Mazda’s CX-5, Honda CR-V tackle similar crossover territory |

Mazda’s CX-5, Honda CR-V tackle similar crossover territory

As SUVs large and small have quickly taken over the American automotive marketplace, it’s reassuring to know that you have choices that each offer their own surprising twists on the genre — and continue to improve with each generation.

The newest editions of Mazda’s CX-5 and Honda’s CR-V — compact crossover SUVs that provide a nice mix of small-family space and more car-like agility — both show considerable advancements, loads of available tech and pleasant, if not somewhat similar, overall looks.

As fun as the smaller CX-3 is, the closest thing you’ll get to a tall Miata, CX-5 achieves a sweet spot between super-compact squeeze and the almost too-bountiful CX-9.

The CX-5 still delivers similar looks to its big brother, with a gigantic and protruding grille, knife-blade-styled headlamps, chrome flourishes and tasteful details, plus a subdued but stylish interior — my Soul Red Grand Touring edition featured a nice Parchment (white) leather scheme, plus lots of piano black and aluminum trim.

Pricing on a 2018 test vehicle earlier this year came to $34,585, reflecting the addition of a premium package with heated seats and steering wheel. The car starts at $24,150.

Sized right in the middle of its family pack, CX-5 is still fun to drive, with its 2.5-liter 187-horsepower engine providing confident freeway cruising power. Click into sport mode and it will hold onto a gear for a long burst of extra passing or uphill power, and pull away from traffic in deceptive style. You get accurate, fast gearing, and solid and responsive steering with an authentic Miata-styled sport steering wheel.

I appreciated touches such as the Bose tweeters built into the A-pillars, the easy-to-read gauges and the new, fully-digital right-hand information screen in the cluster.

The attention to fine cabin detail makes the experience additionally pleasant, including some woody trim on the doors and dash and appreciably comfortable seating.

CR-V, in the meantime, moves in a slightly more progressive direction in its fifth generation, having sold almost 4 million units since being introduced in 1997.

Looks and styling have been considerably updated and the new turbocharged engine is a first for the popular compact crossover. Like many of its competitors, the old rounded shapes have been replaced with sharper angles, with aggressive LED headlamps, strong fascia features and roof rails, window glass and even raked brakelamps that make it seem a little more Acura than a plain old Honda. Size and stance also give the vehicle looks that are more like an old Pilot than the once turtle-like CR-Vs of long ago. The A-pillars have been trimmed for added visibility, and you can order up 17- or 18-inch alloy wheels to further boost the looks and performance. Sporty dual exhausts are also standard on higher-trim models.

Tweaks including a 1.6-inch-longer wheelbase mean small increases in interior volume and more than 2 inches of extra rear legroom, all pushing the once-small vehicle in a more substantial direction.

I got to experience the CR-V in AWD Touring trim — you get the whole shebang for $35,025, including destination fees — and that meant time with the new 1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo, which provides an altitude-friendly 190 horsepower. Other models can also be equipped with a 184-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine. A vastly improved CVT automatic transmission also helps contribute efficiency, and is largely imperceptible on takeoffs or during passing.

Cargo capacity in the rear is between 37.6 and 39.2 cubic feet, depending on the trim, and up to 75.8 with the rear seats folded.

Of added benefit to snow and off-road driving, clearance is now more substantial, with 7.8 inches for front-wheel drive models and 8.2 inches for AWD — largely attributable to bigger wheels and tires.

Compact doesn’t necessarily connote insanely great mileage in either vehicle’s case, with the Mazda rated at 26 overall MPG and the smaller-engined CR-V earning a slightly better 29 combined. But the Mazda is the only four-cylinder on the domestic market to include cylinder deactivation to help increase overall efficiency.

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