Test Drive: Is the New CX-5 Diesel Just the Old Tiguan TDI?

Mazda, a brand long-known for fun to drive offerings has also moved to offer higher-end interiors and more upscale features. The latest is the CX-5 diesel, a model that is now the only diesel crossover for sale in the US. On paper, it offers up an experience very similar to what the Tiguan used to offer. So has Mazda out VW’d VW, or is the new Tiguan the real dub deal?

10.6, 7.3, 17.4, 16, and two. Those might be the most important figures when it comes to the new Tiguan. 10.6-inches longer overall, 7.3-inches longer between the wheels, and 17.4 cubic feet more max cargo space. Those are all significant figures that represent how much larger the new Tiguan is, and allow it to seat two more passengers in the newfound third row.

The 2019 CX-5, on the next column in the spreadsheet, is nearly the same size as the old Tig. And while on paper the differences are large between the CX-5 and the new Tiguan, visually the two look even more disparate. Like they’re in completely different size classes. The new Tiguan looks massive while the old one (and the CX-5) look like the compact crossovers they are.

For years VW was known for being slightly more premium than the other vehicles in the class. Interiors that looked nicer, and had better materials. Not stepping on Audi’s toes, but definitely nicer than the rest of the pack. The latest Tiguan goes down VW’s latest path, which means much of the same premium styling inside, but the materials, especially in cars that aren’t the Golf, are closer to mid-pack. It’s something they’ve started doing over the last decade or so in order to bring down prices and grab more sales. In photos it looks great, but sit behind the wheel and the plastics are hard and aren’t necessarily up to VW’s standard.

At the same time, Mazda’s gone the opposite direction. The brand that was known for having Japanese reliability with a lower sticker than Honda and Toyota has now gone premium. Like in this CX-5, where the interior offers up leather on the dashboard, real wood trim, excellent design, and even seat leather that as soft as that in vehicles that are much more expensive. Mazda’s even sacrificed a bit of the weight savings it’s known for in favor of added sound isolation.

On the road, Mazda’s CX-5 excels in the ride and handling department. This is drivers wanted. Crisp turn-in, steering that’s heavy for a crossover but never too heavy, and a ride that is well damped both over bumps and dips but stays level in turns. Mazda’s added a trick new feature to its G-Vectoring control that applies individual brakes to help reduce body roll when you’re cornering.

The new Tiguan, on the other hand, is a much less involving driving experience. Turn in is sluggish, the steering is vague and overboosted, and none of the feel is improved by the strange triangular profile steering wheel that VW has been using of late. The Tiguan is very floaty over dips, and there’s plenty of body roll when you try and corner with anything approaching enthusiasm. That extra compliance does translate to a bit more ride comfort when things get bumpy, but it’s not much more.

VW’s Fender audio system carries on a long tradition of high-quality stereos for the brand. Remember when every Golf and Jetta had an alarm for the radio and anti-theft codes because they were so popular to grab? It blows away the Bose system in the CX-5, which sounds muddy and doesn’t offer much in the way of volume. Maybe the Fender system goes louder to combat the extra cabin noise, but it sounds better at any speed. The infotainment system is also much easier to use (and better looking) than Mazda’s software that requires you to use a rotary controller. Mazda’s is looking a bit dated, and the Android Auto interface is less than optimal.

Where the CX-5 really gains the opportunity to drink Volkswagen’s milkshake, though, is under the hood. The elephant in the room. The 2.2L SkyactivD diesel four. It only offers 168 hp, but like any good diesel it makes up for that with torque: 290 lb-ft of it.

The CX powers along effortlessly on that wave of torque, with the excellent six-speed auto keeping revs around 2,000 most of the time but never afraid to let it run to the shockingly high for an oil burner 5,500 rpm redline. The only time you’ll hear diesel clatter here is if you’re outside. Or a tiny bit at throttle tip-in at around 1,800 rpm. It compares well to Volkswagen’s 2.0L turbo-four, which is a noisy engine and makes a lackluster 184 hp. The eight-speed auto is slower to pick gears too, and gets downright clunky.

A big downside to the CX-5’s diesel is the window sticker. No, not just the extra $4,000 or so it adds to a CX-5 Signature, but the fuel economy figure. It’s not much better than the base gas engine. But diesels do better in the real world, I got a much more impressive 36 mpg. Compare that to the 27 mpg of the Tiguan in similar driving, and the extra cash is a bit easier to justify.

The more time I spend in the CX-5, the more it feels like a Golf. Maybe not quite the GTI, but definitely the same crispness and bank vault feel that the Golf delivers. But that doesn’t mean it’s all about the CX-5. The Tiguan’s size comes with some big benefits for crossover buyers. Like the optional third row that’s not exactly spacious but does the job in a pinch. There’s also vastly more cargo space, which is, well, the point of the crossover, right?

Does the CX-5 diesel make a better Tiguan than the new Tiguan? Yes. If what you wanted was a newer first-gen Tiguan, the CX-5 would be what you’re looking for as far as powertrain, interior, and feel. Does that mean that VW has gone astray with the new model? As far as buyers go, that’s a resounding no.

So far the new Tiguan is selling more than double the old model’s best year and it looks on pace to do even better this year. Which means that Volkswagen’s gamble that buyers wanted not a new Tiguan but instead a bigger three-row NMS Passat seems to be paying off. So is the CX-5 a better Tiguan? Maybe, but the sales show that the new Tiguan is what buyers really wanted.