It seems like every manufacturer offers a compact SUV vehicle these days as an alternative to the small, family wagon range. With car-like manners and off-roader looks and practicality, a good compact SUV is a sure-fire hit with customers.
The wide range of vehicles in this class makes picking one an Herculean task, so we’ve taken a look at how three of the best offerings (by their buzzScore) from the East fare on paper in a head-to-head – Mazda’s CX-5, Nissan’s Qashqai and the Kia Sportage.
Prices & Kit
There’s a wide range of engines, kit and prices available for all of these models, with the Sportage range starts spanning £17,300 to £28,500, the CX-5 running from £21,390 to £29,800 and the relatively cheap Qashqai coming in at £16,890 to £27,650.
Opting for roughly equivalent diesel models in each range as a direct comparison, the prices are much closer:
Kia Sportage CRDi KX-2: £23,030
Mazda CX-5 2.2d SE-L: £22,995
Nissan Qashqai 1.6 dCi 360: £23,590
At this price, the Kia is pretty much specced out save for the range-topping engine option. It’s shy on leather, dual zone climate control and the 7″ touchscreen offered on the top-spec KX-4 model, but is otherwise very well appointed and is the only option with 4WD at this price. The 2WD Qashqai 360 is only a hair more expensive, but includes part leather, dual zone climate control and front, rear and passenger side cameras, displayed on the Nissan Connect navigation system in the centre console.
Like the Kia, the Mazda is also short leather at this price, but pushes the Qashqai for value. While the neat parking cameras the Qashqai 360 offers – only a reversing camera is offered on the higher spec “Sport” – give it an edge, the CX-5 includes halogen headlights and a 5.8″ touchscreen on this “base” specification SE-L. With the navigation system coming in as a £600 option – it’s £1,000 on the Kia – the Mazda is just £5 more expensive than the Nissan and on a par for kit, despite being a more powerful and quicker car.
The tale is the same up and down the ranges. Though the Kia is well-specced and the cheaper base Qashqai Visia needs some options ticked to reach the same level, the three cars are roughly pace-for-pace at most price points. The CX-5 is largely the better equipped car overall and for the money, but towards the top end all three put themselves into the firing line of the Audi Q5 and BMW X3, where badge sells better than any other factor.
The range of engines offered for the Qashqai are mind-boggling. There’s 1.6 and 2.0 litre petrol engines and a variety of 1.5, 1.6 and 2.0 dCi engines, with between 110 and 150hp available. For the large part, the Nissan is not a quick car – the most powerful 2.0 dCi is blunted by an automatic gearbox to deliver 11.0s to 60mph and 117mph, while the most potent 140hp petrol can pull it to 60mph in 10.1s and 120mph with the manual. The 130hp 1.6 dCi with a 6 speed manual as selected above manages a creditable 10.3s sprint and will go on to 118mph.
Like the Qashqai, under the Sportage there are 1.6 (133hp, 2WD) and 2.0 (161hp, 4WD) petrol engines available, while the diesel comes as a 1.7 (114hp, 2WD) or a pair of 2.0 (134hp/181hp, 4WD) engines. A manual gearbox is offered on all engines and this gives the Sportage respectable performance figures. The 134hp 2.0 diesel we selected earlier manages a 10.9s 0-60mph time, largely due to the power-sapping 4WD system slowing it up a touch.
Mazda’s small selection of engines is the most powerful across the range – the base engine is a 165hp 2.0 petrol, with a 2.2 diesel giving 150hp or 175hp. Even the 150hp 2WD 2.2 we picked earlier is a full second faster to 60mph than the Qashqai and all of the manual cars offer a 0-60mph time of around 9s. The slowest version – the automatic gearbox option on the 150hp 2.2 diesel – is still as quick as the fastest petrol Qashqai!
Tax & Fuel Economy
Despite the large performance edge, the CX-5 manages to pull respectable fuel economy figures and qualifies for low tax brackets. With a combined mileage of 61.4mpg, our 2.2 Mazda manages the equivalent of 119g/km CO2, putting it in VED band C at a rate of £30 a year – with the first year free. The Qashqai bests this with 62.8mpg, but it’s still in VED band C.
The Sportage loses out in this category, as the combined economy of 49.6mpg, representing 149g/km CO2, puts it down into VED band F for an annual rate of £135 – you can tax both of the other cars together for two years for less!
Of the two fuel-sippers, it is relevant to note that Mazda claim a higher urban fuel economy than Nissan (52.3mpg to 51.4mpg) while the Nissan manages the higher extra-urban figure (68.9mpg to 72.4mpg), so the Mazda is probably the better prospect for local tasks but the Nissan is the winner if you’re planning on doing longer journeys.
Insurance & Running Costs
Insurance is very much a dark and confusing art and on paper the Sportage has it, with an insurance group of 14, compared to the CX-5’s 18 and the Qashqai’s 22.
However, there’s a gulf between the insurance group on paper and the insurance premium you pay, so getting an actual quote is vital. Using the 35 year old author’s own details and quoting for the three equivalent models we chose earlier on a well-known price comparison website, we retrieved best quotes of £283 for the Kia, £286 for the Nissan and £290 for the Mazda – not enough of a difference to argue about.
The Mazda and Nissan both come with a 3 year/60,000 mile warranty, with additional corrosion warranty and a 12 month/12,500 mile service schedule. The Sportage comes with Kia’s industry-leading 7 year/100,000 mile warranty and requires a 20,000 mile service schedule.
With the fuel economy in mind, it’s disappointing to find the Sportage has the smallest fuel tank of the trio, giving an extra-urban range of 570 miles against the Mazda’s 850 and the Qashqai’s colossal 1,035 miles. The Kia does have the biggest seats-up boot space though, seating five folk and 564 litres of luggage – 25% more than the Qashqai.
In terms of luggage capacity, the CX-5 is tricky to beat with 1,620 litres of seats-down space. Amazingly, this is just under double what the Qashqai can manage, despite the Nissan not being significantly smaller – and the Qashqai’s rear seats don’t fold flat, making it somewhat awkward. The Mazda also excels at towing, being rated to pull a 2 tonne braked trailer compared to 1.9 tonnes for the Kia and 1.4 tonnes for the Nissan.
Each of these three cars ranks amongst the top choices in the sector so there’s no real bad choice here, but the Nissan does get the highest buzzScore of any car in this class – even premium alternatives – with an aggregate of 7.9. Notably, the diesel models all score 8.0 or better.
The Sportage is certainly the winner when it comes to budget (see the full Kia Sportage review here. Under £20,000, there’s no way to spec a Qashqai to match it and you can’t even buy the CX-5 that cheaply – but it loses out heavily in the fuel economy stakes, so the savings you make on buying it won’t necessarily represent a saving at all.
Once you reach £25,000 though, the Sportage falls by the wayside and the CX-5 range is really hard to beat. The Nissan and the Mazda are pretty much neck and neck for specification, fuel economy and price right the way up the range, but the CX-5 always keeps a nose in front with that extra – and significantly extra – pace and space above the Qashqai.