Crossovers, or compact SUVs, are an increasingly popular choice for those wanting to benefit from the extra interior space of a four-wheel-drive car, as well as the elevated driving position and with the benefits of safe and predictable car-like road handling.
Nissan’s Qashqai is a veteran in the crossover game; it was launched in 2007 and has sold more than two million units since then, and the newest version released in 2014 has been received very handsomely by buyers and critics alike.
Launched in 2012, the Mazda CX-5 arrived late to a market that, by that stage, was rather swamped with choice, but it also proved popular – so much so that the company used Mazda 2 production lines to keep up with demand.
We’ve scrutinised the new Qashqai’s facts and stats and compared them to the CX-5’s to determine which comes out on top and hopefully help those of you umming and aahing over which one to buy make a well-informed choice.
It must be tough designing a crossover. The criteria demand a vehicle that looks solid, sturdy, capable of tackling awkward terrain and surviving heavy family use, but it also must look stylish and stand out in a car-park – one that is likely to be filling up with lots of other crossovers too!
The original Qashqai was a little drab-looking, but the new one makes it clear Nissan want its new model to have a bit of road presence. The subtle bulges on the bonnet and around the wheel-arches certainly give the impression that the car is capable of going anywhere, and people will easily recognise the chevron-style LEDs on the inside of the headlights in their rear-view mirror. What’s more impressive is that it does this without looking completely imposing like a Range Rover or BMW X5.
The CX-5 doesn’t do quite so well here – generally speaking any car that is summed up as having “divisive looks” will tend to draw more negative comments than positive.
The CX-5 certainly looks like it can conquer all terrain, a little more so than the Qashqai, but that’s mostly thanks to the larger grille and more imposing front end it has. The lines down the car are more subtle, and the rear of the car is a little cluttered, but in fairness it manages to have the same premium-look to it that the Qashqai does, and sometimes that is enough to convince buyers.
Interior and practicality
Crossovers need to be family-friendly in terms practicality and durability, especially because they are often bought by parents with young children. There will be instances when they are used to go off-road as well, so the inside needs to be able to cope with the outside coming in occasionally too!
Reviewers note that the new Qashqai has slightly smaller rear-seat space when directly compared to rivals, but despite this, the amount of space available is still ample, and the comfort level of all occupants is high thanks to an incredibly well built cabin.
Said cabin provides ample headroom and lots of places to store odds and ends, and the boot-space is increased slightly to 430 litres, with a flapped boot lip making sliding objects in easy. The new Qashqai benefits from fold-flat seats which greatly improve the space available when compared to the old model – 1,585 litres are at your disposal with the rear seats down.
The CX-5 still beats the Qashqai on boot-space – 503 litres with the seats down and a single touch of a button to lower the rear seats increases this to just over 1,600 litres. The interior itself is similarly spacious, with excellent room for people in front and back thanks to it having the longest wheelbase in its class, but critics noted that the middle seat in the back is so narrow that it would prove to be a little uncomfortable even for a child.
Ultimately, the Mazda falls a little behind the Nissan on material quality – the Qashqai really is a splendid place to sit in thanks to a great dashboard and top-quality materials, whereas the Mazda, which is praised for tactile controls and decent fit and finish, makes use of rather inferior materials where there isn’t soft-plastics, and the dash has been called just a little unimaginative by the experts.
All reviews say that the best aspect of the new Qashqai is the excellent ride quality, and improved cabin refinement. The clever Chassis Control system even smooths out road imperfections when you’ve opted for the larger alloy wheels, an option which tends to ruin the ride quality when chosen on other cars.
Critics have noted that the new Qashqai has lost a little bit of its driver involvement when compared to the old one, but the loss would only be noticed by the keenest of drivers. When compared to your average family car, the Qashqai is just as responsive, comfortable and refined, and always feels safe and stable even if there is a little body-roll when cornering enthusiastically.
Those familiar with the Mazda brand may expect the CX-5 to claw back some lost ground here, and you’d be correct – although you shouldn’t be hoping for MX-5 levels of fun!
Testers have been very pleased with how sharp the handling is – the grip levels are impressive, as is the body control. One reviewer went as far as saying it provided the best driving experience in the crossover and compact SUV class.
And when the car was taken into built-up areas, it continued to perform well, remaining easy to drive and control, and more importantly park. Its one of the largest cars in its class, but it has clear all-round visibility that makes finding a suitable spot in the town-centre car park surprisingly easy.
Unfortunately, the CX-5’s ride quality and refinement aren’t quite up to the same level as the Qashqai’s – some testers found the ride a little too firm – and all critics noted the considerable amount of wind and road noise at higher speeds.
Nissan has streamlined the available engines with the Qashqai after having a rather confusing selection available with the old model. Mazda, on the other hand, has just three options – one petrol and one diesel, and the diesel is selectable with two power outputs.
The smallest unit available with the Qashqai is a petrol unit – a 1.2-litre turbocharged engine, producing a fairly impressive 113hp. Admittedly, it’s more at home for running around town or other urban areas, and if your commute takes you down the motorway or out onto larger roads, the 1.6-litre turbocharged option with 148hp may be a better bet. This unit has only just been made available and provides good in-gear acceleration.
The diesel options include a modernised 1.5-litre diesel unit, free to tax and capable of well over 60mpg, which isn’t amazingly quick but feels strong thanks to a decent amount of torque. The 1.6-litre diesel is the only Qashqai you’ll get with four-wheel drive, and with 128hp, is slightly punchier and is capable of achieving over 60mpg too.
The Mazda has a little more bulk to carry about, and compensates with beefier engines. The only 2.0-litre petrol unit makes 163hp and is remarkably efficient for a powerful petrol engine – Mazda claims 47mpg.
But for proper in-gear performance and economy, the 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesels are the ones to opt for. You can choose to have either 150hp or 175hp – both provide excellent torque from the bottom of the rev-range right up to the red-line, and 54-61mpg is superb considering the bulkier body the CX-5 has over the Qashqai.
Value for money and running costs
Crossovers are supposed to bring the security and practicality of a four-wheel-drive car with prices that are not well beyond those of family hatchbacks. The CX-5 is pricier than the Qashqai, and it’s likely the Nissan will hold its value a little better than the Mazda too, even although some might argue you get more car for your money with the CX-5.
The CX-5 certainly loses out when comparing base models. At £21,895, a 2.0-litre petrol in SE-L spec comes in at well over £3,000 more expensive than the entry-level Qashqai, the 1.2-litre DiG-T Visia. This gap is maintained when you consider the entry-level diesel engines – arguably the more desirable choices in the range – where the CX-5 with a 150hp 2.2-litre diesel is £23,695 in SE-L spec and a 1.5-litre DCi Qashqai in Visia spec is just £20,015.
When you consider the toys you get with a CX-5, however, the price gap doesn’t seem so bad. A standard CX-5 has climate control, parking sensors, Bluetooth connectivity, stop/start, cruise control and a 5.8-inch display – going up a level to Sport adds electric heated front seats with electric lumbar adjustment, leather upholstery, a CD multi-changer and a reversing camera, all before you get to optional extras.
This makes the £26,000 asking price for the 2.2-litre diesel feel more reasonable, more so when you consider the punchier engine and extra space you get for your money, and also the fact that a Qashqai of the same spec with the better engine comes in at £25,950.
The wowscores put the Qashqai as a clear winner here – 8.9 from 15 reviews compared to 7.6 from 13 reviews.
This is indicate of the fact that the Qashqai is the more accomplished all-rounder – it does everything to a very accomplished level according to critics, whereas the Mazda excels itself in some areas but falls down noticeably in others.
If you’re considering either of these cars it’s unlikely to be the badge that swings it for you – neither of these are considered to be as desirable as the offerings from Audi or Volkswagen – so it’ll really boil down to the finer requirements on your list of “must-haves” and “do-wants”.
The CX-5 is a fine choice for those wanting on-road performance and road-handling, or if you simply need the most amount of space in available in that market, whereas the Qashqai is a nicer place to be if you are doing long commutes.
The Qashqai is the one we’d recommend over the CX-5 – there’s not much in it really because the superb engines and levels of kit in the Mazda make it very tempting, but overall the Nissan is the more superior all-round package when considering interior quality, refinement, road-handling and affordability in terms of purchasing it and running it.