Clash of the Crossovers: 2016 Honda CR-V vs. Mazda CX-5 vs. Jeep Cherokee

Oxmoor Auto Group’s Oxmoor Mazda CX-5 review and comparison!

Over the course of the week, I spent extensive time with the 2016 Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Jeep Cherokee to see which was best.

Over the course of the week, I spent extensive time with the 2016 Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Jeep Cherokee to see which was best.

Good, bad, or just plain indifferent, everyone’s got an opinion on the car world’s hottest segment: crossovers.

Every single automaker (with the exception of most supercar makers) has one, and they’re already planning on building more and more variants. But if you look at the facts, it’s not hard to see why.

Abundant space for all of your favorite people and things, ride and handling qualities (somewhat) consistent with a car, and a tendency to offer that all-important all-wheel drive are just some of the reasons Americans – and buyers all over the world, for that matter – are snatching up crossovers like hotcakes… or iPhones, I guess?

To see what all the fuss is about – though admittedly, we’ve driven plenty of crossovers here – I got behind the wheel of three of the most popular entrants in the small SUV segment. Over the course of the week, I spent extensive time with the 2016 Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Jeep Cherokee to see which was best, and more importantly, which is most worth your hard-earned money. Here’s how they fared:

3rd Place: 2016 Jeep Cherokee Altitude 4×4

Love or hate the… um… interesting front end, there’s no denying that this is an SUV with presence.

Love or hate the… um… interesting front end, there’s no denying that this is an SUV with presence.

My Cherokee tester for the week was the 4×4-equipped “Altitude” model, Jeep’s attempt to appeal to the many fans of blacked-out cars and SUVs. Gloss black rims, badges, grille outlines, and smoked out lights gave this gray Cherokee a sinister appearance.

Love or hate the… um… interesting front end, there’s no denying that this is an SUV with presence. I actually happen to like the looks, but I don’t think it should be attached to the vaunted “Cherokee” nameplate. But more on that later…

Unfortunately, this lovely engine is mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic, an unruly and unpredictable attempt to improve fuel economy at the expense of several hairs pulled out.

Unfortunately, this lovely engine is mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic, an unruly and unpredictable attempt to improve fuel economy at the expense of several hairs pulled out.

This particular Cherokee was fitted with the 3.2-liter V-6, a true peach of a power plant, though it does fall on the “old school” side of things. With 271-horsepower, there was more than enough get-up-and-go for city driving or merging on to the highway, and proved to be smooth as silk when cruising along… even if the gas mileage leaves a lot to be desired. But hey, at least gas is cheap right now!

Unfortunately, this lovely engine is mated to Chrysler’s 9-speed automatic, an unruly and unpredictable attempt to improve fuel economy at the expense of several hairs pulled out (figuratively speaking, of course).

The gearbox never could quite decide what gear it wanted to be in, and suffered from the same issue as the Range Rover Evoque, where the delay in downshifting could be downright dangerous when performing passing maneuvers.

The ride is sublimely smooth, and the Cherokee handles better than you might expect, but I couldn’t help but miss the boxy, utilitarian, truck-like character of the last model to wear the badge. Especially when it came to hauling gear, as this Jeep is painfully down on cargo room.

Factor in the massive sticker price – the $34,705 Cherokee was more expensive than the Honda and Mazda and didn’t even include navigation – and it becomes hard to recommend.

Overall, the Cherokee is a charming crossover – about as charming as a crossover can be – but is almost as un-practical as it is lovable. It’s hard to give it top marks when the other two entrants in this comparison offer so much more for the money.

Vital Stats: 2016 Jeep Cherokee Altitude 4×4

Price: $34,705 (as tested, incl. $995 dest. charge)

Powertrain: All-wheel drive; 3.2-liter V-6; 9-speed automatic

Power: 271-hp; 239 lb.-ft.

Fuel economy (mpg): 19 city/26 hwy./22 comb.

Safety: NHTSA 4-star overall

2nd Place: 2016 Honda CR-V AWD Touring

The Japanese brand’s best-selling crossover is all but ubiquitous on American roads – everybody knows somebody who owns or has owned a CR-V – and for many very good reasons.

The Japanese brand’s best-selling crossover is all but ubiquitous on American roads – everybody knows somebody who owns or has owned a CR-V – and for many very good reasons.

If the Cherokee embodies character, flaws and all, than the Honda CR-V is the Jeep’s perfect foil.

The Japanese brand’s best-selling crossover is all but ubiquitous on American roads – everybody knows somebody who owns or has owned a CR-V – and for many very good reasons.

My top-of-the-line CR-V Touring was extremely well equipped at $34,145, including everything from all-wheel drive to collision mitigation braking and lane departure warning with steering assist. The Touring model essentially checks all of the boxes, so LEDs, power driver’s seat, Bluetooth connectivity, navigation, dual-zone climate control, and a leather interior all come standard on the trim level.

The Touring model also includes Honda’s “LaneWatch” blind spot system in the place of a traditional blind spot monitoring system, which gives you a camera view of what’s on the right every time you use the right turn signal. There’s no camera on the left, though, nor a sensor. Instead, you’re left with a curved mirror that’s meant to show a wider view, but in reality, it’s a lot of over-the-shoulder glancing.

Cargo space is abundant, as Honda seems to have made it their modus operandi to boast the best volume in every segment, and the powertrain is perfectly adequate. The 185-horsepower 4-cylinder is enough to get by, and feels suited to the smart (if a bit lifeless) CVT.

In fact, I was impressed with the steering feel, and while the handling could be a bit tauter in the corners, this is no sports-‘ute.

Barring some minor quibbles like LaneWatch, the CR-V is a perfectly practical, extremely value-conscious crossover that deserves every bit of its sales champion crown. Except for one major flaw, that is.

After a week with the CR-V and over 600-miles, I walked away with one looming feeling above all others: boredom.

The Honda CR-V is as close as a car can be to an appliance, and while that’s perfectly fine for the majority of Americans, I can’t say I personally feel the same. In practice, the CR-V was an ideal car to take on a long road trip, if only because you don’t think about driving it, you just do.

That fact alone is what kept an otherwise excellent crossover from the top spot, as the winner does almost everything the CR-V does, but with more fun.

Vital Stats: 2016 Honda CR-V AWD Touring

Price: $34,145 (as tested, incl. $900 dest. charge)

Powertrain: All-wheel drive; 2.4-liter 4-cyl.; CVT

Power: 185-hp; 181 lb.-ft.

Fuel economy (mpg): 25 city/31 hwy./27 comb.

Safety: 5-star NHTSA overall; IIHS Top Safety Pick+

1st Place: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

There are a few very good reasons this spunky red Mazda edged out the competition, and chief among them is driving engagement.

There are a few very good reasons this spunky red Mazda edged out the competition, and chief among them is driving engagement.

That’s right, Mazda tops one of our comparisons again. Color us surprised!

Jokes aside, there are a few very good reasons this spunky red crossover edged out the competition, and chief among them is driving engagement.

Powered by a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder that uses Mazda’s SKYACTIV high-compression technology, the CX-5 makes 185-horsepower. That’s not a number that will set anybody’s hair on fire at the drag strip, but when mated to the excellent 6-speed automatic transmission, it’s downright fun.

Though the CX-5 didn’t offer quite as much stuff as the Honda, it’s how all of that stuff is laid out in the cabin that sets it apart.

Steering feel is slightly on the lighter side, but this is a crossover after all. What’s important is that the CX-5 boasts a tighter steering ratio than the other two entrants, and that makes it as much fun to drive as cars with fewer doors and much lower ground clearances.

I often forgot I was driving a crossover when behind the wheel of the CX-5, which is about as good of a compliment as you can give a car-SUV hybrid in the golden age of the sports car.

At a sticker price of $32,640, the Mazda was the most affordable of the three, and though it didn’t offer quite as much stuff as the Honda, it’s how all of that stuff is laid out in the cabin that sets it apart. Mazda’s dial-operated infotainment system is simple to use, and the HVAC controls are situated below it in their own section of the dashboard. No more turning on the seat warmer when you’re trying to hit preset radio station number 4!

What’s important is that the CX-5 boasts a tighter steering ratio than the other two entrants, and that makes it as much fun to drive as cars with fewer doors and much lower ground clearances.

What’s important is that the CX-5 boasts a tighter steering ratio than the other two entrants, and that makes it as much fun to drive as cars with fewer doors and much lower ground clearances.

The handsome “Almond” leather interior is one of the best-looking and nicest-feeling this side of a luxury car, and there’s plenty of space for all occupants and cargo, though admittedly less than the Honda. Unless you’re moving apartments every weekend, I figure you can live without the extra room.

Add in the fact that, like the Honda, it’s an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+, and there are few reasons not to at least consider the CX-5 when shopping for your next crossover.

And be sure to go for a test drive. You’ll thank me later.

Add in the fact that the CX-5 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+, and there are few reasons not to at least consider the CX-5 when shopping for your next crossover.

Add in the fact that the CX-5 is an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+, and there are few reasons not to at least consider the CX-5 when shopping for your next crossover.

Vital Stats: 2016 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Price: $32,640 (as tested, incl. $880 dest. charge)

Powertrain: All-wheel drive; 2.5-liter SKYACTIV 4-cyl.; 6-speed automatic

Power: 184-hp; 185 lb.-ft.

Fuel economy (mpg): 24 city/30 hwy./26 comb.

Safety: 5-star NHTSA overall; IIHS Top Safety Pick+

Come see and drive one today at Oxmoor Auto Group‘s Oxmoor Mazda of Louisville.

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