Mazda CX-5 vs VW Tiguan

Here's an endearing phrase that former Volkswagen New Zealand boss Dean Sheed left with us before he moved on: "fishing in a bigger pond".

In the past year or so, the VW brand has been growing by reaching down into mass-market territory with new entry-level models, tempting buyers out of Japanese/Korean vehicles into a genuine European badge.

Latest bait is the Tiguan TSI, a 2.0-litre petrol-turbo model that saves you $4500 over the Tiguan TDI and comes in slightly lower (but still generous) specification. At $48,750, it foots it with mainstream crossovers.

But there's a problem: the latest generation of mass-market models in this segment have become very sophisticated indeed. None more so than the Mazda CX-5, which in its $43,990 GSX trim, with a 2.0-litre petrol engine, is a worthy match indeed for the pseudo-posh VW.

The Tiguan has proven technology but it all works brilliantly. The direct-injection engine makes 132kW/280Nm, provides brisk acceleration and achieves combined economy of 8.7 litres per 100km.

The CX-5 is the first Mazda to showcase the complete suite of SkyActiv high-efficiency technologies (covering everything from powertrain to body construction).

The direct-injection, high-compression, low-friction engine makes 114kW/200Nm and delivers 6.4 litres per 100km.

Both cars have six-speed automatic transmissions. The CX-5 is 114mm longer than the Tiguan but 19kg lighter. The VW has the power-to-weight advantage, but the Mazda has a sprightlier feel thanks to the quick-shifting character and early torque converter lockup of its new SkyActiv-Drive gearbox.

The Tiguan, remember, has a conventional automatic rather than the sporty dual-clutch DSG fitted to most other models in the VW family.

Only in kickdown response does the CX-5 seem second-best: it's keen to hang on to the highest gear, while the Tiguan is more eager to please.

The Tiguan has firmer, more consistent steering (the CX-5's power assistance modulates in strange ways at times) and an utterly predictable cornering character, but the Mazda is far more engaging and always willing to let you adjust the cornering line a little.

Both vehicles impress with their ride and mechanical refinement. The Tiguan has a creamy engine note that can make the CX-5's sound coarse.

The Tiguan is hardly sparse, but does come with much less equipment than its CX-5 rival. Items like the Mazda's dual-zone climate air conditioning, satellite navigation and reversing camera are all extra-cost options on the Tiguan.

The Tiguan's interior is typically VW: a bit bland, but gorgeously soft materials and faultless build quality. The CX-5's plastics aren't as consistently tactile and the switchgear is less precise, but it's ergonomically sound and interesting to look at.

The Tiguan has more luggage space (470 litres versus 403), although the CX-5's cargo bay is superbly versatile with a 40/20/40 split rear seat and quick-release latches for the seatbacks at the rear of the car.

It's easy to be tempted by the classy Tiguan. But its quality and badge credentials still don't compensate for the CX-5's lower price, superior equipment, entertaining demeanour and sheer efficiency.

Opt for the CX-5 GSX in front-drive form, as pictured here, and you can save a further $2000. In fact, for Tiguan TSI money, you can have the CX-5 GSX 2.2-litre diesel (superior to the petrol version in every way) all-wheel drive and some change.

The bottom line

Tiguan has a quiet sophistication that's lacking in the CX-5. But the Mazda wins on technology, equipment and fun-factor. The Japanese car has the character that's lacking in its German rival.

BT-50 commercialcare disclaimer

** is also available to new BT-50 owners where every scheduled service completed by Mazda specialist technicians for a 3 year/100,000km term (whichever wherever occurs first) will cost no more than $200 (incl. GST) per service for models built after 1 November 2012. *** 3,350kg applies to earlier models.

* whichever occurs first