2011 Car Comparison: Nissan Rogue vs Hyundai Tucson vs Subaru Forester

Last Updated: Dec 13, 2011

The Competitors
In this compact-crossover comparison we compare the 2011 Nissan Rogue, 2011 Hyundai Tucson, and 2011 Subaru Forester. Each offers the benefit of car-like ride and handling, the appearance of a sport-utility vehicle, and fuel-efficient four-cylinder engines. This Nissan Rogue vs Hyundai Insight vs Subaru Forester comparison picks a winner based on price, features, and performance.

The 2011 Nissan Rogue offers four trim levels with base prices from $21,640 to $27,900. The 2011 Hyundai Tucson lineup starts with an entry-level model under $20,000, with better-equipped models starting at $22,790-$27,140. The 2011 Subaru Forester offers the widest model selection in this group with six trim levels that have starting prices between $21,220 and $30,000. (All base prices in this comparison review include the manufacturer’s delivery fee.)

The Nissan Rogue is based on the Nissan Sentra compact sedan and for 2011 gets freshened exterior styling, a new model lineup, and new features. The Hyundai Tucson shares some DNA with the Hyundai Elantra compact sedan and gets a new trim level with a new four-cylinder engine for model-year 2011. The 2011 Forester has roots in common with Subaru’s Impreza compact sedan and hatchback and Forester gets a new base engine; horsepower is unchanged at 170 but fuel economy improves slightly.

The Similarities

  • The 2011 Nissan Rogue, 2011 Hyundai Tucson and 2011 Subaru Forester are crossover SUVs because they combine the lightweight unibody structure and independent rear suspension of modern cars with SUV design features, such as exterior styling, tall interior packaging, high seating position, and all-wheel drive capability. As compact crossovers, they’re smaller than their midsize stablemates, the Nissan Murano, Hyundai Sante Fe, and Subaru Tribeca. All have four side doors and a rear cargo liftgate.
  • The 2011 Nissan Rogue, 2011 Hyundai Tucson and 2011 Subaru Forester are powered by small displacement four-cylinder engines. Power output is similar but see “The Differences” section below for their distinctive approaches to engine design. The Rogue’s comes with a single 2.5-liter engine rated at 170 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. (Think of torque as the major contributor to acceleration and horsepower as the energy that maintains momentum.) The Tucson has two engine choices: a 2.0-liter motivates the entry-level GL model with 165 horsepower and 146 pound-feet of torque, and a 2.4-liter runs the balance of the lineup with 175 horsepower and 168 pound-feet of torque. The Forester’s 2.5-liter matches the Rogue’s 170 horsepower but has 174 pound-feet of torque. To satisfy performance-minded buyers, the Forester has models with a turbocharger added to the 2.5 that boosts horsepower to 224 and torque to 226 pound feet.
  • In size and proportion, the Rogue, Tucson, and Forester are roughly the same. Each is classified as a five-passenger vehicle and they’ll carry four adults in comfort, but the middle position in the back seat is a tight squeeze for grownups. The Forester has the most front headroom and legroom while the Tucson offers the most shoulder and hip room. Rear seat passengers will find the best headroom in the Forester, the most legroom in the Tucson. All three have 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks that maximize their small exterior dimensions by increasing cargo-carrying space. Forester leads this trio with 33.5 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 69.3 cubic feet with the rear seatbacks folded. The Rogue follows with 28.9/57.9 cubic feet, and Tucson has the least, with 25.7/55.8 cubic feet.
  • For their price points, the 2011 Rogue, Tucson and Forester come with a considerable list of standard features. Each is equipped with remote keyless entry; air conditioning; power windows, door locks and outside mirrors; height-adjustable driver’s seat; tilt steering column; and an AM/FM/CD audio system with MP3 capability. Cruise control is standard on all Rogue and Forester trim levels. Cruise is standard on the Tucson GLS and Limited models but is unavailable on the entry GL. A telescoping steering column is available on the uplevel models of the Tucson and Forester, but is not available on any Rogue models. All come standard with cloth seating, but each offers optional leather upholstery. Navigation systems are optional on all three vehicles, and the Forester also offers a portable GPS unit that can be removed when it is parked. Only the Forester has an optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system.
  • The 2011 Nissan Rogue, 2011 Hyundai Tucson and 2011 Subaru Forester have the full menu of standard active and passive safety features. Active safety gear — that which helps prevent crashes — includes four-wheel disc brakes with antilock technology to improve control in emergency stops, and antiskid electronic stability control that activates individual brakes and modulates engine power to combat impending sideways slides and rollovers. Passive safety features — helps protect driver and passengers in the event of an accident — includes dual front airbags, torso-protecting driver- and front-passenger side airbags, and head-protecting curtain side airbags for all outboard seating positions. If child car seats are part of the daily regimen, all three crossovers have the LATCH system for the rear outboard positions. Booster seats as well as front- and rear-facing car seats are easy to install in all three. However, the Forester has tether anchors mounted in the cargo area’s ceiling, and the straps interfere with the driver’s reward visibility.
  • All three crossovers employ the two-box body design of SUVs. They’re one box from the base of the windshield forward and a second, longer box from the top of the windshield rearward. Both the Rogue and Tucson have modern, taught styling that softens the boxy look of traditional SUVs. The Rogue’s styling, influenced by that of its Murano big brother, and more rounded with bold wheel arches. The Tucson was designed in Europe with a curvaceous overall appearance and a side profile that is similar to the Rogue’s. The Forester has a more upright stance that some call a “tall wagon;” a benefit is substantial headroom. The Subaru’s pronounced wheel arches provide a mildly aggressive look and turbocharged versions have a functional hood scoop that funnels air to the turbo intercooler.

The Differences

  • All three of these compact crossovers are powered by engines of similar displacement with output ranging from 165 to 175 horsepower, while the Forester adds turbo models with 224 horsepower. The Nissan Rogue and Hyundai Tucson employ the traditional inline-four design in which cylinders and pistons are arranged vertically in a straight line. The Forester’s engine lays the cylinders flat, in a horizontally opposed, or “boxer” engine design. The boxer nickname comes from the way the pistons look when the engine is running — like boxers throwing punches. Subaru uses this configuration for its four- and six-cylinder engines in part because the design affords a low center of gravity that improves handling. As noted above, the Forester is the only one of the three to turbocharge an engine, thus providing more acceleration. If you have something to tow, all 2011 Forester models can pull a trailer weighing up to 2,400 pounds; Tucson’s tow ceiling is 2,000 pounds and the Rogue’s is 1,500.
  • The Hyundai Tucson has the edge in transmission choice. The Nissan Rogue comes exclusively with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which delivers power like a rheostat rather than through stepped gears like a conventional automatic transmission. A CVT’s advantage is that it keeps the engine operating within its most efficient range. The disadvantage is an unorthodox manner in which engine speed can race noisily ahead of actual vehicle speed during rapid acceleration. The entry-level Tucson GL comes with a five-speed manual transmission. A six-speed automatic with manual-type shift capability is a $1,200 option on the Tucson GL and standard on the GLS and Limited models. The base-level Forester 2.5X and step-up 2.5X Premium also come standard with a five-speed manual. A $1,200 option on those models and standard on the balance of the Forester lineup, including the turbocharged 2.5XT models, is an automatic transmission with four speeds. The greater the number of forward gear ratios, the better the better fuel economy, so Forester’s four-speed qualifies as archaic in a class where top crossovers have five- and six-speed automatics.
  • One of the attractions to crossover SUVs is the choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).  Typical of the breed, none of the AWD systems here is intended for rugged off-road travel. They’re engineered to maintain traction on wet or slippery road surfaces by automatically transferring power between the front and rear wheels with no driver input. Rogue and Tucson provide AWD traction as advertised, with the Rogue having an edge because its system can be locked in a 50/50 torque split between front and rear wheels for better traction at slow speeds. . Like all Subarus, the 2011 Forester comes standard with AWD; that’s a disadvantage if you live in a dry climate and can make do with front-drive only. But if you need AWD, the Forester has demonstrably more capability for traversing backcountry trails than Rogue or Tucson, aided by a ground clearance of 8.9 inches. Forester matches the AWD system to the transmissions. Manual models have a simple viscous coupling that shuffles power only in response to wheel slip. Automatic Foresters get a more complex setup that shifts power between front and rear axles by monitoring a variety of vehicle systems and dynamics.
  • Fuel economy is a top reason for considering a small crossover and there are notable differences among Rogue, Tucson, and Forester. And, as the ratings demonstrate, modern automatic transmissions often deliver better fuel economy than their manual counterparts. The 2011 Hyundai Tucson with the 2.0-liter engine comes only with front-wheel drive and equipped with the six-speed automatic transmission is the champ here, delivering an EPA estimated 23/31 mpg city/highway. Replace the automatic with the five-speed manual and the GL’s numbers drop to 20/27 mpg city/highway. Even the more powerful 2.5-liter Tucsons with the six-speed automatic rate a pleasant 22/31 mpg with front-wheel drive and 21/28 with AWD. The 2011 Nissan Rogue rates 22/28 mpg with front-drive, 22/26 with AWD. The 2011 Subaru Forester finishes last in this group. The 2.5X models rate 21/27 mpg wither either the manual or automatic transmission while the turbocharged 2.5XT versions, which come with automatic transmission only, rate a mediocre 19/24.
  • All new vehicles come with a factory warranty that defrays the cost of repair and maintenance during the first years and miles of ownership. In this comparison, the 2011 Hyundai Tucson is head and shoulders above the 2011 Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester. The Tucson comes with a 5-year/60,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty, 10-year/100,000 powertrain coverage, and a 7-year/unlimited-mileage corrosion warranty. Hyundai also includes a 5-year/unlimited-mileage roadside assistance package that covers emergency towing, flat tire change, dead battery jump start, lock-out service, and gasoline when you run out. Both the Rogue and Forester warranty coverage is 3/36,000 bumper-to-bumper, 5/60,000 powertrain, and 5/unlimited corrosion. The Forester adds a 3-year/36,000 mile roadside assistance package; the Rogue does not include roadside service.
  • All three of these crossovers have ride and handling characteristics similar to cars but each has it’s own on-road personality. The Nissan Rogue lives up to its sporty appearance with a suspension tuned for responsive cornering along with electric power steering that is accurate and responds smoothly to driver input, but is quite numb on-center. The Rogue’s suspension has another personality, however, and becomes very unfriendly to occupants over bumps and washboard freeway surfaces. Overall performance suffers from the behavior and noise-promoting properties of the CVT during rapid acceleration. The Hyundai Tucson’s stiff suspension also produces sharp kicks when running over bumps and potholes and the electric power steering could have better feel. Tucson manages traffic maneuvers easily, but body lean happens quickly, even during modest cornering. Subaru’s Forester delivers a ride that is close to a well-engineered midsize car — not too harsh, not too soft. Its handling is nimble, confidently taking on curvy roads with scant body lean. Steering is direct and nicely weighted.

The Winner

The 2011 Subaru Forester. This agile compact crossover wins because it matches what the competitors do right and sidesteps their omissions. Ride and handling is the most car-like. Cornering capabilities — aided by the excellent AWD system — adds fun to the driving experience, while the exterior design and interior packaging gives Forester the roomiest cabin. The Subaru also scores points for the availability of a more powerful engine and the ability to safely traverse off-highway trails the others dare not attempt, an SUV trait missing from most crossovers. The Hyundai Tucson takes second-place in this comparison for its impressive fuel economy and exceptional warranty coverage.