Prices: The Equinox LTZ I tested has a base price of $29,140. The Forester 2.5 XT Touring was $29,995 (for 2011, that is). And the Tiguan S with sunroof has a base price of $25,590.
Four-wheel drive: The Forester only comes as a four-wheel drive model; in fact, that's the only way to get any Subaru. The Chevy offers four-wheel drive as an option, and the Volkswagen offers it only in the most expensive version (base price $38,080).
Unconventional wisdoms: If they were middle-schoolers, the Tiguan would be the weird kid alone in the cafeteria, looking, dressing, and sounding just different enough to avoid.
The Equinox? He's the brawny kid with the dad everyone knows and loves, who doesn't do anything particularly well, yet doesn't offend.
The Forester? This guy is pretty brainy, but athletic enough that he makes some friends, and most of the kids like him, or at least respect him.
First impressions: The Equinox aims at the Mercedes ML series path. The vehicle rides up high, but the seats are closer to the floor. The windshield carves a dramatic swoop and all the side and rear glass is angled.
The Forester and Tiguan are both boxier units that put drivers closer to the dashboard, sit us higher in the seat, and offer a less "King of the Detroit Road" feel. The Subaru was fine, but my notes on the Tiguan include "Driving position is the best I've felt yet in any vehicle."
Gauges: The Tiguan dash is a nice white, extremely clear, and easy to read. The Forester was OK, but a touch of red does not help here.
The Equinox dashboard is standard GM, and all the settings are clear and easy to find, putting a lot of information between the speedo and tach.
Changing stations: I thought nothing could bug me more than the Forester's entertainment center, because everything that should require one button push required two.
Say you're listening to a CD but want to check out the radio. Press a button to get from CD to the menu, then press the AM on the menu.
Unless you're looking at the map, in which case you press a button to get back to CD, then another to get to the menu, and another to get to AM.
I thought nothing could bug me more, but then came the Equinox: Not only are two button pushes needed to get from CD to radio, but the touch-screen is too small, far away, and hard to see. Then, if you take your eyes away to like, you know, watch the road or something trivial, the touch-screen buttons disappear. So, start again. Grrr.
Plus, like the Traverse I tested earlier, the array of stereo buttons under the touch screen is intimidating.
The Tiguan? No touch screen needed for this function on the low-end stereo. One button push. Clean and simple.
Carrying companions: Both the Tiguan and Forester offer comfort for four, although seatbelts for five. Sturgis Kid 4.0 was sadly squished in the middle of the back row. (The youngest always loses.)
I sat back there for a bit and learned size 11 shoes hardly fit in the second-row footwell of the Forester. The Tiguan has a little bit more foot room than that. The Equinox definitely wins this contest.
Carrying cargo: Advantage Equinox. The Forester is spacious but came without cargo net to secure things. The Tiguan is kind of little.
Comfort: For a week, I wondered why I felt as if the Equinox left me with nowhere to put my arms. The door does sit a little high, but that didn't explain it.
When I started running my hands along things, I realized the door, like the dash, is all hard plastic and not a comfortable armrest at all.
The Forester came with upgraded interior and the Tiguan base interior seemed just fine.
Next week: Driver's Seat takes them out on the road.
Contact staff writer Scott Sturgis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 215-854-2558.