Hot Cakes - Four-Way SUV Shootout Part Two

 

These SUVs are Kiwi favourites at present, swarming in the most popular area of the market. We gather four of the most recent arrivals and let them scrap it out.

Words: Kyle Cassidy   |   Photos Tom Gasnier

Now in its second generation, the new CX-5 marks a full renewal of the Mazda range under its new, and highly successful Skyactiv program with its modular chassis and common drivelines. Along with a mandate of lower real world fuel consumption, designing vehicles with the driver in mind is still at the centre of what Mazda does. And that’s helped the CX-5 carve out a substantial share of the crowded mid-size SUV market, along with its blend of quality, refinement and relative value.

The CX-5 doesn’t turn off disinterested folk by being too driver focused however, but rather it connects subtly. Of the gathered metal, it’s the best drive here. It’s not reliant on multiple set-up modes, there isn’t even a Sport mode button (what?). You just get in, drive and it delivers. The engine, a 2.2-litre diesel is the pick here, a real gem. With a sequential bi-turbo arrangement, the little blower is quickly up to speed to eliminate the lag effect, and when the bigger turbo starts puffing, it’s mighty strong through the midrange. This revs with gusto and doesn’t feel stretched when pushed to 5000rpm and beyond. It’s only Euro5 compliant, but that meets NZ regs, and it’s a little thirstier, rated at 6.0L/100km (the trip computer average was in the high eights to low nine area on test).

With a well honed AWD system, all that good go is maximised, while the six-speed auto is well adept at keeping the engine happy with smooth but slick and well programmed shifting. This new CX-5 is much improved on the refinement front, being whisper quiet on coarse chip highways. It can be easy for the speed to creep up, there’s no increase in road and wind roar, so remember to use that cruise control. And despite its quiet nature, it’s far from muted at the wheel. The steering is exemplary with good weighting, feedback and response. The suspension calms ill-mannered roads, yet untoward body movements are managed in fine fashion too.

One thing we haven’t mentioned yet are the prices, and that’s where the Honda CR-V carves out a march on the others.

Crack on and the chassis communicates the limits well, the stability aids letting the driver have the first stab at correcting things before lending a hand, but you hardly ever see the ESC light blinking. It’s equally adept at city work with light steering, good outward vision, and that ever-ready torque eases commuting. The fixed rate dampers do a good job on the ride too. Mazda’s stop-start system is superior to that of the others, the pressure you place on the brake pedal ultimately controlling its operation, and its restart procedure is more seamless.

The active cruise takes care of traffic flows, and the safety helpers are just that, helpful rather than annoying. With no active lane keeping, just a gentle reminder to keep you alert in your lane, we didn’t feel like switching this lane departure system off.

The cabin is quite conservative but the quality is arguably the best here; it’s lovingly crafted with a stitched dash and a high level of finishing throughout the interior, even in the boot area. The seats offer both comfort and just enough support, and plenty of adjustment to sort the driving position, while the leather feels of a higher grade than that used by the others.


CX-5 is popular perhaps because it’s conventional in operation, with just enough tech to keep people happy. Its infotainment system uses a mix of mouse and touchscreen controls and is generally easy to fathom, but the screen’s a bit small, and it could process things faster. It’s the only one lacking CarPlay and Android Auto, but the CX-5 is the lone offering with a head-up display as standard which relays plenty of useful information, with blind spot alerts and speed limit display.

The storage could be better, the centre bin small, as are the door pockets, though they are rubber lined to stop things clanking around.

There’s not quite the stretch space in the back seat as that offered by the Honda or Skoda, but nor will adults struggle for comfort.

CX-5 is roomier inside than its outward appearance suggests. There’s a practical, well-shaped hold with good width and height and a 40/20/40 split folding seat might help come time to load longer things like skis, and carry passengers. The towing capacity is a Kodiaq-equalling 2000kg.

It comes too with Mazda’s three year’s servicing and five-year warranty programme.

Honda is enjoying a revival of late, finally trotting out some all-new products after a few years in the doldrums post GFC. The CR-V, in its fifth generation, sports a new chassis and turbocharged petrol engine technology. The former brings increases in cabin space and body rigidity for improved road manners and refinements, while the latter gives the CR-V a boost of easy-going performance. It might only have a 1.5-litre engine, but size isn’t such an issue in this day and age.

A development of the Civic unit, it has a bigger turbo with an emphasis on low-end torque production. Sure, it doesn’t front with the same shove as the larger capacity diesels with just 240Nm, but with 140kW, neither is it utterly outclassed on either performance or fuel consumption, thanks in part to its CVT auto. This often maligned transmission lends it a smooth operation. It’s silky on the uptake and uses that low end torque to get up to speed. It then reduces the ratio to keep the CR-V cruising along in the 1500-2000rpm area for calm, economical progress.

Yeah, to get moving it requires a more liberal use of the go pedal, but again the CVT is obliging, quickly probing the engine for added go, and it’s moving along nicely by 4000rpm. Slipping the lever into the S mode helps too, the CVT set to keep revs simmering higher and react quicker to the gas pedal. As long as your right foot is not completely leaden, expect fuel use in the eight to nine litre per 100km bracket, all without the need for any idle stop function (the official figure is 7.4L/100km).

And as you can see from the performance figures, the CR-V isn’t slow, as the petrol can rev harder and longer, the CVT stepping through simulated gears to prevent it whining away as the early generation CVTs were want to do. And with faster acting on-demand AWD, there’s no slippage either. With a quick steering rack, just 2.1 turns between the stops, this is easy as in the suburbs. Matched to the powertrain character is a smooth suspension set-up, the softest here. It means it’s also the most prone to roll in corners. CR-V can’t foot it with the CX-5, or the 3008 in corners, while the Kodiaq too is more sure-footed.

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Though it wears a Sport badge, it’s more about getting the kids to sport on Saturday than a sporting drive. The steering points it accurately and it turns quickly, but lacks outright grip and the torque vectoring by brake gets a good workout if you push the envelope. The ride’s always good though, and the 1.5 delivers enough urge when pressed. Road and wind noise could be better suppressed.

There’s no lack of space inside the CR-V, rivalling the Skoda in this regard for practicality. There’s oodles of rear leg room, and with a flat floor, it’s more accepting of a middle passenger. The seat is right comfy too, reclining nicely, though the panoramic roof robs a little headroom for taller folk. While teens will like the USB charge points in the rear, the roof-mounted child seat tether points aren’t that smart. This has the most usable boot space with a low-set floor and it’s wide between the wheel arches, with good length too. And it’s the only one with a full size spare, the rest having space savers.

Compared with the others, the interior exhibits less panache. There’s nothing iffy about the build and finishing, but there’s more of a built-to-a-price-point feel about the trim. The seats are wider with Americans in mind, and there’s plentiful storage with a ginormous centre console bin, big cupholders, and door pockets though none is lined. And the fake stitching effect is just naff. The CR-V also has the most frustrating multimedia centre, with a few too many buttons to push to get things done, and it’s not the most logical system.

It is smartphone ready however so you can circumvent it all. While it lacks blind spot monitoring, the rest of the active safety stuff is present, the active cruise with low speed operation, and lane keeping which is a more conservative helper than the Euro examples. The CR-V is covered by Honda’s five-year unlimited kay warranty, though servicing is extra.

One thing we haven’t mentioned yet are the prices, and that’s where the Honda CR-V carves out a march on the others. We name it the value king here, being competitive yet undercutting them nicely. All of the model ranges start at a tantalising $39,990 for front drivers with lesser powertrains and few frills and then there are middling models, with a bit more fruit and power, while the CR-V also offers a 2WD seven-seater version.

But as to those gathered here, the top 3008 GT is $54,990 (and you can add options on top of that), the CX-5 Limited diesel is $57,990 and the Kodiaq Style diesel is $58,290, before adding options. The top CR-V Sport Sensing is just $47,900.

It’s not the best one here however, but for some, that value might be just too hard to overlook. The Peugeot 3008 you’ll buy for its style, which it thankfully can back up with some substance, it’s powertrain likeable, so too the driving characteristics and all of its natty little interior features. It’s not the most versatile, or practical but it brings some real flair to this end of the market.

As to the best it’s between the Skoda and Mazda and as we said in the intro, they’ll have different appeal. If it’s practicality, space and the need for seven seats, Skoda will see you right. It’s supremely competent though we say check out the petrol, as it’s $4000 cheaper.

But for all-round appeal, it’s the CX-5 that we prefer. Its refinements and driver appeal are hard to top in this class, as is the performance of its engine. Add in the feature-laden, quality-rich interior with just enough space, and it’s clear to see why it finds favour with so many buyers.

The Stats

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Model Honda CR-V AWD Sport Sensing  Price $47,900

Engine 1498cc, IL4, T/DI, 140kW/240Nm

Transmission CVT, on-demand AWD

Vitals 8.84sec 0-100km/h, 7.4L/100km, 168g/km, 1608kg

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Model Mazda CX-5 Limited diesel  Price TBA

Engine 2191cc, IL4, TDI, 129kW/420Nm

Transmission 6-speed auto, on-demand AWD

Vitals 8.67sec 0-100km/h, 6.0L/100km, 158g/km, 1725kg