Crossover solution to your car vs. SUV decision

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Michael Toscano

Can’t decide between a car and an SUV? Here is a trio of popular Crossover SUVs, each aiming to erase some of the differences between the two types of driving experiences. One of them may fit your needs.

Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring AWD

Your first thought, walking up to the 2014 CX-5, just might be, “Where’s the SUV? I thought this was supposed to be an SUV.” The next thought might then be, “Wow, this little crossover is kinda cute.”

Compact and stylish, the CX-5 looks nimble. The question is whether Mazda has turned out a vehicle which drives like a car or an SUV. Mazda CX-5 carries five passengers, and comes in Sport, Touring and Grand Touring trim levels. We drove the Grand Touring model, which included optional all-wheel-drive. Upgraded from the base model’s 2.0 liter engine, the GT’s 2.5-liter four-cylinder engine pumps 184 HP and 185 lb-ft of torque. That provides a zippy, but not especially muscular, ride at 24/30/26 MPG. (FWD rates 25/32/27 MPG.) The six-speed automatic comes as standard equipment with the 2.5 L engine, while it is an option with the 2.0 version. The manual transmission is offered as an option with the Sport package.

The Grand Touring CX-5has a base price of $28,870, and with a “tech package” and a few other extras, ours came in at a relatively modest $31,890.

Driving around town, we found that our CX-5 overcomes its SUV DNA and drives much more like a car. Acceleration isn’t as brisk as we might like, but it could not be described as listless, either. Suspension and steering are tightly tuned, which makes for comfortable turns and quick, confident lane-changes at highway speed. The ride is comfortable, if noisier than other models in the class. The transmission glided effortlessly through shifts, and the upgraded engine didn’t seem to penalize mileage, a pleasant surprise. We managed about 27 miles-per-gallon.

The CX-5 boasts a trim and compact profile, suitable for its performance. Aerodynamically styled, its sloping profile makes the eye overlook the diminutive cargo area, avoiding a stubby appearance. Our car was especially sporty with its striking “Soul Red Metallic” color. Each model comes standard with most of the performance and safety features we have come to expect, including antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags and side curtain airbags. An impressive list of options allows you to outfit this modest vehicle with many of the latest features. Automatic crash notification is standard on the Touring and Grand Touring, along with the blind-spot warning system.

Behind the wheel, we see a modest and functional cockpit featuring contemporary styling. The front seating is comfortable and the rear seats offer more room than one might expect for this size vehicle. Our Grand Touring model allows you to lower the seat when folding it down, making the cargo area almost flat, adding a nice bit of functionality with what then becomes 65 cubic feet of space back there.

Comfortable and agile, the CX-5 is a nice mix of car and SUV, offering some of the best features of both.

Kia Sorento SX AWD

At first glance, our “Remington Red” Kia Sorento looked a bit like our Mazda CX-5, with a bit of a facelift for 2014. There are re-sculpted bumpers and a smaller grille, and new lights back and front. But on closer inspection, it is obviously bulkier, and the blunt front looks more like SUV than car. It’s definitely in the “midsize” category, including the heftier price-tag of $38, 550 for our model, which is in the upper mid- level of the various Sorento versions.

In addition to the cosmetic changes outside, Kia is boasting of upgrades to the powertrain. Ours rolled along on a 3.3-liter 24-valve DOHC V-6 with 290 horsepower and 252 pound-feet of torque, standard for the SX but an option costing $1,600 on the entry-level LX. The automatic six-speed transmission with Sportmatic independent front and rear suspension gave us smooth shifting and adequate, if not exciting, acceleration, combined with a comfortable ride. The beefed-up suspension for 2014 smoothes out bumpy roads, enhancing a generally quiet ride. If handling is looser than I like, especially steering around corners and making quick lane changes, well, that’s what comes with the larger size. Of course, that also means you will pay more at the pump, with a 20 mile-per-gallon combined city/highway EPA rating.

So what was our impression after a week driving the Sorento? It has less crossover appeal than we’d like, but for a vehicle with three rows of seats available, it remains more compact and maneuverable than one might expect. It’s roomy inside, and comes with a generous list of features both standard and extra. This may suit your needs, if you’re seeking added versatility for carrying people and cargo. That versatility extends to your choices on the car lot, as the entry-level Sorento LX can be found the mid-$20s, while upper trim levels go approach 40K.

Sorento promotional material touts its tech interfaces and voice activation, but my experience with the cockpit bells and whistles was not entirely positive, especially with a balky navigation and entertainment system. On the other hand, everyone in the family enjoyed the power liftgate and the panoramic sunroof. Folding 50/50-split third-row seats are optional on all Sorentos.

So the Sorento is in a class somewhere between compact and full-sized. That means you get some of the features from both ends of spectrum, but that also means neither end of the spectrum will be fully served. If you need to drive a vehicle that handles OK, but can alternately fit a full load of people, or, with a bit of adjustment, haul a decent amount of cargo, the Sorento then may be for you.

Mitsubishi Outlander Sport SE AWC

The Outlander Sport has been a good seller for Mitsubishi, establishing a niche for itself in the compact crossover field. In fact, it’s seen as a prime competitor for Kia Sorento described above. Part of Outlander’s appeal is the price, ranging from about $19,000 up to the low 30s. Also appealing to many is the size. A five-passenger compact crossover, it offers just enough versatility at a modest price to make it attractive as an entry-level crossover. Now, as the 2014s flood dealer lots and showrooms, and with some 2013s still to be found, there are good deals to be had from dealers offering incentives. Outlander’s already mild prices may be even more desirable for the budget conscious.

Mitsubishi parked the Outlander Sport SE AWC in our driveway, and at first glance we could see that it looks much like the full-size, three-row Outlander. Just a bit shorter. Actually, the stance is more aggressive and the front grille seemingly more prominent.

Get behind the wheel, however, and the difference became much more obvious. Despite its name, the Outlander Sport is born to be mild, powered by a modest 2.0 liter I4 that coughs up 148hp and 145lb-ft torque. That is obviously something Mitsubishi doesn’t like to stress, as that bit of information is missing from the fact sheet that you might find pasted to the window on a new car lot. Maybe they think you won’t notice, but it really does seem that this model is slightly underpowered. Acceleration is labored and noisy. The SE we drove has continuously variable automatic (CVT) that's a bit slow and mushy as you move through the gears. Once you get up to speed, though, the vehicle handles nicely enough that you might be OK with the tradeoff between performance and price. And speaking of price, you can use regular gasoline while running at an EPA estimated 24 miles-per-gallon city and 29 highway. Our combined average was about 26 miles-per-gallon.

The key is to think of this as a city/suburban vehicle. While the all-wheel-control (AWC) allows action with all-wheel-drive if you wish, the truth is this is not a rough-and-tumble machine. It’s a family car that has some added versatility cargo space. That’s not for everyone, but obviously the Outlander Sport has its place.

With that in mind, Mitsubishi has packed the thing with a full load of safety and “comfort/convenience” features, much of it high-tech. You may be pleased with a line-by-line reading of all the standard and optional offerings that’s much too long to describe here. (We especially appreciated the rearview camera, panoramic sunroof and noticeably rockin’ audio system.) The designers have also done a nice job with the interior. The driver’s seat allows comfortable repositioning, and the look is sleek, with soft materials including leather. The back seat is fairly roomy, adding to the vehicle’s family appeal. Of course, that, too, comes with a trade-off: cargo space gets diminished. With the rear seats folded down, you’ll still only get just under 50 square feet of carrying room.

The Outlander Sport may not win your heart, but it will make a good run at your wallet and your head, if you’re looking for unflashy family transportation.

Comments

Mazda

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