2010 Hyundai Tucson AWD Limited2010 Subaru Forester 2.5X Premium Pzev
Powertrain/Chassis
Drivetrain LayoutFront engine, AWDFront engine, AWDFront engine, AWDFront engine, AWD
Engine typeI-4, alum block/headI-4, alum block/headI-4, alum block/headFlat-4, alum block/heads
ValvetrainDOHC, 4 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cylDOHC, 4 valves/cylSOHC, 4 valves/cyl
Displacement145.5 cu in/2384 cc143.6 cu in/2354 cc144.0 cu in/2360 cc149.9 cu in/2457 cc
Compression Ratio11.2:110.5:110.5:110.0:1
Power (SAE NET)182 hp @ 6700 rpm*180 hp @ 6800 rpm176 hp @ 6000 rpm170 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque (SAE NET)172 lb-ft @ 4900 rpm*161 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm168 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm170 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm
Weight To Power22.2 lb/hp 20.1 lb/hp19.6 lb/hp19.5 lb/hp
Transmission6-speed automatic 5-speed automatic6-speed automatic4-speed automatic
Axle/Final-Drive Ratios3.53:1/2.61:14.50:1/2.55:13.20:1/2.47:14.44:1/3.08:1
Suspension, Front; RearStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll barStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll barStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll barStruts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; control arms, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Steering Ratio18.1:115.7:115.9:116.5:1
Turns Lock-To-Lock3.5 3.0 3.0 3.2
Brakes, F; R12.6-in vented disc; 11.9-in vented disc, ABS 11.7-in vented disc; 12.0-in disc, ABS11.8-in vented disc; 11.2-in disc, ABS11.7-in vented disc; 11.3-in disc, ABS
Wheels7.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum6.5 x 17-in, cast aluminum6.5 x 18-in, cast aluminum7.0 x 17-in, cast aluminum
Tires235/55R18 99T M+S, Michelin Latitude Tour225/65R17 102T M+S, Continental 4X4 Contact225/55R18 98H M+S, Kumho Solus KL21 225/55R17 95H M+S, Yokohama Geolander G95
Dimensions
Wheelbase 112.5 in103.1 in103.9 in103.0 in
Track, F/R 62.9/62.1 in61.6/61.6 in62.4/62.4 in60.2/60.2 in
Length X Width X Height 185.3 x 72.8 x 66.3 in179.3 x 71.6 x 66.1 in173.2 x 71.7 x 65.2 in179.5 x 70.1 x 65.9 in
Ground Clearance 6.9 in6.7 in6.7 in8.7 in
Apprch/Depart Angle 14.8/23.2 deg29.0/21.5 deg28.1/26.9 deg24.8/24.8 deg
Turning Circle 40.0 ft37.8 ft34.7 ft34.4 ft
Curb Weight 4035 lb3618 lb3450 lb3311 lb
Weight Dist., F/R 55/45%56/44%58/42%55/45%
Towing Capacity 1500 lb 1500 lb 1000 lb 2400 lb
Seating Capacity 5 5 5 5
Headroom, F/R 40.9/39.2 in38.9/38.5 in39.4/39.1 in40.0/37.7 in
Legroom, F/R 41.2/39.9 in41.3/38.5 in42.1/38.7 in43.1/38.0 in
Shoulder Room, F/R 55.7/55.3 in56.9/56.0 in57.1/55.1 in56.1/55.6 in
Cargo Vol Behind F/R 63.9/31.6 cu ft 72.9/35.7 cu ft 55.8/25.7 cu ft 63.0/30.8 cu ft
Test Data
Acceleration to MPH
0-302.9 sec 3.1 sec 3.0 sec 3.0 sec
0-404.6 4.6 4.5 4.6
0-506.6 6.7 6.5 7.0
0-609.2 9.2 8.8 9.3
0-7012.311.811.812.4
0-8016.115.615.417.0
0-90-- 20.220.4--
Passing, 45-65 MPH 5.2 sec 4.8 sec 4.8 sec 4.8 sec
Quarter Mile 16.9 sec @ 81.9 mph 16.9 sec @ 82.9 mph 16.7 sec @ 82.8 mph 17.1 sec @ 80.0 mph
Braking, 60-0 MPH 122 ft 123 ft 120 ft 114 ft
Lateral Acceleration 0.75 g (avg) 0.77 g (avg) 0.79 g (avg) 0.81 g (avg)
MT Figure Eight 28.8 sec @ 0.56 g (avg) 28.8 sec @ 0.57 g (avg) 28.5 sec @ 0.58 g (avg) 28.4 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)
Top-Gear Revs @ 60 MPH 1900 rpm 1850 rpm 1900 rpm 2500 rpm
Consumer Info
Base Price $29,945 $28,455 $26,640 $24,490
Price As Tested $34,170 $30,455 $29,490 $25,294
Stability/Traction Control Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes Yes/yes
Airbags Dual front, front side, f/r curtainDual front, front side, f/r curtainDual front, front side, f/r curtainDual front, front side, f/r curtain
Basic Warranty 3 yrs/36,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles5 yrs/60,000 miles3 yrs/36,000 miles
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 miles 5 yrs/60,000 miles10 yrs/100,000 miles5 yrs/60,000 miles
Roadside Assistance 5 yrs/100,000 miles N/A 5 yrs/unlimited 3 yrs/36,000 miles
Fuel Capacity 18.8 gal 15.3 gal 14.5 gal 16.9 gal
EPA CITY/HWY ECON 20/29 mpg 21/27 mpg 21/28 mpg 20/26 mpg
C02 Emissions 0.83 lb/mile 0.83 lb/mile 0.82 lb/mile 0.87 lb/mile
MT Fuel Economy 16.0 mpg 18.1 mpg 17.5 mpg 18.8 mpg
Recommended Fuel Unleaded regular Unleaded regularUnleaded regularUnleaded regular
*SAE certified

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