No class of vehicle has received more attention from automakers in the past few years than the compact crossover. The parade of new and redesigned models is good news for buyers looking for reasonable utility and efficiency in an affordable package.
The Hyundai Santa Fe Sport is fresh from a 2013 update, and the Mazda CX-5 is a completely new model. Both are highly competitive entries in a class that's already loaded with fine choices. Which does more to stand out from the crowd?
Santa Fe Sport
A slightly smaller variant of the regular Santa Fe, the five-passenger Sport follows Hyundai's current trend of generous standard equipment and ambitious interior refinement. There's evidence of both in the crisp new dashboard, a rather elegant affair that's color-keyed to match the seats and door panels. Cargo space comes in at 72 cubic feet, about as good as it gets in a small crossover.
All models carry a six-speed automatic transmission and driver-selectable electric steering. The standard 2.4-liter four-cylinder produces 190 horsepower and delivers 24 mpg in combined city and highway driving, or 22 on all-wheel drive models. The optional 2-liter turbo provides a boost to 264 horsepower and takes the Hyundai from zero to 60 mpg in a 8.1 seconds, commendable for this class.
After years of peddling rebadged Ford products, Mazda now offers an in-house compact crossover. Drivers will find the CX-5 to be more athletic than its rivals, with confident braking and smile-inducing responsiveness on twisty roads. Fuel economy from the 2-liter four-cylinder is top notch: 29 mpg in combined driving. Although its 155 horsepower is at the low end of this class, the CX-5 accelerates just as well as other non-turbo crossovers. Cargo space is competitive at 65 cubic feet, and the load floor is nearly flat.
Since it's a new model, the CX-5 lacks nothing in terms of modern conveniences and technology. The interior design is mature and highly functional, devoid of any questionable ornamentation.
What Matters More?
As usual with strong competitors, the choice comes down to personal priorities. The Santa Fe Sport offers more space and refinement, whereas the Mazda excels in fuel economy and driving dynamics.
Our Verdict: Mazda CX-5
The Mazda raises the bar on fun and efficiency in a small crossover.