25 July 2012

2013 Mazda CX-5 Buyer's Guide.2013 Mazda .CX-5 Buyer's Guide

MSRP: $20,995 - $28,595
MPG Range: 31 - 35 mpg
In the 15-some years that have passed since the launch of the first-generation Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V, two pioneers in what would become the compact crossover segment, things have changed tremendously. Not only did someone coin the term "crossover," but segment entries have multiplied exponentially while shedding almost all traces of their frumpy, confused origins. Of course, despite the small crossover's continually increasing popularity, not everyone is convinced. Most car lovers continue to profess a preference for hatches and wagons, only moving to minivans with gritted teeth when more space is needed under the cover of practicality. But wagon-loving enthusiasts are a sliver of the population, while crossover-loving families continue to multiply. The segment-leading Honda CR-V, for example, outsells the Dodge Grand Caravan and Chrysler Town & Country minivans combined.

Opting for this breed of family car doesn't necessarily mean languishing in automotive purgatory. The latest crop, particularly the all-new 2013 Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape, brings style and driving fun to the table in addition to the usual mix of practicality and a rich feature set. This test's three other CUVS--Kia Sportage, Volkswagen Tiguan, and Honda CR-V (the reigning compact crossover king, victorious in the last comparison) -- also have some style and fun worked into their DNA. But which one represents the best combination, not to mention value -- a huge factor in the decision-making process of a new family that no longer has the disposable income it once did.

All five front-drive crossovers you see here cost around $30,000, give or take a grand or two, are powered by four-cylinder engines (two even have turbos), and are fitted with navigation systems. Our proving ground? The freeways, avenues, and twisty backroads in the suburbs east of Malibu.

5th Place: 2012 Volkswagen Tiguan
More Is Less
By: Scott Evans

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Front Three Quarters

"Show me the money" is an oft-used movie quote, and if you want to see the Tiguan's money, it's under the hood, not on it. There were two things we all agreed on when it came to the VW: All the value is in the drivetrain, and the price tag is rather steep.

"Where's the value? You're paying for an engine here and nothing else," associate editor Rory Jurnecka opined. Executive editor Ron Kiino agreed. "Powertrain is great. This is what you're really paying for."

It certainly is a best powertrain. The Tiguan was the quickest to 60 mph (by more than half a second) and through the quarter mile. Editors loved the smooth, torquey engine and its quick- and smooth-shifting six-speed automatic.

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Rear Three Quarters

But we were disappointed with the ride quality. Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman declared it "really poor, especially compared with the Ford and the Mazda. Worse than the Honda, for sure, and maybe a tick better than the Kia -- maybe." The Tiguan rode hard and transmitted every bump into the cabin, though the impacts were never harsh or violent. Unfortunately, the VW didn't fare much better in the corners, where it felt tall and tippy -- traits exacerbated by the flat seats -- and sapped our confidence.

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Front Three Quarter In Motion
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Engine
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Cockpit

The track told the same story. The Tiguan set the fast lap on the figure eight with the highest average g, but mostly thanks to its strong engine. The 0.80g average it pulled on the skidpad fell on the low end of mid-pack. Braking from 60 mph, meanwhile, fell to the back of the pack at 123 feet, due in part to its virtually tied-for-heaviest curb weight of 3489 pounds.

2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Side

Most of our concerns, though, were between the doors. As tested, the Tiguan was priced at least $1770 more than rest, but we had trouble seeing the value. For $31,345, we got a car with navigation, a panoramic sunroof, automatic windows all around, seat heaters, and rear-seat ventilation, but no automatic climate control, power seats (except the driver's seatback), leather, or automatic headlamps. While it wasn't missing any key feature, we couldn't help but note that the rest of the field had all the same features, and in some cases more, for less money. It didn't stop there. Complaints went against the smallest seats-up cargo area in the test, the heavy and hard-to-actuate folding rear seats, the plain and downmarket interior, and the rather pointless mesh sunroof cover.

In sales, more-for-less deals work. Less for less is a no-brainer. Less for more, though, just doesn't make sense. That, in a nutshell, is why the Tiguan finishes in fifth.
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Front End
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Badge
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Instrument Gauges
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Rear Seating
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Center Stack
2012 Volkswagen Tiguan Driver Seat

4TH PLACE: 2012 Kia Sportage
Beauty Is Skin Deep
By: Michael Febbo

2012 Kia Sportage Front Three Quarters

Kia has a reputation for approaching any category as a value proposition. Indeed, in this test, its well-equipped $28,600 Sportage EX wore the most attractive as-tested price tag. Unfortunately for the Korean brand, the only car it "outvalued" -- as in, the one most of us would buy after the Kia -- was the Tiguan. Further, about the only unique amenity on the Sportage was the cooled driver's seat -- apparently the passenger can deal with a sweaty backside -- though its extensive list of niceties can't be overlooked: navigation, smart key with push-button start, backup camera, 18-inch wheels, panoramic sunroof, heated mirrors, LED daytime running lamps.

2012 Kia Sportage Rear Three Quarters

Our testers all complained about suspension and chassis issues, calling the ride harsh yet poorly controlled. Kia has a knack for making a suspension too stiff and inaccurate, producing all the negatives of a sporty suspension with none of the positives. Online production manager Kirill Ougarov wondered, "Who tuned this suspension? Did anyone?" Jurnecka commented, "Wow, this thing is all over the place on Mulholland. Feels like in every corner it's trying to head in a different direction. Tons of body roll." Associate editor Scott Evans added, "Worst ride quality. Very hard, unnecessarily so. Lots of head toss, especially on the freeway." Lieberman summed it up as "goofy."

2012 Kia Sportage Front Three Quarter Turn
2012 Kia Sportage Engine
2012 Kia Sportage Cockpit

While opinions on the suspension were pretty unified, they differed on the interior. Everyone seemed to like the design, but felt let down by the materials. The dash is a beautiful piece of style executed in hollow-feeling molded plastic. Most of the vehicles in this comparison use a variety of soft-touch and hard plastics, but Kia appeared to cut more corners. The seats were described as everything from "as hard as a wooden chair" to unsupportive to plain hurtful. Nor was it just the seats. Lieberman aimed his sights right in front of his face, at the helm: "My nephew has toy dinosaurs made of nicer stuff than this steering wheel. Why would you make the part of the car the owner (and potential owner) touches the most the single worst-feeling part?"

2012 Kia Sportage Side

The second-least-powerful 176-hp Kia was, unsurprisingly, the second-slowest vehicle from zero to 60 (9.1 seconds) and in the quarter mile (17.0 seconds at 81.2 mph). Everyone judged its six-speed automatic as the most seamless and responsive. Everyone also loved the Sportage's lowest as-tested price, lofty level of equipment, and standout styling. It still looks like it could double as an eye-catching concept. Its modern lines and best proportions made this the most admired exterior of the group. Sad to say, the marginal performance combined with aggravating ride comfort and handling really knocked it down in the rankings.

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