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Buyers looking for the perfect medium SUV are faced with a bewildering array of options in what has become Australia’s fastest-growing vehicle segment.
This year, a staggering one-in-seven of all new vehicles sold have fought in this class, and there are more than 20 offerings from all over the world tussling for your love and money. Nothing creates quality quite like competition.
At the mainstream end of the market, no two cars have struck the balance between populism and quality as well as the Mazda CX-5 and Hyundai Tucson — both of which have just scored mild updates for the 2017 model year as a pre-emptive strike.
To really see what this quartet has to offer, we’ve chosen variants at the upper end of each line-up. Each sports four-wheel drive for the occasional dusty trail, and a petrol engine for city-friendliness. All are major players for their makers, for different reasons.
Moreover, each of these four presents a strong case to be your next family crossover or couple’s getaway car. But which is the most compelling against our criteria?
Price and equipment
The cheapest vehicle here is the mid-range Volkswagen Tiguan Comfortline 132TSI at $41,490 plus on-road costs.
Next is the Renault Koleos Intens ($43,490), then the just-updated MY17 Mazda CX-5 GT ($44,090 — $360 cheaper than before) and the Hyundai Tucson Highlander ($45,450 — increased by almost $2000 last month).
Each of these cars comes well equipped, though arguably not compared to a medium-sized passenger wagon such as a Mazda 6/Volkswagen Passat with more space and an equivalent price tag. The price you pay for ride height.
Standard on all four cars are: satellite-navigation, cruise control, rear-view camera displayed in a touchscreen, auto headlights, multi-zone climate control, airbag protection for all occupants and five star ANCAP or NCAP ratings.
All bar the Volkswagen get a sunroof (a full-length glass roof on the Renault and Hyundai, a smaller one on the Mazda), leather seats with electric adjustment and seat heating, blind-spot monitoring and keyless push-button start. These can be optioned on the VW easily, but at a cost.
However, the Tiguan fights back with several exclusive features of its own, being the only car here with Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring, tri-zone climate control, a multitude of drive modes, Park Assist and four one-touch power windows.
Furthermore, the fact that our Tiguan Comfortline test car was a few grand cheaper than the others (an issue brought about by the fact that the flagship Highline is too expensive for this test) afforded us the luxury of ticking the box on an options pack.
We opted for the $2000 Driver Assistance Package that made the VW the equal-cheapest car here, rather than cheapest outright.
This pack adds radar-guided adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, an Audi-style full digital instrument cluster that can show maps and more, power-folding mirrors and a 360-degree camera — mostly unique features here.
Beyond this, the Renault and Hyundai alone offer a handy electric tailgate. The Mazda counters with exclusive memory seats. Only the Mazda and VW offer low-speed autonomous braking. The fantastically equipped French-Korean Renault is alone here in offering auto high-beam, ventilated seats and DAB+ digital radio.
From a purely spec-based point of view these cars are hard to split, once you’ve priced the VW up to an equivalent level, though the lack of a sunroof and leather as standard hurt its chances — not to mention the lack of a starter button. An old school key? Really?
We particularly commend Mazda for last week adding a heap of extra safety features in a class that sorely needs them (blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, autonomous braking) and also Renault, which has leveraged the price-friendly Korean sourcing of the Koleos to good effect and loaded up the car beyond expectations.
On a side note, we rarely spend much time on looks, but the VW’s small wheels and pared-back design makes it the least inspiring entrant on first impression. And those halogen headlights? They don’t fit the Premium for the People image.
The Renault Koleos is much cooler than its Nissan X-Trail platform sibling, though there’s a slight chrome overdose up front. Some in our office loved it, others less so. Your call.
The CX-5 remains a sporty, curvaceous and handsome offering to our eyes as well, while the Tucson on its new alloy wheel design is arguably the finest-looking medium SUV you can buy. It’s seriously swish.
On first appearances, the Hyundai Tucson Highlander’s cabin lacks a little flair, but a closer look reveals a well-made and ergonomic environment that should stand the test of time. Austere, yes. But considered. Functional but lacking flair.
The exception to this is the fantastic full-length sunroof that’ll keep passengers entertained.
The 8.0-inch screen is equal second-largest here alongside the Tiguan. It offers most requisite features (though no Apple CarPlay/Android Auto like the base Tucson Active, weirdly) the graphics are functional but drab. As we mentioned in our long-term reviews of a Tucson Active X, the Bluetooth phone quality is also average.
Pictured above: Hyundai Tucson
The back seats offer decent space, though the headroom is impinged upon slightly by that panoramic roof. The front seats have hard plastic backs that are child-friendly, and like the Renault and Mazda, are split 60:40 and lack adjustment.
Occupants get reading lights, grab handles and rear air vents, plus large windows to see out of (though the C-pillar is close to your head). All four cars tested have ample room for two adults in the rear, and ISOFIX seat anchors with mandatory top tethers.
Hyundai claims cargo space of 488L expanding to 1478L with the seats folded flat from the side of the car (there are no flipping levers in the cargo area). The cargo length is about 180cm. Under the floor is a full-size matching spare wheel, which is commendable. Unfortunately this eats into the underfloor storage for the detachable cargo blind.
Pictured above: Hyundai Tucson
The Renault has a cool and modern cabin, with large digital instruments and a portrait oriented display with the biggest diameter here (8.7 inches), that breaks up into tiles and can show maps and radio menus simultaneously. Shame there’s no volume knob though, even if that 12-speaker Bose system is potent.
There are a multitude of menus to wade through, but the car is very customisable. You can change the skin colours of the screen and ambient cabin lights, and even reduce the click-clack noise of the indicators.
Furthermore, the plastic quality is quite good for the most part, there are some Nissan parts-bin switches such as those on the windows, and the starter button. There are some hard bits but it all feels pretty solid and well made. There’s ample cabin storage too.
Pictured above: Renault Koleos
The Koleos is the biggest car here and offers outstanding rear legroom, and the sunroof really bolsters the ambience without hurting headroom for those 180cm or under. Impressively, rear passengers don’t just get rear vents — they also get two USB points for phone charging. No other car here offers that.
The cargo space is a claimed 458L, expanding to 1690L with the seats folded flat via the clever ‘flippy’ levers in the cargo area. The cargo floor is the second longest here, the R17 spare wheel is almost full size, and there’s a good removable sliding cargo blind.
Pictured above: Renault Koleos
The Volkswagen’s obvious austerity rankles at first. The diamond-pattern cloth seats look great, but they’re not as nice as the others’ leather (ditto the rough door trims). Ditto the missing sunroof and the key you have to turn in the barrel, 1990s-style.
But our optioned-up example (still equal-cheapest here) has the best safety suite as mentioned, that brilliant Audi TT-style virtual cockpit instrument layout that adds a touch of glamour, very high material quality and switchgear, brand-staple flocked door pockets and the best cabin storage solutions.
From a design perspective, the multitude of interesting shapes make the Tiguan’s understated cabin appear more interesting than a Golf, and its clear 8.0-inch screen offers Apple CarPlay/Android Auto. The VW has the best audio quality too.
Pictured above: Volkswagen Tiguan
The German also has the best rear seats, because they tilt and slide. It also has the equal-best legroom, superior head- and shoulder-space, and the biggest side windows with non-intrusive pillars. The ambience is simply fantastic despite the missing sunroof.
The cargo space is a claimed 615L/1655L, which redresses the old Tiguan’s appalling lack of space, while the two-stage loading floor, load hooks and flippy levers are good. That said, the space-saver spare wheel under the floor is speed-limited to 80km/h.
Pictured above: Volkswagen Tiguan
In typical Mazda fashion, the CX-5 GT has fantastic surface quality and premium materials, with expensive-feeling plastics (aside from the shoddy piece surrounding the small 7.0-inch screen), ample leather padded areas and contact points and damped switches.
The analogue driver’s instruments look great but the Mazda needs a digital speedo, while the chunky steering wheel is the nicest here. From an ergonomic perspective, the proprietary BMW-aping MZD Connect rotary dial operated multimedia system with shortcut buttons is benchmark.
Pictured above: Mazda CX-5
The quality of the Bose sound system is very good, as is the user interface of the infotainment. On the downsides, the seats are flat and lack bolstering — something common to many Mazdas.
Rear legroom is on par for the class, and the materials though a grade below what’s used up front don’t feel overly stingy. The ambience is good, the head/legroom is useable and the ambience cannot be undone by the lack of air vents. In summer I may change my mind.
Pictured above: Mazda CX-5
The cargo area, however, has capacity of only 403L/1460L, and like all cars here it has a shallow loading floor and a friendly lip. Kudos goes to Mazda for the 40:20:40 folding seats though, the excellent clip-on cargo blind and the flippy levers that drop all three bench sections.
If you want bling and pizazz, the Renault wins. If you want upmarket designer style, it’s the Mazda. If you want a bulletproof feel and the best rear seats, go the Tiguan. All will handle your prams and other assorted gear with ease.
All entrants here are petrol-powered and use AWD configurations for weekend getaways.
Naturally, considering Australian buyer tastes, all contenders also have automatic transmissions fitted. All models bar the Renault can be had with diesel engines, though that'll be added in 2017.
Powering the Renault Koleos is a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol shared with the Nissan X-Trail, producing 126kW at 6000rpm and 226Nm at 4400rpm. The transmission is an efficiency focused CVT, and the AWD system is an on-demand setup with a low-speed lock mode.
The engine lacks torque down low, forcing the continually variable transmission to keep engine speeds high, and therefore adding noise and vibration to the cabin. It’s pokey enough around town, with immediate throttle response, but grabbing a gap or overtaking isn’t the easiest. The Renault’s drivetrain is the least inspiring here.
The Hyundai’s engine is a 1.6-litre turbocharged unit that embraces the modern methodology of downsizing. It makes 130kW at 5500rpm and 265Nm between 1500rpm and 4500rpm, and its this broad peak torque band that makes it so tractable and refined.
The gearbox is a seven-speed DCT dual-clutch automatic designed to save fuel. Like many gearboxes of this type, it has a few moderate moments of hesitation when driven around town, notably under point-and-shoot driving, and will yield rollback without anti-creep Auto Hold enabled. That said, it’s strong in terms of rolling response.
As with the others, the AWD system is of the front-biased on-demand variety, and here it also offers a 50:50 lock mode for scrabbly surfaces.
As with the Renault, the Mazda uses a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre engine, but it produces a superior 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 4000rpm, making its torque more useable. The six-speed auto with torque converter is also more decisive, refined and has an aggressive sports mode that prompts angry downshifts in delightful fashion.
In typical Mazda fashion, the engine lacks a little low-down punch, and it’s very noisy on cold starts, dulling refinement. On the plus side it has a fantastic idle-stop system. The AWD system uses sensors to detect front-wheel slip, and send some torque to the rear.
The Volkswagen Tiguan has the best engine outputs here, from its 2.0-litre turbocharged unit. The 132kW (between 3900 and 6000rpm) and 320Nm (between 1500 and 3490rpm) makes it the best performer on test, in terms of rolling response and engine noise.
The seven-speed DSG dual-clutch gearbox is a little less hesitant around town than the Hyundai's, though it’s still clunkier than a torque converter 'box such as the Mazda’s. Our test car’s unit had a moderate ‘knock’ at times, which took the edge off the refinement.
The 4Motion AWD system also includes various off-road modes that adjust the throttle calibration, gearbox characteristics and even the ESC tuning on a surface-dependent basis, which is clever.
In terms of fuel economy, it should come as no surprise that none met their manufacturer (ADR) claims on the combined cycle. On this basis, the CX-5 leads by using 7.4 litres per 100km, ahead of the Tiguan and Tucson on 7.7L/100km (95 RON in the VW), and the Koleos (8.3L/100km).
Our testing yielded returns around 20 per cent inferior to these claims, with the CX-5 winning, just ahead of the Tiguan, Tucson and Koleos in that order. That’s a big tick to the Mazda, and proof its SkyActiv high compression engines practice what the company preaches.
All told, then, the running order from worst to best in the engine and transmission department is: Renault Koleos, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 (thanks to its urban manners and fuel use) and Volkswagen Tiguan — with an honourable further mention to the VW’s clever off-road mode systems. German victory here.
Though all of these cars offer AWD, none will ever tackle much beyond gravel tracks if you look at the average buyer survey. We focused principally on a mixture of urban streets, regional B-roads, highway stints and twisting blacktop.
Around town, the Koleos impressed us least, not just on account of its drivetrain. The NVH suppression is middling, and while its front dampers soak up impact inputs well, the rear thumps loudly over sharp hits, and the body control over undulations is the worst here.
On the plus side, the Renault’s electric-assisted steering is pleasant to twirl in carparks, and the driving position is great. It also has excellent Bluetooth phone clarity at highway speeds.
In more challenging surrounds, the Koleos again proved decent at absorbing sharp inputs on initial compression, but the rear skittishness and ample lateral movement (body roll) negated the experience. Ditto the scrubbing (a symptom of easily coaxed understeer) from the poor Nexen tyres.
The Mazda CX-5 has the brand’s tenets of feelsome steering with good resistance, a perky throttle calibration and aggressive and decisive gearbox tune, and firm but not uncomfortable suspension/damping that rounds off hits nicely enough.
At higher speeds we noted the typically high levels of road noise to be found, and while the handling remained solid up to 80 per cent, body control falls off a cliff close to the limit. The flat seats also need more bolstering.
The Hyundai Tucson sports Australian-developed suspension, and in many ways it’s a marvel. Despite the huge 19-inch wheels on slim rubber, it soaks up potholes, gravel tracks, speed bumps and more with disarming skill. It’s remarkable, and quiet to boot.
The softer suspension setup, which has near-perfect damper control with decent rebound force at urban speeds, does however turn to a little less body control if you hustle, with more lateral movement than the pinned-down Tiguan. The overall composure of the Hyundai is stunning still.
We’re sick of the Tiguan winning, but it really is such a well-sorted package. The higher-profile tyres help round off sharp hits, though the suspension is stiffer than the Hyundai and the damper force stronger, meaning it’s more rigid over speed bumps and the like. It’s very Germanic in this way, offering more control but less comfort.
The steering is also weightier than the Tucson’s, while at higher speeds its body control and handling rival the average small hatch. It carries on the legacy of the old one, and the strong throaty engine allows you to go hard.
If you do a lot of gravel driving, though, consider the Tucson. If you do purely urban driving and can’t get along with the DSG go the Mazda. If you want to most rounded suspension package and the most quietude on highways, go the Volkswagen.
The Mazda CX-5 offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, though you have to pay a nominal fee for roadside assistance each year unlike many brands. Mazda’s dealers generally perform at or near the top of the industry in terms of customer satisfaction.
The CX-5’s servicing costs using its service price calculator are $1896 for the first six visits (covering 60,000km or up to six years) at the provided intervals.
Volkswagen offers a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty with roadside assist, and capped price servicing with better 12 month/15,000km intervals. Prices at the current levels for the first 60,000km are a steep $2829 (that’s over four years).
The Renault Koleos is backed by an excellent warranty with a span of five-years and unlimited kilometres and full roadside assist. Intervals are up to 12 months or 30,000km (massive), with the first three visits costing a very sharp $299 per visit, meaning you might spend as little as $590 for 60,000km. This is dependent on vehicle use.
The Hyundai gets a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, up to 10 years of free roadside assist if you service the car at a Hyundai dealer. However, it has poxy service intervals of just 7500km or six months. The first 60,000km will cost $2022, but there’ll be many dealer visits.
There’s little doubt that these four new or updated medium SUVs are all great offerings in a bustling segment.
The Renault Koleos is a quantum leap over its predecessor, with newfound style outside and in, plenty of cabin space and tantalising value for money.
The Hyundai Tucson is handsome, well-supported, capable and competent family crossover that anyone discerning could very happily live with. Its urban ride is little short of sublime.
Splitting the Tucson from the Mazda CX-5 is tough, and you could really go either way. Much of the discrepancy varies from variant to variant, but we prefer the Mazda’s drivetrain and cabin layout, as well as its excellent new safety features and superior servicing intervals. These points will make the Mazda CX-5 the winner to many, and it’d be simple to understand why.
But, for me, it’s the Volkswagen Tiguan that wins, predictably enough. It lacks some key features, but has the most flexible cabin and is the best to drive. With our options pack it also offers superior safety and infotainment, addressing the other shortfalls.
Look beyond this paucity, which we readily say Volkswagen Australia should be kicked for by not including, and it’s still the one I’d drive away from the showroom floor. But its win in Comfortline spec is not as decisive, over its older opposition, as one might have first speculated.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.
|HyundaiTucson Highlander||MazdaCX-5 GT||RenaultKoleos Intens||VolkswagenTiguan|
|Engine||1.6-litre turbo-petrol||2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol||2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol||2.0-litre turbo-petrol|
|Power||130kW at 5500rpm||138kW at 5700rpm||126kW at 6000rpm||132kW between 3900 and 6000rpm|
|Torque||265Nm between 1500 and 4500rpm||250Nm at 4000rpm||226Nm at 4400rpm||320Nm between 1500 and 3940rpm|
|Transmission||Seven-speed DCT||Six-speed auto with torque converter||CVT||Seven-speed DSG|
|Fuel economy combined-cycle||7.7L/100km||7.4L/100km||8.3L/100km||7.5L/100km|
|Braked towing capacity||1600kg (download of 120kg)||1800kg (download of 150kg)||2000kg||2500kg (download of 100kg)|
Listen to the CarAdvice team discuss this comparison below, and catch more like this at caradvice.com/podcast.