The redesigned Honda CR-V and new Mazda CX-5 appear to have a lot in common. These small SUVs seat five passengers, are of similar size, and cost about the same. So far so good. But when we dig deeper, two distinct personalities emerge.
The CR-V is more of a family-oriented model than the Mazda. Our $26,455 EX trim has a large, easy-to-access back seat, plenty of cargo room, and a standard backup camera. Hondas have a well-deserved reputation for smooth, fuel-efficient powertrains, and the new CR-V delivers. We measured 23 mpg overall, making it competitive among small SUVs. Plus, with 185 horsepower, it's no slouch off the line. And if a comfortable ride is high on your priority list, the CR-V is among the best small SUV choices.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a fun-to-drive small SUV, the CX-5 has it all over the CR-V. We found the Mazda athletic and engaging, with responsive steering and well-contained body lean that remains unfazed in bumpy corners. And even with a high fun factor, the CX-5 also delivers the best fuel economy in its class - 25 mpg overall -thanks to Mazda's new Skyactiv technology. And despite the sporty demeanor, the rear seat is surprisingly roomy. One surprise: our midlevel Touring trim line also included a blind-spot monitoring system, a feature not usually found in a $27,000 vehicle.
But as good as the CR-V and CX-5 are, the Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester still outscore them. How, you may ask? The Mazda is hurt by a noisy cabin, a taut ride on the highway, and an underpowered feeling engine during routine driving. The CR-V's downsides include excessive road noise, large rear corner blind zones caused by the styling, and less than tidy at-the-limit handling.