Editor’s note: You may want to read more of Autotrader’s model vs. model comparison car reviews as well as the 2017 Mazda CX-5 car review, the 2016 vs. 2017 Honda CR-V review and the 2017 Honda CR-V car review.
If you’re shopping for a compact family crossover, you absolutely have to look at the 2017 Honda CR-V and 2017 Mazda CX-5. These two completely redesigned models excel in so many ways that their various competitors now seem behind the times. However, they also have fundamental differences that should make them ultimately appeal to different buyers. To figure out which group of buyers you belong to, let’s look at both the new CR-V and the new CX-5 to see which might be a better fit.
2017 Honda CR-V
The Honda CR-V was completely redesigned for 2017. Principally, its greater refinement, higher-quality cabin and improved driving dynamics stand out, but it also has a larger back seat and cargo area, more ground clearance and a new turbocharged engine on most trim levels that improves fuel economy. See all 2017 Honda CR-V models available near you
2017 Mazda CX-5
Like the CR-V, the CX-5 is all-new for 2017, but it builds upon the strengths of its popular predecessor. Mazda’s compact crossover is now even sharper to drive, but importantly, it’s also more comfortable, quieter and has a near-luxury interior. Unlike the CR-V, its cargo area has shrunk a bit. See all 2017 Mazda CX-5 models available near you
Both the CR-V and CX-5 are so new that their reliability at this point must be considered a question mark. However, we would expect both cars to be among the best in their segment given their very reliable predecessors. True, the previous-generation CR-V yielded plenty of complaints about its powertrain and infotainment system, but those issues have been addressed.
Although a more efficient diesel engine is on its way next year, for now, the 2017 CX-5 can only be had with a 2.5-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 187 horsepower and 185 lb-ft of torque. It has a conventional 6-speed automatic transmission. Its fuel economy is quite good but does fall short of the CR-V’s. With front-wheel drive, it gets 24 miles per gallon in the city, 31 mpg on the highway and 27 mpg in combined driving. Optional all-wheel drive lowers those estimates to 23 mpg city/29 mpg hwy/26 mpg combined.
The CR-V offers two engines, both of which are paired to a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). The base LX trim level has a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder good for 185 hp and 181 lb-ft of torque that returns 26 mpg city/32 mpg highway/28 mpg combined with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive lowers those by 1 mpg each. That betters the CX-5 and at least matches other top competitors as well. However, the 1.5-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder found on all other CR-V trim levels outdoes everything short of hybrids, with estimates of 28 mpg city/34 mpg hwy/30 mpg combined (AWD is 1 mpg lower). That improved fuel economy is the reason to consider this engine, as its power output is comparable to the base engine’s, at 190 hp and 179 lb-ft of torque.
The CX-5 is the clear winner in terms of driver engagement. Mazda intentionally sacrificed fuel economy so that it could have better throttle response (Porsche was benchmarked) and quicker, more natural reactions from the 6-speed automatic. By comparison, the CR-V’s CVT, although good for its type of transmission, suffers from the typical rubber-band responses and droning noises.
The CX-5’s steering is also exceptional, and its control around corners fools you into thinking you’re driving something far more athletic and even fun. If you’re trading in a smaller, sportier car, the CX-5 should make the transition much easier and could be a no-brainer choice as a result. At the same time, however, this Mazda is also impressively quiet, and its ride should be supple enough for most.
Now, having said all that, it’s hard to be disappointed by the CR-V. It’s well-rounded to drive, displaying no bad habits and making your journey easier whether it’s long, short, free-flowing or snarled in traffic. Like the CX-5, it also got a welcome increase in refinement and decrease in noise for 2017, and although the CVT is far from perfect, both available engines produce strong acceleration.
In other words, nothing about the CR-V will make you frown, but the CX-5 just might make you smile.
Interior Space, Quality & Design
Like its handsome exterior styling, the CX-5’s cabin should win you over with its stylish looks, which are bolstered by high-end materials, perfectly placed controls and a general car-like feel. Again, those used to a car should especially like it.
However, for parents and those looking for a big, practical space, nothing in the segment beats the CR-V. That was already the case, but with more rear legroom for 2017, the gap to the pack has only widened. For instance, whereas someone 6 feet and 3 inches tall would have their knees grazing the front seats in the CX-5, the CR-V would grant them 3 inches of clearance. That extreme example translates into greater space for a rear-facing child seat. One will still fit in the Mazda, it’ll just be that much easier in the CR-V.
Cargo and storage space is also a slam dunk here, as the CR-V’s cavernous cargo area (a huge 75.8 cu ft. maximum versus the CX-5’s below-average 58) further benefits from a super-low load floor. Meanwhile, the center console between the front seats is a marvel of clever packaging.
In other words, nothing about the CX-5 should make your life difficult, but the CR-V can sure make it easier.
All but the base CR-V LX comes standard with forward-collision warning with automatic braking, lane-keeping assist and a blind spot monitoring system. Safety features are a little more spread out with the CX-5. Forward-collision warning with automatic braking and lane-keeping assist are standard on the CX-5 Grand Touring and optional on the Touring. Both of those trims come standard with blind spot monitoring. Every trim comes standard with a low-speed forward-collision warning system that primes the brakes for quicker responses.
In crash tests, the government gave the CR-V a perfect 5 stars for overall, frontal and side crash protection. The CX-5 got a 4-star overall mark, but 5 stars for frontal and side crash protection. The nonprofit Insurance Institute for Highway Safety named the CR-V a Top Safety Pick+ for its best-possible performance in all crash categories and for its Superior accident-avoidance tech. The IIHS has yet to fully test the CX-5, but did give it top marks in the moderate-overlap front and side crash tests.
Every CX-5 comes standard with a tech interface known as Mazda Connect that consists of a knob and button "Commander" control on the center console and a 7-inch dash-top display that can be touch-operated when the car is stopped. This system is comparable to what you’d get in many luxury cars, especially Audis, and some may prefer it to a touchscreen. Unfortunately, unlike most competitors, you can’t get Apple CarPlay or Android Auto among its feature content.
Every CR-V except the LX comes standard with all the tech bells and whistles, including Apple and Android’s smartphone interfaces. Those trims also come with Honda’s latest, improved touchscreen interface, which thankfully now includes a proper radio volume knob and handy extra menu shortcut "buttons" (they’re touch-sensitive). The system can still be a bit slow to respond, but it won’t frustrate as much.
So, in terms of content, the Honda wins, but in terms of usability, it comes down to preference. Make sure to play around with both during the test drive.
You get so much extra feature content with the CR-V EX given its $2,700 premium over the LX that we think it’s the place to start. The CX-5 Touring doesn’t have quite the same commanding feature content advantage over its base trim, while its $26,855 price tag is $155 more than the CR-V EX’s. For that, you do get a leather-wrapped wheel and spill-friendly faux leather (versus the Honda’s urethane wheel and cloth seats), but you have to pay extra for the CR-V EX’s standard safety tech.
From there, the CR-V continues to enjoy a slightly better bang for your buck. It’s even greater if you’re prioritizing interior space. On the other hand, many will place a great deal of value in the Mazda’s style and driving dynamics.
Drive both, crawl around in both, strap the car seat in both, throw the dog into the cargo area of both. Figure out which one better suits your needs and which one you like driving, sitting in and looking at more. For us, the CR-V appeals more to the head, while the CX-5 appeals more to the heart. Whichever you pick, though, rest assured you’re getting a high-quality, well-rounded class leader.