2013 Mazda CX-5
It's no surprise that crossovers are having such a surge in popularity right now.
By offering the sort of chunky styling and high driving position that draws people to SUVs, with gas mileage and driving characteristics more in common with regular compact cars, they offer the best of both worlds for many drivers.
The two making all the headlines at the moment are the 2013 Ford Escape with its EcoBoost engine, and Mazda's Skyactiv-powered 2013 CX-5.
Read our full review of the 2013 Mazda CX-5
The Ford uses turbocharging, and both use direct injection to extract those extra few MPG from the otherwise humble combustion engine... but which offers the best numbers for the green buyer?
It's the Mazda that backs up its nomenclature the best, the 2.0-liter four-cylinder delivering 29 mpg combined in front-wheel drive, automatic specification. Ford's turbocharged 2.0-liter Escape with the same FWD and auto transmission options manages only 25 mpg combined, which looks poor not just next to the Mazda, but also next to the old Escape Hybrid, which managed 32 mpg.
2013 Ford Escape
The story is no better on city or highway mileage, where the Ford gets 22 mpg and 30 mpg respectively, to the CX-5's 26 and 32. If you opt for the Mazda's six-speed manual transmission, highway mileage climbs to 35 mpg.
That means it uses less gas and pollutes less, but it could also save you a few hundred dollars in gas per year.
Of course, Ford will offer another option with the Escape--a smaller, more efficient 1.6-liter Ecoboost, capable of 33 mpg highway. That puts it much closer to the Mazda's impressive numbers.
Both the Escape and CX-5 give buyers the option of gas-saving front-wheel drive, or traction-enhancing all-wheel drive for those in tougher climates.
Ford wins the power race--the Mazda's naturally-aspirated, 155-horsepower 2.0-liter can't compete with the 2.0-liter Ecoboost with up to 240 horsepower. It can't even compete with the 1.6 Ecoboost, rated at up to 178 hp. Both those engines should give the Escape useful performance, a characteristic we found a little lacking in the CX-5 when we drove it--but perhaps that's the price you pay for the greater gas mileage.
2013 Mazda CX-5
Each seats five and offers plenty of space for luggage too, so each will do the "practical family vehicle" task without too much issue. And when they're not being used to carry the kids about, each is more fun than you might expect too. Mazda has seemingly injected the CX-5 with some of the MX-5 Miata's DNA, while the Escape is very similar to the European Ford Kuga--a car previously praised for its handling.
Pricing and conclusion
CX-5 pricing starts at $20,995, for which you get a front-drive car in Sport trim, with a manual gearbox. Step up to the auto and you'll pay $22,395 for the same trim, and add another couple of driven wheels and it rises to $23,645.
In comparison, the Escape 1.6 EcoBoost kicks off at $25,070, with 2.0-liter models starting at $26,165. For that you get standard automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. Four-wheel drive adds $1,750 to each car.
That makes the Ford more expensive, but to get the EcoBoost models you do have to go up one trim level from S to SE, making it better equipped. Even so, the next level up on the CX-5 ladder, Touring, still works out cheaper.
If performance is more of a concern than economy, then Ford's crossover is the only way to go. It's also selling fast, even though Ford hasn't started a big advertising campaign yet.
But we were really impressed when we drove the CX-5. It's fun, it looks good, and in this comparison, it's the greener car than the Ford.