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Hyundai Tucson Active X, Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport and Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 review | midsize SUV comparison


As nimble as a hatch, as practical as a wagon ... there's something for you, too, in the top-selling medium SUVs.

If Goldilocks were shopping for a new family car, chances are she'd pick from this trio.

These mid-sized family SUVs have hit the sweet spot with new car buyers. Not too big and not too small, they provide the right balance between hatchback nimbleness and family wagon practicality.

Is the balance of power about to shift?

Mazda's CX-5 is the country's best-selling SUV this year, daylight is second, while Nissan's X-Trail and Hyundai's ix35 follow in close order.

But that could all be about to change, as the ix35 is replaced by a bigger, more refined and better-looking SUV called the Tucson.

Is the balance of power about to shift?

Hyundai Tucson Active X

  • Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X
  • Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X
  • Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X
  • Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X

The cheapest Tucson, the $27,990 Active, arrives later in the year but Hyundai predicts the Active X will be the most popular. It costs an extra $2500 and gets standard "leather appointed" seats, bigger wheels, auto folding and heated side mirrors and fog lamps.

An auto adds $2500, bringing it to $32,990 and making it the most expensive of this trio. The Mazda and the Nissan miss out on leather and folding side mirrors and both ride on 17-inch wheels compared with the Hyundai's 18s. Only the Tucson gets a full-sized alloy spare.

Line the three cars up nose to tail and the Hyundai looks sleeker and sportier. Inside, though, it loses points.

Where the Mazda and the Nissan have soft surfaces and more premium textures, the Hyundai has grey plastic, the front of the dash has soft-touch materials but the top is hard and shiny. You turn a key to start, while the others have push-button start.

The cabin is neat and logically laid out, the seats are comfortable and it beats the Mazda on rear legroom and load area. It's also the clear winner on the road, with the best balance between comfort and roadholding. To labour the Goldilocks analogy, the Mazda's ride is too hard, the Nissan's too soft but the Hyundai's is just right. It feels planted and predictable and the steering is accurate and communicative.

The engine is on par with the Mazda for refinement and responsiveness but neither can match the bigger four-cylinder in the Nissan.

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport

  • Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015
  • Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015
  • Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015
  • Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015

Mazda gave the CX-5 a midlife freshen-up in January, incorporating some of the brand's latest safety and infotainment tech, updating the front styling and tweaking the suspension for a smoother, flatter ride and less noise and vibration in the cabin.

The cabin feels the most up-market of this trio, with great attention to detail and quality materials. Using a knob to navigate the infotainment screen, the driver can keep the eyes up.

It's also the only one here with standard satnav, with audible warnings when you're entering a school zone or approaching a speed camera.

Mazda's optional $1230 safety pack adds blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and auto emergency braking for forward and reverse.

A couple of other touches lift the cabin above its rivals, including an electric park brake, climate control aircon and stop-start technology, which kills the engine when waiting at the lights. On the official fuel cycle, the Mazda uses almost 20 per cent less than the others.

On the road, the Mazda sits flat through corners, with a distinctly sporty bent to its suspension setup. It has sharp, well-weighted steering and confidence-inspiring grip.

The firmer suspension has a downside: the occasional thump and crash over rougher roads.

There's also a sports setting for the transmission — flick the switch and it will shift down a gear for more punch out of corners. The engine is good but not great and lacks the urge and refinement of the Nissan.

Nissan X-Trail ST

  • Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015
  • Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015
  • Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015
  • Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015

The first thing you notice in the Nissan is the small centre screen that displays the reversing camera image — in the digital age, screen size matters so you immediately feel a little short-changed. The dash is more functional than fashionable, although there are some clever touches, such as the chilled centre cupholders.

Rear passengers in the X-Trail are better looked after. it has the only rear vents in this trio and the seats recline and slide, allowing you to better match cargo space and leg room.

It is the only one to come with a seven-seat option for a very reasonable $1090. Without the third-row seats, the Nissan also has the most generous and flexible load area, with a false floor covering storage for wet gear. Movable shelving enables you to mix and match the rear to suit your cargo.

The Nissan, the quietest freeway cruiser of the three, also has the most responsive and refined engine. Its CVT auto keeps it purring along in the ideal rev range and the bigger 2.5-litre four-cylinder delivers more torque and more relaxed cruising.

However, the Nissan has an Achilles' heel — the driving experience. Its steering feels vague and it leans through corners, transferring its weight noticeably, yet it its predictable and stable in its responses. For those who look at a car as a means to an end, it does the job without much fuss.

Verdict

The Nissan runs a very close third here. It's the cheapest, has the most functional cabin layout and the best engine. But it's not great to drive and isn't as well equipped as the others.

The Hyundai is great on the road, generously equipped and has a five-year warranty. However, the Mazda matches it for on-road composure and trumps it with a more efficient engine and a better finished cabin.

Throw in satnav and the option of a class-leading safety package at a reasonable price and the CX-5 is the winner.

Hyundai Tucson Active X
Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X

Hyundai Tucson Active X Hyundai Tucson Active X
Price from: $32,990
Warranty:5 years/unlimited km
Servicing: 12 months/15,000km, $807 over 3 years
Safety: 6 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 121kW/203Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; front-wheel drive
Thirst: 7.9L/100km
Dimensions: 4780mm (L), 1890mm (W), 1690mm (H), 2780mm (WB)
Weight: 1584kg
Spare: Full-size alloy
Towing: 1600kg
 

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015

Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2015
Price from: $32,790
Warranty: 3 years/unlimited km
Servicing: 12 months/10,000km, $971 over 3 years.
Safety: 6 airbags
Engine: 2.0-litre 4-cyl, 114kW/200Nm
Transmission: 6-speed auto; front-wheel drive
Thirst: 6.4L/100km
Dimensions: 4540mm (L), 1840mm (W), 1710mm (H), 2700mm (WB)
Weight: 1490kg
Spare: Space-saver
Towing: 1800kg
 

Nissan X-Trail ST
Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015

Nissan X-Trail ST 2015 Nissan X-Trail ST 2015
Price from: $30,490
Warranty: 3 years/100,000km
Servicing: 12 months/10,000km, $747 over 3 years
Safety: 6 airbags
Engine: 2.5-litre 4-cyl, 126kW/226Nm
Transmission: CVT; front-wheel drive
Thirst: 7.9L/100km
Dimensions: 4640mm (L), 1820mm (W), 1710mm (H), 2705mm (WB)
Weight: 1470kg (tare)
Spare: Space-saver
Towing: 1500kg

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