Nobody asked me, but . . .
If you are in the market for a compact crossover, there are several to choose from. This comparison places the traditional segment-leading Honda CR-V against two competitors that are all-new for 2018, Chevrolet’s Equinox and Volkswagen’s Tiguan.
Each is available in a range of trim levels. All three range in price from around $25,000 to $40,000, depending upon your wants, needs and the depth of your pockets. I highly recommend you review the accompanying spreadsheet that lists some of the important facts about each of them.
Physically, the Tiguan is the largest and heaviest, followed by the Equinox and the CR-V. But note that the Chevy is the lightest of the three. Full credit to Chevy’s designers and engineers for their innovative use of materials to reduce the weight of the Equinox.
All three are available with all-wheel drive and each is capable of towing1500 lb. But with the optional 2.0-liter engine and other equipment, the Equinox can tow up to 3500 lb.
You’ll note that exterior dimensions don’t necessarily equate to how much you can fit inside each of these crossovers. All three have plenty of room for four adults—the rear center seat is a bit of a squeeze—so let’s not get crazy with a couple of tenths of a inch advantage one place or another. All three enhance rear comfort with rake adjustment; VW also provides a sliding feature to expand either leg room or cargo capacity.
The VW is unique in offering a third row of seats for two additional passengers. Small people—kids—fit best. The bad news to this configuration is cargo capacity. It drops to 12 cu ft with all seven seats occupied vs. 37.6 for the 2-row Tig.
And, surprise, the smallest on the outside CR-V is the biggest on the inside regarding cargo space. Maybe the eyes deceive a tape measure, but the Tiguan looks to have a bit more useable rear cargo room with the rear seat up. If this is critical, take some empty suitcases when you go crossover shopping.
Sorry, but I had no control over the hodge-podge of engines in each of these vehicles. But I do have control over my opinions. The CR-V was a 1.5T AWD TRG, meaning it is all-wheel drive, upmarket and tipped your banker scales at $35,145. All except the base CRVs get the 1.5-liter turbo. You want that 1.5, not the older naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four. Both engines have similar horsepower and torque numbers, but the1.5 makes max torque starting at 2000 rpm vs 3900 for the 2.4, so it’s much more flexible and peppy at the bottom end where you do most of your driving. There’s no noticeable turbo lag but the 1.5 has a bit of raspiness when revved hard. The turbo motor (the 2.4 also) is matched to a CVT. Not typically my favorite form of an automatic transmission, but in this case, it’s hard to find fault with how it motorvates the CR-V.
Next we have the Equinox, decked out as a FWD Premium 2.0T and a Monroney sticker price of $39,505. It’s the clear performance winner in this comparison because of the optional 2.0-liter turbo. It’s got throttle response and freeway merging capabilities the Honda and VW can’t match. It will even chirp the front tires if you are so inclined. But, remember, a 1.5-liter turbo is the base engine, and is more comparable in both performance and fuel economy to the 1.5-liter turbo CR-V. My advice: If performance is an issue, make sure you test both of Chevy’s Equinox turbo motors. Correction! I should have said all three turbo motors. The Equinox will also be offered with a very torquey 1.6-liter 4-cylinder turbo diesel, which isn’t available just yet. The 9-speed automatic (vs. a 6-speed with the 1.5 turbo) is another reason to choose the 2.0 turbo if performance matters. The manual shift feature integrated into the shift knob is more of a distraction than more action. Leave the lever in D and be done with it.
Finally, the Tiguan configured as a 2.0T SEL Premium w/4MOTION and an out-the-door price of $38,450. On paper you’d have to expect performance comparable to the Equinox, especially with 221 lb-ft of torque available as early as 1600 rpm. But the Tiguan’s 2.0-liter turbo is a bit of an enigma machine. Granted, the VW is at least 500 lb heavier than the Equinox, but somehow all that torque got lost in translation. The words throttle response don’t exist in this crossover’s vocabulary. Describing the acceleration as sluggish is being kind. Freeway merging is breath-taking, but for all the wrong reasons. Turbo lag? It felt more like turbo lack.
A few cautionary words here. When I returned the Tiguan to VW, I described my concerns and asked them to check the engine and give me an opportunity to re-evaluate the performance. I will update this article when I do so. In the meantime, if you are considering the purchase of a Tiguan, make sure the performance is adequate for your needs.
Fuel economy ranks with Chevy’s 2.0-liter turbo, no surprise, and considerably lower than the CRV’s 1.5-liter turbo.
All three of these crossovers come standard with or offer all the latest and greatest in safety tech. I leave it to the reader to decide how much is necessary and sufficient. Ditto for in-car connectivity. One word of advice. You will spend less time getting up to speed with the Equinox’s simpler (if more pedestrian) layout of controls than the CRV’s, which are the most complex with the Tiguan falling somewhere in the middle.
As befitting their upmarket positioning, the words, leather and power everything flow naturally in describing the interiors of these crossovers. Not too long ago it would have been ludicrous to describe a Chevy interior as being comparable to a Honda in fit, finish and grade of materials used. Okay, maybe the Chevy leather doesn’t feel quite as plush as Honda’s and more of the Chevy’s untouchable surfaces are harder plastic, but the Equinox is not only in the Honda ballpark, but also on the same playing field.
VW has gone American with the Tiguan interior’s look and feel. You gotta know your customer. Really nice two-tone leather on the seats. Very good fit and finish. But I took off points because the power driver’s seat didn’t have adequate height adjustment and the steering wheel didn’t have enough rake and reach adjustment for me.
In deference to the intent of these vehicles and to the stomachs of my passengers, I drove all three of these crossovers in a mildly spirited fashion, saving hand-brake turns, 1g cornering and max g braking for my next go in a Corvette or Ferrari. The CR-V wins Best Ride. It’s a little harsh over sharp bumps, but it’s got the best compliance over California freeway Botts dots, those high frequency, low amplitude inputs that play havoc with suspension tuning. Compliance is mostly about bushing design and tires because the shock absorbers are only along for the ride (pun alert; no letters, please).
In its desire to appeal to American drivers the Tiguan exhibits more body roll when cornering. It’s more abrupt and harsh over rough and bumpy surfaces than the CR-V, less compliant over Botts dots and exhibited some freeway jiggle.
The Equinox has the most truck-like ride. More jolting, more jiggles and most thumping over Botts dots.
Countering that is the Chevy’s high marks for handling. It provides good feedback and grip when cornering. And less body roll than the VW and Honda. The steering is linear, precise and direct with very good on-center feel. And, remember, this is the only one of the three without AWD.
Take everything I’ve said about the Equinox’s handling, dial it down a notch and you have the CR-V. I particularly appreciated the handling calmness the Honda exhibited at high freeway speeds.
The Tiguan feels big when cornering: less precise than the Chevy and Honda. More toward the Honda side of the handling spectrum, but with steering that is not as friendly because the steering lacks the on-center feel of the CR-V and Equinox.
The envelop please . . . Backed into a corner (Yes, they all have rear vision cameras) I’d pick the Chevy over the Honda with the VW trailing a long way behind. Yes, the Equinox’s 2.0-liter turbo is impressive, but I could easily live with CR-V level of performance from the Equinox’s base 1.5-liter. People buy crossovers for hauling and towing and the Chevy wins the towing game if that is important. And simplicity of controls might be important to some buyers.
The Honda probably would have won this contest except for one glaring problem that I’ve waited until now to reveal: The right rear outward vision is severely compromised for me. Lacking to the point that I can’t see an object the height of most cars when I want to change lanes. I would have had a couple of accidents or near misses if I hadn’t been overly diligent in checking mirrors, looking behind and to the right side, checking for vehicles almost to the point of distraction. It might not be a problem for you, but it was for me.
Finally price. I don’t have a thick wallet, so I doubt I’d be looking to pay much over $30 grand for a compact SUV. Make sure you check out the more base models in each of these vehicles’ lineups. And also remember there are a lot more horses in this compact crossover corral: including Ford Escape, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, and a new Subaru Forester right around the corner.
So round up your options and chose wisely.
Photos by D&V Photography and the Author