PREDA­TOR AND PREY

Does the pow­er­ful Harrier have what it takes to hunt the sporty CX-5?

Torque (Singapore) - - GROUP TEST -

BIRDS of prey suc­cess­fully cap­tur­ing their elu­sive quarry are a sight to behold.

An owl silently slic­ing through the air as it nabs a field mouse, or an ea­gle grasp­ing a poi­sonous and slip­pery sea snake in its talons, are noth­ing short of awe-in­spir­ing. Scenes such as these run through my mind as we line up the new 2-litre Toyota Harrier Turbo along­side the lat­est 2.5-litre Mazda CX-5.

It’s hard not to think of the Harrier as a bird of prey in this story. Its front badge is that of a hawk in flight, per­haps streak­ing to­wards its prey.

But three years ago, I’d never have made such an anal­ogy about the Harrier. That’s be­cause the only model then, which was only avail­able through par­al­lel im­porters, has a rather weedy, nat­u­rally as­pi­rated 2-litre en­gine that pro­duces 151bhp.

Al­though it is com­fort­able and has ad­e­quate power for our roads, it is more like a dove than a hawk, be­cause it isn’t quick enough to catch any of its ri­vals. The Harrier Turbo sold by Bor­neo Mo­tors, how­ever, is no dove. Be­neath its bon­net is a tur­bocharged 2-litre en­gine (a de­tuned ver­sion of the one in the Lexus NX) that churns out 227bhp. This SUV cer­tainly has per­for­mance po­ten­tial.

Those ex­tra ponies are very wel­come, es­pe­cially if the Harrier in­tends to take on the Mazda CX-5. The CX-5 may not be tur­bocharged, and “only” has 194bhp, but it is not to be un­der­es­ti­mated. Be­cause Mazda places a lot of em­pha­sis on the driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, most of its mod­els have well-sorted chas­sis and sus­pen­sions, and are rel­a­tively fun to drive. How­ever, you won’t find any­thing sporty about the CX-5’s cock­pit, apart from the “cor­rectly” po­si­tioned -/+ points (up to down­shift and down to shift up) for the 6-speed au­to­matic gear­box’s man­ual over­ride func­tion.

What the driver will en­joy more is the con­trol lay­out, which is more er­gonomic than the Harrier’s. The CX-5’s air­con di­als, for in­stance, aren’t blocked by the gearshift lever, and its in­fo­tain­ment sys­tem, which is con­trolled by a ro­tary knob and touch­screen, is more in­tu­itive as well. The Harrier claws back some points, how­ever, with its more up­mar­ket fit and fin­ish. It has cushier front seats, a leather-trimmed dash­board (some­thing you’d only ex­pect in lux­ury cars) and Lexus-like Op­titron meters that make the CX-5’s in­stru­ment clus­ter look com­par­a­tively pedes­trian. SUVs must also cater to pas­sen­gers in or­der to be deemed prac­ti­cal, and in this re­gard, the Harrier has the edge over the CX-5. De­spite its 2660mm wheel­base be­ing 40mm shorter than its Mazda ri­val’s, the Harrier’s rear bench is ac­tu­ally more spa­cious. It not only of­fers more legroom, but a flat­ter floor as well, mak­ing it eas­ier for three adults to sit abreast.

The only down­side to the Harrier’s rear ac­com­mo­da­tion is the lack of doorbins. Un­like pas­sen­gers in the CX-5, oc­cu­pants have to make do with the pock­ets be­hind the front seats. For­tu­nately, the Harrier’s 456-litre boot is marginally larger (by 14 litres) than the CX-5’s.

The CX-5’s boot, how­ever, is more flex­i­ble than the Harrier’s. Thanks to its 40:20:40 split­fold­ing rear seats (60:40 for the Harrier) and back­rest re­lease lev­ers, the CX-5 makes it eas­ier for own­ers to con­fig­ure the cargo space to fit var­i­ous load­haul­ing needs.

Haul­ing loads and folks comes nat­u­rally to the tur­bocharged Harrier, which not only de­liv­ers more power, but greater low-end torque, too. With 350Nm from just 1650rpm, the Harrier is quicker and smoother off the line than the CX-5, whose 257Nm only ar­rives at 3250rpm. And with a cen­tury sprint time of 7.3 sec­onds, or 1.6 sec­onds faster than the CX-5, the Harrier driver can eas­ily chase down and over­take the CX-5 pi­lot, too.

At this point, you might be think­ing that the Harrier runs cir­cles around the CX-5. But while it has the mea­sure of its ri­val on ex­press­ways, the Toyota will have a harder time out­run­ning the Mazda once the roads turn twisty.

For the CX-5 truly im­presses around cor­ners. Thanks in part to the car’s firmer sus­pen­sion, it doesn’t mat­ter if the curves are short and tight, or long and sweep­ing, be­cause this SUV was tuned to con­quer them.

Even a mildly keen driver will be star­tled by this Mazda’s nim­ble­ness and will­ing­ness to be hus­tled into bends. Even

if you’re car­ry­ing a bit too much speed, you’ll feel very con­fi­dent each time you nail the brake pedal and use the CX-5’s pre­cise helm to com­mand the nose to turn in.

Yes, you’ll feel the size of the body if you push harder. But for an SUV that doesn’t have a Porsche badge on it, this sort of agility is a pleas­ant sur­prise.

Equally sur­pris­ing is the re­spon­sive­ness of the CX-5’s pow­er­train, which is more ea­ger than the Harrier’s. It needs to be worked hard to de­liver its ponies, but ev­ery stab of the ac­cel­er­a­tor re­sults in a jump in revs, and its gear­box is al­ways quicker and more will­ing than the Harrier’s 6-speed auto to ex­e­cute those much-needed down­shifts.

Us­ing its flex­i­bil­ity, ea­ger­ness and han­dling prow­ess, the CX-5 will be able to out­ma­noeu­vre the Harrier – for a while. But the hawk in this story, with its ad­van­tages in per­for­mance, spa­cious­ness and practicality, will in­evitably be able to hunt down its prey.

THE HARRIER HAS THE MEA­SURE OF THE CX-5 ON EX­PRESS­WAYS, BUT IT WILL HAVE A HARDER TIME CHAS­ING DOWN ITS RI­VAL ONCE THE ROADS TURN TWISTY.

STORY JEREMY CHUA PHO­TOS VER­NON WONG ART DI­REC­TION SEAN LEE

CX-5 is tuned for bet­ter han­dling, whereas the Harrier has the edge in ride com­fort.

Harrier cock­pit feels more up­mar­ket than CX-5’s (be­low), but the Mazda’s lay­out is more user-friendly.

CX-5’s boot is more use­ful and flex­i­ble, de­spite it be­ing smaller than the Harrier’s.

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