Comparison: Ford Escape vs. Honda CR-V vs. Mazda CX-5

Matt Tierney

2013 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring FWD

At $29,165, our Mazda CX-5 was the least expensive vehicle in our trio -- but it lacked four-wheel drive and produced the least horsepower. While we're on the subject of frugality, it also boasts the best EPA fuel economy ratings, and in our rigorous testing (we drove like animals) used by far the least fuel. In fact, it beat the Ford by 30 percent and the Honda by fifteen.

If the defining feature of the CR-V is usability and the Ford's is high-tech, the Mazda CX-5's calling card is gimmick-free elegance. There's a richness to the vehicle that goes beyond the others -- in its exterior styling as well as its cabin. The red-stitched black leather looks and smells more expensive than the hides in the other cars; the no-frills dashboard trades overwrought styling features for simple functionality, and the Mazda's driving dynamics are, simply put, a whole class ahead of its rivals.

The CX-5's steering feels like its rack came straight off the shelf of the Porsche engineering center. It's accurate, well-weighted, and highly communicative. Will Goldilocks care about steering? Does a bear cook in the woods? Absolutely! The typical crossover buyer may not speak in terms of on-center steering feel and load buildup, but all drivers know good steering when they feel it: Goldilocks will get in this car and instantly feel like she's connected with the wheels and in control of her vehicle.

And when the bears come running after her, the CX-5 will make the quickest getaway. It may be down 85 hp from the Ford and 30 hp on the Honda, but the Mazda's body weighs some 300 lb less than the Ford and about 100 lb less than the Honda when comparably equipped. With short, closely spaced gearing and a transmission that loves to play ball, the Mazda doesn't suffer much from its lack of power -- and the well-weighted leather shift knob can be thrown into a fully manual gate that uses the racing layout (forward for downshifts, rearward for upshifts).

The CX-5 leisurely rounds bends at speeds that would have the CR-V's tires screaming loud enough to scare off any attacking furry mammal, and it demonstrates class-leading body control over potholes, frost heaves, and speed humps. The front suspension will bottom out over big bumps that the Ford takes in stride, but the rest of the Mazda's driving experience is flawless. And its ride is quieter and more supple than the others'.

In terms of usability and technology, the CX-5 again falls right in the sweet spot. Its cargo room is the smallest of the bunch, but its cabin is biggest overall, meaning it has the most space for people. The rear seat is split 40/20/40, and it can be folded forward in any combination by way of very clever handles near the rear hatch. The resulting load floor isn't, however, perfectly flat.

The CX-5 features some of the Ford's high-tech goodies without feeling overly gimmicky. Like the Escape, our Mazda was equipped with blind-spot monitoring -- which isn't available on the Honda, which needs it the most thanks to thick D-pillars that obscure rearward visibility. All three cars had reverse cameras, though the Mazda's screen is quite small. The CX-5's optional swiveling HID headlamps make for great visibility on curvy roads at night, and we suspect its Bose stereo is good enough to keep passengers entertained on long journeys over the hills and through the woods -- whether to Grandmother's house or to a rave.

Getting lost shouldn't be a problem since Mazda's navigation system was designed by TomTom, and while the screen is by far the smallest of the three, its graphical buttons are the largest and easiest to operate. The steering wheel controls and gauges are simple, straightforward, and highly legible -- and like the other cars, the CX-5's dual-zone climate control is easy to use, and it spit out the coldest air-conditioned air of the group.

The interesting thing about children's stories is how well they apply to our adult lives. Sure, you can have your porridge any way you like it. The Honda CR-V is like oatmeal -- not very flavorful, but packed with benefits. The Ford Escape is a warm bowl of peppered grits packed with lots of spice and flavor -- though perhaps too much for some. And then the Mazda CX-5 is a delicate polenta -- it's the same basic idea, but somehow this porridge comes across as more substantial, more expensive, and more elegant. Or as Goldilocks might say, it's just right.

The Specs

PRICE: $27,840/$29,165 (base/as tested)
ENGINE: 2.0L I-4, 155 hp, 150 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 6-speed automatic
EPA MILEAGE: 26/32 mpg

3 of 3
I'm actually struggling with a decision of which of these to buy.  I don't want a SUV, but we need the cargo capacity for our business.  I really like the Land Rover Evoque, but it costs too much and doesn't carry enough stuff.  It also only comes in 4WD and we want FWD.  So far its the Ford Escape that seems the best choice for us.  We've had Hondas and life them, but the CR-V is too ugly to tolerate.  The Escape has some style and the 240hp should make for some fun driving.  Struggling because I'd never imagined I have to drive an SUV.  It's like surrendering your manhood.
The Ford escape looks like a van and more towards a chick car. The Mazda CX-5 looks so much better then the escape. Not to mention ford never has the right mileage. I test drove both and the Mazda has better handling, standard 17' alloy wheels, Bluetooth and has blind spot system on there mid trim car. MAZDA is more of a reliable car unlike Ford with engine fires on the new escape and the recalls the 2013 Escape had within a year. I own both Ford and Mazda vehicles(in my household) and retired from Ford, overall I choose the Mazda and I ended up buying the CX-5!
Good comparison review but, the goldilocks theme for comparisons is a little past cliche. Talk about taking away from the content.Jason I enjoy your writing please stay away from goldilocks.
All in all, my decision to spend a few more bucks for my '12 Audi Q5 2.0T continues to be the right decision. Although, I must say I hoped for better for the new Escape and would still likely take it over either of the others. Oh, and I've owned several Mazdas including 2 Miatas and an RX-8. The lack of torque is disconcerting at best.
Seven weeks ago tomorrow, I took delivery of the first AWD CX-5 in my city. With three reasonably long trips and plenty of city driving under my belt, I can affirm that the vehicle has superior dynamic capabilities and all of the bells and whistles that I want without being too "gimicky". Gas mileage is good (29.96 mpg on the last highway fill-up) and improving by the tankful. I have friends who own near-new RAV-4s and CRVs who are now rethinking their choices. The vehicle could use more passing torque, but the transmission does an excellent job of maximizing the available power.I'm very pleased with the latest addition to my Zoom-Zoom fleet.
Always good to see Mazda get good marks. Easily the most underrated car company out there. They really do try to put some zoom zoom in each and every car. Would like to see them get more air time and respect from the press. Good competitors make for better products for all of us. Now if I can only convince them to put a supercharged 4 cly, AWD into the RX8...
@ $36000no offense, I would rather be driving the Infiniti EX35 and if I were in Europee, the EX37!!300-333HP, AWD option, and it's as light as the sedan :D
To make the test fair and objective, the Ford should have had the 1.6 engine and the Mazda all wheel drive. This is just a beauty contest.
V8 S80
Whooop. way to go mazda. I was hoping you might win out a comparison between the two.

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