Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

All four of these used SUVs have a rock-solid reputation, and should beat anything winter can throw at them. But which one should you choose?...

Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The Contenders

Honda CR-V 2.2 i-DTEC SE auto

List price when new £27,745

Price today £15,500

Available from 2012-present

The fourth-generation CR-V is the most family-friendly of them all, with loads of space

Kia Sportage 2.0 CRDi 134 KX-3 4WD auto

List price when new £25,935

Price today £15,000

Available from 2010-2016

The Sportage started life as the cheapest car here, but it’s held its value well

Mazda CX-5 2.2D Skyactiv-D 175 Sport AWD auto

List price when new £28,395

Price today £16,000

Available from 2012-2017

Clever Skyactiv technology gives the CX-5 superb performance and economy

VW Tiguan 2.0 TDI 140 Bluemotion Tech 4Motion SE DSG

List price when new £27,510

Price today £15,000

Available from 2007-2016

Good handling and versatile cabin make the Tiguan hugely desirable

price today is based on a 2013 model with average mileage and full service history, correct at time of writing

Buying an SUV to help you cope better with icy roads is all well and good, but it amounts to naught if it breaks down before you’ve even had a chance to put it to the test.

That’s why reliability is such an essential part of the decision-making process for many SUV buyers – and it’s why a strong reputation counts for so much in this area.

It’s one reason why Japanese manufacturers have had so much success. Their dependable reputation has seen their SUV sales soar, with cars like the Honda CR-V and Mazda CX-5 becoming immensely popular in recent years.


Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

Volkswagen, too, has always had a great reputation in the UK for building high-quality cars. The recent diesel emissions scandal doesn’t seem to have had a huge effect on that – meaning the Tiguan is still widely thought of as a dependable choice.

But are these models’ reputations justified – and if so, are they also good enough in other areas to make them worth your while? If not, you might want to turn to Kia. It isn’t well-known as a builder of reliable cars, but it has offered a seven-year warranty on all its models since 2010.

As a used proposition, that makes the Sportage very tempting – after all, of all of our 2013 models on test here today, it’s the only one that still has a chunk of its manufacturer’s warranty left. Might that be enough to tip the balance in its favour? It’s time to find out.

What are they like to drive?

The CX-5 is the lightest and most powerful car here, so it’s no surprise that it’s the quickest by some margin. But even more impressive than the CX-5’s outright pace is its flexibility. Its engine pulls hard from 1500rpm, yet keeps on delivering smooth power right up to the 5200rpm redline. Only the six-speed automatic gearbox fitted to our test car disappoints; it’s rather sluggish to change down.

The CR-V’s engine is nowhere near as strong as the CX-5’s running out of puff at about 4000rpm, but it still offers plenty of mid-rev muscle. Sadly, the CR-V’s automatic gearbox feels antiquated. Changes are far from snappy, and there are only five gears, so the gaps between them are relatively big and the engine can drop out of its sweet spot. On the upside, smooth initial pick-up means the CR-V is the easiest car to drive in stop-start traffic.

The Tiguan’s 138bhp diesel engine is powerful enough in two-wheel-drive versions, but this 4Motion model weighs an extra 115kg. That takes a toll on performance. The car still feels nippy in town, but overtakes on faster roads require planning.


Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The Tiguan’s coasting function disconnects the engine from the gearbox when you back off the power at motorway speeds, allowing fuel-saving freewheeling. The downside is that there’s a lengthy delay when you get back on the accelerator while the seven-speed gearbox re-engages.

The Sportage is slower still. Even with only two people on board its 134bhp diesel engine its feel short of breath, and fully loaded it really struggles. The unresponsive six-speed automatic gearbox doesn’t help.

The CX-5 is not only the fastest here, but it’s also the most invigorating to drive. Body roll is well controlled, even through tight twists and turns, and there’s also an impressive amount of front-end grip. The steering is accurate, but less impressive at low speeds when it feels curiously heavy, making parking manoeuvres are a bit of a chore. Urban bumps and potholes send jolts through to your spine, too, but both the steering and the ride improve dramatically with speed.

But while the CX-5 impresses in lots of areas, refinement isn’t one of them. There’s a loud roar from under the bonnet whenever you put your foot down, and a steady drone at motorway cruising speeds. As if that weren’t bad enough, the CX-5’s tyres generate quite a bit of noise at the national limit, and wind can be heard whistling around the base of its windscreen.


Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

The CR-V’s diesel engine is gruff, too, but in other respects it’s quieter than the CX-5. Occupants are well isolated from tyre roar and suspension noise, and the wind noise that builds up around the chunky door mirrors never becomes loud enough to get on your nerves.

Because it’s the biggest and heaviest car here, though, it’s not surprising that the CR-V feels most like an old-school 4x4 to drive. It leans quite dramatically on winding country lanes, the steering is slow and the whole car shimmies around on patched-up road surfaces. It can thump over potholes, too, although ride comfort is generally decent; it soaks up big bumps well.

The car that really disappoints, however, is the Sportage. While there’s plenty of give in its suspension, that vertical travel isn’t well controlled, causing body bounce on uneven roads. The steering is lifeless too, making the Sportage unnerving to drive – though it does have the tightest turning circle.


Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan

You’ll also find the Sportage isn’t very relaxing when you’re on the move, thanks to its boomy engine. You notice this less on the motorway – but that’s only because it’s partly drowned out by the excessive wind and road noise.

That leaves the Tiguan, which is limo-like in this company. It’s far quieter than the other three cars at a 70mph cruise, with very little engine, road or wind noise reaching the cabin. Even when the engine is cold or you’re revving it up to the redline, it remains impressively refined and emits little vibration.

Tiguans usually strike a fine balance between comfort and control, but when fitted with the sports suspension and 18-inch alloy wheels that were both optional when new – as per our test car – the ride becomes decidedly choppy. We’d strongly recommend sticking with the standard set-up, because the Tiguan still handles sweetly on this. If anything, the Volkswagen feels even lighter on its feet than the Mazda, although its steering is also unnecessarily meaty at low speeds.

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Used test – dependable SUVs: Honda CR-V vs Kia Sportage vs Mazda CX-5 vs Volkswagen Tiguan