Small SUV Comparison 2020: Honda vs. Toyota vs. Mazda vs. Nissan

Small SUV Comparison 2020: Honda vs. Toyota vs. Mazda vs. Nissan

Who needs a family hauler that hauls likes a sports car? On one hand, nobody. But hey, don't neglect the other hand — the fun hand. If you have moved to a place in your life where you need room for people, child safety seats and luggage but also want to live in comfort, and do it quickly, congratulations, that's a great place to be. Why not make running errands as much fun as running races?

The redesigned 2021 Nissan Rogue promises significant improvement over last year's model. What better way to measure that change than by evaluating it against its peers in a small SUV comparison? We thought it best to bring out a mix of our favorite and best-selling examples for this compact SUV comparison.

The 2020 Honda CR-V is our current top-ranked small SUV. Its all-around usability makes it an easy recommendation for most shoppers. It is followed closely by the 2020 Mazda CX-5, which excels in style and driving dynamics. After those two comes the 2020 Toyota RAV4. It's one of the most popular models in terms of sales, but it's outshined in a few areas.

Last year's Nissan Rogue trailed these three by a significant margin in our rankings. But the fully redesigned 2021 Rogue has an improved interior and the latest technology features. Should you choose it instead of the RAV4 or CR-V? How about the classic Honda CR-V vs. Toyota RAV4 dilemma? Read on to find out.

Jump to compare: Price | MPG | Interior & Tech | Behind the Wheel | The Verdict: Edmunds Says

Price Comparison: CR-V vs. RAV4 vs. CX-5 vs. Rogue

Like most in their class, each vehicle in this compact SUV comparison starts at around $26,000 and tops out in the mid- to high $30,000s. The specific vehicles we tested were all well equipped with features. Notably, while we're using MSRPs for this comparison, discounts and incentives can make a big difference. You can find deals and offers on these and other SUVs at our SUV Deals Center.

Our fully loaded Rogue Platinum had all-wheel drive (AWD) and checked in at $38,660. The Platinum trim gets you features such as quilted leather upholstery, a digital gauge cluster, a head-up display, wireless Apple CarPlay smartphone integration and a surround-view camera system.

The Mazda CX-5 we tested was a Signature trim level with AWD. Price? $38,555. The Signature comes with a powerful turbocharged engine plus upgraded leather upholstery, ventilated front seats and a head-up display, among other features.

Our RAV4 test vehicle was an outlier. We couldn't obtain a fully loaded model for testing so we got a RAV4 Hybrid in the XSE trim level. It had a window sticker price of $35,625. The Hybrid XSE doesn't have a few features that our other SUVs had, such as ventilated seats (they're available on the RAV4's top Limited trim level), but it's otherwise pretty well equipped.

Finally, our top-line CR-V Touring AWD cost $35,870. The Touring has a lot of features, including leather upholstery and a premium audio system. But the CR-V lacks some of the cool features the other test models had, such as a head-up display or a surround-view camera system.

2021 Nissan Rogue.

2021 Nissan Rogue.

MPG Comparison: RAV4 vs. CR-V vs. CX-5 vs. Rogue

The latest small SUVs can often get 30 mpg in combined city/highway driving, according to EPA fuel economy estimates. Depending on configuration, each of these SUVs can reach that figure with the exception of the Mazda CX-5. At best, the Mazda gets 28 mpg combined for front-wheel-drive and 26 mpg for all-wheel-drive models. Opting for the CX-5's optional turbocharged engine and AWD drops you to 24 mpg combined.

Most Toyota RAV4 trim levels get an EPA estimate of 30 mpg combined. The exceptions are non-hybrid all-wheel-drive versions that range from 27 to 29 mpg combined. But remember that a 1 to 2 mpg difference at this level is negligible when it comes to annual fuel costs. The all-wheel-drive hybrid gets 40 mpg combined. When it comes to RAV4 vs. CR-V hybrid models, the Toyota offers slightly better fuel economy.

The Honda CR-V Hybrid AWD is rated at 38 mpg combined. The regular CR-V achieves a 30 mpg rating only when equipped with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive drops that figure to 29 mpg. The 2017 CR-V we purchased for a 40,000-mile long-term test averaged 27 mpg. In our experience, small-displacement turbocharged engines, like the CR-V's, tend to underperform in real-world fuel consumption.

As for the Rogue, Nissan says you can expect 28 or 29 mpg combined with AWD, depending on trim level. Front-wheel-drive models are estimated at 29 or 30 mpg combined. The Rogue is not currently available as a hybrid.

2020 Toyota RAV4.

2020 Toyota RAV4.

Interior & Tech: CR-V vs. Rogue vs. RAV4 vs. CX-5

The CR-V's greatest attribute is its storage space. It has one of the biggest cargo areas in the class. We also like the multiple configurations for its center console. The adjustable two-level floor in the cargo area also provides additional room. Shortcomings relate to the CR-V's dated infotainment system.

Our fully loaded Nissan Rogue overdelivered on both design and technology. Nissan's center touchscreen looks and works the best of the bunch. Phone integration is above par with wireless Apple CarPlay (no wireless Android Auto yet). The digital gauge cluster looks neat too. We also like the quilted leather upholstery and the generous storage areas for small items.

Upscale materials give the Mazda a premium look and feel. It's classier and more subtle than the Nissan, but its technology isn't as sophisticated. For example, the infotainment functions as a touchscreen only when you're stopped. Want to adjust the nav or audio while driving? You have to use a rotary controller. These are minor annoyances, but the bigger challenge is the tiny door pockets and absence of cubbies for small items. Overall, the CX-5 comes up short on storage.

We like the RAV4's interior for its split-level storage on the dash. While the RAV4's layout isn't as polished as others in this group — even in the more expensive Limited versions — it is functional and generally intuitive. When comparing the Toyota RAV4 vs. Honda CR-V, the former doesn't quite match the latter's interior measurements on paper but it isn't far off.

Behind the Wheel: CR-V vs. RAV4 vs. Rogue vs. CX-5

The CR-V strikes a welcome balance between ride and handling, with precise steering that makes for confident maneuvers whether you're on the highway or in a tight parking lot. Power from the turbo 1.5-liter engine is acceptable, and it's generally delivered smoothly through the continuously variable automatic transmission.

Mazdas typically exceed in the fun-to-drive category, and the CX-5 is no exception. Credit goes to the punchy turbocharged 2.5-liter engine that outclasses the segment in power and acceleration. The CX-5 is also nimble (for an SUV) and its steering is enjoyable. The CX-5 is the obvious choice for those who enjoy driving.

As for the Rogue vs. RAV4, neither does anything particularly wrong. If you don't prioritize enjoyment when driving, both satisfy the basic needs of transportation with generally smooth, if tepid, acceleration and decent ride quality. Our drivers did notice that the Rogue's steering wheel felt too light and vague, while the hybrid system in the RAV4 was particularly noisy.

2020 Mazda CX-5.

2020 Mazda CX-5.

Edmunds Says

The Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 remain our top picks in this small SUV comparison, but just barely. And for different reasons.

If you're considering the CR-V vs. CX-5, note the following: The CR-V is an excellent choice if you want lots of interior space and a generally pleasurable driving experience. Just ignore the older-looking electronics and occasionally glitchy touchscreen interface.

The CX-5 lands as our No. 2 pick. It's the one to get for class and performance. When equipped with the optional turbo engine, the Mazda is in a different league than the other SUVs here. On the downside, its cargo and interior storage options are lacking, and fuel economy is subpar.

The new Rogue comes in third. But depending on what you're looking for in an SUV, it might be the best pick. Compare the Nissan Rogue vs. Honda CR-V and you'll find the CR-V slightly more spacious and nicer to drive but lacking in creature comforts. When fully loaded, the Rogue delivers more features than the competition and an interior that has respectable functionality.

The Toyota comes in last, but only because the other SUVs do everything a touch better. In a RAV4 vs. CR-V matchup, the Honda's cabin offers more space and usability. Meanwhile, in a RAV4 vs. CX-5 face-off, the Mazda is less usable but dramatically more fun to drive. The RAV4 remains a decent pick that doesn't do anything wrong. You'll simply find better options, features, drivability and so on from the others.

2020 Honda CR-V.

2020 Honda CR-V.

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