- The Honda CR-V is our choice for best small family SUV.
- Mazda CX-50 is close behind thanks to great performance and refinement.
- Redesigned Kia Sportage is another solid choice, but the Hybrid is better.
The 2022 CR-V is part of the fifth-generation model, which launched way back in 2017 and is in its final year of production. We've already seen the redesigned 2023 CR-V that will launch the sixth generation. That updated version will go on sale later this year.
Even though it's about to be permanently replaced, we still consider the 2022 CR-V the best compact crossover SUV on the market — particularly for young couples and families — due to its impressive space, smooth ride and strong fuel economy.
That doesn't mean it was a runaway victory for the Honda. Our comparison showed the all-new 2023 Sportage has plenty of redeeming virtues, too. In particular we liked that it shares many niceties with the larger Kia Telluride, such as a robust set of technology features and an intelligent approach to interior packaging and space.
The Sportage also has a comfortable, near-luxury cabin for passengers and plenty of standard features for its attractive price. But there were two big knocks against it: seriously lackluster acceleration (zero to 60 in 9.6 seconds) and surprisingly subpar fuel economy given how slow it is (28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive and 25 mpg combined with all-wheel drive). The CR-V easily bests it in those categories, hitting 60 mph in 8.2 seconds and delivering 30 mpg combined with FWD and 29 mpg combined with AWD. If you like the Sportage but want more from its powertrain, check out the excellent 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid.
The 2023 CX-50 quickly endeared itself to our editors. First off, it feels great to drive. We tested the optional turbo engine and found it exceptionally quick and responsive for the class. Steering and handling are also strong points. On the road, the CX-50 simply feels a cut above the rest.
Inside, the CX-50 is comfortable and classy, and we like the technology features and cargo space, though the CR-V and Sportage are more impressive on both fronts. All-wheel drive is standard, which maximizes traction but also hurts fuel economy — even with the base non-turbo engine, the Mazda only returns 27 mpg combined, while the turbo drops to 25 mpg combined. The CX-50 is also on the expensive side of the small SUV class, especially if you want the turbo model, which starts at more than $36,000. So while there is a lot to like, there are also concessions.
Despite impressive showings from Kia and Mazda, the Honda CR-V still earns our top recommendation for families. That's because it simply delivers in the areas that are important to those buyers: ease of use, storage space, fuel economy and overall value. When you add it all up, the answer is clear.
The CR-V is easy to climb into and get familiar with. There is no learning curve to driving, operating the controls or loading people or items inside. That's how it should be for a small SUV. There's also a smooth ride and no pricey upgrade in order to get more power or better fuel economy.
There are still good reasons to buy a Sportage or CX-50. In the case of the Sportage, its cargo space essentially equals that of the CR-V, which is no mean feat. There are also nifty tech features available, like slick swipe-actuated displays and a 12.3-inch touchscreen that puts both the screens in the CR-V and the CX-50 to shame.
As for the CX-50, it admirably walks the line between premium and sporty if you're willing to pay the price. The standard all-wheel drive and excellent turbocharged performance make it a blast to drive, while the interior is full of soft materials and delightful stitching. Though cargo space is modest by segment standards, it's still probably generous enough for most people's needs.
The CX-50 and Sportage are excellent additions to an already stacked class. Yet the CR-V reigns supreme for families despite its advanced age. We look forward to testing the upcoming 2023 CR-V to see whether it can maintain Honda's tradition of small SUV excellence.