2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD v Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD comparison


Can Hyundai’s new Tucson take down the older – but perennially favourite – Mazda CX-5 in the increasingly popular medium SUV segment?

While the Mazda CX-5 has long been one of the more popular medium SUVs, the sheer popularity of this segment means Mazda has a fight on its hands. This segment is popular with buyers. Over 125,000 medium SUV have been sold since the start of the year. 

It’s also popular with manufacturers, who are steadily brewing and concocting fresh options for buyers to choose. One significant example for this segment is the 2021 Hyundai Tucson.

And while Mazda has often been a strong player because of styling and aesthetics, this new generation Tucson – an all-new model with its own sharp design – is looking to upset the apple cart.

Style aside, a medium-sized SUV needs to be a practical and comfortable family car for tootling around town and the occasional road trip. 

Which is the best choice of these two? The long-standing popular choice, or the new entrant? Let’s find out.

If you want attention in Australia’s most competitive new-car segment, you need fresh product to appeal to the masses. New metal with an interesting design that will hook potential buyers into having a closer look.

That’s Hyundai’s plan at least with its latest medium-sized SUV, the 2021 Hyundai Tucson. And we’ve got the $34,500 plus on-road costs entry into the Tucson range to see if it’s any good.

While the Tucson nameplate dates back to the early 2000s, this new-generation 2021 Hyundai Tucson – which uses the new platform shared by all of Hyundai’s and Kia’s latest front- and all-wheel-drive medium to large models – is minty fresh.

Initial impressions on this new Tucson are no doubt positive. While medium-sized SUVs are one of the most at-risk segments of looking and feeling a little bland, Hyundai has clearly added in a big dose of unique kerbside appeal to this new model.

However, the powertrain options – which have precluded the likes of electrification for now – don’t seem to carry on the fight in the same vein as the exterior presentation. 

The true test of a new model is often had in its base specification, where there’s less fancy technology and flash finishing touches to hide behind. 

Our base-specification Tucson is armed with the base powertrain option, which is the least impressive on paper: a naturally aspirated 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol makes 115kW and 192Nm running through a six-speed automatic gearbox to the front wheels

Other powertrain options include a 1.6-litre turbocharged engine, as well as a 2.0-litre turbo diesel, though both of these have arrived slightly later than planned behind the base petrol models.

Instead, our eponymous grade will need to impress with its fundamental character: cabin, ergonomics, space and comfort. Let’s get stuck into it. 

Second only to the RAV4, the Mazda CX-5 continues to surge in a segment that only gets more popular as time rolls on. Offering a stylish and almost premium alternative to the rest of the set, it’s easy to see why the CX-5 is as popular as it is. That fact might be even more evident in the 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, one step up from the base model. This time around, we’re testing the 2WD petrol variant. 

It’s not just the RAV4 nipping at the CX-5’s heels either. The long-standing segment stalwart, the Honda CR-V, is still there, as are compelling options from Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, Volkswagen and even MG. It’s a crowded segment – one that is effectively the new battleground for Australian family buyers. It’s a common sight to find a dual-cab and a medium SUV in driveways around the suburbs. As such, the fight for the hearts – and wallets – of Australian buyers is fierce. 

The Maxx Sport sits above the base/base Maxx, and runs the same mechanical underpinnings but with some added equipment. LED headlights and fog lights are standard, along with LED tail-lights, rain-sensing wipers, and 17-inch alloy wheels. The price for our tester starts from $36,490 before on-road costs. The CX-5 range starts from $31,190 and tops out at $52,380, both before on-road costs.

The CX-5 isn’t the sharpest or edgiest medium SUV in the segment, but its status as the second most popular in the segment behind the RAV4 is evidence that the Australian buying public likes what it sees. While design isn’t necessarily a popularity contest, it’s hard to argue with the stylish figure the CX-5 cuts regardless of which angle you’re looking at it from. 

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Key details 2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD
Price (MSRP) $34,500 plus on-road costs $36,490 plus on-road costs
Colour of test car Premium paint ($595) Snowflake White Pearl Mica
Options Metallic paint $495 None
Price as tested $35,095 plus on-road costs $36,490 plus on-road costs

There are a few key indicators that you’re sitting in a base-specification Tucson. Actually, the first big hint you get is before you hop in: no keyless entry. Once you’re in, turning the car on will also require you to insert and turn a key, in the absence of increasingly common push-button start.

Below the 8.0-inch infotainment display sits your manual air-conditioning (no climate control) and you’re seated in comfortable manually adjustable seats. But on the plus side, there’s a handful of nice touches inside the Tucson that helps elevate the experience nicely.

Firstly, the steering wheel is leather-wrapped and feels nice in the hand. And along with the decently sized infotainment display, the overall design feels modern and a little bit refreshing.

The solid-feeling centre console is a good size and offers enough storage along with space below the centre stack and your two regular cupholders. Power outlets include a wireless charging pad – something of a rarity for a base-spec car – and two USB-A points.

The second row of the 2021 Tucson is great for one simple reason: space. There’s plenty of it, which allows adults to fit in quite comfortably – even with somebody long-limbed up front.

While my own kids aren’t in space-sucking rearward-facing seats anymore, I can say that the lack of dancing feet on the seat back as we drove around is another positive indicator of plentiful second-row space.

There are air vents and USB-A power outlets in the second row, as well as cupholders in the fold-down armrest. One can fit a drink bottle in each door, and visibility from the cheap seats is also quite good.

A minor detail you might not notice in the Tucson at first is a tilting backrest for the second-row seats. Along with helping adults get a little extra comfier at times, I have also found this extra adjustment helpful when installing child seats nice and tight.

The boot is also a solid offering owing to the 4630mm overall length of the Tucson. This is 150mm longer than the outgoing model, which allows extra room throughout the interior space. Its 539L (VDA) is good in five-seat configuration. Fold that second row flat (it does go flat) and you’ve got 1860L of storage space at the ready for your click-and-collect furniture adventures. Too bad you can’t enjoy a cheap hot dog at the moment.

Inside the cabin, the Maxx Sport gets dual-zone air-conditioning, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and push-button start, along with robust-looking cloth trim and manual seat adjustment. The leather-trimmed steering wheel adds an ever so slight air of premium to what is the sharper end of the pricing spectrum.

This is undoubtedly a comfortable cabin for long- or short-haul driving. An important factor for the family buyer. The cloth seats look to be hard-wearing and are comfortable, and the design touches – stitching, switchgear, plastic trim and soft-touch surfaces – all feel a level above the price point. While there are some touchpoints that are a little harder than CX-5 variants further up the tree, that’s to be expected and is common to most models at this price point. 

Storage is catered to neatly also, with bottle holders in the large door pockets, a reasonable centre console bin, cupholders that don’t get in the driver’s way, a hinged pocket above your head for sunglasses, and a shelf for your phone ahead of the shift lever. 

Where the medium-SUV segment does get tricky for families is into the second row. While vehicles like the Honda CR-V have more room than most, the CX-5 is tight if you have taller teenagers in the family. Behind my six-foot driving position, you can fit another six-footer, but you wouldn’t want that person to have to sit there for more than an hour or so. Still, for around-town duties, second-row comfort is solid. 

In the second row, you get plenty of headroom, a deep glasshouse with broad visibility, air vents, and two USB points for the kids to charge their devices. The centre armrest flips down and features cupholders and a small storage bin. 

Boot space is par for the course, too, with 442L with the second row in use and a sturdy luggage cover. That cover rises up with the tailgate to move out of your way – smart – and the second row can be dropped in a 40:20:40 split-fold. There are levers at the rear that make this an easy move, and fast as well. A full-size spare under the cargo floor is a vital inclusion for road-tripping owners. 

2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD
Seats Five Five
Boot volume 539L seats up / 1860L seats folded 442L seats up / 1342L seats folded
Length 4630mm 4550mm
Width 1865mm 1840mm
Height 1665mm 1675mm
Wheelbase 2755mm 2700mm

Infotainment and Connectivity

Even the base Tucson offers a solid 8.0 inches of digital real estate, though this is the only grade to get it. Move up the spec ladder and you’ll have a 10.25-inch display.

The upgraded system has more features as well. While our system has wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, it’s missing digital radio and native navigation. It’s not a big deal for those of us in the city with data to burn, but those in more remote areas might prefer in-built navigation in particular. The bigger-screen system also switched to wired smartphone connectivity.

The operating system is a good one that proved to be easy to navigate around. This is helped by buttons on each side of the display and steering wheel for controls, as well as a volume dial.

There is a 4.2-inch multifunction display in front of the driver, which has the typical range of information available: digital speed readout, trip computer and other basics. Tyre pressure monitoring comes through here, which is a nice safety addition to the Tucson. The screen is flanked by a set of traditional analogue gauges.

Proprietary satellite navigation is standard, which will assist those of you who’d rather not rely on your smartphone. There’s also an 8.0-inch LCD (sometimes) touchscreen, but we’ll get to that in a minute. A six-speaker audio system runs DAB, with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. One omission is the lack of a digital speedo, but with that said, the analogue gauges are neatly executed and visible. 

To the point on the touchscreen. The older MZD system is starting to feel dated, but it does what it needs to do without issue. Where it does need a change is the methodology behind controlling it. At rest, you can use the touchscreen, but once moving you need to revert to the completely incongruous rotary dial. Yes, you can work it out, but we’re all so acclimatised to using touchscreens now, it just makes more sense to more people to have that system working at all times. 

Our CarPlay connection was faultless throughout, and the MZD system is mostly sharp enough to respond. Sometimes it seems to take a breath, but that pause is not so long that it is annoying either. The Bluetooth connection also provides a solid alternative if smartphone mirroring isn’t something you want or need to be using. 

Standard safety equipment on the Tucson is quite good, and gains what Hyundai calls ‘Advanced Smartsense Safety Suite’. This includes blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assistance, forward collision avoidance (Hyundai’s term for autonomous emergency braking) with cyclist and pedestrian detection, tyre pressure monitoring, intelligent speed limit assistance, junction and turning detection for the autonomous emergency braking, rear parking sensors and a reversing camera.

It misses out on a more advanced blind-spot-view camera system, reverse parking collision-avoidance assistance, as well as 360-degree camera. The top-grade Highlander specification needs to be investigated for these elements.

Because it’s a new model, the Hyundai Tucson is yet to be crash-tested by the local crash-testing authority. However, its safety credentials seem very good in terms of included equipment, and the fact that the 2021 Tucson shares bones with many five-star Kias and Hyundais on a similar N3 platform.

As you’d expect from Mazda, safety has been comprehensively catered to. There’s lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, a rear-view camera, rear parking sensors, and a tyre pressure monitoring system. Six airbags are standard, along with two ISOFIX points and three top-tether points. The CX-5 was rated at the full five-star ANCAP level back in 2017. 

At a glance 2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD
ANCAP rating & year tested Untested Five stars (tested 2017)
Safety report N/A Link

Because Hyundai has thrown in some nice specification touches to the inside of this Tucson, the base grade is likely to be where the best value-for-money punch will be thrown. There is a caveat here, however.

If you want more grunt and four driven wheels (which, let’s face it, most will), then it’s a moot point. Because you’ll then be looking at a higher-grade Tucson to catch a turbocharged motor and all-wheel drive.

And from there, you can spend up even further to Elite and Highlander specification, with a diesel-powered Highlander looking to set you back $52,000 plus on-road costs. And if you want to spend more, every model can also be optioned with an N-Line aesthetic package upgrade inside and out: 19-inch alloy wheels, LED lights front and back, a bigger infotainment display, leather and suede seating, and some special badging.

Considering this costs $3500 for the base specification, it’s worth considering in terms of value for money.

The fact that Hyundai hasn’t left this base model to wilt on the specification vine does a lot to help its value credentials. Tyre pressure monitoring and wireless smartphone charging pads can be omitted from the standard kit on much more expensive rivals, but you’ll find them here in the base Tucson.

And while the prices have gone up over the previous generation, so has the size. Using similar underpinnings, the Tucson is now a little bigger in every direction. But thanks to those new bones, it’s managed to stay a little lighter at the same time.

Mazda’s range is covered by a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, with services required every 12 months/10,000km. For the average Aussie buyer that means a service every six months or so. 

Across the first 50,000km, the cost of those services as per Mazda’s capped-price scheme ranges from $330 to $360, with a few small costs for cabin air filters and brake fluid when required. Compared to the bulk of the competitor set, the running costs for the CX-5 are right where we’d expect them to be. 

At a glance 2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD
Warranty Seven-year, unlimited km Five years / unlimited km
Service intervals 12 months / 10,000km (every 15,000km thereafter) 12 months / 10,000km
Servicing costs $800 (3yr) / $1490 (5yr) $1020 (3yr) | $1710 (5yr)
Fuel cons. (claimed) 7.4L/100km 6.9L/100km
Fuel cons. (on test) 10.1L/100km 9.8L/100km
Fuel type 91-octane petrol 91-octane petrol
Fuel tank size 61L 56L

Power and torque have both taken a backward step in this new Tucson in comparison to the previous generation. While both engines are a 2.0-litre naturally aspirated petrol unit on paper, it’s the superseded motor that is actually better – once again on paper – with 122kW and 205Nm.

Still Euro 5 emissions compliant and still running through a six-speed automatic gearbox, but you’re looking at 115kW (down 7kW) and 192Nm (down 13Nm). The change largely comes down to this model’s switch to multi-point fuel injection, whereas the previous generation used direct injection, though the engine design itself is described as new.

And while this new Tucson is bigger and more loaded with technology, it has managed to shed a few kilograms from its tare mass to help even the ledger.

It’s a powertrain that does the job well enough, but that’s about as far as it goes. While good enough, it feels underdone when compared to more powerful drivetrains from both within the broad segment and amongst the model’s stablemates.

You’re looking at not the best in terms of efficiency, either. Naturally, hybrids like Toyota’s rampant RAV4 dominate in this sense. But smaller and more advanced turbocharged engines from other manufacturers also have this more rudimentary combination of a 2.0-litre non-turbo engine and six-speed auto beat.

During our time with the car, which included a good mix of town and highway driving, we logged fuel consumption of 9.3 litres per 100 kilometres. It’s acceptable without being impressive.

Straight-line performance aside, the Tucson proved to be a comfortable and easy companion for around-town driving during our time with it. The ride quality is a particular highlight. You’ll notice plenty of sidewall on offer with these 17-inch wheels, which no doubt helps the Tucson soak up rough roads and bigger imperfections with an impressive demeanour. It seems to favour ride quality over handling, but doesn’t feel floaty or boaty through corners. In terms of fit for purpose, I reckon the Tucson is well dialled.

The steering also feels well weighted for the job at hand. This is all quite typical for Hyundais overall these days, but I was surprised to learn that the Tucson doesn’t get a specific Australian ride and handling tune like Hyundai models of the past. The Australian tune often adds a little bit of extra weight to the steering feel, but I don’t think I can really fault the Tucson despite it adopting a global ride and handling package.

The naturally aspirated 2.0-litre, four-cylinder petrol engine is par for the 2WD course in this segment really, generating 115kW and 200Nm, and while there are more powerful offerings from other manufacturers, they come with an associated climb in cost. The ADR fuel claim on the combined cycle is 6.9L/100km, and on test we used an indicated 9.8L/100km. While most of the segment hovers around a similar fuel number, the hybrid RAV4 blows everything out of the water as the segment benchmark. 

As you’d expect from a Mazda of any kind, there’s a sporty edge to the way it feels from behind the wheel. Stop/start works snappily enough not to be intrusive, and not to leave us wanting to switch it off constantly either. While the engine does need to rev out to really get the CX-5 cranking, it doesn’t mind doing that, and never sounding like it’s gasping for air. 

Both around town and on the highway, the engine does the job asked of it pretty easily, even though you do feel like a bit more grunt might be welcome. It’s not that the CX-5 is slow by any means, more that others do it a little easier. The sporty, sometimes raspy engine note is a little at odds with the refinement elsewhere in the CX-5. Things like the ride quality and cabin refinement feel a step above the asking price, but the engine note and intrusion into the cabin don’t. It’s a minor gripe, but a gripe nonetheless. 

The engine is well-matched by the smoothness of the gearbox, which once again puts forward the case for less ratios and a torque converter. It’s smooth and effective around town at any speed, and it does its work with relative ease. 

The sporting credentials are aided by responsive and meaty steering, which could easily be controlling the front wheels of a much sportier vehicle than a medium SUV, but to be fair, we expect that from Mazda. There’s MX-5 DNA and smarts in there somewhere isn’t there? While the ride errs toward the firmer side of the segment, it’s never uncomfortable, harsh or crashy. Mazda has struck an impressive balance between insulation and performance here, and it’s a balance that makes for an enjoyable drive around town. 

Key details 2021 Hyundai Tucson 2WD 2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2WD
Engine 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol
Power 115kW @ 6200rpm 115kW @ 6000rpm
Torque 192Nm @ 4500rpm 200Nm @ 4000rpm
Drive type Front-wheel drive Front-wheel drive
Transmission Six-speed torque convertor automatic Six-speed torque convertor automatic
Power to weight ratio 75kW/t 73.8kW/t
Weight 1527kg (tare) 1558kg
Tow rating 1650kg braked, 750kg unbraked 750kg unbraked / 1800kg braked
Turning circle 11.8 11.0m

Choosing a winner between these two mid-sized SUVs is tricky because they are rated so closely together. 

And while the CX-5 does edge ahead of the Tucson in terms of ratings, there is a big horses-for-courses factor going on here.

The increased overall size in this new generation Tucson yields good interior space, with the second row in particular feeling good. And the Tucson’s great ride quality needs to be commended as well. 

The CX-5 is also an impressive performer in terms of around-town ride quality, albeit with a slightly firmer, more sporting edge. 

And while both of these SUVs offer decent naturally-aspirated powertrains that do the job well enough around town, buyers keen on a little extra power or mechanical charm will look around at different specification levels – albeit at a higher cost.

Along with a more spacious second row, one advantage that the Tucson has is a better infotainment display with touchscreen functionality.

The Mazda’s system ain’t so bad, but the rotary dial does take some getting used to when you’re on the move. 

Where the CX-5 does tend to stride ahead however, is a nicer interior experience overall. There are some quality materials in key places, which gives something of a premium edge over the Tucson in this comparison.

And if you’re going to be spending loads of time behind the wheel of this go-to family car, those extra little touches inside can really go a long way. 

Overall Ratings

Drive’s Pick

2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon

8.0/ 10

2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon

7.9/ 10

Ratings Breakdown

2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Ride Quality
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Handling & Dynamics
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Driver Technology
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Interior Comfort + Packaging
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Infotainment & Connectivity
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Fuel Efficiency
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon
Fit for Purpose
2021 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport Wagon
2021 Hyundai Tucson Wagon

Sam Purcell has been writing about cars, four-wheel driving and camping since 2013, and obsessed with anything that goes brum-brum longer than he can remember. Sam joined the team at CarAdvice/Drive as the off-road Editor in 2018, after cutting his teeth at Unsealed 4X4 and Pat Callinan’s 4X4 Adventures.

Read more about Sam Purcell