BMW X1 sDrive18d SE
List price £27,440
Target Price £25,640
The benchmark if your budget extends beyond £25k. Practical, good to drive and classy inside.
Mazda CX-5 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 SE-L Lux Nav
List price £26,595
Target Price £24,804
The biggest of our trio and the most generously equipped. Undercuts its rivals on price, too.
Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0 TDI 150 SE Nav
List price £28,035
Target Price £26,050
All-new Tiguan is bigger and more upmarket than its predecessor. It's also more expensive, though.
Moving up a league doesn’t always bring success. The rewards may be greater, but the competition will be tougher. So it is for the Volkswagen Tiguan. The one-time Nissan Qashqai and Kia Sportage rival has been reinvented as a bigger, posher and more expensive SUV, so now it’s up against formidable competition from the premium badge wearers.
Most formidable of all is the BMW X1, on of our favourite small SUV thanks to its fine driving manners and classy interior. You can spend well over £35,000 on either car, but if you can do without four-wheel drive and an automatic gearbox, you can have a diesel engine and plenty of kit for a more palatable £26k after haggling.
Or you could spend less on the bigger, even better-equipped Mazda CX-5. It’s been around a few years, but updates have kept it looking fresh, and its Skyactiv engine is still one of the finest around. Can it beat its newer, more upmarket rivals?
What are they like to drive?
All three SUVs have six-speed manual gearboxes and reasonably gutsy 148bhp diesel engines, so it’s no surprise they’re similar for outright pace. The X1 is fastest when you put your foot down and rev its engine hard, and the CX-5 is slowest, but the differences are small.
However, while the X1 and CX-5 pull willingly from low revs in higher gears, the Tiguan’s engine struggles a bit. This isn’t a major problem, but it does mean you need to change down to a lower gear to stir up a good burst of acceleration – the sort you might need when overtaking on a single carriageway.
There are bigger differences in the way these SUVs handle. The X1 sits lowest to the ground, and that’s obvious when you arrive at a corner. There’s lots of grip and relatively little body lean, while the steering is quick and precise, even though it does have an annoying habit of tugging one way then another as the tyres try to follow cambers on the road. The CX-5 and Tiguan corner more like traditional 4x4s, with noticeably more body sway. The Tiguan’s steering is much better than the CX-5’s, though; it weights up more predictably when you turn the wheel, yet stays lighter when manoeuvring at low speeds.
The Tiguan is fractionally the most agreeable on bumpy roads, smoothing over most lumps a bit better than its rivals. In the X1, you’re more aware of smaller bumps as they pass beneath you, although it does stay the most composed over nasty potholes. Mazda has certainly improved the CX-5’s ride over the years, but it’s the least settled of this trio, particularly over the patched-up back streets that are all too common in British towns and cities.
None of these SUVs is particularly hushed. Road noise is the X1’s biggest bugbear; it’s present at all speeds. There’s barely any road noise in the Tiguan, but there is plenty of wind flutter around the windscreen pillars and door mirrors, particularly at motorway speeds. The CX-5 suffers some road and wind noise and has the noisiest engine, although the Tiguan’s is also a bit gruff when you accelerate hard. In contrast, the X1’s engine is smooth and quiet.
The X1’s heavy clutch and gearchange can be a pain in stop-start traffic, but they always feel slick and positive on the move; the CX-5’s gearshift requires less effort but is nowhere near as precise. Meanwhile, the Tiguan combines the best of both worlds, with a light yet satisfying shift and well-weighted clutch pedal.
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