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If you’re shopping for a new car in 2018 there’s a good chance a mid-sized SUV is on your list of potential purchases.

For roughly one in every six new car buyers in Australia, a mid-size SUV like this will be their choice of family hauler - and we’ve assembled these four models in order to help you make the right decision about which one you should buy.

We’ve set a $35,000 price cap for each of the models you see here, and as a result, every vehicle here is two-wheel drive - in fact, they’re all front-wheel drive. 

Our four contenders are the impressively practical Honda CR-V VTi-S, the sporty and stylish Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, the European-engineered Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Trendline, and the newest addition to the competitive mid-sized SUV arena, the affordable and roomy Holden Equinox LS+ - we bet you’re looking forward to seeing how it stacks up against some well-known names. 

We’ll assess each of these models for its style, practicality, safety, value for money and - of course - how each drives. Let’s get started.

Design

There is a style leader in this pack, and it’s the Mazda.

The sleek looks of the CX-5 - even in this second-from-bottom-spec Maxx Sport model - meant it was the only one our testers deemed ‘desirable’ to look at and sit inside. It has a real presence on the road, even if there are tens of thousands of them around the place. 

This particular colour, Deep Crystal Blue, does a lot of favours for the CX-5 - in white, the headlights and tail-lights can look a little squinty… simple solution, don’t buy a white one, and Mazda doesn’t ask you to pay extra for any of the colours except for Soul Red and Machine Grey ($300 for both of those).

  • There is a style leader in this pack, and it’s the Mazda CX-5. There is a style leader in this pack, and it’s the Mazda CX-5.
  • The CX-5 has a real presence on the road, even if there are tens of thousands of them around the place. The CX-5 has a real presence on the road, even if there are tens of thousands of them around the place.
  • This particular colour, Deep Crystal Blue, does a lot of favours for the CX-5. This particular colour, Deep Crystal Blue, does a lot of favours for the CX-5.

But those LED headlights (and LED fog-lights, for that matter) add extra street presence: the rest of the vehicles here have those gross old yellowy halogen lights (not even projector beam, HID or xenon). The Mazda doesn’t have daytime running lights, though; the Honda and Holden both have LED DRLs, while the VW has halogen DRLs (yuck).

And Mazda is the only one to offer a sports pack (the thankfully sedate $2500 Kuroi styling option) if you wish to add some body kit elements - I mean, I personally don’t get the look of side skirts or a larger rear spoiler on an SUV like this, but some people dig it. I think side steps or underbody protection is much more appealing. 

There’s no specific luxury pack or sport edition available in any model at this price point, but the Tiguan with the R-Line pack looks amazing… and is much more expensive. 

Every tester was surprised that Volkswagen had the gusto to offer up a press vehicle in the orange hue you see here. It’s a great colour… or it was; because it’s been dropped now for the MY18.5 update, but it’s genuinely interesting to note how much smaller the Tiguan looks depending on the colour it is: when you see one on the road in white or silver, it looks bigger.

  • The Tiguan with the R-Line pack looks amazing. The Tiguan with the R-Line pack looks amazing.
  • I like the styling of the Tiguan, but I think the mid-life update will be an important one. I like the styling of the Tiguan, but I think the mid-life update will be an important one.
  • Every tester was surprised that Volkswagen had the gusto to offer up a press vehicle in the orange hue you see here. Every tester was surprised that Volkswagen had the gusto to offer up a press vehicle in the orange hue you see here.

I like the styling of the Tiguan, but I think the mid-life update will be an important one: those headlights need some attention, because they really don’t gel with the idea of a ‘new’ SUV from a ‘semi-premium’ brand. The silver roof rails go a little way to helping out, but the boxy, muscular body of the VW helps it stand out on the road, more-so than the colour, in fact.

Inside, it’s typical VW, if done to a strict price. The material finishes all look high-spec, and there’s no doubting you’re in a European-engineered model when you sit inside.

The Honda has roof rails and pronounced wheel-arches filled by bigger alloys than the other vehicles here, but I would argue that it’s hard to call it a stylish vehicle: nope, it is what it is - unmistakably Honda. I like that the exterior design of the CR-V remained fairly true to its predecessor, but the rear-end leaves a little to be desired. The tail-lights don’t quite integrate as well as they should with the tailgate, though a lot of that comes down to the colour of our test car… it’s a bit of an old man colour (no offence, elderly gents!).

  • It’s hard to call the CR-V a stylish vehicle. It’s hard to call the CR-V a stylish vehicle.
  • The Honda has roof rails and pronounced wheel-arches filled by bigger alloys than the other vehicles tested. The Honda has roof rails and pronounced wheel-arches filled by bigger alloys than the other vehicles tested.
  • The CR-V remains fairly true to its predecessor, but the rear-end leaves a little to be desired. The CR-V remains fairly true to its predecessor, but the rear-end leaves a little to be desired.

I think the Holden is a bit of a mess in terms of its styling. The headlights look like they’ve been plucked from a mid-1990s book on the future of car design, the rear looks like nothing else to have worn a Holden badge, while the side profile is like looking at a child’s drawing of a cyclone: there are lines everywhere. 

It’s quite uninspiring to look at, and the story doesn’t get much better inside, either. More on that soon. But some of the Equinox’s awkwardness comes from its dimensions, and the size of these four varies pretty greatly: the Holden is the longest of these four at 4652mm, but isn’t the most broad-shouldered (1843mm wide) and measures 1661mm tall.

  • I think the Holden is a bit of a mess in terms of its styling. I think the Holden is a bit of a mess in terms of its styling.
  • The Equinox is quite uninspiring to look at. The Equinox is quite uninspiring to look at.
  • The rear looks like nothing else to have worn a Holden badge. The rear looks like nothing else to have worn a Holden badge.

The Honda is second-longest (4596mm), but sits the tallest (1679mm) and spans the widest, too (1855mm).

Slightly smaller outside is the Mazda CX-5, measuring 4550mm long, 1675mm tall and 1840mm wide. We specify ‘slightly’ smaller outside, but the Mazda is definitely much smaller inside… more on that soon.

By far the smallest model here is the Volkswagen - in all exterior dimensions, in fact - it is just 4486mm long, 1839mm wide and 1648mm tall, and all of that makes its interior dimensions and packaging even more impressive. Check out the interior images to see what we mean - and you’ll notice in all of these models that the only trace of leather is on the steering wheel… you can forget leather seats at this level.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:5698

Interior

The highlight of the Holden’s cabin is the seats. The fabric choice is an inspired one, possibly the only inspired element to the cockpit, in fact. Too harsh? Maybe, but to this tester the Equinox’s cabin feels a bit like sitting in a Jetstar seat when you could have been in a Qantas business class seat for not that much more. 

I say that because of things like the cheap looking dashboard that would have looked great in 2011 but, in 2018, looks out of date. Plus there’s a lot of chromed plastic, a lot of hard black plastic, dials and controls that aren’t pleasant to turn or touch, and it’s the only one without seatbelt height adjustment (some people call it a seat belt extender) for those up front. 

The steering wheel controls can take some learning (the volume and tune buttons are on the back of the tiller), and the media screen is slanted too far back at the top. I’m six-foot tall, and found myself having to reach out of a control position to tap the screen - and while some shorter colleagues had no issue, a more upright tablet-style screen would have helped a lot. 

It’s not all bad news, though: the Equinox was ranked second-best for rear-seat legroom in the patented “set the driver’s seat in your position then sit behind it and see how many fingers you can fit in front of your knees” test.

  • The cheap looking dashboard of the Equinox would have looked great in 2011 but, in 2018, looks out of date. The cheap looking dashboard of the Equinox would have looked great in 2011 but, in 2018, looks out of date.
  • The Equinox was ranked second-best for rear-seat legroom. The Equinox was ranked second-best for rear-seat legroom.

In first place was the Honda (nine fingers), the Holden scored seven fingers, while third was the Volkswagen (its clever sliding second-row seating in the most passenger-friendly setting) with a six-finger score, and last was the Mazda with barely a single finger’s width between seat-back and kneecap. 

As for headroom, all four will comfortably fit a six-foot adult or two in the back, and all four have reclining backrests. If you want to fit three people (or baby car seats) across, the Holden’s flat floor is a big bonus for foot room, but its centre console juts out from the front into the rear part of the cabin, fouling kneeroom, while the middle-seat headrest is ridiculously oversized (and it looks like E.T., not that we're docking marks for that). 

The Honda has a very slight step in the floor for a transmission tunnel, but is easily the widest across the back pew, and therefore the best suited to a theoretical three-across trip. The VW and Mazda both have quite pronounced transmission tunnel humps, but its the Mazda that is the worst for space overall (and its seat is cut away in the middle, making for an uncomfortable position if you’re seated there). 

In fact, the Mazda’s cabin is tight in comparison to the others, and would be hard to recommend if you have a growing or fully grown family. What a shame, because it has - easily - the most attractive and nicest presented cabin of these four.

The materials used in the CX-5 feel like you’re sitting in a $50k SUV, not one that costs less than $35k. There are truly thoughtful touches, like the knurled finishes on the control knobs, and the central rotary dial for the media system that allows you to quickly switch from one thing to another without having to make sure you hit the right section of the screen with your finger (that’s hard on a bumpy road!). 

Usability is one thing, but the Mazda’s media screen is a bit of a struggler: it is slow to load up when you start the car, and can be glitchy at times when playing back on Bluetooth. It’s also the only one here lacking Apple CarPlay and Android Auto extended smartphone mirroring.

  • The materials used in the CX-5 feel like you’re sitting in a $50k SUV, not one that costs less than $35k. The materials used in the CX-5 feel like you’re sitting in a $50k SUV, not one that costs less than $35k.
  • The Mazda’s cabin is tight in comparison to the others, and would be hard to recommend if you have a growing or fully grown family. The Mazda’s cabin is tight in comparison to the others, and would be hard to recommend if you have a growing or fully grown family.

Also, the Mazda is the only one that lacks a digital speedometer. In states where the width of a speedo needle could mean the difference between getting there early and getting a ticket, that’s an important consideration. We’re left perplexed as to why Mazda offers a digital readout in higher-spec models, but leaves lower-spec car buyers more vulnerable to speeding fines. 

The Honda’s driver info screen, on the other hand, is huge and bright, but the controls on the steering wheel aren’t simple, and they don’t look or feel very nice, either. The CR-V’s media system is a bit of a mixed bag, too: the fonts are a bit ungainly, and the fact you have to go into the screen to fiddle with detailed climate controls is a bit distracting.

But the Honda is undoubtedly the most roomy feeling of these four, with bigger door apertures, more glass, and a general feeling of airiness inside that no other SUV in the class can match. It’s a superbly packaged car, with very comfortable seats and straightforward ergonomics.

That’s not to say the Honda has all the boxes ticked. While all four of these models have ISOFIX child seat anchor points in the second row, the top-tether baby seat hooks for the Honda are mounted in the headlining above the boot - the rest of the SUVs here have them mounted on the seat-backs. It could make for a strapping conundrum if you load up the boot to the roof… Also, please make sure you don’t mistake the luggage hook behind the Honda’s seats for an anchor point.

Oh, and the CR-V is the only one with a ceiling-mounted middle seatbelt, too. What’s with things being attached to the ceiling, Honda? 

At least the CR-V comes with parent-friendly bits like a little convex mirror in the sunglass holder that allows you to see what the gremlins are up to behind you. For what it’s worth, only the Tiguan misses out on a sunglass holder, and in this spec you don’t get those brilliant roof storage boxes, either.

  • The CR-V is a superbly packaged car, with very comfortable seats and straightforward ergonomics. The CR-V is a superbly packaged car, with very comfortable seats and straightforward ergonomics.
  • The Honda is undoubtedly the most roomy feeling of these four. The Honda is undoubtedly the most roomy feeling of these four.

All four models have cupholders between the front seats and bottle holders in all four doors, and the VW’s door pockets are flocked, meaning you won’t hear things rattling around in the doors when you’re driving - a nice touch. But the VW falls short in other ways that could be a problem for family buyers: in this spec, you miss out on rear map pockets (the only one here without those), and there’s no flip-down centre armrest - and therefore not a single rear cup holder. The other three have an arm-rest with drink receptacles. 

While we’re talking centre storage, the Holden’s centre console lid is enormous - it’s like a chauffeur's privacy screen! And the Honda’s centre console is by far the best here, with a bin that has a massive cubby between the seats with a movable shelf that allows you to hide things if you need to. 

Both the Mazda and Honda have excellent 90-degree opening rear doors which make loading children in and out a cinch, where the other two have doors that only swing open about three-quarters of the way. The latter two may save you from having to leave a note when your kids inevitably thrust the back doors open at the shops and dent the car alongside, but the wide-opening back doors are a huge advantage for parents of very young children loading them in and out by hand.

The Honda and Mazda, too, both offer dual-zone climate control, built-in sat-nav, and rear-seat USB charge points (the Honda’s under the rear vents, the Mazda’s in the armrest, with a clever hidey-hole). The Holden and VW can’t match any of that (the MY18 Tiguan we had missed out on rear USB ports, but the MY18.5 update added two USBs in the back across the range).

The Volkswagen is super impressive in a lot of ways - cabin presentation, its massive 8.0-inch media screen with a bright crisp display, the button/switch/knob feel and placement, and generally great ergonomics. That sliding second-row seat is a really thoughtful thing, too, because - if you do have really young children - they need boot space a lot more than legroom, so you can configure it as such.

The Volkswagen's cabin presentation is very impressive. The Volkswagen's cabin presentation is very impressive.

On the topic of boot space / boot dimensions / luggage capacity — whatever you want to call it — we’ve got a bit of an issue: each company uses different measurements to claim their cargo area storage. But we figured we’d show you how easily (or with how much difficulty) you can fit a typical family’s worth of luggage - three suitcases and a pram. 

The pictures tell the story: the Honda’s lower load lip and load floor makes it the best bet here, hands-down. It’s also the only one with an electric bootlid, and despite being the roomiest boot it’s also the only one with a full-size alloy spare wheel: the rest have space-saver spare wheels.

We went with the worst-case scenario for the VW, the rear seat set for maximum occupant room, and it managed to do a fine job of swallowing our luggage, if not quite as good as the Holden. The Mazda ran last for this part of the test: look, it’s a pretty cabin, but it’s definitely not the smartest in terms of space utilisation.

  • If you wish to fold down the rear seats, you’ll need to remove the middle headrest in the Holden. If you wish to fold down the rear seats, you’ll need to remove the middle headrest in the Holden.
  • The Holden have 60:40 split-fold seats. The Holden have 60:40 split-fold seats.
  • The Holden tied last with the Mazda in this segment. The Holden tied last with the Mazda in this segment.
  • Mazda stand above its competitors, with the thoughtful addition of remote rear-seat release levers. Mazda stand above its competitors, with the thoughtful addition of remote rear-seat release levers.
  • The CX-5 has 40:20:40 split seats. The CX-5 has 40:20:40 split seats.
  • The Mazda ran last for boot space. The Mazda ran last for boot space.
  • The Honda’s lower load lip and load floor makes it the best bet here, hands-down. The Honda’s lower load lip and load floor makes it the best bet here, hands-down.
  • The Honda have 60:40 split-fold seats. The Honda have 60:40 split-fold seats.
  • If you intend to use the boot as a storage space for bulky items, you could easily find a cargo barrier for any of these models. If you intend to use the boot as a storage space for bulky items, you could easily find a cargo barrier for any of these models.
  • The Tiguan comes with a cargo blind / tonneau cover. The Tiguan comes with a cargo blind / tonneau cover.
  • If the boot space dimensions don’t offer enough luggage capacity size for you, you could always add a roof rack and cargo box. If the boot space dimensions don’t offer enough luggage capacity size for you, you could always add a roof rack and cargo box.
  • The Tiguan managed to do a fine job of swallowing our luggage, if not quite as good as the Holden. The Tiguan managed to do a fine job of swallowing our luggage, if not quite as good as the Holden.

If you wish to fold down the rear seats, you’ll need to remove the middle headrest in the Holden, which is a pain… I can envisage a lot of middle-seat headrests of Holden Equinoxes being pulled out and put in the shed, never to be seen again. The Holden and Honda both have 60:40 split-fold seats, while the other two both have 40:20:40 split seats. 

Again, the Honda and Mazda stand above their competitors, with the thoughtful addition of remote rear-seat release levers, meaning you can easily drop the back seats if you’re loading things in through the boot without having to go around to the side, open the door, and lower the seat from there. 

If you intend to use the boot as a storage space for bulky items, you could easily find a cargo barrier for any of these models, and all have options for a liner or tray to stop you from damaging the carpet in the back, too. All models here except the Holden come with a cargo blind / tonneau cover. And hey, if the boot space dimensions don’t offer enough luggage capacity size for you, you could always add a roof rack and cargo box.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:7978

Price and features

It’s amazing how much you can get for your money, and these four SUVs are all proponents of the fact that there’s plenty of value to be had in the mid-size SUV segment, and not at high prices either. 

Here’s the list pricing for each model at the time of writing. Remember, that’s the RRP, or the price before on-road costs, and you could find even better deals and maybe a sharp drive away price if you’re willing to shop around.

How much is a Holden Equinox? Well, the version we have on test is the Holden Equinox LS+, which is priced at $32,990. As for where it sits in the Equinox model range, it’s one up from the base model LS which is available in manual or auto guises. It is only available in front-wheel drive, and only with the 1.5-litre turbo/automatic drivetrain tested here. There’s a diesel LS+ model, too, which will cost you $35,990.

The Honda CR-V VTi-S is our second-most affordable entrant, with a list price of $33,290. It’s the second model up the CR-V range, sitting above the VTi entry model. You can get the VTi-S in all-wheel drive if you desire, but that’ll set you back an extra $2200. There are other trim levels available higher up the money range, but you can’t get a diesel CR-V, and there’s no manual version, either.

Third in the affordability stakes is the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, which lists at $34,390, and it sits above the most affordable of the Mazda CX-5 models, the Maxx (from $28,690). The model we’ve got is the front-drive 2.0-litre auto, but there’s the option of a 2.5-litre petrol all-wheel drive model for $3000 more, or a 2.2-litre turbo diesel AWD for a whopping $6000 more than our car. Check out our full review of the CX-5 to see how the top of the range model compares with the more affordable model, and what difference there is in price.

The most costly model of these four is the Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Trendline, which is just a hundred bucks more than the Mazda at $34,490. You can get a manual version for less, and that model is the most affordable of the VW Tiguan models. If you want AWD you’ll need to spend up higher in the range on the 132TSI Comfortline ($41,990), but you get more grunt as well. By comparison, you’ll need to spend a little more if you want diesel (the 110TDI Comfortline, $43,490), and we thoroughly recommend you weigh up the advantages of petrol vs diesel depending on your situation. 

How many seats in these SUVs? They’re all five-seaters, but you can get a Honda CR-V with a third row (seven seats) for more money - the VTi-L model, it’s known as, and it costs $38,990. There’s a seven-seat Tiguan Allspace coming soon if you require more seating and like the VW. 

Here are some common standard features across all four models: power electric mirrors, power windows, remote central locking, leather-trimmed steering wheel, leather-lined gear selector, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, USB input (the Honda and Mazda both have four USBs, the others have only one), cruise control, auto on/off headlights, and touchscreen media units - the Honda, Mazda and Holden all with 7.0-inch infotainment screens, the VW’s being an 8.0-inch multimedia touch screen. All have a digital clock, though it can be hard to find in some.

The Honda and Holden miss out on rain-sensing wipers - you can get them in higher-spec versions, but not at this affordable level.

None have a self driving mode, but the VW has a semi-autonomous parking system. All have a reverse camera and rear parking sensors, but the VW and Honda have front parking sensors too.

If you’re an audiophile, there’s a CD player in the Tiguan and Mazda only (no old-school CD changer anywhere, either). The CR-V and Tiguan have eight speakers, where the CX-5 and Equinox have six. None has a subwoofer, but all should be able to cope with MP3 playback from USB.

Only the Mazda has DAB+ digital radio; you can get digital radio on the Holden in higher spec models, but it’s just AM/FM radio for the LS+ model, and for the Honda and VW, too. No model has DVD player, but the Honda has a HDMI port for screen projection when the vehicle is at a standstill.

What about technology and other gadgets? None of the models tested here have a sunroof, and you can’t option one in any of the specs presented either. You can get a panoramic roof in the CR-V VTi-L, and a smaller tilt-slide unit in the CX-5 range from the GT upwards. No Tiguan has a sunroof standard but in some specs you can option one. 

The Honda is the only one with 18-inch alloy wheels, the rest have 17-inch rims (the accessories catalogue could offer up some 19 inch options, depending on the model). The Mazda has LED headlights and fog-lights, where halogen headlights are what’s on offer elsewhere.

  • The CR-V is the only one with 18-inch alloy wheels. The CR-V is the only one with 18-inch alloy wheels.
  • The CX-5 also comes with 17-inch alloys. The CX-5 also comes with 17-inch alloys.
  • The Tiguan has 17-inch alloy wheels. The Tiguan has 17-inch alloy wheels.
  • The Equinox comes with 17-inch alloy wheels. The Equinox comes with 17-inch alloy wheels.

The Volkswagen is the only one that misses out on push button start. The Mazda has that, but - annoyingly - doesn’t have keyless entry, so you’ll have to have your key out of your pocket to unlock the car. The Holden and Honda both have smart key entry (the doors can be unlocked if you have the key within proximity). 

Only the Mazda and Honda have dual-zone climate control air conditioning, but oddly for family cars, none of these models has tinted windows. The Holden is the only one without an electrochromatic/auto-dimming rearview mirror.

The Mazda and Honda also both have built-in sat nav: you don’t get a GPS navigation system in the Holden or Volkswagen. Apple CarPlay (for your iPhone) and Android Auto (mirroring for Samsung, HTC, Oppo, Google etc) is offered standard on everything but the Mazda.

The Honda adds a power tailgate (manual on the other three) and full size spare tyre (space-saver elsewhere). None have heated seats or a heated steering wheel, nor electric seat adjustment.

But these convenience items are just a part of the full picture: the safety equipment on offer in each of these family-focused SUVs is a vital consideration, so we’ve got a dedicated scoring section for that below, with a couple of surprising highlights and lowlights.

When it comes to choosing different colours for your new car, there are options aplenty for buyers of each of these models. 

The Tiguan range - believe it or not - no longer has the option of this orange hue. What a shame. Instead the options are Pure White (the only no-cost option), while the remaining hues - Indium Grey Metallic, Tungsten Silver Metallic, Caribbean Blue Metallic, Ruby Red Metallic and Deep Black Pearl Effect will add $700 to the price. There’s no gold, beige or brown like in some other markets, either.

The option list for colours for the CX-5 includes two added cost picks - Machine Grey and Soul Red Crystal - both of which will add $300 to the price. No-cost options consist of Jet Black, Deep Crystal Blue, Eternal Blue, Titanium Flash, Sonic Silver and Snowflake White Pearl.

Honda doesn’t charge for any paint colour, which is a nice move from the brand. The range includes Crystal Black, Brilliant Sporty Blue, Midnight Forest (green), Modern Steel (grey), Passion Red, Lunar Silver and White Orchid. In the past there have been colours like orange, purple, brown and gold… but this is the new Honda.

Colours for the Equinox you can choose at no cost include Glory Red and Summit White. Tuxedo Black, Son of a Gun Grey, Blue Steel, Pepperdust and Nitrate Silver will all cost you $550.

As for accessories, there are plenty of options available from Holden, Honda, Mazda and Volkswagen.

We’re not just talking floor mats - there are items like side steps and sports grille for the CR-V, tablet holders and 20-inch wheels for the Tiguan, mud-flaps and a cargo screen for the Holden, and a cargo box and sunshades for the CX-5. There is plenty for you to choose from, but if you’re thinking hardcore goodies like a bull bar, nudge bar or snorkel, you’ll have to shop the aftermarket. 

And hey, because you might want to know how each will fare on the second hand market, we checked what the predictions are for each model’s price second hand. See the ownership section below for all the details.

Holden Equinox pricing and spec

Honda CR-V pricing and spec

Mazda CX-5 pricing and spec

Volkswagen Tiguan pricing and spec

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:8997

Engine and transmission

There is no horsepower heavy hitter here in terms of power and torque specs - we’re comparing petrol vs petrol, front wheel drive 4x2 SUVs after all - but of these four it’s the Holden that offers up the most pulling power ratings. And when it comes to manual vs automatic, it seems auto has won - every model here is standard as an auto, though the transmissions vary.

Under the bonnet of the Holden Equinox LS+ was a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine with 127kW of power and 275Nm of torque, the latter figure being the highest of this group. Not only are the engine specs better, it felt quicker than all the other vehicles here on test, too. If I had to put money on one of these vehicles winning a 0-100km acceleration speed shootout, the Holden would be it.

The Holden Equinox LS+ is powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 127kW/275Nm. The Holden Equinox LS+ is powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine, producing 127kW/275Nm.

It has a six-speed automatic gearbox, but with no paddle-shifters (there’s a manual mode: you need to select L with the shifter, then you can toggle up and down the gears with the +/- button on top of the selector).

The Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Trendline is powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo motor with 110kW of power and 250Nm of torque. Those are pretty solid specifications, and - once you get a bit of momentum - the pulling power is decent for the size of the vehicle. It proves that engine size isn’t everything.

The transmission is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic for this front-drive model, with a manual mode but no paddles, and it offered a bit to talk about in the section covering off road manners below…

The Tiguan is powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo motor with 110kW/ 250Nm. The Tiguan is powered by a 1.4-litre four-cylinder turbo motor with 110kW/ 250Nm.

The Honda CR-V VTi-S is powered by the same 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine you get in every single model in the CR-V range - even the ones with all wheel drive.

It has 140kW of power and 240Nm of torque, and like a lot of Honda engines it wants to rev to get the most out of it. That’s not exactly ideal when there’s a continuously variable transmission (CVT) auto in charge of propulsion - but it surprised a few of us in testing. It has no manual transmission mode at all.

 

The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport model we had was the 2.0-litre four-cylinder version, but the 2.5-litre model with AWD would be very tempting if the budget permitted.

Our Maxx Sport, though, offered up pretty low outputs: 110kW of power and 200Nm of torque, and its transmission is a six-speed automatic with a sport mode, but no paddle-shifters.

The CX-5 Maxx Sport has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 110kW of power and 200Nm of torque. The CX-5 Maxx Sport has a 2.0-litre four-cylinder producing 110kW of power and 200Nm of torque.

The CX-5 is the only one of this quartet without a turbocharged engine, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There’s no turbo lag to contend with, for instance, and despite its low outputs, the drivetrain is pretty well sorted. Read more about it in the driving section below.

We get a lot of reader questions over whether their car has a timing belt or chain. For the petrol-powered models you see here, the answer for each model is a timing chain. 

Towing capacity isn’t the strong suit of any of these models, but a lot of people fit a towbar to even smaller models to help with pulling a load of weight around the place. This is no towing review, but here are the statistics for those of you who are interesting in hauling a caravan or carrying stuff in a box trailer to the tip: for an un-braked trailer the Holden, Mazda and VW are rated at 750kg, the Honda at 600kg. For a braked trailer, the Honda and Holden are rated at 1500kg, the Mazda and VW at 1800kg. Models with 4x4 / 4WD / or rear wheel drive often have higher towing capacity.

None of these SUVs come with plug in hybrid or EV (fully electric) options as yet.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:8878

Fuel consumption

The Volkswagen has the lowest claimed fuel consumption of this quartet at 6.3 litres per 100 kilometres, and for those of you who prefer it the other way around, that works out to 15.9 kilometres per litre (km/L, or km l).

Incidentally it has the smallest engine capacity, too. Plus it’s the only engine with advanced cylinder deactivation technology - that means the four-cylinder unit can run on two cylinders under low loads as a means of saving fuel.

It worked pretty well on test, where we worked the engines of these four pretty hard, and it was nice to see that not only does it have the lowest claimed consumption, it lived up to its claim - being best performer in terms of actual fuel economy. It wasn’t by very much, though, and the fact it requires 95RON premium unleaded means you will have to pay more every time you head to the pump. But you should theoretically get better mileage. 

The next best for actual use was the Honda, despite having the highest claimed fuel consumption of 7.3L/100km, which is a claim of 13.7km/L. Maybe that Econ Mode button could make things even better. 

Unlike the Tiguan (but similar to the other two), the CR-V can run on regular unleaded, meaning cheaper refills.

Out of the four, the Mazda CX-5 is the only one without a turbocharged engine. Out of the four, the Mazda CX-5 is the only one without a turbocharged engine.

Third was the Mazda (claimed consumption: 6.9L/100km - 14.5l km) which - based on our hard driving test - was actually more affordable to refuel than the Tiguan because of its ability to run on non-premium petrol.  

The Holden came in last, and that’s keeping in mind it can run on regular (91RON) unleaded and that is has identical claimed consumption as the Mazda (6.9L/100km - also 14.5km l). So, even though it can run on the more affordable fuel, if our test is anything to go by it’ll still cost you more to run than any of the other vehicles here.

These rankings were based on at-the-pump calculations, but we kept an eye on the trip computer of each model as a means of comparison in terms of how accurate they were. 

The Holden and Honda both stated lower consumption than they achieved in the real world (by 13 per cent and five per cent respectively), so they were both sending the driver an optimistic message about how much juice they were drinking. The Mazda and VW were both erring on the pessimistic side about their consumption, by 10 and three per cent respectively.

All models have pretty close fuel tank capacity: the Holden has a 55L tank, the Mazda 56L, the Honda 57L, and the VW 58L.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:5878

Driving

Not long ago, buyers who were shopping for SUVs like these had to leave any hope of driver excitement elsewhere. But that’s definitely not the case any more, because not one of these SUVs is what I’d describe as lumbering or lacking in terms of dynamic ability.

The Honda, for example, has super direct electric power steering - meaning that if you need to duck between lanes on the highway or zip into a parking spot at the shops, there’s not much effort involved.

The suspension of the Honda is really well composed, too - the best of these four, in fact, for bump absorption over sharp-edged bumps, and that’s a good outcome especially given that it rides on bigger wheels. I really like the way it drives - it’s aimed at mums and dads and that’s what it delivers, a competent and comfortable experience on the road. To this tester’s ears, it exhibited the least road noise and cabin noise intrusion from the tyres, too.

Competent is the best description of the drivetrain, too. It mightn’t have the torque of the other three here, but the CVT does a really nice job of allowing you to make the most of the pulling power that’s available. Of course, being a Honda, it wants you to rev the guts out of it, but that’s not where it does its best work.

A couple of issues, though: there’s no engine start-stop, which is a shame, and because of that you’ll notice a bit of vibration through the cabin when you sit at the lights with your foot on the brake.

The Volkswagen has some quarrelsome elements to its drivetrain. At low speeds, like when you stop and then take off, or even just when you’re slowing down for speed-humps and the like, you might find that the dual-clutch transmission doesn’t behave as nicely as a regular auto, and it can lurch and stumble. You can easily lose your grip on the road when you plant the throttle, too, spinning the front wheels and squealing the tyres if you’re not measured with your throttle application. You’ll definitely need to watch that in the wet. 

But, if you can, you have to forgive it those quibbles because the drivetrain performance is otherwise really good. When you get above second gear it settles nicely, offering decent punch and shifts are superbly smooth and undeniably smart.

It coasts very comfortably, and that two-cylinder mode is pretty engaging - so, if the engine is under low enough load, it will run on half capacity, and a little icon shows up on the driver info display. I found myself at times trying to make sure it was running in that mode to save juice.

The rear suspension of the Tiguan is reasonably well sorted, but the front suspension is not the plushest here when it comes to sharper urban road bumps. It can be a little crunchy, but it makes up for that with true and natural steering.

I would suggest that if you’re into the Tiguan, make sure you take it for an extended urban drive to see if you can live with the low-speed issues.

The Mazda has quite a different character to the Tiguan - and not just because of its non-turbocharged engine.

That engine, though, is really annoying to listen to. At startup its buzzy and loud, and while it settles down after a minute or so, it remains audibly frustrating on the road.

As they are all front-wheel drive / 2WD SUVs, there was no off-road component to this test, and you can forget things like a diff lock or limited slip differential in these SUVs. As they are all front-wheel drive / 2WD SUVs, there was no off-road component to this test, and you can forget things like a diff lock or limited slip differential in these SUVs.

When you put your foot down to overtake or go up a steep hill, for example, the drivetrain will eagerly drop back a gear or two to get itself into the right torque band, but the cacophony that accompanies that is the opposite of plush. Some may posit that’s why Mazda has put a lot of effort into styling…

That said, you can rely on the drivetrain to react the same way every time, and if you flick it to Sport mode it will hold gears longer, meaning less shuffling of cogs. If you do plan to take it for a punt in Sport mode, the fact there’s no digital speedo is a pain. And of these four, I found the brake pedal feel of the Mazda to be the least convincing and reactive - next worst was the Holden, while the Honda and VW both offered confidence-inspiring results when you pressed the stop pedal.

In terms of ride composure and comfort, the Mazda is about middle-ground in this company. It doesn’t slap down on the road surface after a sharp bump as either the VW or Holden, but isn’t quite as plush as the CR-V, either. 

The downside to the Mazda is its turning circle / turning radius. It was the biggest of these four, making it harder to pivot in parking garages, and the weight at low speeds of the steering makes the arm-twirling required a bit of a workout. For what it’s worth, the Holden was next worst for its turning circle in testing, while the VW and Honda were the most carpark friendly.

The Holden was the one that I enjoyed driving least around town, but most on an open windy road. 

That’s because the suspension is more taut and terse than the rest: there’s clearly a real focus on body control, and as a result it feels as if it gets firmer the slower you’re going. And it’s not afraid to stamp its feet down hard over big bumps in the city. 

If you live in an urban area, it’s the one that’ll frustrate you the most in terms of passenger comfort.

But get out of town and you’ll enjoy steering that is really easy to judge, and has good weighting too. Plus it feels like a hatchback when you push it through corners, rather than a big practical SUV.

The drivetrain of the Equinox was pretty impressive for the most part, and there’s no doubt in my mind that it offers the quickest acceleration of these four, but it also showed up a bit of torque steer (where the steering wheel will tug down under hard acceleration).

No need to worry about hill starts in any of them - each has hill start assist, though if you don’t active Auto Hold on the Tiguan it can roll back.

As they are all front-wheel drive / 2WD SUVs, there was no off-road component to this test, and you can forget things like a diff lock or limited slip differential in these SUVs

If you value off road capability and you choose cars by their ground clearance (mm) ratings and wading depth, or want to know which 16-inch chrome wheels you can fit with off road tyres, you really ought to be shopping elsewhere. That’s not to say that models like the Tiguan Adventure can’t go a little off the beaten track - it just wasn’t part of the criteria for this test. 

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:7887

Safety

When it comes to safety kit, all four vehicles have a reversing camera and rear parking sensors. The Mazda and Holden miss out on front sensors that the other two have, and the Volkswagen even has a semi-autonomous parking system, bettering its competitors. And each has ESP and a traction control system, of course.

As for airbag coverage, the Honda, Holden and Mazda have dual front, front side and full-length curtains, for a total of six, while the Volkswagen adds knee coverage. In addition, all four SUVs have the highest possible ANCAP safety rating of five stars, with the Tiguan having been tested in 2016, and the rest in 2017.

But realistically, you simply can’t do better than the Holden Equinox LS+ at this price point when it comes to safety features and equipment.

The Holden is the only one with the full gamut of tech: it has auto emergency braking (AEB) with forward collision warning, lane departure monitoring, active lane assist (it will steer you back into the lane if you wander out of it), auto high-beam headlights, a blind-spot monitor system and rear cross traffic alert. Added to that, the Equinox LS+ (and all models above it) have a brilliant bottom-buzzing system that will alert the driver of any imminent obstacles. It is seriously excellent in day-to-day use, because a vibration through your caboose definitely gets your attention more than, say, a beep through the speakers or a buzz through the steering wheel. Well done, Holden, for making so much kit available at such a price.

The Mazda offers AEB both at the front, and the rear - yep, it’ll stop you if it thinks you’ll hit something when reversing - plus blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. There’s no lane-keeping assist unless you’re spending up on the high-spec CX-5 Akera, which also adds adaptive cruise control. You can’t option that stuff as part of a pack, though.

The Volkswagen has AEB and lane-keeping assist, but you can’t option up the Trendline model with any further safety stuff, either - you need to spend a little more on the Comfortline version to then be allowed to spend more on extra safety stuff… not sure that’s a good thing.

It’s only the CR-V that misses out on smart active safety kit such as AEB. It does have a passenger-side blind-spot monitor system called LaneWatch that uses a camera to display what’s hidden behind you on the central screen, but there’s no intervention tech at this price point, or a few specs above it.

At the time of writing, Honda only offers its Honda Sensing Safety Suite with AEB and lane-keeping assist (it also includes adaptive cruise control with low-speed following) on the top-spec VTi-LX: you can’t even option AEB on the lower models. That essentially means that if you can’t afford $45k-plus for the best CR-V, you’re safety and peace of mind isn’t worth as much… It’s a big oversight, one that Honda promises it will address. We sure hope they do, and soon.

Where is the Honda CR-V built? Thailand. Where is the Mazda CX-5 built? Japan. Where is the Volkswagen Tiguan built? Germany. Where is the Holden Equinox built? Mexico. What an eclectic mix of manufacturing nations.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:9688

Ownership

There’s no clear ‘best buy’ of these four when it comes to ownership - if you want the best, consider a Kia.

The Holden offers the least compelling warranty plan, with three years/100,000km of coverage, though you could argue that unless you’re doing epic trips, the three-year/unlimited kilometre plans offered by Mazda and Volkswagen aren’t much better. 

It’s the Honda that wins the warranty comp, with a five-year unlimited kilometre cover. You can option extended warranty cover through all four brands if you want it.

Roadside assist is free for the warranty period for the Volkswagen and Holden, and if you service your car at Holden workshops you will get an extra two years’ cover (total: five). Mazda and Honda both ask you to pay for their company-backed roadside assist programs. 

Servicing is another point of contention.

The Holden needs maintenance every 12 months or 12,000km, and the average service costs per annum over a the first three years works out at $272. Affordable!

The Honda needs maintenance slightly more regularly, every 12 months or 10,000km. The average cost per visit for the first three years works out at $295. 

The Mazda requires servicing every 12 months or 10,000km, too, but is slightly more expensive than the Honda: the annual average for the first three years is $309.

Volkswagen offers the best intervals for those who plan to drive longer distances, at 12 months/15,000km. But the cost of servicing is high, averaging out at $458 per year for the first three years. Those are some expensive stamps in your owners manual - but they could affect your resale value in the long run.

The warranty of the Honda just manages to gets it an extra point here, while the service costs of the VW drop it below its peers.

If you are concerned over defects, durability, reliability ratings, transmission problems/gearbox problems, turbo problems, engine problems, cruise control qualms, injector issues, consumer complaints and issues, be sure to look up our problems pages for each of the models.

As for resale value, we used Glass’s Guide for the expected value of each of these vehicles after three years/50,000km. Or you can research current pricing and specs for the CR-VCX-5Equinox and Tiguan here.

Here are the projected values for each vehicle: the CX-5 is likely to hold roughly 56 per cent of the purchase price after that period, making it the best performer of these four. The second-best predicted value holder is the CR-V at approximately 53 per cent, while the Equinox was just behind at just on 52 per cent. The Tiguan was the least enticing mainly due to its higher purchase price, with a predicted value of about 50 per cent after three years/50,000km.

 Holden EquinoxHonda CR-VMazda CX-5Volkswagen Tiguan
Score:7876

Verdict

This was a close-fought battle, and to be 100 per cent frank with you, the Honda CR-V VTi-S is the one that our team of testers found to be the best all-rounder in terms of the things you expect from a mid-sized SUV.

It is hugely practical, comfortable and has lots of standard goodies, but we simply can’t award it the outright win in this test because of its comparative lack of safety kit.

If it had the same Honda Sensing safety suite that you get in the top model, which we think it will have within the next 12 months, it would have won this test. But it didn’t.

Instead, the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport is what we’d suggest you buy if safety is as important to you as we’d suggest it should be. It’s easy to see why so many people buy the CX-5 - no matter the price point it feels plush inside, drives quite nicely and if you have one infant, or a couple of primary school-aged kids, this could be a winner for you.

Sure, it isn’t as spacious as the others here, and that could be a determining factor as to whether it suits your needs or not, but thankfully you’re spoilt for choice in this segment if you need extra space rather than a car that does a lot of things really well.

The Volkswagen Tiguan 110TSI Trendline is impressive in a lot of ways, with its smart cabin offering up plenty of food for thought for family buyers. But it was let down in this test by high servicing costs and a lack of kit for the money: if you can afford it, I’d suggest spending up on a more expensive Tiguan, because you will feel like you’ve spent your money better there - it just doesn’t make as much sense as a budget SUV. 

In every race someone has to come last, and in this case it’s the Holden Equinox LS+. It’s certainly not a bad family SUV, but it falls short of offering the ‘all-rounder’ experience of being comfortable, thoughtful and desirable. Holden should be applauded for the amount of safety equipment it has put into this spec, and if buying the most safety-feature-packed model you can get for not much money, you can’t do better than this. Unfortunately for the Equinox, you can do better in a few other ways.

 Holden Equinox LS+Honda CR-V VTi-SMazda CX-5 Maxx SportVolkswagen Tiguan 110TSI
Final score:7.07.87.87.5

Which mid-sized SUV would you choose? Let us know in the comments section below.



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