Which is best – the Nissan Qashqai, Citroen Cactus or Mazda CX-5? Ben Griffin pores over each one to decide which is the best family crossover to buy.
Crossovers are serious business these days, but the fact there are so many can make it difficult to know which one to buy. The Qashqai, C4 Cactus and CX-5 are three of the finest, each with its own merits, but there can only be one winner. Let the battle commence.
Looks are rarely a concern when you have a child vomiting in the back, but a touch of style never goes amiss. To be fair to the manufacturers, designing a spacious box that can go over terrain makes the design options somewhat limited.
The most bonkers of the three is the C4 Cactus, which comes with Citroen’s ‘Airbumps’ on the side for protecting the bodywork from scratches and knocks. It looks fresh and, although it may offend some people’s eyes, folks will at least give it a second glance. Especially in its ludicrously bright blue or yellow paintjob.
As for the Qashqai and CX-5, you may as well blindfold yourself and pick one. Their designs are reasonably similar, although we would say the former is a touch more stylish, particularly where the interior is concerned.
Winner: Your call
The C4 Cactus is the smallest car of the three by some margin (the CX-5 is 398mm longer, for starters, and nearly 100mm taller). As a result, it has the smallest boot at just 358 litres. Even with the rear bench folded down the total is just 1,170 litres. Not only that, the rear bench seat means no split-folding action – it’s all or nothing, basically.
It’s lacking in other areas, too, such as the lack of a telescope adjustment on the steering wheel. In its favour, the C4 Cactus has a range of clever cubby holes including a ‘Top Box’, which is a large storage compartment on top of the dashboard.
The Qashqai offers a more useful 430-litre boot with the rear seats in place and 1,585 litres with them folded flat. It also has a storage area in the middle of the front seats, freed up by the use of an electric handbrake.
Mazda wins the practicality war, thanks to a boot that’s a whopping 503 litres with the rear seats up and 1,620 litres with them down. A simple button press lowers the rear seats, making it ideal for the lazy Ikea shopper.
In terms of towing ability, the Qashqai and CX-5 can manage up 1,800kg and 2,000kg, respectively. The Cactus manages a maximum of 1,300kg, meaning you will have to be a bit more picky when it comes to trailers and caravans.
Overall, the CX-5 and its larger boot space and roomy interior makes it the winner, but it is also the largest car so will take a bit more effort to park, which coud be a concern.
Winner: Mazda CX-5
Performance & handling
When it comes to performance, none of the three will set your world on fire, but then family wagons care more about comfort and dependability. The smallest car, the C4 Cactus, is arguably the most agile and easiest to manoeuvre about town.
The BlueHDI 100 engine can manage 0-62mph in 10.6 seconds so it can keep up with traffic happily, while the top speed is well beyond the legal limit. Soft suspension soaks up most bumps, while the minimal body roll makes it happy to take corners with a bit more pace than usual.
Nissan has made the Qashqai incredibly smooth and refined to the point where it can feel a tad uninvolving, but for A to B driving it’s near faultless. The petrol engine is slow to pick up speed, making you think twice about quickly sneaking out at a roundabout, but the bigger diesels have plenty of oomph.
Here the CX-5 scores highly because it is more fun to drive, owing to lots of grip, sharp handling and responsive engines. It is also pretty punchy from 0-62mph, at 9.2 seconds, if you take the 2.0-litre petrol. But that extra involvement comes at the slight detriment of refinement compared with the Qashqai.
Winner: Nissan Qashqai / Mazda CX-5
Economy & environment
When it comes to fuel economy, the C4 Cactus comes out on top. The BlueHDi 100 is the most frugal, thanks to 83.1mpg and 90g/km of CO2 emissions. Hardly surprising when Citroen has been so anal about efficiency — it’s even deliberately made the washer jets more efficient so the water tank could be smaller, thus saving weight.
The petrol engines both feature stop & start technology. One has a five-speed manual while the ETG variant has a five-speed automatic. The ETG is slightly cheaper to run, thanks to 65.7mpg, 98g/km of CO2 (making it exempt from Vehicle Excise Duty), but takes 15 seconds from 0-62mph – 2.1 seconds longer than the manual.
The CX-5 has a choice of two engines: A SkyActiv-G 2.0 petrol and SkyActiv-D 2.2 twin-turbo diesel with either a 6-speed manual or automatic. Of the pair, the 150PS 2.2 SkyActiv-D manual is the most efficient, managing 61.4mpg and 119g/km of CO2.
The 2.0 165PS petrol 6-speed manual can manage a respectable 47.1mpg and 139g/km.
For city life the Qashqai’s 115PS 1.2-litre is a good choice as it is the cheapest engine, but the 42.8mpg and 129g/km of CO2 makes it considerably weaker than the diesel. The 1.5-litre dCi six-speed manual diesel in two-wheel drive has 110PS, with fuel economy and CO2 of 74.3mpg and 99g/km, respectively, so it’s also exempt from road tax.
There’s really not a bad engine in this group, as every diesel pulls hard and quietens down when cruising. Based on numbers, the smaller Cactus is the best. Huge efforts have been made to make it frugal in every way possible and it shows.
Winner: Citroen C4 Cactus
Equipment & value
It is possible to own the C4 Cactus from as little as £12,990, which is obscenely cheap. But that spec means no alloy wheels or air-con. In fact, the only jolly is a 7-inch touchscreen, which excludes navigation. £495 extra gets you the Navigation and HiFi pack.
It is, therefore, best to spend £14,690 for the mid-range Feel model, which comes with Hill Start Assist, cruise control, LED daytime running lights, 16-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, two ISOFIX mounts for baby seats and steering wheel controls among other things.
Creature comforts like automatic dual-zone climate control, Internet radio, Facebook and Twitter access, 40:20:40 split-folding rear seat, 7-inch touchscreen, 8-way adjustable driver’s seat and an electronic parking brake (not to mention heaps more usable space) help justify the CX-5 SE-L’s £9,965 premium on the base Cactus. Navigation with three years of European mapping costs £700 more, though.
The entry-level Qashqai Visia starts at £18,545 and comes with Hill Start Assist, electronic parking brake, ISOFIX child seat points, Bluetooth, 16-inch steel wheels, CD radio and not a lot else. You’ll need to spend from £20,130 if you want proper alloys that come with the Acenta, which also has a USB port, dual-zone climate control, automatic lights and wipers and electric folding door mirrors.
Navigation is standard on the n-tec model, which starts from £22,110 and also has a start push button, privacy glass, Nissan Connect touchscreen, 18-inch alloys, Lane Departure Warning, High Beam Assist and Traffic Sign Recognition.
Once you factor in the larger diesel engines the CX-5 and Qashqai work out fairly similar in terms of cost and equipment. But if you crave sheer value for money and care little about creature comforts, the C4 Cactus wins.
Winner: Citroen C4 Cactus
The Citroen C4 Cactus scored four stars in Euro NCAP, making it the least safe car in the group. It did, however, score relatively highly in adult and child occupant safety and the Airbumps could help in a low speed prang. It also has the world’s first roof-mounted passenger airbag. We should point out the 2014 test is much harder and so it’s an unfair comparison.
The Qashqai secured five stars, with adult occupants coming out safest. A number of safety systems help enhance its ability to protect your family, including the option of automatic emergency braking.
Euro NCAP awarded the CX-5 a full five-star rating, too, beating the C4 Cactus and Qashqai for adult and child occupant safety. It also has Smart City Brake Support as standard, which uses sensors to detect objects in its path, pre-applying the brakes when a risk of crashing is detected.
Each car will do a solid job of keeping you and your loved ones safe, but the addition of Smart City Brake and a high safety rating for the CX-5 makes it the winner.
Winner: Mazda CX-5
Picking between these three fantastic cars is a bit like choosing your favourite child.
For smaller families the C4 Cactus is a great choice, as it’s fun, cheaper to buy than both the CX-5 and Qashqai, cheap to run and has enough practicality for shopping trips, going abroad and dropping the kids off at school. A touch of off-road ruggedness only adds to the French charm.
Those with larger families, a tendency to buy great volumes of shopping or simply want to feel like they own the road have a much tougher decision. Mazda’s CX-5 is a great car to drive and has the most space. Only the slightly less inspiring interior spoils an otherwise capable workhorse.
Interior design is where the Qashqai excels and with any of its available engines it will make life comfortable for your family. It ticks the most boxes, but that extra versatility comes at the cost of space.
If you regularly fill your car up to the brim, then, we would go for the CX-5. For everyone else, the Qashqai is just a tad better. Smaller families and those who want something a little different than a typical hatchback, meanwhile, will appreciate the C4 Cactus.
Overall winner: Nissan Qashqai