SINGAPORE, Aug 11 — There is no better time to buy a Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) than now.
The fact that they have become more affordable (S$130,000 to S$150,000/RM409,635 to RM472,626) and are loaded with the advanced features and performance previously only available in cars that cost double has made them a key consideration for drivers here.
Currently sitting at the top of the latest crop of SUVs in the S$140,000 to S$150,000 range are the Mazda CX-5 and the Toyota Harrier.
Both are fitted with nifty conveniences such as powered tailgates and adaptive cruise control, which automatically keeps a safe distance from the vehicle in front.
Both cars also sport intelligent safety features such as active steering assist to keep you from accidentally drifting into the next lane and assisted braking systems that can mitigate a collision in case the driver is not paying attention.
So how do the two of them stack up against each other?
The Toyota Harrier is fast becoming ubiquitous on local roads. It was already a firm favourite as a parallel import model for many years to begin with, but the recent introduction of the officially imported version via local dealer Borneo Motors looks set to push up its numbers here further.
It is not hard to see why. For starters, Singapore is the first market outside Japan to get the 2-litre turbocharged version, which makes 227hp. This provides a much-needed shot of adrenaline, and transforms the 2,245kg car into a vehicle that is more akin to a sports saloon than an off-roader.
It is worth noting that neither of the cars tested here had four-wheel-drive capabilities, but this should not matter to the majority of Singapore buyers as they tend to prioritise fuel efficiency over off-road capability.
In either case, both the CX-5 and Harrier are capable of handling twisty roads with fluency, and both have stability systems that help the driver keep the car on the intended path in adverse conditions.
When it comes to performance, however, it must be said that the Mazda CX-5 had a definite edge over the Toyota Harrier.
Although the 2.5-litre version of the CX-5 does not have a turbocharger and puts out 194hp, it more than makes up for the power deficit thanks to its weight: It tips the scales at only 1,600kg, which is 645kg lighter than the Harrier.
With that much less weight to carry around, the CX-5 corners more like a sports car than the Harrier and accelerates like one as well, since there is no need to wait for the turbocharger to spool up. Even though the Harrier has more torque — 350Nm compared with the Mazda’s 257Nm — its claimed 7.3 seconds to reach 100km/h from rest feels rather optimistic for such a heavy car.
On a daily basis, the Mazda’s lower kerb weight can also translate to better fuel savings.
The bigger-engined CX-5 claims a consumption average of 7.2 litres per 100km, whereas the Harrier manages a claimed 7.6 litres per 100km.
Over the course of the year, this may go some way towards negating the S$576 premium in road tax that the CX-5 — at S$1,786 — has over the Harrier’s S$1,210.
Inside, the Mazda is available with either a black leather interior scheme — just like the Harrier — or alternatively, a two-tone cream-on-black ensemble that looks much classier. It may be a little harder to maintain, but those who have an appreciation for style will gladly bear with the extra care.
Other highlights are the 10-speaker Bose sound system in the Mazda that trumps the Toyota’s setup; and the infotainment controls, which in the Mazda felt more “built-in” than the aftermarket-looking unit on the Toyota.
The only complaint with the Mazda CX-5 is that somehow, the interior did not feel as spacious as the Harrier. This could possibly be intended to make the occupants feel like they are in a sports car, though the seats squabs felt a little short on under-thigh support.
The Toyota Harrier, in comparison, felt like a car to relax in. Its vault-like cabin lets nary a sound in and makes its engine sound like it is far, far away compared to the Mazda, which makes you feel more connected to the car.
While keener drivers will undoubtedly have a better time in the Mazda CX-5, we have a feeling that more drivers will gravitate towards the Toyota Harrier for its more spacious — and quieter — cabin, which also features a much bigger sunroof than the one in the CX-5.
Pocket-wise, others will also point out that the 2-litre turbocharged engine in the Harrier equates to less road tax paid, which could make them feel like they are getting away with something more for less.
Mazda CX-5 2.5 Super Luxury
Engine: 2,488cc 4-cyl, 194hp, 257Nm
Performance: 196km/h, 0-100km/h 8.9seconds, 7.2l/100km, 167g/km
Price: S$149,800 with COE
Toyota Harrier 2.0 Premium
Engine: 1,998cc 4-cyl turbo, 227hp, 350Nm
Performance: 180km/h, 0-100km/h 7.3seconds, 6.0l/100km, 136g/km
Price: S$153,988 with COE — TODAY