But the Volkswagen has an advantage in one area: looks. The Mazda’s clean shape is enhanced by neat detailing front and rear, yet our black test car failed to stand out next to the chunky red Passat. We’d suggest a brighter colour to do the CX-5 justice, although you’d still struggle to make an impact compared to the VW.
Inside, there’s plenty of black plastic and standard black leather seats, but the large windows mean it doesn’t feel claustrophobic. Space is good, too, with plenty of head and legroom front and rear. The boot is 100 litres smaller than the Passat’s, at 503 litres, yet the seats fold completely flat in a 40:20:40 split.
There are handy recesses behind the rear wheelarches where you can put small items to stop them rolling about. Another neat touch is the load cover that’s attached to the tailgate. It lifts out of the way for unhindered access to the boot, and is far better than the Passat’s.
The Mazda has a fully electric driver’s seat, so it’s a lot easier to get comfortable here than in the VW. The dashboard is well laid out, too, but the mix of white backlighting for the instruments and orange for the console looks a little old-fashioned. Another quibble is with the multimedia control behind the gearlever. It’s similar to BMW’s iDrive, but while it’s okay to use, it’s set quite low down. It’s easier and less distracting to reach for the same controls on the stereo instead.
Fire up the 2.2-litre engine and the familiar diesel rattle soon settles to a quiet hum. When you’re on the move, the engine is smooth and powerful, while our automatic test car was more responsive and had much better acceleration than the heavier manual VW. There was plenty of roll in corners thanks to the soft suspension, but the car has lots of grip. And Mazda’s focus on saving weight has paid off – the CX-5 feels much livelier than the Passat in corners, with sharp turn-in and a greater eagerness to change direction quickly.
On the road, the two cars perform quite similarly, with most bumps being soaked up easily, despite a firm ride. Off-road, the Mazda’s only driving aid is four-wheel drive, but the taller ride height and shorter overhangs, especially at the rear, let it tackle bigger obstacles than the Passat can.
The CX-5 also has the edge on costs. There’s less than £100 between their purchase prices, but the Mazda has more kit – heated leather seats are standard. Options such as sat-nav and a towbar are cheaper than on the VW.
The Mazda’s efficient 2.2-litre diesel means lower tax bills than for the VW, even though it’s more powerful. So the important numbers add up for the CX-5. The question is whether it adds up overall against the Passat Alltrack.