We compare two of the most popular compact SUVs on the market. Read our full breakdown of trim levels, interior quality and more.

Which of these Popular SUVs is Best?

In this head-to-head, we’re comparing two of the most popular compact SUVs on the market: the Mazda CX-5 and the Honda CR-V. Positioned in this segment means they are small enough to get around tight streets, but can comfortably fit a couple of car seats if you have a growing family, or another pair of adults for a night on the town. Technology is impressive in both, with responsive touchscreen displays and easy connectivity. If you want something luxurious, and perhaps a bit indulgent, either one offers niceties that would have been reserved for much more expensive luxury sedans not too long ago. Choosing the right one for you will likely depend on the flavor you’re looking for, as both offer similar ingredients mixed together in different ways. The Mazda is a bit prettier, with a more upscale interior design while the Honda looks a bit more rugged and everyday practical. Not much really separates chocolate ice cream from vanilla ice cream, but I bet you have a favorite. And, if you’re interested in other models in the compact segment, you can read our article on the best compact SUVs of 2024 here.

Specs

2024 Mazda CX-5 Side Exterior - mazdausa.com
2024 Mazda CX-5 Side Exterior - mazdausa.com

We’ll start by taking a look at the ingredients that make up the Mazda CX-5. The Mazda is offered with two engine options. The base engine is the SKYACTIV-G 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine producing 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. For those seeking more power, choose the turbocharged version which adds a turbo to the mix for an impressive 227 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque when running on regular unleaded. If you fill up your turbo CX-5 with premium, you unlock a total of 256 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. Both engines come paired to a SKYACTIV-Drive six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift and sport mode options. All-wheel drive comes standard on all CX-5 models. The base engine is more fuel efficient and achieves 26 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, with a combined rating of 28 mpg. The turbocharged models are rated at 22 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined. You can read a full CX-5 review here.

The Honda CR-V also offers two engine options. The base engine is a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder that produces 190 horsepower and 179 lb-ft of torque. The other offering is a hybrid powertrain that combines a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a two-motor hybrid system for a combined output of 204 horsepower. Both engines a mated to a continuously variable transmission for smooth power delivery. Power is routed to the front wheels, but all models are available with Honda’s Real-Time AWD system. When it comes to fuel efficiency, the CR-V has a significant advantage over the Mazda. The front-wheel drive hybrid CR-Vs achieve 43 mpg in the city, 36 mpg on the highway, and 40 mpg combined. Adding all-wheel drive drops those numbers to 40, 34, and 37 mpg respectively. The non-hybrid front-wheel drive models get 28 mpg in the city, 34 mpg highway, and 30 mpg combined. Adding all-wheel drive lowers efficiency to 27, 32, and 29 mpg respectively. Check out our in-depth CR-V review here.

Driving and Performance

2024 Honda CR-V Front Exterior - automobiles.honda.com
2024 Honda CR-V Front Exterior - automobiles.honda.com

Out on the road, both SUVs offer a nice ride and smooth handling. Mazda has earned a reputation over the last twenty years for tuning their cars and SUVs to be responsive and fun to drive. The CX-5 offers a slightly livelier feel in the steering and response. While it’s not a Miata by any means, it comports itself well and is rewarding the drive on a curvy road. The Honda CR-V also offers a nice balance between responsive handling and comfort. While it doesn’t share the same cohesively sporty feel as the Mazda, the Honda feels like it has a bit more immediacy in its responses thanks to a lower curb weight.

When you put your foot down, you’re unlikely to be blown away by either SUV, save the powerful, turbocharged CX-5 models. The CX-5 Turbo is the obvious choice for those seeking speed as it can reach 60 mph in about 6.6 seconds. The hybrid models offer the most spirited acceleration of the CR-V lineup, with 60 arriving in about 7.6 seconds. The base engines in both models take about 8 seconds to hit 60 mph, however, the experience is a bit different. The Mazda’s base engine is naturally aspirated which results in a more immediate throttle response, plus it has a six-speed automatic that responds quickly. The Honda’s base engine is turbocharged which tends to dull response a little as the turbo needs time to spool up when accelerating. When combined with the continuously variable transmission, the CR-V lacks the level of responsiveness found the Mazda. Towing is limited for both models, with the Mazda rated for a max of 2,000 pounds and the Honda 1,500 pounds.

Comfort and Interior

The interiors of these two SUVs follows their exterior designs. The Mazda CX-5 has an interior that is more upscale and richer in appearance. There is less visual clutter thanks to simple climate controls and graceful lines. Interior leather colors include black, parchment, red, terracotta, Caturra Brown Nappa. Mazda even offers genuine layered wood trim to add additional elegance. Even the base trim gets heated front seats. A heated steering wheel is offered on higher trims, as is ventilated front seats and heated rear seats. The infotainment system in the CX-5 follows a different direction than most, with the screen mounted relatively high on the dash so it’s closer to your line of sight. It offers a handy knob to navigate the features that lives below the gear shifter for easy access. The 10.25-inch screen has touch functions, but is a little more of a stretch to reach. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all models, with higher trims getting wireless connectivity. Mazda offers a Bose audio system with ten speakers for an excellent listening experience.

In the Honda CR-V, the environment is also very nice, but looks maybe a little more utilitarian than luxurious. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in amenities or features, it’s simply a different presentation. The base trim is the only one to forgo heated front seats. Honda does not offer ventilated seats on the CR-V, but the top trim does come with a heated steering wheel. The hybrid models get catchy orange stitching to add a little visual verve to the interior. While the CR-V’s up infotainment system has a slightly smaller screen, measuring 7 inches on lower trims and 9 inches on upper trims, the touchscreen is easier to reach. The CR-V also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto on all models, and the upper trims offer wireless connectivity. On the top trim, you’ll find a Bose Premium sound system with 12 speakers.

If interior space is important, you’ll find that the Honda offers a bit more space in just about every dimension. Despite having nearly the same wheelbase, the Honda is a couple inches longer, which it uses to its advantage. Front legroom in the Honda measures 41.3 inches to the Mazda’s 41.0 inches. The rear seat passengers also benefit from more space in the CR-V 41.0 inches compared to 39.6 inches in the CX-5. The Mazda has a little extra headroom, however, with 39.3 inches up front and 39.0 inches in the rear while the CR-V has 38.2 inches for both front and rear passengers. Honda holds the advantage for cargo space with 39.3 cubic feat behind the rear seats (hybrid models offer less with 36.3 cu-ft) and 76.5 cubic feet with the rear seats folded. The Mazda on the other hand holds just 30.0 cubic feet behind the rear seats and a max of 59.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

Trims and Features

2024 Honda CR-V - automobiles.honda.com
2024 Honda CR-V - automobiles.honda.com

The Honda CR-V offers six trims. The base LX model gets the 1.5-liter turbocharged engine and gets some basic niceties like Honda Sensing Safety & Driver Assistive Technologies, cruise control, automatic climate control, and ambient lighting. The next step up is the EX trim with heated front seats, a power adjustable driver’s seat, and a dual-zone automatic climate control system. The top non-hybrid trim is the EX-L which gets genuine leather trimmed seats, a two-position memory driver’s seat, and jumps up to the 9-inch touchscreen infotainment system. The first hybrid trim, the Sport Hybrid, gets the hybrid powertrain, and features roughly equivalent to the EX trim. The Sport-L Hybrid trim is roughly equivalent to the EX-L trim, but with orange interior stitching. At the top of the CR-V range is the Sport Touring Hybrid which gets features like a hands-free power tailgate, 19-inch wheels, and a heated steering wheel.

The CX-5 comes in eight different trims. The base is the S Select trim and it gets the naturally aspirated 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive, and Mazda’s i-Activsense safety technology. The S Preferred trim upgrades to things like a power rear liftgate, power moonroof, and genuine leather seats. Step up from there to the S Carbon Edition and you’ll get the 10-speaker Bose audio system, optional red leather, 19-inch wheels, and exclusive Polymetal Gray Metallic paint. The Premium trim gets the adaptive front lighting system, body color heated side mirrors, SiriusXM Satellite radio, and the 7-inch LCD display. The S Premium Plus gets a windshield-projected head up display, a wireless phone charger, heated and ventilated front seats, and a heated steering wheel. Jump into the Turbo models with the Carbon Turbo and you get the powerful turbocharged engine, gloss black exterior trim, the optional Zircon Sand Metallic paint. The Turbo Premium model gets heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, power folding side mirrors. At the top of the range, the Turbo Signature trim benefits from things like body color exterior trim, a Signature badge, a frameless auto-dimming rearview mirror, and Caturra Brown Nappa leather-trimmed seats.

The Verdict

2024 Mazda CX-5 - mazdausa.com
2024 Mazda CX-5 - mazdausa.com

Just like chocolate and vanilla ice cream, one of these two SUVs is likely to appeal to you more. Both are delicious, but only one will be your favorite. The Honda CR-V is more spacious, offers superior fuel efficiency, and more interior passenger and cargo space. However, the Mazda CX-5 attracts with a curvier exterior design, more upscale interior, and impressive performance from its turbocharged engine. The Mazda speaks more to my heart while the Honda speaks more to my head. It’s a tough choice, but I think I would choose the Mazda CX-5 based on its power and driving dynamics, but would not feel at all inferior in the Honda.

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Jim Carlson

For Jim Carlson, a passion for cars goes back to riding in his uncle's 1971 Corvette! That established a lifelong interest in cars that hasn't subsided. Whether he's detailing a car, going for a drive, or walking through a car show, Jim takes the time to appreciate what makes a car 'go.' He’s especially fond of sports cars. Jim's reviews and articles are filled with a broad knowledge about cars, but he also puts to use his fiscal expertise, thanks to a Bachelor's Degree in financial management from the University of Minnesota, Morris.

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