Can the revised Mazda take back the big SUV crown from some serious competition?
If you need a big SUV then you have some big choices to make. If you wanted a large SUV that was also really good value then the Mazda CX-5 kept the choice list fairly short, until the Skoda Kodiaq came along and upped the game. Mazda has upped its game too in response, but Ford has also revised the Kuga, so the game is afoot.
To keep things as equal as possible, weâ€™ve gone for all three with 148bhp diesel engines on board, the larger one being in the Mazda by 200cc. We havenâ€™t gone for the optional four-wheel drive variants but have kept it simple with front-wheel drive across the trio. Allâ€™s fair.
Mazda CX-5 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 Sport Nav
Engine:Â 2.2-litre diesel
Torque: 280lb ft
Top speed: 127mph
CO2 emissions: 132g/km
Although they produce the same power, the ways it comes through does differ. If you werenâ€™t concentrating you could think that the diesel in the CX-5 was actually a turbocharged petrol, such is its eagerness to thrash out the revs across the range. It has a much wider working range than the Kuga, although with both having a manual transmission itâ€™s the Ford that has the sweeter gearchange.
The Skoda gets auto gearshifting as standard, and itâ€™s a slick operator on the whole. Very low speeds can be a bit rougher for the gearbox, but generally itâ€™s smooth and helps the Skoda pull well across the range.
Ford has the reputation as the company making good-handling cars and itâ€™s true that the Kuga leans its top-heavy self less through the corners than the other two, but that comes at the expense of a nervy steering that doesnâ€™t engender confidence. The Kodiaq does lean more but it feels more stable and less nervous. But itâ€™s the CX-5 that handles the best, matching that almost petrol-like engine performance.
That controlled handling does mean a ride thatâ€™s a touch firm, although the Ford will give you more of a kicking over a rough road. The Skoda leads the trio in showing how to deliver a ride that is comfortable and controlled, whether around town or out on the motorway.
Skoda Kodiaq 2.0 TDI 150 SE DSG
Engine:Â 2.0-litre diesel
Top speed: 123mph
CO2 emissions: 131g/km
Many buy an SUV because they want that high and commanding driving position. Sadly you donâ€™t really get it in the lower-slung Ford, which is easily beaten by the CX-5, which has the best seating and viewing platform for the driver â€“ aided further by a standard reversing camera.
The old Mazda had a faintly naff cabin and so the CX-5 shows some marked improvements. Itâ€™s much classier as a result of a major makeover, leaping ahead of the more cut-price feeling in the Ford. The Skoda beats both, easily in terms of the Ford, by a bit over the Mazda.
Skoda also plays another of its trump cards, with a massive amount of space for people and their luggage. In the rear particularly you feel really quite spoiled, helped by a rear seat which can move to and fro, sitting in front of a vast area for luggage. The Mazda isnâ€™t that far behind for space, but both are well ahead of the Ford, which doesnâ€™t seem to utilise its space as well as the others.
The Skoda looks good in terms of equipment, but you only get a 6.5-inch infotainment screen which doesnâ€™t include sat nav unless you feel like paying another Â£775 for the very crisp 8-inch screen. The Mazda has a 7-inch screen as standard, and you can control it by a rotary dial which is a big plus. Itâ€™s also well in the line of sight so you donâ€™t have to take your eyes far off the road. The 8-inch screen in the Ford Kuga looks better in theory but in reality it seems a bit low-res and not entirely logical.
Ford Kuga 2.0 TDCi 150 ST Line
Engine:Â 2.0-litre diesel
Top speed: 121mph
Gov’t fuel economy: 60.1mpg
CO2 emissions: 122g/km
Weâ€™ve tested the Kodiaq in relatively basic SE trim because if you move up the trims you then get a full seven seats and the price bangs over the Â£30,000 mark. With the others in more plentiful trim they can actually undercut the Skoda with a bit of haggling. That heavy discounting will mean heavy depreciation for the Ford Kuga, whereas the Mazda CX-5 will actually prove the cheapest to buy and to run over three years. The Kuga comes back with cheaper PCP deals if thatâ€™s how you are paying though.
The Mazda would be the most expensive as a company car, but it comes fully laden in this trim with all the toys you could want, way more than the Ford or the Skoda.
When you tot up the scores you find the Ford Kuga in third place and by a margin too. It just doesnâ€™t feel like value for money like this, not at all, although a cheaper one â€“ prices start from just under Â£22,000 â€“ might make some sense. The other two are much more evenly matched.
In many ways the Skoda Kodiaq is the best vehicle here, classy, spacious, fine handling and riding, and perhaps offering decent value for money. But if you want more kit you have to pay too much for it in our opinion, which is a shame.
Which means the Mazda CX-5, which comes laden with kit, takes the win. Mazda has made really decent advances in important areas like cabin and driving enjoyment. The fact that itâ€™s the cheapest to buy and run is just gravy. Weâ€™d like a better ride â€“ and perhaps a model with smaller wheels would help that â€“ but otherwise this is a clear winner if you and your family are after a good-value, large SUV.