New MG HS vs Citroen C5 Aircross vs Mazda CX-5

The Citroen C5 Aircross and Mazda CX-5 are the best benchmarks for the new Chinese-built MG HS...

New MG HS vs Citroen C5 Aircross vs Mazda CX-5

The contenders

Citroen C5 Aircross Puretech 130 Feel

  • List price - £24,435
  • Target Price - £21,368

Promises to be as relaxing as a hot bath, but is its tiny petrol engine punchy enough?

Mazda CX-5 2.0 Skyactiv-G SE-L Nav+

  • List price - £25,600
  • Target Price - £23,517

Our favourite five-seat large SUV is great to drive and exceedingly reliable.

MG HS 1.5 T-GDI Exclusive 

  • List price - £22,995
  • Target Price - £22,995

Very well equipped and has a punchy engine, despite its budget price.

Without wishing to sound like old fuddy-duddies, things just aren’t what they used to be. Not too long ago, you could buy yourself a sizeable car for £20,000 and still have change for a foreign family holiday. Today, you can easily spend that on a VW Polo and still find yourself wanting to plunder the options cupboard.

But before we wear out our rose-tinted glasses, let’s consider these three family haulers. Not only are they large, high-rise SUVs with roomy interiors and big boots, but they also all cost less than £24,000 after dealer discounts. In other words, they enable you to get a large SUV for hatchback money.

The first is no stranger here; the Mazda CX-5 is our favourite sub-£25,000 large SUV in entry-level trim. Next up is another familiar face: the Citroen C5 Aircross, this time in a bargain spec we haven’t tested before. But can our newest contender, the MG HS, surprise both? Not only can you get the Exclusive model, stuffed full of toys, for this money, but it also promises a sumptuous interior.

Citroen C5 Aircross driving

On the road

Performance, ride, handling, refinement

Each car comes with a six-speed manual gearbox and sips petrol, but the C5 Aircross has a diddy turbocharged 1.2-litre three-cylinder engine with 129bhp. With 160bhp from its 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo, the HS looks strong, but it’s still beaten on paper by the naturally aspirated 163bhp 2.0-litre unit in the CX-5.

However, Mazda’s refusal to turbocharge means acceleration is only brisk when you’re working the engine hard, so the CX-5 is actually the most lethargic when pulling from low revs; often, you must shift down a gear or two if you want to build speed quickly.

If it’s performance you want, the HS is the quickest when racing through the gears. It’s also pleasingly strong if you ask it to slog from low revs in a high gear. And although the C5 Aircross is slowest in a drag race, it’s the happiest to pull from low revs, making for relaxed progress.

Mazda CX-5 driving

Helping matters is a hushed engine that contributes to the C5 Aircross being the quietest cruiser. The engines in the others are noisier, with the HS’s especially rowdy. Both suffer from more wind and road noise than the C5 Aircross, too; the HS’s gusting is particularly noticeable at 70mph.

The CX-5 has the firmest suspension of the bunch, so it fidgets the most and has the least comfortable ride at low speeds. The upside is that it feels the most controlled and composed over dips and crests on faster roads. The HS is a little softer, so although you still feel the road beneath you, its suspension takes the edge off most bumps. Squishy suspension makes the C5 Aircross the comfiest, with only nasty potholes and ridges causing it to thud. 

The flipside is that the French car leans the most around corners and nosedives and pitches the most when you brake or accelerate respectively. However, once you’re used to the rather light and lifeless steering, you’ll find there are no nasty vices – just that it’s not at all enjoyable to drive quickly. 

MG HS driving

Thankfully, the HS leans far less and has more pleasingly weighted steering that gives you a better sense of connection with the front wheels. However, it’s the CX-5 that sways the least and feels the most stable and at ease during fast direction changes. Although you have to apply a fair amount of lock to negotiate tighter turns, you can guide the front wheels precisely. 

In addition, the CX-5’s gearbox, with its short throw, is the most enjoyable to use, closely followed by that of the HS. Shifting in the C5 Aircross is like stirring porridge in comparison, due to a long and decidedly vague shift action. 

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