There are many affordable compact SUVs on the market, and on paper, they all look similar. But they can be very different in spirit. Americans like our cars to reflect how we see ourselves. So the different spirits of two superficially similar SUVs can mean they appeal to very different buyers.
The 2023 Mazda CX-5 and Ford Bronco Sport, for instance, offer nearly the same power. They share nearly the same measurements. And both have standard all-wheel drive (AWD). Yet they couldn’t seem more different.
Let’s see what might make a buyer more attracted to one or the other.
2023 Mazda CX-5
The 2023 Mazda CX-5 may be the best on-road handler of any affordable small SUV. It’s fun-to-drive nature and upscale cabin set it apart. But it has plenty of foul-weather grip thanks to standard all-wheel drive. Pricing starts at $26,700.
Mazda CX-5 Highlights
Crisp handling: Mazda does something few mainstream car makers do – it builds torque vectoring into even its affordable vehicles. That’s a system that brakes each wheel independently to point the car into turns with more balance than most competitors. It makes the CX-5 a lot of fun on a winding road, and the Bronco Sport can’t match it.
Lower starting price: These two have similar space, similar power, and similar fuel economy numbers. So seeing a price difference of more than $2,500 between them is a bit of a surprise. At press time for this article, Ford lists the cheapest Bronco Sport as unavailable. The least-expensive model currently in stock costs more than $31,000, so the real-world difference can be even bigger.
Premium interior: Mazda does two things exceptionally well – handling and interiors. The CX-5’s cabin looks and feels upscale. Caturra Brown Nappa leather seats on the high-end 2.5 Turbo Signature model are almost unheard of outside the luxury classes.
2023 Ford Bronco Sport
The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport isn’t the Ford Bronco of off-road legend. That one will cost you more than the affordable small SUV class can justify. Instead, it’s a compact crossover that borrows a few off-road tricks from its big brother Bronco, including more trail modes than other affordable small SUVs. It’s suitable for your everyday commute but capable of leaving it behind. Prices start at $29,215.
Ford Bronco Sport Highlights
Goes Over Any Type of Terrain (G.O.A.T.) system: The heart of that off-road capability is Ford’s G.O.A.T. system. Most Bronco Sport models get not one, but five off-road driving modes. The Badlands and Heritage Limited models get an incredible seven. Sand, mud, snow, rocks – it doesn’t matter what the surface is, the Bronco Sport can handle it.
Suitable for taller drivers: The Bronco Sport provides more head-, leg-, and shoulder room than the CX-5. It’s one of the best choices in this class for taller drivers.
Retro-look Heritage models: As pretty as Mazda’s vehicles are, the company doesn’t do much in the way of special editions. In 2023, Ford builds the Bronco Sport in a pair of unique Heritage trims. White grilles with big red lettering and colors right out of the 1960s (Robin’s Egg Blue is really something) make them stand out like nothing else in this class.
These two have similar power from their base engines and their optional turbocharged engines, and score the same combined mpg rating.
How different can two affordable small SUVs with around the same engine power and mpg be? Very, when one is a fun-to-drive highway cruiser and the other is built to tackle trails. The 2023 Mazda CX-5 looks and feels sporty and carries a lower starting price. The 2023 Ford Bronco Sport conveys a more rugged image and comes in creative colors.
Either one will suit your daily driving needs. But they send different messages.
|2023 Mazda CX-5||2023 Ford Bronco Sport|
|Engine||2.5-liter 4-cylinder||1.5-liter turbo 3-cylinder|
|Horsepower||187 hp @ 6,000 rpm||181 hp @ 6,000 rpm|
|Torque||186 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm||190 lb-ft @ 3,000 rpm|
|Transmission||6-speed automatic||8-speed automatic|
|Fuel Economy||24 city/30 highway/26 combined mpg||25 city/28 highway/26 combined mpg|
|Also Available||2.5-liter turbo 4-cylinder||2.0-liter turbo 4-cylinder|
|Basic Warranty||3 years/36,000 miles||3 years/36,000 miles|
|Powertrain Warranty||5 years/60,000 miles||5 years/60,000 miles|
|NHTSA Overall Safety Rating||5 stars||5 stars|
|Max Seating Capacity||5||5|
|Wheelbase||106.2 inches||105.1 inches|
|Overall Length||180.1 inches||172.7 inches|
|Width||72.6 inches||82.2 inches|
|Height||65.6 inches||70.2 inches|
|Turning Diameter||36.0 feet||37.4 feet|
|Headroom, Front||39.7 inches||41.5 inches|
|Headroom, Rear||39.0 inches||41.7 inches|
|Legroom, Front||41.0 inches||42.4 inches|
|Legroom, Rear||39.6 inches||36.9 inches|
|Shoulder Room, Front||57.1 inches||57.3 inches|
|Shoulder Room, Rear||54.8 inches||55.6 inches|
|Cargo Volume||30.8/59.3 cubic feet||32.5/65.2 cubic feet|