Twin Test

THIS MONTHíS NEWCOMER TAKES ON THE CLASS BENCHMARK

The contenders

Strictly speaking the Mazda CX-5 isnít a Ďnewcomer,í but the force-fed petrol engine thatís just been transplanted into its snout is definitely a fresh addition to Mazdaís likeable mid-sizer. Displacing 2.5 litres and augmented by a turbocharger, itís lifted almost wholesale from its bigger CX-9 sibling and gets us a little bit excited. After all, the formula of adding a big engine to a small car is one thatís delivered great results in the past, although this time itís not powerto-weight thatís the attractive proposition, but a great deal more low-down tractability and everyday driveability than the carry-over atmo petrols that sit beside it in the CX-5 range.

The Escape ST-Line, meanwhile, is a familiar face. Also rocking turbo power and all-paw under-bits, the Escape is a Wheels favourite by virtue of its agility, value and stout straight-line performance. However, with the CX-5 now flexing more torque, is the Fordís dynamic edge enough to keep it relevant?

Equipment and value

Itís a pricey thing, but the Mazda comes packed out with a 360-degree parking camera display, powered tailgate, head-up display, sat-nav, Apple Carplay/ Android Auto, appealing leather upholstery and, of course, one of the biggest petrol engines in its class. Safety aids comprise AEB (which works at speeds between 4km/h to 80km/h as well as in reverse), lane-departure warning and blind-spot monitoring.

In the blue corner, the Escape ST-Line mirrors most of the Mazdaís equipment list when specced up with the optional $800 Tech Pack, meaning major differences arenít many and mostly boil down to the absence of a HUD. The kicker? the Escape ST-Line is a sub-$40K offering, while Mazda asks $49K for the CX-5 Akera, given its flagship status. Even though the Ford needs to drink pricey premium unleaded and will happily slurp 91-octane, the Fordís proposition is simply sharper, thus handing it the win for this round.

Space and comfort

Hop between the two and youíll instantly note that the CX-5, which launched in second-gen form in 2017, is a full generation ahead of the 2012-vintage Escape. The interior of the Mazda is more sophisticated, cohesive and ergonomically sound than the plasticky, dated Ford. Accessing the ventilation controls on the Escapeís lower dash is hampered by that high-set gear shifter, and the dash vents simply serve to freeze your fingers rather than cool your face. The Mazdaís driving position also feels more car-like and natural, but some may prefer the upright, more commanding SUV-like posture you need to pilot the Escape comfortably.

When it comes to seats, though, the ST-Lineís deeper bolsters and microsuede panels feel better beneath your bum and behind your back. Then again, the Mazdaís larger and more practical 442L boot capacity (versus 406L) tips the balance toward the CX-5 here.

How they drive

Thereís a hot-hatchy feel to the way the Escape ST-Line connects your fingertips to the front wheels. Itís decisive and fast-reacting, but with just enough on-centre relaxedness to not feel fidgety on straight highways. Intriguingly, though, it layers commendable ride comfort on top of that dynamic aptitude Ė a true achievement given its sportsoriented damper settings, 10mm lower springs and low-profile Continentals. And though it may lack torque relative to the Mazdaís grunty 2.5 turbo, the Escapeís engine feels more lively and willing to spin, with a six-speed auto that executes intelligent shifts.

The Mazda has muscle, no doubt about it, but a sensitive ride over low-amplitude bumps and a transmission that seems a tad too willing to kick down a gear donít gel with the engineís relaxed yet strong low-end torque delivery. A re-tune would cure those ailments, no doubt, but right now itís the Ford that boasts the edge out on the street.

A question of priorities

THE VICTOR

Shoehorning the 2.5-litre turbo into the CX-5 has resulted in the best mid-sized Mazda SUV to date, but the cost disparity between it and the similarly specced Escape ST-Line is hard to justify if things like cabin design are secondary considerations for you. The Escape feels just as quick and actually rides better than the Mazda, which cements the outcome. Value and dynamics give Ford the win.