HEAD-TO-HEAD: Mazda CX-5 2.2 SkyActiv-D vs Kia Sorento 2.2 CRDi

Are oil burners still relevant given the rise of diesel prices? These torque-laden SUVs make a strong case although they have many differences.

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A new week of fuel prices kicked in at time of writing, when only RM0.08 separated diesel from petrol for every litre that escaped the filler nozzle. And we’re not even talking about the Euro5 variety.

What was once a cheap source of propulsion mainly used in agricultural and industrial vehicles is now consistently valued closely to RON95 petrol – a grade of gasoline considered premium in many countries, V8-worshipping Australia included. So if truckers are beginning to feel the pinch, why would a potential SUV buyer forego a good old Honda CR-V in favour of a life of rattling noises and sulphuric exhaust fumes with the diesel variants of the Kia Sorento and Mazda CX-5?

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The reality isn’t so intrusive to the senses. Conceived as passenger-oriented vehicles from the ground up, the Sorento and CX-5 are both mighty refined by class standards, even with 2.2-litre turbo-diesel four-pot mills under their hoods. Yes, both engines are of the same capacity (when rounded to the nearest 100th cc), though the Korean four-wheeler puts out a little more than its SkyActiv-D rival – 24bhp and 20Nm more to be precise. But that’s not the point.

Kia Sorento 6

The appeal of these cars, both of which have perfectly fine petrol twins which the general public is more likely to relate to, lies in the entirety of their outputs which buck the trend by evading efficiency penalties that usually come with performance. Both put out more twist than the turbocharged boxer engine Porsche uses in its 718 models for roughly a quarter of the price of a well-specced Cayman, which sounds like overkill but isn’t.

While a Cayman has 300bhp to move its 1.4-tonne frame, the CX-5 has to make do with 173bhp for its 1,605kg of kerb weight. Two extra seats and driven wheels put an additional 300kg on the 197bhp Sorento’s load. But both feel well matched in a straight line given the latter’s slight edge in performance. The main difference lies in the way their engines react to throttle inputs. Mazda’s idea of a diesel pulls of a good mimicry of its high compression, naturally aspirated petrol engines with plenty of urgency accompanied by an extra hint of noise. Meanwhile, things are a lot more laidback in the quieter Kia – its calm but assuring soundtrack being a good match for its softer-sprung setup.

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Around the corners, the Mazda edges ahead again with sharper steering response and less bodyroll thanks to its smaller footprint. The Sorento doesn’t lag far behind, but things are bound to be a bit more cumbersome for the seven-seater that measures 4,780mm long, 1,890mm wide and 1,685mm tall (versus the 4,555mm x 1,840mm x 1,670mm CX-5). We doubt dynamics rank highly on the average buyer’s checklist anyway, but the dimensional differences highlight one pressing question: why is the bigger and more powerful car, which can also list 4WD and an extra row of seats among its trump cards, the cheaper of the two?

Mazda CX5 SkyAktivD 5

Unlike the Sorento 2.2 Diesel CRDi which props things up at the base of its range, the CX-5 SkyActiv-D is positioned just below the range-topping 2.5L 4WD petrol, which gives it all the bells and whistles you can find on a Mazda brochure, i-ActiveSense driver assistance tech included. The Sorento’s halogens are outshone by the CX-5’s adaptive LEDs. Its audio player looks miserable compared to the latter’s MZD Connect Infotainment, colour screen and all. Everything that’s wrapped in a woody, scented leather in the CX-5, bar its steering wheel, is done up in drab fabric in the Sorento. These are but a few spec disparities which work in favour of the pricier Japanese crossover.

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However, if forced to choose, we’re willing to forego the CX-5’s creature comforts in favour of the Sorento’s outright practicality, something which cannot be added on as an aftermarket feature. Swing open the boot lid of the Sorento, which smaller folk will struggle to close, and you’ll find the spacious boot can be transformed into a massive, unimpeded cargo area after all the seats are folded down. Folding seats for space isn’t new, but the volume offered by the unibody Sorento is rivalled only by large SUVs built on ladder frames (pickup truck platforms) such as the Toyota Fortuner and Ford Everest.

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Along with its output advantage, more relaxed ride and extra seats, the Sorento’s uncontested practicality counters its lack of amenities to give South Korea the win in terms of overall packaging and bang for buck. Those still struggling to come to terms with purchasing a new car that doesn’t come with leather seats or 18-inch wheels will be delighted to know that Kia Malaysia has signalled its intent to bring in a higher-spec variant of the diesel which should receive the catalogue-ready features found in the 2.4 Gasoline MPI. We’re certainly looking forward to that.

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Speaking of future plans, the Mazda CX-5 is already reaching the end of its lifespan, with the second generation billed for local introduction towards the end of the year. A new model could completely change the tide, or even kill the contest entirely, should Mazda Malaysia discontinue the SkyActiv-D. If that were to transpire, those who get their hands on one now could be onto a limited edition of some sort. One that’s mighty nice to drive at that. Because few things under RM170k come close to replicating the buzz of having 400Nm gushing out under 2,000rpm in something that’s not a pickup truck.

A few more contenders won’t hurt…


Engine: 2,191cc, 4-cylinder diesel, 173bhp, 420Nm, 2WD
Price: RM161,929
Economy: NA
Performance: NA
Weight: 1,605kg
More dynamic and luxurious offering of the two. Compelling for those who don’t need the space


Engine: 2,199cc, 4-cylinder diesel, 197bhp, 440Nm, AWD
Price: RM155,888
Economy: NA
Performance: NA
Weight: 1,900kg approx.
Solid blend of performance and practicality makes the Sorento a fantastic bargain for family-minded buyers
Author: Daryl Loy