2023 Honda CR-V vs. 2023 Kia Sportage Hybrid vs. 2023 Mazda CX-50 | Compact SUV Comparison Test
RYAN ZUMMALLEN: We've been waiting for this one. Today, we've got a 2023 Honda CR-V, the first all-new CR-V since 2017. Now the CR-V has been one of our favorite SUVs for a long time, and this one has more power, more cargo space, and more onboard tech than its predecessor. But are these changes enough? Because while the CR-V was getting spruced up, its competitors launched an all-out offensive.
We've now got a new number one ranked small SUV, the Mazda CX-50. And we've got a new number one ranked small hybrid SUV, the Kia Sportage. Is a new CR-V good enough to take on both of these number ones? And which one should you buy? While you're here, go ahead and click that little Like button. And you might as well hit the Subscribe one next to it. And if you want to sell your car, go to edmunds.com/sellmycar, and you'll get a cash offer right
now. Now that the redesigned CR-V is here, all three of these SUVs are pretty much brand new and have been released in the past year or so. And we like them all. This is a crowded segment with a lot of choice, but here are the important things you need to know about each. The CR-V is introducing its brand new generation, and this trim is the range-topping Sport Touring, which is hybrid only.
The CR-V's calling card is cargo space and all around utility. So this usefulness could make it the best family SUV you can buy. Under the hood of some models, you've got a turbocharged 1.5 liter engine.
But in the hybrid, you get a 2 liter engine mated to that hybrid system. In total, it makes 204 horsepower. And this one's all-wheel drive. The Kia Sportage is one of our top ranked small SUVs, and we like the hybrid version even better. Now that's partly because the hybrid gets both more power and better fuel economy than the non-hybrid version. Now even though it's our number one ranked hybrid SUV, the fact that there's a new CR-V kind of makes the Sportage the dark horse here.
But we'll see if it can keep its number one spot after today. Under the hood, it's got a 1.6 liter engine mated to that hybrid system, making a total of 227 horsepower. And it's also all-wheel drive. The Mazda CX-50 is our number one ranked small SUV, and even though there's no hybrid option, it still has a very real chance of keeping its crown against the new CR-V. Utility
is not such a strong point for this one, but performance and personality are where it really stands out. This thing is wide, it looks aggressive, and it's got a high ground clearance. Under the hood, you've got a 2.5 liter, 4-cylinder engine, also making 227 horsepower.
And, you guessed it, this one's all-wheel drive. When it comes to pricing, the Honda CR-V Sport Hybrid starts at a little over $33,000. And this model, the Sport Touring Hybrid, is almost $40,000, including destination.
As for the Kia Sportage Hybrid, you can get a base model LX version for a little over $28,000. While this one, the Hybrid SX Prestige, starts at over $37,000. Meanwhile, the Mazda CX-50 Turbo-- remember, not a hybrid-- starts at over $38,000. To get into one like this, a Turbo Premium Plus, you're looking at $43,000 and change, including destination. When you're taking a look at the new CR-V, it's clear that Honda gave this a much more modern exterior.
For instance, you've now got a big old grille and pretty slimmed out headlights. This is a really reminiscent look of the new Civic as well. So the company is trying to bring those two models more in line. Around back, the taillights look pretty similar to the old model. Again, they've been updated.
But I like that it's still recognizable as a CR-V. They didn't reinvent the wheel. Speaking of wheels, the dimensions of the CR-V are mostly the same as the last one. Some small differences here or there, but one that I'm going to keep my eye on is the wheelbase.
Now the distance from the front wheel to the back wheel has grown by about an inch and a half. And that's usually something to keep an eye on because it can lead to improved ride comfort and, hopefully, more space inside. These are family vehicles first and foremost.
So cargo space is a top priority. Let's check that out first. Cargo space is typically a hallmark for Honda, and this new CR-V Hybrid has a big plus. That's because in the previous CR-V Hybrid, the hybrid batteries took up a lot of space in the back.
So you actually lost room. But with the new one, the hybrid gets the same amount of space as the gas-only model. And now, it's over 39 cubic feet, which is a big jump over the previous one. I'm going to use this folding patio table to help demonstrate just how much space you get. If you slide it in the long way-- [RECORD SCRATCHING] Huh. Well, that actually doesn't fit.
So it's not very deep. Let's see what else we can find out. If we turn it up, OK, so if we turn it up, there's a lot of space here.
You can see there's a lot of vertical height. So maybe the space in the back of the CR-V seems to be derived from the vertical height and from the width. But it's not super deep. If you fold down the rear seats, that's a different story. You do have to reach up here and push it, which is not the most convenient. But once that second row is down, the space really opens up in here.
Now you've got a lot to work with. There is a little bit of a hump here from the rear cargo floor to the second row seatbacks, but that seems to be because Honda prioritized a low load floor. So you don't have to strain too much to get big, heavy objects up here.
So while there is a bit of a hump and the seats don't fold completely flat, you're gaining a lot of space overall. So I'm not mad at it. Take one look at the Sportage Hybrid and it's clear that Kia wanted to give you the impression of a bold, tech forward people mover. Just because it's a small SUV doesn't mean it has to be boring. And one of the key things they did was this really cool lighting signature. It's got this wing style.
And at night, it really gives it a dynamic look. And that's helpful because otherwise, it's kind of shaped like a potato. That bold design philosophy does have downsides.
Sometimes, Kia just can't help themselves. For instance, they will throw in pointless trapezoid shapes up here for no reason. I just don't need overstyling like that, but at least they're not boring. Cargo time. The CR-V and the Sportage are locked in an epic cargo battle for the ages. Guess who comes out victorious? The Kia of all things.
Even with a brand new CR-V coming out, the Kia Sportage still has the advantage in cargo space. OK, it's just by the teeniest, tiniest, technical amount. But still, that's pretty impressive. Let's see how it works with our table. So the load floor feels a little bit high compared to the CR-V, but that table slides in lengthways pretty easily.
Let's see how it does with height. OK, so we're getting stuck here. There's definitely less vertical space than there is in the CR-V, but it's still pretty usable. And look, that fits in really nicely.
This is the biggest rear cargo space of the bunch. And you can get a lot of stuff in here, too. It's also really easy to fold the second row seats down. You just pull that and pull this. And as you can see, it opens up the space quite a bit. However, once you fold down the second row seats, the CR-V actually has the advantage.
So there's a little bit of give and take. One thing about the Mazda CX-50, it is not boring to look at whatsoever. There's nothing potato-y going on about this design. You've got the longest of the three SUVs today nose to tail. You got the longest wheelbase, too. It's also the widest of the three.
So you've got these exaggerated lines all over the place. And what you end up with is this kind of rally-looking stance. And I mean, be honest, you want to drive this thing on a rally course, don't you? I do. Now on top of all that stuff, it's also got the highest ground clearance.
So there is a little bit of extra capability. Let's check out the cargo. Cargo space is not a top priority for the Mazda CX-50. Behind the second row, you have a little over 31 cubic feet of space. That's down quite a bit compared to the other two SUVs.
But there is some interesting stuff to talk about. First of all, if you want to slide this in the long way, it can do it and leave quite a bit of space left over. If you want to set it up tall ways though, this is clearly a smaller opening than the other two SUVs. And that's partly because the Mazda CX-50 has that sloping roofline that's cutting into our usable space here. Putting down the second row is easy. You just grab this handle and this handle.
That opens up the space quite a bit. But again, it's down a lot compared to the Sportage Hybrid and the CR-V Hybrid. Cargo space is just not the first reason that you would buy a Mazda CX-50. All three SUVs do a pretty good job of using design to let you know upfront what they're all about. Honda CR-V is functional first and foremost.
Kia Sportage is practical, but cutting edge. And the Mazda CX-50, it does whatever the hell it wants. Let's see what the interior of the CR-V Hybrid is all about. Immediately, you can tell that this is way more up-to-date and modern than the outgoing version. Some of the things that I really like are this cool honeycomb pattern. And here's where you can see one of the areas that it's being influenced by the new Civic.
We have a Civic Si in our Edmunds long-term test program. So I'm pretty familiar with that interior. And this shares a lot with that Civic. There is a fair bit of hard plastic in here. This entire console, for instance, seems to be pretty cheap looking plastic. But there are features to take your attention away from that.
In addition to the honeycomb, there's a cool dimpled pattern along here, and I really like these big climate controls. And the knurling on there, it just feels nice to twist around. Let's talk about the screen. The CR-V comes standard with a 7-inch unit. This is the upgraded 9-inch, and I really like it. Responds quickly to the touch, and there's some cool functionality in there that will give you information about your driving characteristics and stuff like that.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come standard and they're both wireless. Here's a drawback. It sure seems like there's a lot less storage space in this new CR-V than the previous one. In the old one, this center bin was huge. And even though there's a tray that you can move around, it just doesn't have that much capacity here. There's a tiny tray barely worth mentioning right here, although you do have a bigger space upfront ahead of the gear shifter and a wireless charging station.
Getting into the CR-V Hybrid is pretty easy. You got a nice head space and the seats are at the perfect level to just slide right in, at least for me. I'm 6 feet tall. Speaking of 6 feet tall, I've got really nice headroom. There's actually a cutout here to make this area higher in the ceiling.
And I've got pretty good legroom. Compared to the old CR-V, the new CR-V has about an extra half inch of legroom. I know, right? Amazing. Bringing out a brand new CR-V, I kind of expected some big improvements. Maybe that's on me. But you get a half inch of extra legroom.
It just doesn't seem like a lot. I was just kind of expecting more. On the whole though, it's a comfortable place to be because you do have good space. The seats are pretty comfortable.
And one cool feature is there's all kinds of different levels of adjustability in these seats. You can leave them there, or down here, or they can go all the way back like this if you really need a nap. [SNORING] And then finally, the child seats are really easy to anchor in because they're exposed right there.
Nice and easy. Now let's talk cabin of the Sportage Hybrid. And there is a lot to talk about in here.
First thing is it's maybe a little overstyled. I don't know what exactly you would call these shapes, but I don't think they're found in nature. On top of that, there is a lot of gloss piano black in here. Look at this whole section, and a little bit on the doors here, too. And this is usually used to class up the joint a little bit, but it just kind of disguises what it is, which is cheap plastic.
That's really my only major gripe with the Sportage Hybrid interior, and that's because there's a lot to like. First of all, you've got twin 12-inch screens right in front of you. And even though this is the cheapest model that we're testing today, it's the only one with a digital screen right in front of the driver.
Cheapest one, only one with a digital screen in front of the driver. All right, Kia. The screen is really easy to use. It responds quickly to swipes and pushes, and there's cool graphics all the way throughout.
They just pay a little bit more attention here. Kia really seems to enjoy putting fun stuff in their tech. You can use the voice controls to find locations and set up your turn-to-turn navigation, but all three of these cars do that. What makes the Kia different is that you can also use the voice controls for other functions. Watch this. Set temperature to 75.
ASSISTANT: Setting the temperature to 75 degrees Fahrenheit. RYAN ZUMMALLEN: I love that. I love that so much. You want more cool tricks? Fine.
I got two for you. If you're on the road and changing lanes, or if you're just backing into tight spaces, camera will put a view of the lane beside you right in front of you. I love that. That's so clever. See this control panel right here? It's digital.
Right now it's set up as quick controls for the center screen. But if you press this right here, it turns into climate controls. That's cool, right? We think that's cool. I think I think that's cool. Moving on to storage, like the CR-V, the Sportage Hybrid has a pretty small center bin right here. But there is a more open space here, and there's another clever functionality to it.
You can use it just to store whatever random stuff you want in there. If you press this button, it turns into cup holder stations. Boom. Boom.
I love doing that. It's so satisfying. If you slide up this part, there's a nice little space and a wireless charging station for your phone. And if you don't want to look at that little ugly bin, just close it up.
Nicely done. Pretty easy to get inside. And then once you're in, lots of space.
Like, lots, lots of space. The headroom in here is about the same as the CR-V, except you've got this big panoramic sunroof, which, again, for the money, Kia really brings it. One thing I noticed is these hooks, which I thought might be for purses or bags, but there's a rubber grip in there. So it must be for holding tablets in place if you're back here watching your movie on a road trip. Plus, there's also hooks in the backs of the seats down here. So that must be for purses and bags.
Let's talk about the seats. In this trim, these are really comfortable leather seats with a flat seat area. So you're not down on space.
And there's a ton of adjustability in the seat, and it goes back a long way too. Pretty similar to the CR-V. You can get very comfy for a very long time back here.
But what if you need to put kids back here? There are angles stuffed between the cushions here. I generally don't like that because it can be hard to find and difficult to squeeze the thing in there. These stick out pretty well, so it's not as bad as some other crossovers. But I do like the CR-V's better.
Inside the CX-50-- and this is Mazda's sweet spot-- company is generally pretty good at taking affordable cars and making the interiors feel more premium. Now what do I mean by that? There's just not a lot of hard, cheap looking plastic in here. Instead, you get cool metal accents and lots of soft leather all along the dash, this whole door panel, and the steering wheel as well. But what I really like is the execution. The stitching in particular is really cool. Again, along the steering wheel, this diamond pattern on the dash and the door, even down to the piping in the seats just looks like it got extra special attention.
Let's check out what this screen is all about now. It's almost 9 inches, which may seem pretty big if you're coming out of an older car, but it's the smallest of the three that we have here today. It's also pretty far out of the way. Look, I can't reach it. It's so far, it's so far.
It doesn't matter that it's so far because it's not a touch screen anyway. Instead, you use this dial down here to move around and click on the section that you want. Some people don't like that. I know that you like to swipe and press at your leisure and do it that way. I like dials because I like that I can drive and just keep my hand here and move things around without taking too much attention away. The dial isn't the problem.
The problem is that Mazda's just not very good at tech. The menus can be pretty confusing to navigate. The graphics are just so-so.
And while the map is clear and easy to use, it's not very dynamic. Now I know I just said it doesn't have a touch screen, but if you're using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, then you can use it as a touch screen. Confusing, right? Apple CarPlay is wireless. Sorry about it, Android guys. If you do want to plug in, there's no USB-C port up in the front.
There are two USB ports, but they're in this storage bin up against the front wall. So it's kind of an awkward place to plug in, and it takes away from your storage space down here. So just know that if you need a plug in.
But if you want to charge, this particular trim has a smartphone charging station right here. Storage is not really a strong point. This bin is pretty small.
And again, slim pockets in the doors, a little tiny space up here. Where are you going to put your big bags and stuff? I guess in the back. OK, back of the CX-50. I actually have to duck quite a lot to get in there.
OK, so in the back you get most of the nice, plush materials that you got in the front. The seats are really soft and cushy. A little bit more plastic on the door, but it's pretty comfortable back here. Now this is the tightest interior of the three cars that we have here today basically in all dimensions. My leg room is so-so.
I can stretch out a little bit. Seats don't recline. And I've got some headroom, but not a lot. Mazda is more about style and performance than space and comfort. But one thing that I do like is if you need to hook up child seats, the anchors are right here. You just pop these little caps off, which you will lose unless you're more careful than me.
But once they're off, the nice thing is that the anchors are right there, exposed. You don't have to dig through the cushions to get to them. To recap, the Honda CR-V made big improvements in its interior, but is it enough? It might not be because the Sportage Hybrid and the CX-50 are each excellent in their own ways. I thought interior was an area where CR-V Hybrid could have really separated itself from the group, but it doesn't seem to have done that.
The other two are just too good. What's it like driving the 2023 CR-V Hybrid? Well, let's start with the good because there actually is a lot of good. I find this car to be really responsive and refined, which are two great things for a family SUV to be.
Now when I say responsive, that means inputs to basically everything-- the throttle, the steering, and the braking. As soon as you make a decision, this car's got your back, and it reacts pretty quickly. There's not a lot of power in this engine and battery hybrid system, but it can get you going and get up to speed without a problem. And it's clear that the brakes are pretty strong.
The one issue is that it feels like there's a brick underneath it. That's a pretty common sensation for hybrids that use regenerative braking, and the CR-V Hybrid is no exception. So as you get deep into it, it just feels like a lot of resistance, which isn't the best feeling.
This hybrid system wants to make the most of its batteries and it wants to stay in EV mode as much as possible, which is great. So around town, you can run just off of electric juice pretty easily. I'm going 40 miles an hour right now and we're still in EV mode. I've seen it stay in EV mode at highway speed, too. So that's a plus and it's going to help you with fuel savings quite a bit, especially if you're in the city.
The flip side to that is that under a lot of circumstances, the engine gets overworked very easily. That's if you're going up a hill or need to get into more than usual acceleration, this engine just doesn't have a lot of power. And so it gets real noisy real fast. And it's not a good noise.
It's a nasty, robotic noise. Honda, could have done better on that. To end on a good note, I really like the suspension in this car. You will feel some bumps, but it rebounds quickly so you get a consistently smooth ride, which is great.
And then finally, the driver aids are pretty stellar in here. I even like the lane centering steer assist, and I usually don't like those systems at all. The adaptive cruise control is easy to operate and it works all the way down to a stop on the freeway. For a compact SUV, it feels really airy and spacious in here. And I also like these giant windows.
And the windscreen is really big. These pillars stay out of the way. So I've got great visibility in here too.
The last time I was driving a Kia Sportage, it was with the base engine. And that thing is a total dog. Like one of those real sad looking dogs. But here, in the Sportage Hybrid, you get more power thanks to that battery pack. And you can immediately tell. Now by no means is this an athlete, but it just makes the drive more enjoyable.
Speaking of enjoyable, here's what the Sportage Hybrid does well. First of all, excellent ride quality. This is just super smooth all the way through. Second thing, quick and light steering. Now especially at low speeds or around parking lots, that makes the Sportage Hybrid feel really maneuverable.
And I like the weight and the feel of it, too. Third thing, really good drivability. And by that I mean the Sportage Hybrid handles the transition from electric power to the gas engine and back and forth really well. So you hardly notice those seamless transitions, which is a really good thing. So you're getting that extra electric juice to help on fuel economy without really noticing that that change is happening. But it's not all good.
There are a few downsides as well. With that really soft suspension you get more body movement from side to side. So when you're going around a corner, you will feel it roll or sway a little bit. The second area where the Sportage Hybrid struggles just a bit is with its transmission.
Now, this is a pretty traditional 6-speed automatic. What that means is you're going to feel the gearshifts. That takes away from the smoothness of the ride.
And I just told you that smoothness is the biggest advantage the Sportage Hybrid has. Why would you use a transmission that takes away from your biggest advantage? I don't know. OK, what about the Mazda CX-50? Well, first of all, let's dispense with all of that hybrid stuff. That's not what this car does. In fact, I would guess that if you didn't know anything about these three SUVs and you got into this one, you would immediately be able to tell this company makes the Miata.
What I mean by that is you've got really quick, responsive direct steering. That's maybe the biggest advantage of this CX-50. It's maybe a bit borderline too heavy, but it does give you that sporty sensation, which I think is what you're looking for if you're looking for a Mazda. On top of that, we've got the most spirited engine in this car, maybe even in the whole class.
It's a turbocharged gas engine, and if you step on it, you get a pretty good thrust, and a nice sound, too, if I do say so myself. The CX-50 also uses a pretty traditional 6-speed automatic transmission. The difference with this one is it's way more in tune with the engine.
As soon as it makes a decision, it makes it quick and gets you going in a good way. There's a pretty smooth ride here, but that suspension is more stiff than other SUVs in this class. So you will feel more cracks and bumps. I mean, look, you're trading fuel savings for fun and performance, and that performance means you're going to get more noise too-- road noise, wind noise, tire noise. But the trade-off is you can do stuff like this and go around corners while you do it. I'll take that trade.
As far as driver aids, just like the other two SUVs here, the CX-50 has a really nice, adaptive cruise control system that is very clearly labeled. So it's easy to set and use. I'm not such a big fan of its steering assist though. It's kind of got that old-school ping pong, back and forth feel. So to sum it all up, I really like how the CR-V Hybrid gives you refinement and responsive controls at the same time. I'm just not a big fan of that engine having to work so hard all the time.
As for the Sportage Hybrid, that thing is smoothness personified. I mean, if you could personify an SUV. And then the CX-50 is definitely the athlete of the group. No question about it.
So when it comes to driving, I think the one that best executed its mission is the Sportage Hybrid. We put all three of these SUVs through our rigorous Edmunds testing standards, and here's what you need to know. None of these SUVs are speed demons, but the Mazda is fastest to 60 miles per hour, while the Honda is slowest. The CR-V Hybrid, however, is the quickest to stop from 60 miles per hour. All three are pretty close though, and around the class average. Now we're not surprised to see the Mazda is worst in fuel economy in the group, but check out the Sportage Hybrid beating the CR-V Hybrid, both in EPA estimates and on our 115-mile test loop.
The big takeaway is in this group, Honda is kind of middle of the road. Man, this was a tough one. But you know what? We have a winner.
The CX-50 is an excellent small SUV, with personality and driving excitement out the wazoo. Fortunately, it's not nearly as spacious or fuel efficient as its two competitors here today. While we recommend it for people looking for a little spice out of their crossover, it's not our top choice in this comparison.
Then there's the Honda CR-V. This redesigned icon met our expectations, and it got important upgrades to space, tech, and in-car comfort. Plus, it's certainly more practical than the CX-50.
But did the Honda go far enough to be our new number one ranked hybrid SUV? Not really. The improved cargo space is stellar, but the other improvements are pretty minor. It would have been nice to have better fuel economy, and it's just OK to drive.
A pretty good car. But so is this, the Kia Sportage Hybrid. Remember, there's a gas only version too, which we're less enthusiastic about.
But the Hybrid, that's where it's at. This is a sharp, good-looking small SUV with loads of space and some really cool tech features. It's also got a great price for the class. So the Sportage Hybrid remains our number one hybrid SUV. And based on what you get for the money, we place it ahead of both the CR-V Hybrid and the CX-50.
That's right. Even in the face of a new and improved CR-V, the Sportage Hybrid takes it. Thanks for watching.
Leave me a comment down below and let me know which of these three you would take home, and go to edmunds.com for all your car, truck, and SUV shopping needs. See you next time. [MUSIC PLAYING]