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Mazda CX-5 vs. Toyota RAV4

A reinvigorated challenger edges out the champ

Consumer Reports magazine: June 2013

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For years, the RAV4 has been one of our highest-rated small SUVs, going neck and neck with the Subaru Forester and capturing that class’s Top Pick honor in 2011 and 2012. So many people have anticipated its 2013 redesign. Would it have the goods to retain its top spot in a class that has seen a number of recent redesigns? We now can say that the new RAV4 has emerged as a very solid package that’s versatile, efficient, and easy to live with. And the redesign brings some welcome changes, such as more agile handling and an easier-to-use rear hatch that lifts up instead of swinging to the side.

But what came as a surprise is that the Mazda CX-5, which received a stronger, more-spirited engine for 2013, would edge out the RAV4 in our road-test scores, albeit by a single point. Both SUVs placed just below our 2013 Top Pick, the Honda CR-V.

If the CX-5 has been a sleeper among small SUVs, its new 184-hp, 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine will wake people up. Included in mid- and top-trim models, the new four feels more muscular and provides much quicker acceleration than the pokey 155-hp, 2.0-liter four in the CX-5 that we tested last year and that’s now relegated to the base Sport trim. And it got the same impressive fuel economy: a best-in-class 25 mpg overall.

The CX-5 is also one of the more fun-to-drive SUVs we’ve tested, thanks to its agile handling. Plus, it has a surprisingly roomy interior and comfortable seats. Drawbacks include a noisy cabin, so-so ride comfort, and a relatively high price that doesn’t include several features found on competitors, such as heated seats and automatic headlights.

The RAV4 is every bit as compelling. With 24 mpg overall, it also stretches your fuel dollars farther than most competitors. And its agile handling and spirited powertrain make it enjoyable to drive. A roomy interior, super- easy access, and mostly intuitive controls add to its appeal. For 2013, Toyota has dropped the optional third-row seat, which few people will miss, and the sprightly, efficient V6 engine, which some will miss. Knocks? The ride borders on being overly firm, the cabin is fairly noisy, and some interior trim is quite basic.

Overall, the CX-5 and RAV4 are capable, well-equipped vehicles that provide versatile alternatives to a midsized sedan. As with many SUVs, however, don’t expect the same ride comfort and quietness of similarly priced sedans.

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