2010 Mazda CX-7 2010
Price range: $27,995-$38,990
The skinny: "What we didn't have was any coverage in the low end - at a price point below $30,000," says Mazda Canada director of communications Greg Young. Now Mazda does. The 2010 CX-7, a front-drive crossover with a 161-horsepower, four-cylinder engine, starts at $27,995. It has a five-speed automatic transmission and is nicely equipped. At the other end, an all-wheel drive GT model, with the 244-hp turbocharged four-cylinder and six-speed automatic, lists for $38,990. The CX-7 has an aggressive design and tight handling. For 2010, Mazda has gently massaged the exterior design, including the grille and tail lights. Inside, the changes are equally hard to spot for those who don't follow Mazda closely.
2010 Subaru Forester
Price range: $25,995-$35,295
The skinny: Safe and fuel efficient? No question. The '09 Forester is a Top Safety Pick from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). And fuel economy is better (at 10.4 litres/100 kilometres in the city, 7.6 highway) than a front-drive Dodge Journey and a four-wheel drive Volkswagen Tiguan. The Forester also comes standard with a very good all-wheel drive system, and AWD can and should be seen as an active safety feature. The Forester has more front leg room than the CR-V and RAV4, and rear seating room is comparable to the RAV4, which is a very good thing. The 2009 Forester's base engine, the 170-horsepower one, has a bit more power than the four-banger in the CR-V (166 hp), a bit less than the RAV's (179 hp). A 224-hp turbocharged engine is also available.
2010 Toyota RAV4
Price range: $24,345-$34,390
The skinny: Toyota sells 11 different versions of the RAV4. There are two- and four-wheel drive models, and engine choices include four-cylinder and V-6 engines. The RAV's strengths include a very, very good quality history, excellent crash test scores and outstanding fuel economy for the four-cylinder model. In fact, the RAV has a meter that instantly indicates fuel consumption. The four-cylinder engine is rated at 179 horsepower, which is very strong. Stronger still is the 269-hp V-6. Most versions seat five, but seven-passenger seating is an option. The RAV is a fine all-around crossover wagon and that's why it's the best-selling model in its class. It's not the most refined, nor the most entertaining to drive, nor the prettiest in the segment. But it's good at everything.
2010 Honda CR-V
Price range: $27,790-$37,090
The skinny: Honda has updated the 2010 CR-V, Canada's No. 2-selling compact crossover wagon. The exterior has been tweaked (for instance, a new grille and bumper design) and the interior has wider centre armrests; Bluetooth synchronization is available. The 2.4-litre, four-cylinder engine has more power, up to 180 horsepower from 166. Fuel economy has been improved, too. The CR-V, like the RAV4, is a powerful all-around package. It is sold in two- and four-wheel drive. While there is no V-6 engine offered, the four-cylinder is a solid engine. This Honda is reliable and safety scores are as good as any and better than most. The seats are comfy and there is decent cargo space in back. However, the CR-V is among the pricier vehicles in its class and, because it sells so well, Honda and its dealers are reluctant to offer deep discounts.
2009 Mitsubishi Outlander
Price range: $24,998-$32,198
The skinny: The Outlander is available with five- or seven-passenger seating in two- and four-wheel drive, and there are two engine choices: a 2.4-litre four rated at 168 horsepower and a 220-hp 3.0-litre V-6. The road manners here are good for a tall wagon. In my testing, the Outlander performed seamlessly, thanks to fine suspension tuning, good brakes and decent steering. The six-speed Sportronic transmission delivered uncomplicated shifts and is a good match for the V-6. The big downside? Cheap-looking plastic materials on the inside detract from an instrument panel that is well conceived and has red lighting.
2010 Chevrolet Equinox
Price range: $25,995-$35,070
The skinny: The reinvented Equinox is easy on fuel, and manoeuvres like a car in city traffic. The styling is attractive, too. The Equinox has flared fenders that look borrowed from a muscle car, and a crease on the side sweeps upward from the front fender to the tail light. I also like the big grille and the angry-eye headlights. Size and fuel economy are also good. The Equinox is higher, wider and longer than the CR-V, RAV4 and Forester. Like others, it's available in two- and all-wheel-drive versions. The 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine (182 horsepower) delivers excellent fuel economy and is both smooth and peppy. A V-6 is planned at about 264 hp, but GM thinks three out of four buyers will go for the four-banger. The Equinox is proof positive that General Motors knows how to make vehicles and is a sign of hope as the auto maker attempts to win back disaffected customers. This is a very good crossover.
2010 Volkswagen Tiguan
Price range: $27,875-$34,650
The skinny: Like the others in this group, the Tiguan is sold in two- and four-wheel-drive versions. The only engine choice is a 2.0-litre direct injection, turbocharged four-cylinder. The little brother to Volkswagen's big Touareg is a handsome ride that has a sporty feel to it. The cabin is well executed and sensible. The seats are both sporty and supportive. The Tiguan is among the best-handling vehicles in the class. It's a solid offering with a strong performance in crash tests.
2010 Nissan Rogue
Price range: $24,698-$28,298
The skinny: The 2008 Nissan Rogue - sold in both front- and all-wheel-drive versions - is among the best vehicles in this crop of entry-level crossover wagons. Its virtues are a decent price, great room for those in the front seats, a good fuel-efficient power train and a sparkling exterior design. The Rogue loses points because, unlike some rivals, there is only one choice of engine (a 170-horsepower four-cylinder), one choice of transmission (a continuously variable transmission or CVT) and that pairing has its negatives despite solid fuel economy (9.5 city/7.7 highway in litres/100 kilometres). The Rogue also gets noisy at highway speeds, there are some bargain-basement cabin materials, there is less cargo room than some others out there and the back seat is tighter than some of the alternatives.