WHAT we have here, folks, is an ol' fashioned, marketing grudge match.
In one corner, weighing in with a wagon version of its iconic Prius gas-electric hybrid hatchback is Japan's Toyota, bragging its new Prius V is the "ultimate crossover."
In the opposing corner is arch-nemesis Mazda and its also-new CX-5, a small crossover its maker boasts "outperforms hybrids" in fuel economy.
Seemingly, the Mazda and Toyota are fighting for the same new car buyers looking for a small, fuel-efficient utility vehicle.
But we're asking which one comes out on top outside their respective marketing department offices.
First Place: 2013 Mazda CX-5
Calling the Prius V the "ultimate crossover" is a bit of a fib. But Mazda's marketing geniuses are equally good at stretching the truth.
Mazda claiming its CX-5 "offers the best highway fuel economy of any SUV sold in Canada, outperforming many hybrids" is true. But only if we leave out small utility vehicles, like the Prius V or Volkswagen's $27,025 Golf diesel and its 4.6 L/100 km highway rating.
But if you are looking for class-leading fuel economy in a genuine small crossover -- and not a small wagon -- the new Mazda is must-see.
From the company that brought the notoriously thirsty Wankel rotary engine to the masses comes a new fuel-efficient technology called Skyactiv (that combines a multitude of lightweight bits from the CX-5 engine, transmission and body structure to gain high fuel efficiencies via gas-only engines) of which, the CX-5 comes standard with.
In the case of the compact five-passenger CX-5 crossover, the base $22,995 front-drive, six-speed manual transmission version scores 7.8 L/100 km city and 5.7 L highway ratings.
For about the same price as the Prius V, though, you can get a CX-5 with AWD and a six-speed automatic. It scores 7.7 L/100 km in the city and 6.1 on the highway, leaving the $28,140 Honda CR-V 4WD and its 9.2 L/100 km city and 6.6 L highway ratings in second spot.
The rest of the "crossover" parts of the CX-5 are quite good, starting when you sit down behind the Mazda's steering wheel.
Unlike the comfort-oriented Prius V, the CX-5's front seats are more supportive. Overall, the materials and build quality are higher than the sometimes-cheap-feeling Toyota, too.
Rated at 155 hp and 150 lb-ft, the Mazda's 2.0-litre four is no rocket. But once up to speed, the CX-5 impresses with its solid body structure, weighty steering and capable handling -- think of it as a taller Mazda3.
The CX-5's AWD system is of the slip-then-grip variety, common to these cute-utes. But the Mazda's extra ground clearance and available traction at all wheels give it yet another a leg up over the less capable Toyota, and confirm it as our choice.
Second Place: 2013 Toyota Prius V
Toyota's new Prius V is essentially a roomier version of the world's most popular gasoline-electric hybrid car. It's the fourth Prius in a family that now incudes the original Liftback, Prius Plug-in and the subcompact Prius C.
The front-wheel-drive, five-passenger Prius V is priced between $27,425 and $37,120. Its hybrid drivetrain is carried over from the $26,100 Prius hatch, a combination of a 1.8-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine and two electric motors that together make 134 horsepower and 153 pound-feet of torque.
First off, if fuel economy is your top priority, go get a Prius V.
Despite Mazda's claims, the Toyota hybrid wins at the pumps. The Prius V is larger, heavier and less aerodynamic than the regular Prius Liftback, but it still scores a remarkable 4.3 L/100 km city and 4.8 L highway estimates.
The trade-off? The Toyota wagon isn't as roomy, as capable in bad driving conditions or as much fun to drive as the Mazda.
With a zero-to-100-km/h time of 10 seconds, the Toyota is about one second behind the Mazda. And just like its Prius family members, the V's steering is numb, its continuously variable automatic transmission whines and its comfort-oriented suspension allows its tall body to lean too easily in corners.
With a longer wheelbase and taller, more squared-up rear roofline, the Prius V's rear seating is more accommodating and versatile than the Liftback, but the Mazda is roomier overall -- especially in legroom. But perhaps the biggest knock against the Toyota's "ultimate crossover" is its lack of available all-wheel-drive and extra-tall ride height that buyers in this class demand.
The addition of the roomier V to the Prius family appears to be a marketing no-brainer for the Japanese automaker and -- arguably -- should have happened sooner.
Current Prius owners looking for more interior space, excellent fuel economy and the feel-good vibe any hybrid delivers to the environmentally conscious, should be happy with the arrival of the Prius V Hybrid.
-- Postmedia News