The super popular compact crossover segment has us spoiled for choices. The Mazda CX-5 and Kia Sportage are both great, but which one is better?
Ubiquitous and practical, the compact crossover is second only to full-size pickups in popularity. Every manufacturer has their version, and they’ve supplanted the sedan as American’s go-to vehicle. With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to tell the differences from okay to good to great. We’ll start this comparison by saying that the Sportage and CX-5 both fall firmly in to the good to great area. But which one deserves your hard-earned dollars? Here’s five key differences to consider.
You may have heard that the CX-5 is a driver’s crossover. Even before 2019, the Mazda CX-5 provided a punchy acceleration that the rest of the segment wasn’t able to match. And while the likes of the Subaru Forester have been losing their turbo options, Mazda and Kia have gone in the opposite direction. And for that we are glad.
Both of these crossovers start with similarly sized base engines. The Sportage features a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder putting out 181hp and 176lb.-ft. of torque netting 23 city/ 30 highway for fuel efficiency. The CX-5 also has a 4-cylinder which produces a nominally higher 186hp and slightly better fuel economy at 25city/31 highway. These engines are adequate for most driving situations but being par for the segment isn’t a recipe for excitement.
That’s where the turbos come in. The Sportage has a 2.0-liter turbo available at it’s top SX trim level making 240hp and 260lb.-ft. of torque. We liked the added oomph it brought, especially in passing situations (which are usually tests of both patience and nerve in most crossovers). Jumping over to the CX-5 we have two options for turbos: one is a gas 2.5-liter 4-cylinder making 250hp and 320lb.-ft. of torque and the other a 2.2-liter turbodiesel making 168hp and 260lb.-ft. It’s those torque numbers that grant the CX-5 that extra level of throttle response it’s known for.
It is not a little ironic that the Kia Sportage ends up the less “sporty” of our two crossovers, but it is. The Mazda not only has the peppier turbo, it also has the suspension tuning to make the most out of those extra pound-feet.
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It’s not that the Sportage isn’t a pleasant ride, it is, even when compared to the rest of the segment. Composed around corners with limited body roll, a suspension tuned to soak up bumps and potholes; there’s plenty to like about the Sportage, even if the strongest praise it inspires is “not bad”.
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The trouble comes when you compare it directly to the CX-5, a crossover that’s engineered to behave on the road, as much as possible, like a car. There really is no other comparably priced crossover that can offer a genuinely fun drive like the CX-5 can. Yes, compact crossovers as a segment have set the bar low for driving excitement, but the CX-5 does its part to raise it up a few notches.
Kia (and Hyundai) have done a commendable job improving their interior quality over the past few years. Hard plastics have given way to softer touch materials, designs have risen in sophistication and elegance, and the fit and finish starting to abut the upper end of the non-luxury market.
But Kia/Hyundai are the only ones who’ve been hard at work upping their game. Mazda has poured a lot of resources into outfitting their vehicles with interiors that can rival much more expensive cars. And here too, the Mazda ekes out a close win.
The CX-5’s interior abounds in quality materials and modern design cues. The overall feel is decidedly upscale in a way that sets it apart from every other comparably priced crossover. While the Sportage has a comfortable and high-quality interior of its own, it’s merely nice relative to the rest of the segment. The CX-5’s interior transcends the segment.
When it comes to features, the Sportage and CX-5 are, again, very competitive. But, in this round, we had to give a slight edge to the Sportage. Not only does the base come standard with a better array of options but the most desirable trim, the SX Turbo, is around $1,500 less than the equivalent CX-5 Grand Touring Reserve.
The Sportage starts at $23,990 with its LX trim. The LX comes with forward collision warning, lane keep assist, Bluetooth, and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility standard. The LX Popular package adds blind spot monitoring, dual-zone climate control, and rear cross traffic alerts for $1,595. The top trim SX Turbo, not surprisingly, is where you can get the Sportage’s turbo engine along with the EX Tech package (see below) for $33,590.
For many of the choicest features on Sportage you’ll have to tick the box for the $4,500 EX Technology package. That will add leather, ventilated front seats, panoramic sunroof, premium Harman Kardon stereo, and adaptive cruise control, among other options.
The CX-5 comes in five separate trims and starts at $25,090 with the CX-5 Sport. There you’ll find base 187hp engine, push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity, and a generous share of the CX-5’s safety features. These include lane keep assist, blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and pedestrian detection.
The top two trims of the CX-5 are where you’ll find the option for the 2.5-liter turbocharged engine that maxes out at 250hp on premium gas. The Grand Touring Reserve also gets you AWD and an 8-inch touchscreen. The tip-top trim Signature comes in at $37,055 and adds Nappa leather to the mix, as well as some additional driver assistance and safety features like front and rear parking sensors. You’re probably safe to save the couple grand on the Grand Touring Reserve, at $35,035.
As good as the CX-5 is, the one area where the Sportage clearly has it beat is in the budget department. The Mazda runs roughly $2,000 more than the Sportage, up and down their respective trim lines. If you’re dead set on getting a refined crossover that’s fun to drive, you’ll need to drop the extra money on the CX-5. But, if you just want a decent crossover that doesn’t annoy you with a weak engine and/or sluggish handling, you can get a good deal on a Sportage and drive away happy.
The greatest strength of the CX-5 versus the Sportage (the former’s horsepower and torque numbers) had me asking this: shouldn’t these crossovers all be electrified? Think about it a moment. One of the big detractions to vehicles larger and heavier than yesterday’s sedans was the poorer fuel economy. Adding a hybrid/PHEV option means there’s only a minimal gap in efficiency between the RAV4 hybrid and the Camry hybrid. But the real gain, in the context of the CX-5’s prowess, is the gains in power you get from adding electric motors to a crossover’s powertrain.
Toyota’s upcoming RAV4 Prime, their plug-in hybrid version, will get 302hp and a 0-60 time of 5.8 seconds. Given how well the CX-5 handles, which is a good deal better than the RAV4’s architecture allows for, just imagine what it could do, the joy it could bring, with that extra electric punch. We’re talking Miata levels of fun.
The Mazda CX-5 is already the best driving, most posh crossover you can get for the money. And if you’re shopping in this segment, we’d me remiss if we didn’t give it our highest recommendation. The Sportage is good, but not quite as great.
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