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    Similar Sizes, Different Missions in Crossovers

    By Philip Ruth–

    Compact crossovers are where it’s at these days, and why not? They combine the aura of an SUV with family-sized practicality, all nestled within parkable dimensions. While today’s crossovers all look a lot alike, consecutive weeks spent in direct competitors can tell us about the design philosophies that hatched them.

    That’s the case with at least two crossovers, the Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5. Both aim for mainstream crossover buyers, though not necessarily the same ones. Pricing tells part of the story. Predictably, the Hyundai slots in a lower entry fee of $20,950 for the Tucson SE, while the humblest CX-5 checks in a chunk above, at $25,750. So, the Tucson wants to be on every shopping list, while the CX-5 is OK with forgoing the bargain-hunters.

    Dimensionally, they’re darn near spitting images. The Mazda is a tad longer, taller and heavier; the Hyundai is a smidge wider. Length on both is held to less than 180 inches, so they park more easily than four-door Civics and Corollas, which add a few potentially impactful inches to the total.

    Inside, both the Tucson and CX-5 are pleasingly roomy. The back seats have full-sized-sedan legroom, and the fronts sit you up high. Both are at or right around 30 cubic feet of cargo space with all of the seats up, and the Hyundai squeezes out 2.3 cubic feet more for its seats-down maximum capacity of 61.9 inches.

    It’s over the road where the Hyundai and Mazda diverge. Both offer the choice of two engines, with the Hyundai’s 161-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder installed in the two least expensive trims. In the five pricier trims —yep, there are seven Tucsons from which to choose, including a “Night” trim—power climbs to 181 horsepower from a 2.4-liter.

    The CX-5 picks it up from there, with its lower three trims hosting a 2.5-liter with 187 horses. The upper two trims, peaking at the “Signature,” have the engine that puts clear distance between it and the Tucson: a turbocharged 2.5-liter that cranks out 250 horsepower. Even better is its 310 lb.-ft. of torque, a measure of the grunt off the line, and more of it is a valued asset in the stop-and-go of San Francisco traffic.

    It is appropriate that turbocharged CX-5s require greater financial commitments, because there’s more to them than just more thrust; there’s also handling fluidity that inspires the confidence to use all of the available power. The Tucson does not prompt you to prod it, mostly because it is motoring along nicely on its own, as is the case with most compact crossovers.

    And so the outwardly similar Tucson and CX-5 excel at their divergent missions. Tucsons are fully competitive and compassionately priced; CX-5s justify their higher asks with benefits that are both objective and perceptive. No wonder compact crossovers are so popular.  

    Philip Ruth is a Castro-based automotive photojournalist and consultant ( ). Check out his automotive staging service at