2019 Medium SUV Safety Test

Ford Escape Titanium

($45,840)

Holden Equinox LTZ-V

($46,290)

Honda CR-V VTi-LX

($44,290)

Hyundai Tucson Highlander

($46,500)

Kia Sportage GT-Line

($44,790)

Mazda CX-5 GT Turbo

($47,890)

Nissan X-Trail Ti

($44,790)

Subaru Forester 2.5i-S

($41,490)

Toyota RAV4 GXL 2.0

($35,490)**

Volkswagen Tiguan 132TSI Comfortline

($43,150)

 

* Not including on-road costs

** Not the correct test car

 

DOUBLE LANE CHANGE

Approached at a consistent speed of 70km/h, the aim of the double lane change is to replicate an emergency swerve-and-recover situation – yanking the wheel hard to the right through a marked course, then back to the left again, to test the effectiveness of a vehicle’s ESC (Electronic Stability Control) system, as well as steering and handling response.

Acting as a shining example of how to best navigate the double lane-change is the Subaru Forester – hence why we awarded it a full 10 points. Not only does it effortlessly swerve right between the cones, its ESC system proves sophisticated enough to contain excessive body movement while enabling the Forester to complete the exercise without washing off too much speed. It clears the ‘obstacle’ fluently, barely raising a sweat.

 

The Mazda CX-5 isn’t quite as neat as the Forester – exhibiting some tail movement first time out but feeling more planted (warmer tyres!) in its second attempt. And it maintains some level of speed pretty well, which again means it can complete the manoeuvre and exit the scenario quickly and confidently.

The Volkswagen Tiguan feels tighter and more confident during the initial movement than the CX-5, aided by its lower seating position and more car-like centre-of-gravity, though its ESC system is judicious and clamps the car down after the first swerve. The Tiguan leaves the scene without ever threatening to clip a witches’ hat, but because its ESC system is reluctant to let go, the VW is unable to maintain the flow of the Forester.

The Hyundai Tucson feels responsive and involving through the double lane-change, if not quite as polished as the CX-5, whereas the Ford Escape traces a more precise line than the Hyundai, even though its tall body leans heavily on its outside rear tyre, leading to some oversteer if pushed beyond 70km/h in the exercise.

The Honda CR-V maintains momentum well but feels a bit scrappy – lacking the Forester’s finesse and authority when changing direction – while the Kia Sportage is reasonably neat but a bit of an armful navigating the exercise.

Some distance behind, the Nissan X-Trail feels rather wobbly and not as confident as it should in swerving and recovering, though its ESC system works hard in preventing things from getting messy. The Toyota RAV4 is arguably better controlled, however its steering loads up heavily when turned quickly. Combined with a rather cumbersome steering-wheel design, it’s quite a handful.

And, finally, the Holden Equinox. We gave the Equinox 2.5 points because it easily makes the first swerve but proves unable to complete the double lane-change. Despite three successive attempts, it simply cannot transfer its weight back to the left again – instead ploughing forward and mowing down witches hats.

Forester          10.00

CX-5                 8.50

Tiguan             8.00

Tucson            7.50

Escape             7.50

CR-V                7.00

Sportage         7.00

X-Trail              5.50

RAV4               5.00

Equinox           2.50

SLALOM

This snaking handling test involves threading each SUV through a bank of six witches’ hats, each placed at equal distances from each other, then turning around and retracing the manoeuvre. The clock starts as each SUV passes the starting cones at 50km/h and stop as the same cones are cleared in the opposite direction.

In testing steering, handling and drivetrain response, as well as ESC and traction-control intrusion, the aim is to complete the course as quickly as possible, but also tidily and efficiently. All SUVs are left in Drive and tested in both regular and Sport modes (where applicable).

 

With its new turbo-petrol engine, it’s perhaps no surprise that the 170kW CX-5 GT completes the course in just 17.35sec. But the Mazda demands supreme neatness to deliver its best. It’s hampered by slightly crude and lumpy steering in demanding situations – requiring more lock to turn in and loading up more than you’d expect – and if there’s a wet surface beneath, its 225/55R19 Toyo Proxes tyres suffer from a significant degradation in grip.

Given its sizeable power disadvantage, the 136kW Forester’s 17.50sec is a terrific achievement. Helped by the agility-enhancing benefits of the 2.5i-S model’s torque vectoring (which works brilliantly in sending drive to the outside rear wheel to help point the nose where you want it to go), the Forester’s slalom is incredibly neat and consistent. It does require technique though – the ESC system kills power if you apply too much accelerator with too much steering lock wound on.

Like the CX-5, the 178kW Escape requires patience to deliver its best. It’s quick and capable, though it can be overwhelmed by the available grunt if your right foot gets trigger-happy. The 132kW Tiguan, on the other hand, is effortlessly grippy and balanced – hampered mainly by its large-ish turning circle when turning around to head back.

 

The 130kW Tucson is also fairly tidy – lacking the punch of the CX-5, Escape and Equinox but using its rear suspension effectively to keep its handling tight. There’s less load-up in its steering than the CX-5, too. The closely related Sportage (with a 135kW 2.4-litre petrol engine rather the Tucson’s 1.6-litre turbo-petrol) also delivers good turn-in and fine balance, and backs that up with a nifty turning circle. But its transmission calibration is terrible. Even in Sport mode, the Sportage refuses to hold a gear, meaning that every time you slightly ease the accelerator, it upshifts.

The 188kW Equinox with nine-speed auto certainly has the legs in a straight line, but it lacks the overall consistency to pull off a great slalom time. What ultimately kills its chances is the h-u-g-e turning circle (12.7 metres!), however its ESC system is admirably subtle as the Equinox is threaded briskly between the cones.

Like the Sportage, the 140kW turbo-petrol CR-V is undermined by its transmission. A combination of laggy throttle response and rubbery transmission response are the Honda’s kryptonite. And while the CR-V’s change-of-direction effectiveness is actually quite admirable, it’s far less poised than the Forester.

 

At the tail end lurks the 126kW X-Trail (18.18sec) and 107kW RAV4 (18.20sec). The Nissan is fundamentally okay, with neater-than-expected handling, a great-to-hold steering wheel, a sportily low-set driving position and a decent turning circle. But its ESC is needlessly grabby – especially given that it doesn’t have much grunt – and it understeers when you start to push it.

The RAV4 – the wrong-spec 2.0-litre remember, not the 2.5-litre we wanted – is thwarted by its breathless engine and heavy steering. Otherwise, its slalom performance is reasonably tidy, hence its closeness to the more powerful X-Trail. 

SLALOM (seconds)                                     

CX-5                 17.35                          

Forester          17.50                          

Escape             17.53                          

Tiguan             17.60                          

Tucson            17.65                          

Sportage         17.72                          

Equinox           17.80                          

CR-V                18.02                          

X-Trail              18.18                          

RAV4               18.20                          

DRY BRAKING

Somewhat unexpectedly, it’s the CR-V (wearing 235/60R18 Michelin Primacy 3 ST tyres) that achieves the shortest dry braking distance from 100km/h – out-stopping the Tiguan by half a metre to record an excellent 38.29m.

 

Averaged across two runs, the Tiguan (38.74m), Sportage (39.26m), Tucson (39.30m) and CX-5 (39.94m) also creep under the 40-metre mark – solid results for this type of vehicle. And the Escape (40.08m) and Forester (40.34m) aren’t far behind.

It should be noted that the Tiguan, Tucson and Forester all recorded shorter braking distances on their second run, indicating a slim chance they may have an even better stop up their respective sleeves.

The Equinox has one decent stop in it (40.34m). It’s second attempt – two-and-a-half metres longer at 42.95m – drags down its average, giving it the dubious honour of the biggest margin between stops.

The X-Trail (41.78m) is unremarkable but consistent, pulling up slightly shorter in its second run, while the RAV4 (42.82m) feels okay but is clearly off the pace. Its second run (43.34m) is the only one to stretch beyond 43 metres.

 

 

DRY BRAKING (metres)                              

CR-V                38.29                          

Tiguan             38.74                          

Sportage         39.26                          

Tucson            39.30                          

CX-5                 39.94                          

Escape             40.08                          

Forester          40.34                          

Equinox           41.65                          

X-Trail              41.78                          

RAV4               42.82                          

WET BRAKING

Two things become very clear in wet braking – that the Tiguan’s outstanding 43.07m performance (on 215/65R17 Falken Ziex tyres) awards it a massive passive-safety bonus over its fairly consistent rivals, and that the ageing RAV4’s abysmal 52.11m (on 235/55R19 Dunlop ST30 Grandtrek tyres) shows that simply having ABS (anti-lock brakes) does not make every SUV equal.

It takes the Tiguan 3.29 seconds to stop from 100km/h in the wet, and 3.87 seconds for the RAV4. That half-second makes all the difference, and you can feel it from the driver’s seat.

 

The remaining SUVs all perform quite well, though the CR-V falls off the podium once moisture comes into play. The X-Trail remains consistently unremarkable whereas the CX-5 proves what we learned earlier when attempting the slalom test in the rain. Its Toyo tyres aren’t much chop in the wet.

WET BRAKING (metres)

Tiguan             43.07

Sportage         45.20

Escape             45.65

CR-V                45.89

Forester          46.15

Tucson            46.45

Equinox           46.47

CX-5                 47.21

X-Trail              47.70

RAV4               52.11

OVERALL DYNAMICS

Lapping Wakefield Park several times as the exercises are completed at various points around the racetrack provides an opportunity to assess each medium SUV’s overall dynamic competence, not just in an extreme situation.

In order of testing, the CX-5 GT is out first, proving smooth and potent, though it’s not-so-special tyres are squeal prone at even moderate speeds and it tends to understeer as cornering loads increase. Due to the very nature of it being a taller, heavier, less physically fortunate vehicle than the front-drive Mazda 6 turbo it shares most of its mechanicals with, the CX-5 lacks the 6’s crisp steering and lovely chassis balance.

 

The Tucson Highlander feels more sweetly balanced than the CX-5, offset by far less subtle ESC intrusion, though the facelifted versions’s 245/45R19 Hankook Kinergy GT tyres are significantly inferior to the pricey Continentals fitted to last year’s model. Same applies to the Sportage GT-Line – both in terms of consistent ESC intrusion and the same-spec tyres – though the Kia has one of the sweetest chassis’ of the entire group. Its keen turn-in and impressive balance deserve a much better engine and transmission.

The X-Trail is buried by its turgid drivetrain. While the car itself is no dynamic wiz, it at least does a reasonable job in getting itself around corners without too much complaint. But the lack of throttle response from its flaccid engine and frustrating CVT is surely a safety black mark when push comes to shove …. of which it has very little.

The Forester’s dynamics mirror its consistency elsewhere – it feels balanced, fluent, and confidence-inspiring. And even though it has essentially the same drivetrain as the Nissan on paper – a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder (albeit of the horizontally opposed variety) tied to a CVT automatic – the difference couldn’t be more stark. The Subaru’s performance, smoothness and overall response are massively superior.

 

The CR-V is good in parts, and not so great in others. It understeers in corners though generally handles okay, and while its drivetrain can be frustratingly laggy, when it’s mustering every ounce of turbocharged output its performance is actually quite strong.

The Equinox is much more likeable than the Honda in terms of dynamic ability, with crisp steering, pleasing balance, keen response and very strong performance. However it feels much heavier than something like the Tiguan, which is small and nimble in comparison, with an unexpectedly strong engine and an excellent transmission – both in the ratios it chooses and the nifty action of its gearlever in selecting Sport mode.

The Escape is also no duffer in the dynamic department, despite riding so tall. Its muscular engine, accurate and well-weighted steering, and polished handling maintain the legacy of its Kuga predecessor, and its European Ford heritage.

 

And finally there’s the soon-to-depart current-gen RAV4. Its chassis balance is acceptable but this is an SUV devoid of panache or animation. It’s slothful, leaden and stodgy – everything its all-new replacement (due in June) apparently isn’t.

Forester          8.50

Sportage         8.50

Tiguan             8.00

Tucson            8.00

Escape             7.50

Equinox           7.00

CX-5                 7.00

CR-V                6.00

X-Trail              5.00

RAV4               4.50

CONCLUSION

Designing a great car, or even getting fit at the gym, is all about consistency. And that’s something that also applies to active safety systems, and the medium SUV that clearly stands out here. The Subaru Forester 2.5i-S.

It’s not a sexy SUV, but it’s such an amazingly well-rounded, supremely accomplished vehicle in the way it drives and the way its safety systems operate that all the other things going for it – great vision, a supple ride, a pleasing drivetrain, loads of room, and excellent value for money – are almost a bonus. It’s a medium SUV that works with you, not against you.

In many ways, the same goes for the Kia Sportage GT-Line and Hyundai Tucson Highlander. Their safety systems work really well and they’re impressive to drive too. But we’ll give the nod to the Hyundai (just) due to its superior initial braking feel (the Kia’s pedal feels quite wooden until you really get stuck into it) and its more sophisticated drivetrain.

The performance of the CX-5 GT Turbo’s safety systems, and indeed its performance as a whole, are worth celebrating though it doesn’t handle as sweetly as the Koreans and its tyre grip dissipates rapidly in wet weather. The Tiguan 132TSI Comfortline, on the other hand, is brimming with passive-safety excellence. It’s the most car-like of any SUV here, and that manoeuvrability deserves praise.

The CR-V VTi-LX doesn’t have the handling sweetness, or the steering crispness, of the Escape Titanium, let alone its performance. But the Honda’s consistency in other areas places it ahead of the ageing Ford. And it’s that same lack of all-round competence that undermines the Holden Equinox LTZ-V. When it’s good, it’s really very good, and when it’s bad – insert turning circle, gear-lever ergonomics and curious lane-change behaviour here – it’s horrid.

Finally, the X-Trail Ti and RAV4 GXL. The Toyota is about to be saved by an all-new generation – one sharing the engineering sophistication of the new-gen Corolla and Camry – but the X-Trail remains an SUV at sea. Awfully dated drivetrain aside, it’s an okay package. But you can do much better for the same money, as the Forester, Tucson, Sportage and CX-5 prove.

 

 

ADDENDUM

We tried hard to score an appropriate Outlander from Mitsubishi, seeing it was the sixth best seller in its class in 2018 (behind CX-5, RAV4, X-Trail, Tucson and CR-V) and has just had a facelift, but could only rustle up a 2WD Exceed (or equivalent) or an AWD diesel (carrying 95kg more weight than the petrol).

Given the Outlander’s seven-year vintage, the mediocrity of its dynamics and the age of its drivetrain, it’s likely to have been a middle finisher at best, though without proper testing, we can’t say for sure. It's a solid bus, but not a class-leading one. 

As for the new-generation RAV4, Toyota Australia’s comprehensive speccing of the car bodes well from a safety perspective. All 11 model grades will include adaptive cruise control (with active lane assist on automatics), a pre-collision safety system with pedestrian detection, daylight cyclist detection, road-sign assist, lane-departure alert and auto high-beam.

New RAV4 will also feature blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, a rear-view camera, front and rear parking sensors, and seven airbags.

Source : https://www.drive.com.au/review/2019-medium-suv-safety-test-120868

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