Compared: Latest compact SUVs for kid and cargo duties
THE evidence is there on every street. Compact SUVs have become our preferred means of carrying kids and cargo — and new arrivals just keep coming.
Mazda has just brought out a new model of the CX-5, Australia’s top selling SUV for the past four years. Ford has facelifted the Kuga and renamed it with the global Escape badge.
We’re running them against the reigning Carsguide Car of the Year, VW’s Tiguan, the unanimous judges’ choice.
This is Ford’s third attempt in five years at cracking the compact SUV segment.
There are more variants, from $34,000 drive-away to $53,535 drive-away.
We have the Trend 1.5 frontdriver, the middle of the range, which is $39,050 drive-away as tested (including a $1300 safety pack and $550 for metallic paint).
The new name also brings a new nose and engine, plus an impressive list of advanced — but optional — safety tech. Standard are seven airbags, rear camera (with guiding lines that turn) and rear sensors.
The safety pack adds automatic emergency braking (which now works from 50km/h rather than 30km/h), radar cruise control, lane keeping assistance, rear cross traffic alert and blind spot warning. These options take the Trend from the least equipped to the best among this trio.
Update items also include Apple Car Play and Android Auto, built-in navigation with traffic alerts and digital radio.
The Trend comes with push-button start, electronic park brake, cruise control (with speed limiter), auto headlights, rain-sensing wipers and privacy glass, among other mod-cons. A power tailgate adds $1200. The cabin is basic but practical; the others have a more up-market appearance but less tech.
Deft touches: digital speed display, dual-zone aircon, two USB ports, a 12V socket and four map lights — plus a light and 12V socket in the cargo area, which expands from 406L to 1603L.
The rear seat splits 60-40. The seat back angle can be adjusted but the base doesn’t slide forward. As with the others, there are two Isofix child seat anchor points and three top tether mounts.
The 1.5 turbo petrol engine replaces the 1.6 turbo that was recalled a fortnight ago following a spate of fires, including seven in Australia.
It’s an economical engine with plenty of oomph — and costs about half as much to service as the others.
As with many modern engines, it demands premium unleaded.
These aren’t supposed to be race cars but we checked their 0-100km/h times as an indicator of how they’ll haul the family in the daily grind.
The Escape — slightly faster than the VW Tiguan and one second quicker to the speed limit than the Mazda CX-5 — handles corners confidently, but the suspension can get a bit busier than the others over bumps. At times, the steering feels too sharp for the size and weight of the car.
Mazda expands the range to four model grades — from $34,500 drive-away to $54,700 drive-away.
We have the Maxx Sport (the second model up) 2.0 petrol front-drive at $38,400 driveaway.
Mazda loads the new model with the most standard safety kit of the trio, including automatic emergency braking (front and rear), rear cross traffic alert and blind zone warning. This is in addition to six airbags, rear view camera and rear sensors.
Apple Car Play and Android Auto are still not available but built-in navigation is standard on this grade. The tablet-style display in the dash looks classy but is not a touchscreen.
The cabin has an up-market feel but the door pockets are smaller than the others, there’s no digital speed display and the guiding lines on the rear camera don’t turn.
The driver’s side mirror is not convex, so it’s hard to see traffic in the adjacent lane. I’d prefer a wider view rather than rely on a small warning light in the corner of the mirror.
Unique among this trio, the rear seat splits 40-20-40 and can be dropped via a lever in the cargo area. The seat back angle can be adjusted but the base does not slide forward. Cargo capacity is 442L/1342L.
On the move the Mazda is quieter than before — finally muting its road noise on par with rivals.
Performance from the nonturbo 2.0 is similar to these peers. Helpfully, it takes regular unleaded.
A downside: the CX-5 is the dearest of this trio to service.
The new CX-5 steers well, with a plush and almost cushy ride, rather than the razorsharp feeling of its predecessor.
Despite its premium price, the Tiguan is selling at twice the rate of the Escape and Honda CR-V and is closing the gap on the Subaru Forester. The range stretches from $39,100 driveaway to $54,580 drive-away.
We tested the 110TSI Trendline DSG front-drive, at $39,900 drive-away including $700 for metallic paint.
Standard fare includes automatic emergency braking, rear camera with guiding lines that turn, front and rear parking sensors, large touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto but not built-in navigation.
Radar cruise control and lane keeping assistance (optional on all Escapes and standard on the top grade CX-5) are not available as an option on this grade.
The Tiguan has the most spacious cabin and the biggest storage pockets. As with the others, it has rear air vents. Unlike the others, it has single zone aircon. The Tiguan is the only one among this trio with a sliding back seat — to create a larger cargo area (from 615L to 1665L with the seats down) as well as seat back angle adjustment.
Its 1.4 turbo, the smallest of the three, does the job, albeit on premium unleaded.
The twin-clutch automatic gearbox takes half a second or so to engage but you soon learn to adapt your driving style and release the brake pedal a little sooner.
Its biggest asset is the way it drives. The Tiguan has the most precise steering and handling feel, yet it’s also the most comfortable over bumps. That’s a gratifying double act.
The Escape, though more compelling than previously, doesn’t drive quite as well as the others and isn’t as well presented inside. If the optional safety pack were fitted standard, it would have aced this test.
Still a class act, the Tiguan is the best here for space, comfort, practicality and driving feel. But the competition has caught up with more standard features for the money.
With its impressive list of standard safety gear, up-market interior and greater refinement, the CX-5 Maxx Sport wins this round. Undercutting the others on price is a bonus.