One of the most time-consuming parts of our job here at LA Car is scheduling cars for our staff to review. Despite the best efforts of our OEM friends and the dedication of their vehicle logistics partners, it can be cumbersome to get the keys to a car we want to try in a timeframe that works for our schedule – let alone three.
With that in mind, we were grateful to see the invitation from the Motor Press Guild (MPG for short – by the way best acronym ever for a trade group) to their first-ever “Crossover Cruise,” an event where we could show up and get behind the wheel of three vehicles all in the same day.
Our intrepid video editor Bobby Holland had to bow out, so the honors fell to yours truly to represent LA Car and take advantage of this unique test-driving opportunity. Small and mid-sized crossovers are now the vehicle type of choice for American consumers – and manufacturers have responded by rolling out new products and updates at an increased pace. I was allocated three cars in the red-hot Compact Crossover Category (say that three times fast.) This is the segment that has CFOs at OEMs running over to their product planning counterparts and frantically waving their hands while shouting emphatically “Do more of this!”
The data supports our profit-minded friends. According to CarSalesBase.com which categorizes a crossover as a SUV – the compact crossover grew by an explosive 18% in the first two quarters of 2018. As a comparison, compact car sales and minivan sales fell by a whopping 12.4% and 2.6% respectively. American consumers are turning to the crossover to procure the additional cargo space without prostrating themselves to the oil industry in full-size SUVs or eliminating the last vestiges of their coolness by pulling up into the driveway in a van (although let’s be honest, dual automatic sliding doors are pretty rad).
I was slotted to take the wheel in three contenders for the compact crossover crown: the Volkswagen Tiguan, Chevrolet Equinox, and Honda CR-V. The manufacturers were gracious enough to allow for several hours of seat time in each vehicle and MPG put together a scenic testing route that combined city driving, mountain twisties, and a highway sprint.
I was not equipped nor inclined to produce a three-way comparo that crowns a victor, runner-up, and bronze place finisher. My only equipment on hand to measure G’s was the seat of my pants. Regardless, I never judge a car solely by the stats — like many of our readers I’m more concerned with my general sense of comfort, how my family can live with the car in question, and if there is any fun factor on tap. After all my IG handle is @suburbanracer. I’m a boy racer with a honey-do list and childcare responsibilities. With that in mind I set out to evaluate my assignments.
2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium with 4Motion
First up, the 2018 Volkswagen Tiguan SEL Premium with 4Motion. It’s interesting to think of how hard VW is pushing in the SUV space, starting from the Tourag back in 2002, then the first-gen Tiguan in 2007, more recently the full-size Atlas. Many people still think of VW as a car company, because of the iconic Bug/Beetle and later the Jetta.
VW is continuing to leverage its MQB platform to become a full-line manufacturer known not only for its cars but its SUVs and crossovers. The idea behind the Tiguan is to help the Jetta owner stay in a fun-to-drive VW as their needs for passenger space and cargo capacity grow. The goal was to provide a compelling value proposition for folks who still like to drive, despite their baby seats in the back. I was excited to hop in and take the wheel of the top-of-the-line model that VW brought out to Thousand Oaks.
EXTERIOR: Understated, For the Win
In a parking lot full of crossovers of all shapes and sizes, the Tiguan’s clean design held its own against fresher recruits to the compact crossover party. The second-generation Tiguan arrived Stateside in 2016, evolving towards a more SUV-like appearance with more angular lines and squared-off shoulders and rear trunk. My tester came in Platinum Gray Metallic with 19” five-spoke alloys.
After Crossover Cruise I had a chance speak with VW’s head of North American design, Reto Brun about their new Arteon. I think the same thing that made me instantly love the Arteon was at play when I saw the Tiguan. It’s a clean design that hits the right notes for what the car is. VW’s philosophy of nailing the proportions and emphasizing the wideness of a car works for me on the Tiguan, as it does on the current VW offerings.
Is it the most radical design? No, not by any means. But the Tiguan seems like it will age the best over time as it is an understated design that isn’t trying too hard like you often see in the crossover category.
Half cart and half-SUV can often be 100% ugly, but here VW has played it safe and stuck with a scaled-down SUV design direction.
INTERIOR & TECH: Party on the Inside
That understated tone disappeared the moment I opened the door and was greeted with the SEL Premium’s available Saffrano & Black two-tone leather. I am a sucker for eye-catching interiors (I traded out my 2nd-gen Tundra for 3rd gen because of its quilted “Lambo” interior…so yeah, I like my interiors a lot) and liked the striking contrast.
The view from the inside is classic Teutonic styling which is to say clean bordering on spartan. Don’t mistake the modern design for a lack of features though.
The Tiguan SEL Premium comes with all the amenities you would expect including dual-zone automatic climate, heated steering wheel, and heated driver and front passenger seats. A standout interior features is the massive panoramic sunroof which spans both rows.
You can’t talk about interiors in this category without evaluating cargo capacity. The Tiguan holds its own, with 66 cubic feet of cargo space with the second and third rows folded down. If you have to step up from the Jetta or Golf due to some PTA duties, the Tiguan is not a bad choice at all.
The Tiguan came with so many tech goodies I felt like I was in the captain’s chair of the Enterprise, starting with the huge available Volkswagen Digital Cockpit ¬– a 12.3” digital display that is customizable for up to four drivers. The funny thing to me is that the MID display is actually bigger than the 8” navigation screen, but that feels a little nit-picky. Apple Carplay made it supremely easy to get my preferred cruising tunes going on Tiguan’s 480-watt Fender Premium Audio system.
Like the Equinox and the CR-V and pretty much every modern car on the road the Tiguan comes loaded with safety features including Blind Spot Monitoring, Lane Departure Alert, and Adaptive Cruise Control.
PERFORMANCE: Fun Factor
The Tiguan was the most fun of the three crossovers to drive, despite coming in third and second-place in the horsepower and torque departments respectively. I attribute that to handling department in which I would have subjectively granted the gold medal to the Tiguan.
Piloting the Tiguan through the twisty backroads of Malibu canyon, the Tiguan felt the most capable in terms of handling. It reminded me of the Jetta when it came to its fairly neutral behavior (no doubt assisted by the 4Motion all-wheel drive system) — not a surprise given two share the same underpinnings.
All that fun comes at a price though, namely 21 city / 27 hwy / 23 mpg combined – the thirstiest of the three crossovers. That being said, I’ll take 23 mpg over my current 13 mpg any day of the week.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: What Price Fun?
Two hours is not long enough for you to decide who to marry and I would dare say it’s not long enough for you to select a car either. That being said what I can say with confidence is that if you like to drive, need room for kids and/or cargo, and don’t mind spending close to forty-large then you should at the very least consider the Tiguan. That last part may trip up many buyers as the crowded crossover segment has more and more affordable choices — but I doubt more fun.
2018 Chevrolet Equinox FWD Premier 2.0T
Next up, the Chevrolet Equinox FWD Premier 2.0T. This particular tester came in the bright-as-a-cup-of-SunnyD shade of orange, aptly named Orange Burst Metallic. The color highlighted the design of the third-generation Equinox which has been completely redesigned from its predecessor.
With 2 million units under its belt since its launch in 2004, the Equinox is Chevy’s second-best selling vehicle after the vaunted Silverado. You can bet your bottom dollar the product planners worked very hard to ensure the Equinox continues its frenetic sales pace in its latest iteration.
One of the biggest focuses for the new Equinox, according to Chevrolet was “doing more with less.” The Equinox’s “all-new mass-efficient body structure” contributes to a 400-pound weight savings that Chevy attributes to more agility as compared to the outgoing model.
EXTERIOR: Swag on the Side
Like the Tiguan, the Equinox takes a fairly safe approach to styling — which I will once again emphasize is not a bad thing in the sometimes garish crossover space. It’s not trying to be loud or in your face (well, except in this color).
I feel flashes of the Chevy Volt in the slippery front styling, which no doubt is related to the Equinox’s higher mpg ratings of 22 city / 29 highway / 25 overall. The most pop comes from the side view, where there’s some Chris Bangle-inspired flame surfacing to give you a little bit of swag on your Keurig cup restocking run.
INTERIOR & TECH: Comfort is Standard
As the proud caretaker of a 1957 Chevy 210 wagon, I couldn’t help to make the connection between how American families traveled then and now. Today’s families are absolutely spoiled when it comes to the comfort department.
The Equinox Premium pampers its driver and passengers with plenty of amenities to keep them comfortable, including standard dual-zone automatic climate control as well as available options like heated steering wheel and seats, and heated outboard rear seats (all standard on the AWD trim).
A nifty trick is the “kneeling” rear seat which features tilting bottom cushions for a flat load floor for easier loading. The Equinox came in third for cargo capacity, trailing the Tiguan by a hair and coming in at 63.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded down.
GM has often been a front-runner in the tech department (OnStar anyone?) and the Equinox was one of the first vehicles to double as a wi-fi hotspot. Premium grades are outfitted with Chevrolet MyLink audio system with 8” touchscreen with navigation, vs. 7” on lower trims.
The Equinox wins the USB port arms race with a whopping six USB ports placed throughout the cabin.
PERFORMANCE: Torque Much?
With 252 horses on tap generating 260 pound-feet of torque, the Equinox was a veritable hot rod compares to the other crossovers I tested. I was not expecting the Knight Rider-style turbo boost action when I floored it. There is a very discernable turbo lag from the Equinox’s 2.0-liter four-banger, and some torque steer the likes of which I haven’t felt since my Honda Prelude days. It was a bit off-putting until I adjusted to the idea that I was driving the Camaro of the CUV world.
At which point it became pretty damn fun.
Straight-line acceleration was great for freeway on-ramps and leaving minivans in the dust. However, up in the winding Malibu canyon roads plenty of power, sharp-bordering-on-right-angle turns, and FWD make for understeer especially with my somewhat leaden foot involved. I’m curious how the all-wheel drive Equinox would have fared.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Gets the Job Done
I can see the Equinox being a super useful family car, perfect for long hauls with kids and their tablets and just as perfect for a nice dinner out before the sitter’s time is up. At a MSRP of $39,505 the Equinox was the priciest of the bunch though, so you may end up skipping the dessert course.
That being said, the Equinox is a great choice for folks who had to trade in their rumbling muscle car for a more practical option. You can still punch it in the Equinox and get a little glimmer of what your speed demon days felt like, but not enough to get into any real trouble with either the authorities or your spouse.
2018 Honda CR-V Touring AWD 1.5T
First introduced Stateside in 1997, the CR-V was a crossover SUV before that was even a thing (second only to Toyota’s RAV4 which debuted in 1995.) The fully redesigned CR-V is the fifth generation with cumulative sales of nearly 4 million units since 1997 – making it the best-selling SUV in America.
Given the importance of the CR-V to Honda, it makes sense that all the stops were pulled out to ensure it would be able to continue to lead in this highly competitive segment. In addition to new sheet metal, the 5th-generation CR-V was equipped with its first-ever available turbocharged engine, a more aerodynamic body, and new comfort and convenience features.
EXTERIOR: No More Mr. Nice Guy
The new CR-V is more angular and chiseled than its predecessor, resulting in a more aggressive SUV-like appearance. Its hood has been elongated and the lights and grille sit more upright than the previous model, which also add to the tougher look overall.
The CR-V also features a Honda-first Active Shutter Grille system to help lower drag and boost MPG. Out back, new dual exhausts look pretty cool and Honda has added the Hands Free Power Tailgate which allows you to kick your foot under a sensor to open and close the tail gate. Our tester came in a very attractive Obsidian Blue which appealed to my inner Bruin.
INTERIOR & TECH: The Honda Value Proposition
Honda has always prided itself on offering a host of features standard vs. nickel-and-diming customers with upcharges for various packages. Our top-of-the-line CR-V in Touring trim came with everything standard including the Honda Sensing safety suite (e.g. Adaptive Cruise Conrtrol, Lane Keeping Assist, and other driver-assistive tech), Honda Satellite-Linked Navigation system with voice-activated controls, and power moonroof.
Inside the CR-V has an interior with clean, logical design as is common across the Honda portfolio. The CR-V’s interior feels conservative and upscale — nice enough to impress clients, but not so luxurious as to make folks wonder about your hourly rates. USB ports are standard in the front and rear, though not as numerous as in the Equinox.
The 7” Display Audio Touch-screen was bright, crisp and intuitive to use which is a huge plus in the day and age of app proliferation in cars. I suspect that the interior of Honda’s CR-V will age very well with its classic and clean design.
PERFORMANCE: All about the MPG
Amongst hot-rodders, there’s that well-used adage: “There’s no replacement for displacement,” used to humiliate the guys with small displacement engines turning out lower horsepower. I wonder if hyper-milers use the same phrase when shaming thirsty engines. Of the three crossovers I tested, the CR-V had the smallest engine with its new turbocharged 1.5-liter four-banger. This was good for the second-highest horsepower rating (190hp) and the least amount of torque (180 lb-ft.).
That doesn’t sound like the ingredients for a winner in the dynamic driving category. However, the CR-V wins in the area that counts for most buyers in the crossover SUV category – MPG. In this department the CR-V blew the doors off the competition with a vastly better MPG (27 city /33 highway/29 overall) rating.
In terms of cargo space, the CR-V once again came out on top with a maximum cargo capacity of 75.8 cubic feet, absolutely cavernous compared to the Tiguan and Equinox.
OVERALL IMPRESSION: Supremely Practical
Combine the CR-V’s miserly fuel use, the fact that it had the highest cargo capacity — all for thousands of dollars less than the competition set, and it’s no wonder that the CR-V has continued to dominate the compact SUV space for over two decades.
SUMMING IT ALL UP: A Crossover for Every Taste
The wonderful thing about the auto industry is that car manufacturers are very proficient at adjusting to ever-evolving consumer tastes and needs. The compact crossover / compact SUV space is literally teeming with choices with something for everyone.
If my too-short stint with the Tiguan, Equinox, and CR-V proves anything, it’s that OEMs will continue to take very different approaches to addressing our needs. Wherever you land on the practical benefits vs. driving fun spectrum, there is most assuredly a crossover for you.
For more information, see the manufacturer sites below: