Ford Kuga vs Volkswagen Tiguan vs Mazda CX-5
Ford hopes to muscle in on the compact SUV class with its facelifted Kuga. How does it fare against VW Tiguan and Mazda CX-5?
Ford is currently in the middle of a big product push, with new models coming thick and fast. From SUVs to city cars and everything in between, the firm is trying to fill every gap in the market. The latest addition to the line-up is the new Kuga, which is a heavy reworking of the second-generation model.
Featuring bolder looks, a range of revised engines and a refreshed model range, the newcomer is ready to wade into battle in the evolving and increasingly competitive compact SUV class. This sector comprises a host of talented choices, including the recently launched Volkswagen Tiguan. Boasting a mixture of premium appeal, impressive practicality and cutting-edge kit, the rugged German machine presents a stern challenge.
So does the Mazda CX-5. It’s the oldest model here and soon to be replaced, but is still on top of its game. The CX-5 has sharp handling, handsome looks, a classy cabin and plenty of standard equipment, and delivers strong driver and showroom appeal.
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi ST-Line
|2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 178bhp
|Annual road tax:
The latest Ford Kuga is an update of the second-generation model that made its debut in 2012. Featuring refreshed looks, a tweaked interior, revised engines and a rejigged trim line-up, the newcomer aims to give the brand a bigger slice of the lucrative compact SUV class.
Car group tests
- Ford Kuga 2.5 Hybrid ST-Line X Edition 2021 review
- New Ford Kuga PHEV 2020 review
- Ford Kuga Titanium 2.0 EcoBlue 150 2020 review
Used car tests
There’s a choice of two and four-wheel drive, plus the option of 1.5-litre petrols and diesels. There’s also a larger 2.0-litre TDCi in two states of tune, and we test the more powerful 178bhp AWD auto here. The car costs £31,795 in new ST-Line trim.
The 178bhp 2.0-litre is nearly 10bhp down on the VW’s engine, so it was a surprise to find that the newcomer matched its rival from 0-60mph, with a brisk time of 8.4 seconds. However, the Ford wasn’t able to disguise its chunky 1,716kg kerbweight as effectively during our in-gear tests, where it trailed both the seven-speed Tiguan and torquey Mazda.
On the road, however, this shortfall is negligible. The Kuga’s TDCi engine is remarkably refined, only becoming intrusive when worked hard – although with a useful 400Nm at 2,000rpm, you rarely have to extend the unit to make quick progress.
Less impressive is the PowerShift gearbox. The six-speed unit delivers smooth and rapid shifts when cruising, but at low speed it trips over itself and struggles to find the right gear. On the plus side, there are now handy gearshift paddles instead of the old car’s tiny, lever-mounted rocker switch.
And as before, the Kuga delivers taut handling. There’s plenty of grip, while the torque vectoring system helps keep the car locked on your chosen line. As with the Mazda, the steering is well weighted, plus the stiffened sports suspension delivers decent body control.
The trade-off for this agility is the firmest ride on test. The Kuga settles down at speed, but around town it follows bumps and potholes. Head for the rough stuff and the Ford is the least capable choice. Its all-wheel-drive system sends torque to the axle with most grip, but there are no off-road aids such as a centre differential lock or hill descent control.
Testers’ notes: “The Kuga is available in luxurious Vignale guise. Featuring a bespoke bodykit, special leather seat trim and dedicated dealers, this flagship model starts at £30,445.”
|VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI SE Nav
|2.0-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 187bhp
|Annual road tax:
This second-generation Tiguan hit showrooms last year, and represented a step upmarket for Volkswagen’s compact crossover.
We’ve already sampled the entry-level two-wheel-drive diesel variant, so now it’s the turn of the flagship 187bhp 2.0-litre diesel, which is paired with the firm’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive transmission and seven-speed DSG gearbox. We sample it in popular £33,115 SE Nav guise – although the car in our pictures is a racy £37,005 R-Line.
With 187bhp, the VW’s 2.0-litre diesel is the most powerful unit on test – although its 400Nm torque figure is 20Nm down on the Mazda’s. In combination with the car’s four-wheel-drive traction and launch control, it accelerated from 0-60mph in a brisk 8.4 seconds, matching the lighter Kuga and surging a full second ahead of the CX-5.
The seven-speed transmission’s shorter, more closely stacked ratios gave the VW an advantage during our in-gear tests, where it was consistently faster. Only in its overdrive seventh gear does the Tiguan feel sluggish, which was reflected in its leisurely 17.8-second 50-70mph time.
As the Tiguan is based on the same platform as the Golf, it’s no surprise it drives with the same reassuring composure. It’s not as engaging as the Mazda, but it boasts more grip and benefits from direct and naturally-weighted steering. Our test car was also fitted with the £810 Dynamic Chassis Control adaptive dampers, which in their sportiest setting deliver tauter body control.
Yet the biggest benefit is the improvement in ride quality over the standard set-up. Most of the time, the VW soaks up bumps with a soft-edged plushness. VW’s 4MOTION all-wheel-drive system features an Off-Road setting that tunes the traction control for maximum grip, but the lack of ground clearance and the use of summer tyres mean you won’t want to venture too far off the beaten track.
The VW also leads when it comes to refinement, with good suppression of both wind and engine noise. It’s particularly hushed at 70mph, where our sound meter revealed it was the quietest car here.
Testers’ notes: “VW’s scalable platform means you’ll soon be able to get your hands on a seven-seat Tiguan. Set to be called the Tiguan Allspace, the newcomer is 215mm longer.”
|Mazda CX-5 2.2 D Sport Nav
|2.2-litre 4cyl turbodiesel, 173bhp
|Annual road tax:
The Mazda CX-5 is one of the sharpest-handling crossovers on sale, whichever version you go for. A recent facelift has helped keep the rest of the car fresh, plus it’s added a sheen of premium appeal. Here we test the flagship £31,195 2.2 D Sport Nav Auto version – although the car in our pictures has a manual gearbox.
The 2.2-litre diesel delivers 420Nm of torque, which is 20Nm more than both the Ford and VW. The car is also nearly 100kg lighter than its rivals here, tipping the scales at 1,628kg.
However, at the track its performance was hobbled by its automatic transmission, which didn’t lock up quickly enough off the line to make full use of the CX-5’s muscle advantage. The Mazda put in a stronger display during our in-gear tests, where it was faster than the Ford and closely matched with the Tiguan.
In the real world, the CX-5 actually feels the most responsive car of this trio, with its smooth and eager powerplant pulling strongly from 1,400rpm and revving through to the 5,000rpm red line with a petrol-like enthusiasm. And while the automatic box doesn’t change gear anywhere near as quickly as its rivals’ twin-clutch units, its shifts are smooth and it responds promptly to the throttle.
The steering is accurate and well weighted, and the suspension controls the body through bends. And while there’s not as much grip as in the Ford and VW, the Mazda’s controls deliver more feedback.
Yet while the CX-5 is reasonable over uneven tarmac, it does tend to fidget and move around, thanks to its stiff springs; it can’t match the VW, with its adaptive dampers, for comfort. Road noise is ever-present, too, due to the low-profile tyres and the car’s relative lack of soundproofing. As a result, it’s the noisiest car here at 70mph.
Like our other contenders, the Mazda shouldn’t be considered for serious off-road use. As with the Ford, it moves torque automatically to the axle with the most grip, but that’s about it for rough-road aids.
Testers’ notes: “The Mazda is available in both four and front-wheel drive. Go for the latter with the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel and six-speed manual gearbox, and emissions drop to 119g/km.”
First place: Volkswagen Tiguan
The Tiguan isn’t the most exciting SUV, but its compelling blend of practicality, premium appeal, composed driving dynamics and reasonable running costs gives it the edge over its rivals here. It’s backed up by the most sophisticated four-wheel-drive system and slickest gearbox. We’d recommend ticking the box for adaptive dampers and going for SE L trim if you can.
Second place: Mazda CX-5
Even though it’s due to be replaced soon, the CX-5 still runs the Tiguan close for victory. It’s not as spacious or refined, but it’s more fun to drive, and its engine delivers strong real-world pace and efficiency. Factor in its lower list price and long list of kit, and the Mazda still makes a fine choice for buyers wanting a handsome and great-value SUV.
Third place: Ford Kuga
The updates have kept the Kuga looking fresh, while the revised trim line-up gives buyers greater choice. As before, the Ford delivers sharp driving dynamics, plus there’s a welcome boost in refinement. Business users will also like the reasonably low emissions. But in such a competitive class, the Kuga’s practicality shortfall, lack of kit and firm ride are harder to overlook.
Is it worth waiting for…
New Mazda CX-5
Due: Summer Price: From £25kEngine: 2.2-litre 4cyl, 173bhp
The boldly styled new Mazda CX-5 promises more premium appeal and cutting-edge kit, while a slightly bigger platform will boost space. Mazda is also claiming big gains in refinement, and SkyActiv tech should mix strong pace and efficiency.
|VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI SE Nav DSG
|Mazda CX-5 2.2 D 175 Sport Nav
|Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi ST-Line
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