First Drive

Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan are great family cars, with plenty of space and an excellent view of the road ahead, but which is the better buy? Read on to find out

Words ByBarnaby Jones

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The Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan are great family cars. They have plenty of space for your brood, they look far more interesting than a traditional family car and their raised seating makes getting in and out easier and provides an excellent view of the outside world.

Choose the right version and they wonโ€™t cost much to run, either โ€“ but which one is best, and what else do you need to know? Read on to discover how to get a brilliant family SUV.

What are the Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan like inside?

You should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel of either car, but itโ€™s the Tiguan thatโ€™s most impressive from the driverโ€™s seat. The materials look and feel that bit classier than the CX-5โ€™s, and the major controls are easy to use and are up high on the dashboard, whereas those in the Mazda are lower down. Both cars feel solidly put together, though, so should withstand family life.

Things are reversed in the rear seats. Whereas the Tiguan is decent enough for a couple of six-foot adults, theyโ€™ll have more stretching room in the CX-5. The Mazda also has a smaller central floor tunnel, so a middle-seat passenger will be more comfortable, too.

Which has the most practical boot?

If your family doesnโ€™t travel light, the CX-5 is the better bet. Not only does it have the biggest boot, it has the lowest and widest boot opening as well. Unlike the Tiguan, itโ€™ll easily take a family of fourโ€™s luggage for a couple of weeks away.

Both have rear seats that fold almost flat at the tug of a lever, but again itโ€™s the CX-5 that has the most space. The Tiguan does have a few neat tricks, though. Its rear seats slide individually, so you can favour boot or rear-seat space. Either way, itโ€™s still not as roomy as the CX-5, although the fact that the rear seats also recline helps improve comfort (the seatbacks of those in the CX-5 are fixed).

All but entry-level Tiguans also have a front passenger seat that folds flat โ€“ perfect for those trips to the DIY store.

What are the Mazda CX-5 and VW Tiguan like to drive?

Both feel more like family hatchbacks than high-sided SUVs. The CX-5 is agile and has plenty of grip and accurate steering, so itโ€™s genuinely fun to drive.

The payoff for this sporty set-up is a firm ride. Hit a bump around town and youโ€™ll certainly know about it, but things are more comfortable at higher speeds, where the suspension does a better job of isolating you from the worst road surfaces.

The Tiguan doesnโ€™t feel quite as keen to tackle corners as the CX-5 โ€“ itโ€™s still pretty nimble for an SUV, mind you โ€“ but then it does have a more comfortable ride. Just avoid the optional sports suspension; it doesnโ€™t improve the handling significantly and makes the ride jittery.

Oddly enough, the steering in both cars is pretty heavy at low speeds, so manoeuvring can be a bit of a chore.

The CX-5 feels faster than the Tiguan. The two 2.2-litre diesel engines pull strongly from low revs, so youโ€™ll rarely have to work them hard to make brisk progress. Thereโ€™s also a 2.0-litre petrol, although this needs plenty of revs before it gets going, and even then it doesnโ€™t feel particularly swift.

Three 2.0-litre diesel engines are available in the Tiguan, but while they deliver their power smoothly, theyโ€™re not as gutsy as the diesels in the CX-5. The petrol versions have impressive on-paper performance figures, but youโ€™ll appreciate the dieselsโ€™ superior low-rev shove in real life.

One area where the Tiguan clearly beats the CX-5 is refinement. Its engines are smooth and generally quiet, and thereโ€™s little wind or road noise to disturb you. Thatโ€™s not something you can say about the CX-5: youโ€™re always aware of wind and road noise on the motorway, and although the lower-powered diesel engine is hushed and incredibly smooth, the higher-powered one is a little too noisy.

Are they available with automatic gearboxes, and what about four-wheel drive?

Yes, but only on certain versions.

If you want an automatic CX-5, youโ€™ll have to go for a diesel engine. Both the 148 and 173bhp versions can be specified with an automatic gearbox; depending on which model you go for, this costs either ยฃ1200 or ยฃ1300. The cheapest automatic CX-5 is ยฃ24,595. The six-speed gearbox is pretty smooth, but it can be slow to drop a gear when you need a burst of acceleration.

The lower-powered diesel CX-5 is available with two- or four-wheel drive, while the higher-powered version is four-wheel drive only.

You can get a diesel- or petrol-powered Tiguan with an automatic gearbox. The quick-shifting seven-speed โ€™box is available with the two most powerful petrol and diesel engines. Again, the price varies according to which model youโ€™re buying, but itโ€™s around ยฃ1500. Prices start at ยฃ25,985 for an automatic Tiguan.

You also get a choice of front- or four-wheel drive, but again, it depends on the engine you go for. The 1.4-litre petrol and 138bhp diesel are available in both forms, whereas the two 2.0-litre petrols and the 175bhp diesel are four-wheel drive only. Four-wheel-drive models with manual gearboxes are more difficult to drive smoothly than two-wheel-drive ones, though, so unless you must have 4WD, stick with a 2WD version.

Which trim should I go for?

Stick with entry-level SE-L trim if youโ€™re buying a CX-5. It comes with plenty of kit โ€“ including dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors, automatic lights and wipers, Bluetooth, cruise control and a touch-screen control system โ€“ while keeping the purchase price attractively low.

The Tiguan is best in mid-level Match trim. This is good value and comes with lots of desirable equipment, such as touch-screen sat-nav, a digital radio, dual-zone climate control, part-Alcantara seats, automatic lights and wipers, Bluetooth, front and rear parking sensors and a system that takes care of the steering for you when parallel parking.

Are there any optional extras I should add?

There are few optional extras available on the CX-5; in fact, the only ones on SE-L models are sat-nav and the paint colour. At ยฃ700, the user-friendly sat-nav system isnโ€™t too expensive, so itโ€™s well worth considering.

Thereโ€™s not much to add to the Tiguan, either, but thatโ€™s because it comes with most of the kit you need as standard. The winter pack (heated seats and windscreen washer jets) is good value at ยฃ265, and if you park in a narrow street, the ยฃ150 electrically folding door mirrors are also worth having. Weโ€™d also recommend one of the fixed-price service plans, which will save you money on servicing costs.

How easy are the infotainment systems to use?

Both cars have USB and aux-in sockets, so you can hook up your MP3 player or phone, but the Tiguan (from Match trim upwards) is alone in having an Apple-specific connection.

It also has the simpler touch-screen system. True, the 5.0-inch screen is a little small, but the icons and buttons are big enough for you to press easily, and the on-screen menus are intuitive.

The Mazdaโ€™s 5.8-inch touch-screen is supplemented by a rotary controller between the front seats, but the on-screen icons are pretty small, so itโ€™s not quite as easy to use as the set-up in the Tiguan.

It wonโ€™t take you long to get to grips with either system, though.

What about running costs?

Neither of these cars will break the bank, but the Tiguan will cost slightly less to run.

They should use similar amounts of fuel. Diesel CX-5s with manual gearboxes have claimed economy of between 54.3 and 61.4mpg; similar Tiguans are less impressive, but still pretty economical at between 48.7 and 53.3mpg.

When we subjected both cars to our True MPG real-world economy tests, though, the results were far closer. The two-wheel-drive 148bhp manual CX-5 managed 47.2mpg, whereas the four-wheel-drive 138hp Tiguan did 44.8mpg.

The CX-5 will set you back less in company car tax and VED. Go for the two-wheel-drive 148bhp model with a manual gearbox and youโ€™ll pay company car tax on 19% of its taxable value. VED is just ยฃ30 a year, too. An equivalent Tiguan has figures of 23% and ยฃ130 a year.

The Tiguan is cheaper to lease, though. Our favourite model, the 2.0 TDI 140 Match, will cost you ยฃ317 a month, whereas a similarly equipped CX-5 โ€“ the 2.2D 150 SE-L โ€“ is ยฃ337. The Tiguan is also cheaper to insure and to service.

Resale values are the Tiguanโ€™s real trump card, though. Our favourite model should retain 55% of its original value after three years, whereas the CX-5 will keep 51% - thatโ€™s a difference of nearly ยฃ450.

Which is the safest?

Both cars were awarded the maximum five stars in their Euro NCAP crash test, but the CX-5 got the higher individual scores. It did a better job of protecting adult and child occupants, and got a significantly better pedestrian protection rating.

Safety kit is similar in each. Both have front, side and head airbags, stability control and Isofix child-seat mounting points on the two outer rear seats. The CX-5 also automatically applies the brakes at up to 20mph if an impact is imminent, while top-spec models have the option of systems thatโ€™ll warn you if thereโ€™s a vehicle in your blind spot or if the car begins to wander out of its lane on the motorway.

The Tiguan has none of these, but it counters with the option of side airbags for the rear seats, which arenโ€™t available on the CX-5.

So which should I buy?

The Mazda CX-5 is the better car. Itโ€™s got a larger, more practical cabin than the Tiguan, will cost less to buy and has plenty of equipment for the money. Itโ€™s also more fun to drive than the Tiguan and is similarly cheap to run. Buy the 2.2D 150 SE-L at our Target Price and youโ€™ll have a superb family SUV with a strong and smooth diesel engine for less than ยฃ22,000.

The VW Tiguan is still a fine choice, though. Itโ€™s got a classy interior, and itโ€™s more comfortable and refined than the CX-5. If you donโ€™t need as much cabin and boot space, and would find the smaller Tiguan easier to park, itโ€™s still worth consideration.