Although the line between SUV and crossover has become blurred over time, what isn’t debatable is how popular the latter is. Crossovers like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4 are some of the best-selling vehicles in their company’s respective lineups. In fact, Car and Driver reports that in 2019, the CR-V and RAV4 were the #5 and #4, respectfully, best-selling vehicles in the US. Only the Big Three’s trucks did better.
Not on that list is the Mazda CX-5. This is another compact crossover, but one that some consumers tend to ignore. Does it have what it takes to compete with the segment best-sellers? YouTube team Throttle House decided to find out.
How the crossovers compare
Throttle House wanted to give each crossover the best possible chance. So, the duo brought along each model’s highest trim level, all 3 of which have standard all-wheel drive.
The 2020 Honda CR-V Touring starts at $33,250—roughly $8000 over the base CR-V LX. Like all CR-Vs, it has a 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder making 190 hp and 179 lb-ft, linked to a CVT. The EPA rates it at 27 mpg city/33 mpg highway; Car and Driver saw 32 mpg during its highway testing. In addition to Honda’s driver-assistance suite, as well as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the CR-V Touring comes with features like heated seats and steering wheel, satellite navigation, a power liftgate, and a wireless phone charging mat.
The 2020 Toyota RAV4 Limited, with a $35,870 MSRP, also has a four-cylinder, only it’s a 2.5-liter one. With an 8-speed automatic, it makes 203 hp and 184 lb-ft and is rated at 25 mpg city/33 mpg highway. Toyota recently added Android Auto, and the RAV4 is the only one of the 3 crossovers to feature multiple terrain settings for its AWD system, as well as a dedicated snow mode.
The 2020 Mazda CX-5 Signature is the most expensive of the 3, starting at $37,155. However, it’s also the most powerful: even on 87-octane gas, its 2.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder makes 227 hp and 310 lb-ft. And if you run it on 93-octane, that gets bumped up to 250 hp and 310 lb-ft. The EPA rates the CX-5 at 22 mpg city/29 mpg highway, but Car and Driver actually saw 32 mpg on the highway, matching the CR-V. Mazda recently made many ADAS features standard, which helps make the CX-5 the only IIHS Top Safety Pick+ here (the other 2 are Top Safety Picks).
The Mazda CX-5 shines in design and handling
Although some clump all crossovers together into one amorphous blob, these 3 have definitive individual strengths and weaknesses.
Both Motor Trend and Car and Driver praised the Mazda CX-5 on the strength of its design and handling. The CX-5 was a Car and Driver 10Best Award recipient in 2019 and 2020 for those very reasons. And MT claimed the lower-trim Grand Touring “merely a Lexus badge away from bougieing its way” out of its compact crossover comparison.
Throttle House agreed with that assessment: the CX-5 has real wood trim and the highest interior material quality of the 3. It also has more headroom than the RAV4 and has a significantly quieter interior, thanks to double-pane glass. In addition, Car and Driver, Throttle House, and Edmunds lauded the CX-5 for how well it rides and handles.
Unfortunately, the CX-5 has both the smallest passenger room and cargo space. And though its seats are definitely well-bolstered, they’re not as comfortable as the RAV4’s or CR-V’s.
The Honda CR-V is the practical choice
Throttle House wasn’t as taken with the Honda CR-V, finding its infotainment slightly outdated and its handling poorer than the Mazda’s. However, most crossover owners won’t be taking their vehicles on the racetrack. And once that gets dropped, the CR-V shines.
MT named it its 2018 SUV of the Year, and it beat the CX-5 in MT’s recent compact crossover test. It has the comfiest ride and seats of the 3 and the largest rear cargo space. And although Edmunds found one or two questionable ergonomic decisions, overall the CR-V is the most practical crossover in this comparison.
The Toyota RAV4 was redesigned for 2019. Unfortunately, it seems Toyota may need some more time on its compact crossover. Both Throttle House and MT found the RAV4’s powertrain to be wheezy and coarse, and Edmunds reports it’s not as comfortable as the CX-5 or CR-V. In fact, Throttle House preferred the RAV4 hybrid over the non-hybrid versions.
And while the RAV4 has more rear cargo space than the CX-5, it has less headroom. Car and Driver found the Honda CR-V had better features, more refinement, and was overall a better value than the RAV4.
Which crossover is best?
Ultimately, the decision is between the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5.
In ranking the Mazda CX-5 above the Toyota RAV4, Car and Driver reported that “in a field full of mainstream nameplates, the CX-5 feels like a full-blown luxury offering.” If you value design, luxury, and sporty handling, the Mazda is the crossover for you. It certainly was for Throttle House.
Overall, though, the win goes to the Honda CR-V. Its combination of interior and cargo space, practical design and features, and cheaper price make it better day-to-day than the CX-5 or RAV4. You can even get it as a hybrid.
No wonder Honda sells so many of them.
Follow more updates from MotorBiscuit on our Facebook page.