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Compact SUV choices are plentiful. Many drivers have decided that this is the ideal vehicle type due to the way they combine practicality and efficiency. In many ways, they are equally well-suited for being family vehicles as well as a daily driver.
The 2021 Hyundai Tucson and 2021 Mazda CX-5 are found in this vehicle class. Being a Hyundai, the Tucson may seem like a better deal at first glance. Everyone knows that Hyundai loads their vehicles with features and offers a hard-to-beat warranty. That said, this SUV is going to be redesigned in 2022, resulting in no noteworthy changes in 2021.
Whereas Hyundai's reputation is based on value, Mazda's is based on performance. The CX-5 is a perfect example, giving drivers a sporty experience while at the wheel. In 2021, this SUV gains a 10.25-inch touchscreen on its standard feature list and an update to its infotainment system. Now included on all models are Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and a Wi-Fi hotspot. There is also a new trim level, known as the Carbon Edition, which has sleek black exterior paint and red leather upholstery.
So is deciding between the 2021 Tucson and the 2021 CX-5 simply a matter of choosing between value and performance? It may not be quite that easy. The detailed comparison below helps to point out the strengths and weaknesses of both options.
In 2021, there are six trim levels of the Tucson. The lower two models on the trim ladder utilize a 2.0L four-cylinder engine that makes 161-horsepower along with 150 lb-ft of torque. Starting with the SEL model, the Tucson switches over to a 2.4L four-cylinder engine that makes 181-horsepower and 176 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of the trim or engine, the Tucson has a six-speed automatic transmission and comes standard with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive is available for all six trim levels.
The 2021 Mazda CX-5 also has two engine options. Most models are powered by a 2.5L four-cylinder that generates 187-horsepower and 186 lb-ft of torque, quite a bit more than the standard engine of the Tucson. Select CX-5 models have turbocharged that engine, which means they make 227-horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque with regular gasoline. If drivers fill up with premium, they can squeeze out 250-horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque instead. Top trim levels of the CX-5 come standard with all-wheel drive. Otherwise, front-wheel drive is standard, and AWD is on the options list.
Being compact SUVs, neither the Tucson nor the CX-5 offer much in the way of towing. The Tucson with its base engine can go up to 1,500 pounds. Switching to the 2.4L engine means towing up to 2,000 pounds. The CX-5 is also capable of towing up to 2,000 pounds when properly equipped.
The Hyundai Tucson is not terribly fuel-efficient. With the standard engine, buyers can expect 23mpg in the city and 28mpg on the highway. The larger engine is only estimated to get 22mpg in the city. Like the base engine, it gets 28mpg on the highway. Pairing it with all-wheel drive will mean getting 21mpg city and 26mpg highway.
Drivers get better numbers from the CX-5, which has estimates of 25mpg city and 31mpg highway. Choosing to get the turbocharged engine option will reduce fuel efficiency to 23mpg city and 28mpg highway. All-wheel-drive models lose one mile per gallon for both the city and highway with either engine.
How well will the powertrains of the Tucson and CX-5 hold up over time? According to J.D. Power, the 2021 Tucson was given a predicted reliability rating of 3.5 out of a possible five stars, which is above average. The 2021 CX-5 received three stars.
Mazda gives the CX-5 a standard warranty of three years or 36,000 miles for the limited overall and five years or 60,000 miles for the powertrain. Hyundai gives the 2021 Tucson its famous five years or 60,000 miles overall warranty and ten years or 100,000 miles for the powertrain. For many shoppers, the warranty alone is enough reason to choose the Tucson.
Hyundai is given a lot of credit for giving the Tucson a smooth and comfortable ride. The suspension is well designed, and passengers will not have to worry about being tossed around by bumps in the road. Wind and road noise stay outside of the cabin, further adding to the overall comfort of the Tucson.
The CX-5 is praised for its responsive steering and overall engaging drive. It feels more like driving a sporty little car than an SUV. At the same time, its ride is not as comfortable as the Tucson's. On the plus side, the CX-5 also has a cabin that will keep out unwanted noise.
Both rows of seating are supportive and comfortable in the Tucson. Three children can fit easily in the second-row, but fitting three adults back there will be a struggle. Manually-adjustable front seats and cloth upholstery are standard. Genuine leather upholstery is available, along with things like heat for the front seats and steering wheel.
The Mazda CX-5 also has supportive seats. Due to the narrowness of the second-row, it is only appropriate for two people, no matter their age or size. Four people will be happy to ride in the CX-5, however, due to its generous leg and headroom.
Visibility is better in the CX-5 than the Tucson. Drivers sit nice and high in the CX-5, allowing them to see clearly in every direction. While the Tucson offers good forward visibility, the chunky rear pillars can get in the way when backing out of a parking space or changing lanes.
Cargo space in the Tucson is respectable. It has 31 cubic feet behind the backseat and can open up to nearly 62 cubic feet when needed. Other compact SUVs offer significantly more space. The CX-5 also has 31 cubic feet when the seats are all up. It tops out at just 60 cubic feet, however. Buyers may be surprised at just how much of a difference an extra two cubic feet of space can make.
The 2021 Tucson continues to come standard with a 7-inch touchscreen, which leaves it behind many rivals. Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are all included, along with a single USB port. Select models add one more USB port, wireless device charging, navigation, and an 8-inch touchscreen.
Thanks to changes made in 2021, the CX-5 has more impressive tech than ever. The 10.25-inch touchscreen has sharp graphics and is easy to use. Both of the smartphone integration tools are standard here, along with Mazda Connected Services. The CX-5 comes standard with two USB ports, and select models add two more to the back. On the other hand, the CX-5 comes with only four speakers while the Tucson has six.
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Safety ratings for the 2021 Tucson and 2021 CX-5 are very similar. Both received an overall score of five out of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. They got five stars when tested for frontal and side collisions, and four stars for how they performed in rollover testing.
These two compact SUVs got the same high cores in their crash-testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS also takes a look at how well headlights perform. For the Tucson, the standard halogen headlights got the lowest possible score of "poor" while the available LED headlights got the score "good." For the CX-5, the standard headlights got the score of "acceptable" and the available upgrades are "good."
The Tucson's list of standard safety equipment is short and sweet. It includes driver drowsiness monitoring, automatic emergency braking, forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, a rearview camera, and lane departure warning. Many sophisticated driver aids are available, including adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, a surround-view camera system, and automatic high beams.
Buyers will find more standard safety features come standard on the CX-5. It has nearly everything that the Tucson does, plus adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, automatic high beams, rear cross-traffic alert, and pedestrian detection. Driver attention monitoring is merely available for the CX-5, rather than standard like it is for the Tucson.
Which Has the Best Value?
The Tucson starts out at $23,700 for its base model, which is right around average for a compact SUV. At the other end of the scale is the Ultimate model, which sets drivers back $32,050. For the entry-level CX-5, the base model has an above-average starting price of $25,270. The CX-5 Signature can cost $37,405 and up.
CX-5 Signature models cost over five grand more than the Tucson Ultimate trim level. Is that extra money justified? The Tucson Ultimate is equipped with climate-controlled front seats, heated rear seats, a panoramic sunroof, an integrated navigation system, and more. As for the CX-5 Signature, it has all of those features, plus an auto-dimming rearview mirror, ambient interior lighting, and genuine wood interior trim. It is likely the fact that the Signature model comes with an all-wheel drive that makes it so much more expensive.
At first glance, the Tucson is the better value, but does this remain true when looking at a five-year cost-to-own projection? For the base Hyundai Tucson SE, Kelley Blue Book estimates the vehicle will cost $32,048 over the first five years. Of this, $18,165 is in out-of-pocket expenses and $14,243 is depreciation.
For the 2021 CX-5, the five-year estimate comes in at $34,998. A closer look shows that this is $20,244 in out-of-pocket expenses and $14,744 in depreciation. In other words, the CX-5 costs $0.47 per mile to drive. At the same time, the 2021 Tucson costs only $0.43 per mile. The two SUVs are expected to lose value at roughly the same rate.
Why does the CX-5 cost drivers so much more out of pocket in those first five years? The CX-5 is more fuel-efficient and should cost around $1,000 less than the Tucson in gas. Where the Tucson makes up and then gains ground is in estimated repair costs. Thanks to its excellent warranty, the Tucson will have drivers paying over $1,000 less at the local garage for repairs. The Mazda is also estimated to cost quite a bit more in routine maintenance.
Which is Better?
As it turns out, choosing between the 2021 Mazda CX-5 and the 2021 Hyundai Tucson really is a choice between value and performance. The Tucson is more affordable upfront, cheaper in the long run, and comes with the most important standard features. It also has a bit more passenger and cargo space, which may help sway shoppers in its favor.
On the other hand, the 2021 CX-5 is just plain fun. It is hard to find a compact SUV with more satisfying handling and acceleration. This vehicle also has more standard tech and safety features, which may make it the more appealing choice for small families. Buyers who can afford the 2021 CX-5 will find that it is the better choice.