If you’re considering one of the so-called compact crossover models like the Hyundai Tucson or Nissan Rogue, which make great sedan alternatives and good picks for smaller families, chances are you’ll find the array of market choices overwhelming.
Both of these models compete against the Ford Escape, Subaru Forester, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, and Toyota RAV4, as well as the Kia Sportage, which is closely related to the Tucson.
The Nissan Rogue was last given a full redesign for the 2014 model year, while the Hyundai Tucson has been fully redesigned for 2016. And in their latest iterations, these two models have headed in quite different directions—with the Tucson gaining more upscale styling and a more elegant look and feel in general, while the Rogue focuses just a little more on fitting the most passenger space.
While the Tucson is only offered in five-passenger form, the Rogue is available with a third-row seat—for an official capacity of up to seven passengers. Don’t get too excited about the Rogue as a true three-row vehicle, because that third row is sized only for kids, in a pinch, but it’s a competitive advantage that frazzled parents might appreciate.
Backing up a bit, however, the Tucson has plenty of advantages; and one of those is styling. The look of the new Tucson is definitely premium inside and out, and it makes the previous model—as well as the Rogue, to some degree—look a little too economy-car influenced. There’s an elegant simplicity to the Tucson’s interior in particular, with top Limited models offering plush leather upholstery; but in the Tucson’s well-sculpted sheetmetal it emulates the look of much more expensive vehicles. Focusing over to the Rogue, its profile is definitely a little more homely, and its details more like those of frugal small cars. It’s a conservative look, although some might like the smoother (rather than creased) sheetmetal and low, somewhat more carlike dash layout.
Although styling differences between the two might come down to personal tastes, there’s a clear winner for performance, and that’s the Tucson. The Rogue loses here, by a long shot, due to drivability issues with its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which offers decent acceleration but fails to respond quickly enough for quick bursts of power for passing or gaps in traffic. The engine is also far too present in terms of cabin noise. By comparison, the base Hyundai Tucson SE comes with a 164-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic transmission—a combination that offers good drivability and refinement that’s a cut above. Tucson Eco, Sport, and Limited models step up to a 1.6-liter turbo engine and dual-clutch automatic, but that’s actually a step behind in drivability.
The Tucson, in our recommended SE trim, earns EPA ratings of up to 23 mpg city, 31 highway, while the Rogue gets 26 mpg city, 33 highway.
Both of these models are tuned for comfort, not edgy handling and fast driving—although they handle well enough for daily-driving tasks. The latest Tucson has improved tremendously in this area, and while the ride is soft and quiet, the steering is now reasonably communicative. Rogue models, on the other hand, have an even softer ride, yet the steering is a little less engaging and there’s more road noise entering the cabin.
Both the Rogue and Tucson slot in at the truly compact end of the crossover spectrum. The Nissan fares a bit better with its well-packaged interior and ideal driving position, as well as the new itty-bitty third-row seat. Hyundai has improved the Tucson’s seats somewhat, but they still need longer bottom cushions to be truly comfortable. In each of these utes, the cargo area is large enough for a few weekend bags, but you’ll want to think twice about bringing along pets, as the upswept styling of both vehicles blocks out rear visibility for pets and drivers alike.
The Rogue used to have the upper hand on safety, but the Tucson has jumped ahead since its recent redesign. The Hyundai has already earned IIHS Top Safety Pick+ status, although it hasn’t yet been rated in federal NCAP tests. The Rogue earns four stars in NCAP testing and doesn’t manage as high of a rating from the IIHS. A rearview camera is now standard on both models, but it’s fair to say that the Tucson’s available active-safety kit is a step ahead—especially with automatic emergency braking available.
In features, both of these models pack a lot in for the money; although the Tucson has a slight edge here, too. Equipment is rather basic for the entry versions of both, yet moving up both model lines there are plenty of technology and active-safety upgrades. The top Tucson Limited offers several features—ventilated front seats and heated outboard rear seats are a few—that you won’t find in a comparably priced Rogue SL.
Neither the Rogue nor the Tucson will win over race rats with straight-line numbers or g-force figures. While the Rogue might have the advantage to you because of its third row, we think a lot of shoppers will agree that the latest Tucson and its more upscale look and smoother moves will rank a step ahead.