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Although the RAV4 is the sales leader (Toyota sold more than 430,000 units in 2020), the CR-V is no small player (333,000 last year). But as the segment grows more competitive, automakers are equipping their crossover SUVs with cutting-edge technology, cool designs, and spacious interiors. And don’t forget about the Nissan Rogue and the Hyundai Tucson; they aren’t as popular as the Honda and Toyota, but their latest generations are more attractive than ever.
To make this comparison as fair as possible, we asked the relevant automakers to send us their top-trim models with all-wheel drive. The 2021 Nissan Rogue SL we received wasn’t the eye-popping Platinum trim, but it felt decently equipped with the Premium package. Powered by a 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine making 181 horsepower and 181 lb-ft of torque, the Rogue employs a continuously variable transmission tasked with sending power to all four wheels. Our test model carried a $36,805 price tag, a decent value for the features it included.
The 2022 Hyundai Tucson is all-new for this year, and it was represented in our comparison by the Limited trim. Its 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine makes 187 hp and 178 lb-ft and is mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. At $37,580, the Tucson Limited AWD comes with a ton of technology, a bigger cargo area, and more passenger space than before.
As the second most popular crossover SUV, the 2021 Honda CR-V has many things to like, particularly its value. At $36,325, the CR-V was the least expensive model here, and that was despite being represented by the top-of-the-line Touring trim. Its 190-hp 1.5-liter turbo-four engine is paired to a CVT.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4 has proven to be an attractive model. With its 203-hp 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, it’s also the most powerful SUV of this group, and it features an eight-speed automatic. As the top trim, the Limited’s starting price is just north of $37,000, and our model included a couple of packages that raised its price to $40,451, the highest in our comparison test.
As close as these SUVs are in terms of power and engine displacement, each offers a different driving experience. The Tucson’s transmission is tuned to get to the highest gear as quickly as possible, which prevents the torque from getting to the wheels in an authoritative manner. When exiting a corner, the Tucson’s transmission felt like it needed to catch its breath before downshifting. The Tucson also felt lethargic when merging onto the freeway, something we verified at our test track, where the Hyundai took 9.3 seconds to reach 60 mph—the slowest SUV of the group. The Tucson’s suspension also disappointed us as the harshest in the test, though the payoff was excellent body control.
The Toyota RAV4’s punchy engine showed off during our test loop, and the vehicle overall felt the most fun to drive in this group of cars. That’s no small compliment; the RAV4 delivers great acceleration, and its body is well composed on poor pavement or twisty roads, as we found on our drive along Southern California’s Palos Verdes Peninsula. Its raucous engine note is a bit bothersome, but overall the Toyota delivers an enjoyable experience behind the wheel.
Meanwhile, the 2021 Nissan Rogue’s ride felt a bit unsettling over Portuguese Bend, an area of our drive loop where constant land movements make the pavement quite bumpy. “It feels like it has heavy wheels,” features editor Scott Evans said. “The experience is like trying to run in work boots.” The Rogue’s engine delivers decent power, and its CVT represents a marked improvement over that of the previous generation. The transmission still isn’t as smooth as Honda’s, but the Nissan’s engine note is more subdued, while the engine itself feels eager to deliver its power.
Honda’s CR-V is the oldest SUV in the group, but it comes across as “experienced” rather than “outdated.” Indeed, despite the arrival of new players, the Honda continues to impress us with its driving and handling. Its steering feels direct and properly weighted, its suspension absorbs big bumps in a stellar manner, and despite being the least powerful, it was the quickest to reach 60 mph. Of course, it has its flaws: Press the throttle hard, and the engine noise permeates the cabin, and the CR-V’s body control isn’t as sharp as the Toyota’s.
As well as the 2021 Honda CR-V hides its age on the road, its cabin shows wrinkles. Its 7.0-inch screen seems minuscule, and its infotainment system is old and lacks the cool graphics and quick processing speed we’ve come to expect. Overall, portions of the CR-V’s interior design—particularly the center dashboard—could use an upgrade.
Those gripes aside, there’s still plenty to like about the Honda. The versatile center console is among the best in the segment, and we applaud the CR-V for its great packaging, roomy interior, and a nearly flat floor in the second row. Technology may not be the 2021 Honda CR-V’s forte, but its versatility and packaging continue to stand as solid selling points.
The 2022 Hyundai Tucson sits at the other end of the spectrum. Its massive 10.3-inch touchscreen and its identically sized digital instrument cluster seem like they came straight out of a Mercedes-Benz. Designers paid close attention to cabin details, like the strip of chrome and piano black that runs from the door panels and extends across the whole dashboard until it reaches the other side. These types of things stand out in such a crowded segment. The cabin’s materials also feel premium, and the second row feels spacious and airy—something the previous model lacked. The Hyundai wins for features-per-dollar value, including its Smart Park function, which can move the Tucson in and out of a cramped parking space remotely.
Although the 2021 Nissan Rogue isn’t as tech-loaded as the Hyundai Tucson, it adds a few nice details and proper design. The three-tone interior in our SL test vehicle made a good impression thanks to its decent amount of leather and stitching adorning the door panels and dashboard, and its fake wood trim looks premium. The new, low-mounted shifter also adds to the appeal: It feels modern and sleek while making the center console spacious. A 9.0-inch touchscreen, part of the Premium package, is compatible with wireless Apple CarPlay. (Android Auto works only with a wire connection.) Space-wise, the second row is comfortable, and the cargo area has plenty of capacity for when you take your family on a road trip.
Like the CR-V, the 2021 Toyota RAV4’s cabin feels like it’s a step behind the new Tucson and Rogue. Its 8.0-inch touchscreen is easy to use, but its infotainment system—like the Honda’s—feels old and slow to respond. And although we appreciate the 360-degree camera, it’s harder to see in comparison to the Nissan’s or Hyundai’s due to its smaller screen. However, Toyota designers paid close attention to detail, adding a few cool design features such as a starlike pattern seen on the speakers, the bottom of the cupholders, and the dashboard trays. The HVAC knobs have a grippy texture, which is also found on the inside of the door handles. All these details make the 2021 Toyota RAV4 stand out, yet we’d still like to see its rear doors open at a wider angle. We’d also like to see a powered passenger seat—a strange miss in a $40,000 vehicle.
Honda and Toyota have taken a step further than other automakers to make their active safety technologies standard across the board. And that doesn’t just include their popular SUVs; it applies to most of the new models in their lineups. Honda Sensing and Toyota Safety Sense work superbly on the road, keeping their respective SUVs centered in their lane while maintaining a safe distance from the car in front. The Honda Sensing system in particular is one of the best on the market.
Nissan and Hyundai haven’t yet taken such a step, but they’ve added a few active safety technologies to their base models while keeping their full driver assistance systems for the higher trims. Nissan’s ProPilot Assist with Navi-Link was part of the $1,320 Premium package on our test car, and it did a great job reading lane markings and detecting other vehicles around the Rogue. We’d love to see ProPilot expand to other models and across the Rogue lineup, as we’re sure Nissan customers would appreciate it. Engaging it is easy, too: Simply press and hold the blue button on the steering wheel for a couple of seconds, and ProPilot wakes up.
We liked the way Hyundai’s systems work together, but like the CR-V and RAV4, you must turn on the lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control individually to get the full semi-autonomous experience. Hyundai’s full digital instrument cluster makes it easy to see what’s engaged and what’s not, but we prefer the simplicity of Nissan’s on/off button mounted on the steering wheel.
Of these four SUVs, the Rogue is the only one classified as a Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS)—the highest achievement the organization hands out. The CR-V and RAV4 carry Top Safety Pick ratings, but the IIHS hasn’t yet tested the new Tucson.
What’s the Best Compact SUV?
The Roman poet Ovid once said, “A horse never runs so fast as when he has other horses to catch up and outpace.” The same goes for the state of the compact SUV segment. With so many vehicles in the race, everyone is trying to catch and outpace the competition.
We laud Hyundai for taking a risk in doing something different with the new Tucson. Despite its polarizing design, there’s no doubt it stands out in the crowded segment, and it’s packed with useful features and technology while delivering tremendous value. But Hyundai invested its money in things you can see and touch, not in the way the vehicle drives. And we care about driving. We had high hopes for the latest Tucson, but by unanimous choice it landed in last place. It was without a doubt the boldest car of the group, but you might find it leans a bit too hard on its design to cover for its mundane driving experience.
The 2021 Toyota RAV4’s rugged styling and interior features make it a very compelling SUV and illustrate why it’s the sales leader. It does everything well—great interior space, well-equipped cabin, fantastic safety technologies, and the list goes on. But there are big misses, like the narrow rear door opening and not being able to fold the seats from the cargo area. The RAV4 is the Swiss Army knife of SUVs, but like Ovid said, horses run fast when they’re trying to catch other horses, and competition has caught up to the Toyota. We scored it in third place.
The 2021 Nissan Rogue could win an award for being the most improved SUV. It’s a stylish ride that brings space, value, safety, and technology under one roof. Frankly, Nissan delivered in a big way with the Rogue. And the model drives well, too, something we don’t say about every Nissan these days. Indeed, in such a competitive segment, landing in second place is a big deal. Make no mistake, our hats are off to Nissan for an incredible step forward with the new Rogue. Perhaps its biggest downside is that the CR-V exists, as it’s a surprisingly good and refined SUV.
Speaking of the 2021 Honda CR-V, this SUV has won every relevant MotorTrend comparison since the fifth-generation model came out. But this time it was a close call for the Honda. The CR-V is aging, and although it continues to drive well, its technology and interior design need an upgrade. Still, the Honda remains unmatched in terms of packaging and versatility, a couple of strong points that helped it win this compact SUV comparison. The 2021 Honda CR-V is still the best SUV in its segment, but the gap between first and second place is now much narrower.
4th Place: 2022 Hyundai Tucson
- Attractive design
- Fantastic value
- Impressive technology
- Stiff ride
- Lazy powertrain
Amazing design and technology are overshadowed by poor driving characteristics.
3rd Place: 2021 Toyota RAV4
- Great interior and exterior styling
- Amazing safety technologies
- Narrow opening for rear doors
- Poor infotainment system
- Second-row seats can only be folded from the second row
The Swiss Army knife of SUVs has everything you want under a nice roof, but it’s missing some of the tools you wish you had packed.
2nd Place: 2021 Nissan Rogue
- Handsome design
- Spacious cabin
- Modern technology
- Somewhat stiff ride quality
- Must add packages to get a well-equipped version
The most improved SUV. If Nissan continues down this path, it could get back on top of the game.
1st Place: 2021 Honda CR-V
- Excellent packaging
- Cavernous interior
- Great value
- Outdated technology and design
- Lacks today’s fancy features
The Honda CR-V is still the best SUV in the compact segment, even as heavy competition gets stronger.
|POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS||2021 Honda CR-V AWD Touring SPECIFICATIONS||2022 Hyundai Tucson Limited AWD SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Nissan Rogue SL AWD SPECIFICATIONS||2021 Toyota RAV4 Limited AWD SPECIFICATIONS|
|DRIVETRAIN LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD||Front-engine, AWD|
|ENGINE TYPE||Turbocharged I-4, alum block/head||I-4, alum block/head||I-4, alum block/head||I-4, alum block/head|
|VALVETRAIN||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl||DOHC, 4 valves/cyl|
|DISPLACEMENT||91.4 cu in/1,498 cc||2,497 cc/152.4 cu in||151.8 cu in/2,488 cc||151.8 cu in/2,487 cc|
|POWER (SAE NET)||190 hp @ 5,600 rpm||187 hp @ 6,100 rpm||181 hp @ 6,000 rpm||203 hp @ 6,600 rpm|
|TORQUE (SAE NET)||179 lb-ft @ 2,000 rpm||178 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||181 lb-ft @ 3,600 rpm||184 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm|
|REDLINE||6,500 rpm||6,500 rpm||6,000 rpm||6,750 rpm|
|WEIGHT TO POWER||18.5 lb/hp||19.6 lb/hp||20.0 lb/hp||18.2 lb/hp|
|TRANSMISSION||Cont variable auto||8-speed automatic||Cont variable auto||8-speed automatic|
|SUSPENSION, FRONT; REAR||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar||Struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; multilink, coil springs, anti-roll bar|
|BRAKES, F; R||11.1-in vented disc; 10.2-in disc||12.8-in vented disc; 12.0-in disc||11.7-in vented disc; 11.5-in vented disc||12.0-in vented disc; 11.1-in disc|
|WHEELS||7.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 19-in cast aluminum||7.5 x 19-in cast aluminum|
|TIRES||235/55R19 101H Continental CrossContact LX Sport (M+S)||235/55R19 101V Michelin Primacy A/S (M+S)||235/55R19 101V Bridgestone Alenza Sport A/S (M+S)||235/55R19 101V Yokohama Avid GT (M+S)|
|WHEELBASE||104.7 in||108.5 in||106.5 in||105.9 in|
|TRACK, F/R||62.9/63.5 in||63.6/63.9 in||62.4/62.6 in||62.6/63.3 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||182.1 x 73.0 x 66.5 in||182.3 x 73.4 x 65.6 in||183.0 x 72.4 x 66.5 in||180.9 x 73.0 x 66.9 in|
|GROUND CLEARANCE||8.2 in||8.3 in||8.2 in||8.6 in|
|APPRCH/DEPART ANGLE||18.9/23.1 deg||19.6/26.7deg||19.0/23.6 deg||19.0/21.0 deg|
|TURNING CIRCLE||37.4 ft||38.6 ft||35.4 ft||37.4 ft|
|CURB WEIGHT||3,521 lb||3,670 lb||3,623 lb||3,689 lb|
|WEIGHT DIST, F/R||58/42%||58/42%||58/42%||58/42%|
|TOWING CAPACITY||1,500 lb||2,000 lb||1,350 lb||1,500 lb|
|HEADROOM, F/R||38.0/39.1 in||38.3/39.5 in||39.2/37.8 in||37.7/39.5 in|
|LEGROOM, F/R||41.3/40.4 in||41.4/41.3 in||41.5/38.5 in||41.0/37.8 in|
|SHOULDER ROOM, F/R||57.9/55.6 in||57.6/56.0 in||57.1/55.9 in||57.8/56.4 in|
|CARGO VOLUME, BEH F/R||75.8/37.6 cu ft||74.8/38.7 cu ft||74.1/36.5 cu ft||69.8/37.5 cu ft|
|ACCELERATION TO MPH|
|0-30||2.9 sec||3.1 sec||3.1 sec||2.9 sec|
|PASSING, 45-65 MPH||4.1||5.0||4.4||4.3|
|QUARTER MILE||16.1 sec @ 86.5 mph||17.0 sec @ 83.6 mph||16.6 sec @ 85.4 mph||16.4 sec @ 87.5 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||119 ft||118 ft||116 ft||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.83 g (avg)||0.82 g (avg)||0.82 g (avg)||0.81 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||27.3 sec @ 0.62 g (avg)||27.4 sec @ 0.61 g (avg)||28.3 sec @ 0.58 g (avg)||27.6 sec @ 0.60 g (avg)|
|TOP-GEAR REVS @ 60 MPH||1,700 rpm||2,000 rpm||1,600 rpm||1,800 rpm|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,325||$37,580||$36,805||$40,451|
|AIRBAGS||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||6: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain||7: Dual front, front center, f/r curtain, front knee||8: Dual front, front side, f/r curtain, driver knee, front passenger thigh|
|BASIC WARRANTY||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles|
|POWERTRAIN WARRANTY||5 yrs/60,000 miles||10 yrs/100,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles||5 yrs/60,000 miles|
|ROADSIDE ASSISTANCE||3 yrs/36,000 miles||5 yrs/Unlimited miles||3 yrs/36,000 miles||2 yrs/unlimited miles|
|FUEL CAPACITY||14.0 gal||14.3 gal||14.5 gal||14.5 gal|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB ECON||27/32/29 mpg||24/29/26 mpg||25/32/28 mpg||25/33/28 mpg|
|RECOMMENDED FUEL||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular||Unleaded regular|