When we look back to a year ago and compare the list of 2020 finalists in the all-important two-row SUV category with this year’s list, there are not a lot of differences. The Hyundai Santa Fe appears instead of the Honda Passport in 2021, but the other four finalists are identical to those named for this category in autoTRADER.ca’s Awards last year.

We think this is pretty important. When discussing the most important sales category in the country – and one in which attributes like safety, reliability, and value for money are key considerations – consistency speaks volumes. The fact that our group of more than 20 of the top automotive critics in Canada has voted the same products as segment leaders through a separate, independent round of anonymous voting allows us to convey a great deal of confidence that the right compact SUV for you and your family is likely included on this list.

The winners in this category, and in the rest of those included in this 2021 autoTRADER.ca Awards, will be announced in February 2021. For now, here’s a detailed look at the vehicles voted as this year’s finalists.

2021 Honda CR-V

Practicality, thy name is CR-V. It may not be the most fresh-faced of this lot, but it has ongoing appeal thanks to its standard heated front seats, a 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine good for 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque that spans the entire lineup, and crazy-wide door openings for easy accessibility that make this a perennial favourite. Collision-mitigation and forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, road-departure mitigation and lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and automatic high-beams are also standard equipment across the board. The base two-wheel-drive model is priced at $31,776 under Honda’s all-in pricing model, while the all-wheel-drive equivalent is $34,576, and the top-tier Black Edition rings in at $45,376 with 19-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic moonroof, and additional safety features. In our review, we found the CR-V “inoffensive in almost every way, and ticks boxes when it comes to interior storage and passenger space, features, and technology.”

2021 Hyundai Santa Fe

In case any confusion remains, let’s clear this up: the Hyundai Santa Fe dropped its third row a couple of years ago and made that the purview of the much larger Palisade, so the SUV that bears the Santa Fe name today is instead a larger two-row. A wild new design for 2021 gives it a fresher face that helps it keep up better with its competition. There are also three powertrains (including a new upcoming hybrid option) offered with this new Santa Fe beginning with a 2.5L four-cylinder with 191 hp and 182 lb-ft of torque and then topping out with a turbocharged 2.5L four-cylinder with 277 hp and 311 lb-ft. The upcoming hybrid model will offer a turbocharged 1.6L four-cylinder engine combined with an electric motor for a combined 225 hp, 195 lb-ft, and standard all-wheel drive. The new Santa Fe will also offer available ventilated seats, wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto,  and a robust suite of safety and driver assistance features.

2021 Mazda CX-5

Were this a beauty contest, we’d already be calling it. The Mazda CX-5’s timeless looks and classy, understated design make it a favourite compact SUV among the style conscious. It also happens to drive well whether you choose the standard 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine and its 187 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque, or opt for the turbocharged 2.5-litre four-cylinder, which produces 250 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque when it’s fed 93-octane fuel. For the base GX grade with front-wheel drive, standard features include: heated front seats, 17-inch wheels, and a suite of safety features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, and forward collision mitigation braking – priced at $30,581 all-in. The Signature grade is the top conventional model and costs $44,131, and it includes Nappa leather and real wood inserts, 19-inch alloy wheels, front and rear parking sensors with rear braking support, and more. For 2021, two special editions are offered: the mid-grade Kuro edition and the premium 100th Anniversary edition.

2021 Subaru Outback

Can the 2020 champion score a repeat? In last year’s award winner’s announcement, autoTRADER.ca’s Evan Williams describes this more-wagon-than-SUV as “the two-row SUV we’d confidently recommend to friends and family.” The upgrades that came with the 2020 model year introduces a new platform, new engines, and new interior, features that have all carried over into 2021. In typical Subaru style, all-wheel drive is standard, and two engines are offered, each with four horizontally opposed cylinders: the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated offering makes 182 hp and 176 lb-ft of torque, while the 2.4-litre turbocharged engine produces 260 hp and 277 lb-ft. For the Convenience trim, pricing starts at $33,249 for heated front seats and standard safety features including pre-collision braking and throttle management, adaptive cruise control, lane-centring assist, lane-departure warning, lane-sway warning, lane-keep assist, and lead vehicle start alert. At the top of the lineup, the Premier XT includes Nappa leather, 18-inch wheels, and premium styling accents among other features and tops out at $46,249.

2021 Toyota RAV4

This Canadian-built compact SUV, assembled at Toyota’s manufacturing facility in Cambridge, Ont., is the only vehicle on this list that’s available with a hybrid powertrain. A plug-in hybrid RAV4 Prime that’s assembled in Japan is soon to hit our shores as well. In fact, autoTRADER.ca’s Reviews Editor Dan Ilika says it “isn’t just a key vehicle in this country’s auto market, it may very well be the quintessential Canadian crossover,” having been the top seller in its segment in Canada for the past four years. Heated front seats and safety features such as lane-tracing assist, lane-departure alert with steering assist and road edge detection, automatic high-beams, active cruise control, and pre-collision assistance with pedestrian and bicycle detection are standard. Opting for the base front-wheel-drive LE, priced at $30,221 with destination, or any of the gas-only models gets you a 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine making 203 hp, though we recommend holding out for the more powerful and more fuel-efficient hybrid version and its 217 hp, starting from $34,461 if you can stomach the six-plus-month wait.