With more crossovers available in our market than decent shawarmas, and having driven so many last year and at the beginning of this, awarding a winner for this segment isn’t exactly a walk in the park. However, after several brain-crushing debates, we narrowed it down to three nominees. The trusty RAV4 was our long-termer for two months and had made a case for itself, so it makes the cut. Then there is the new Mitsubishi Outlander, which is quietly impressive and very well priced. The third car is the runner up of our five-crossover shoot-out from January 2013: the Mazda CX-5. It had lost out to 
the Yeti, but had beat all its new 2013 rivals.

The RAV4 is the first one up for debate, and also the first to drop off the list, mostly because it is good at doing everything, but excels at nothing.

The Mitsubishi is the underdog in this segment and often overlooked, but the latest model is a revelation of sorts. It seats seven, has a rather smart exterior and is silky smooth on the move. Surprisingly, it’s also fairly capable off-road. The third-gen car is 90kg lighter than before and this transpired on the road; it is very nimble and easy to manoeuvre. And with 1,784 litres of cargo space, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, keyless entry, Bluetooth, reversing camera, and a 710-watt sound system, it’s well endowed too.

Then the CX-5 breezes in. Even though it packs a smaller 2.5-litre four-cylinder engine, the team unanimously agree that it’s the best to drive. While the RAV4 and the Outlander feel like they’re just going through the motions and happy to get you from A to B, the Mazda is far more alive and eager to please.

But it’s not just car-like handling that’s praiseworthy, it’s also very practical and comfortable and has lots kit and safety features. The Mazda’s 2.5-litre 185bhp four-cylinder makes far less horsepower than the Outlander, but is just a better engine overall.

Power delivery is smoother and despite the fact that it’s softly sprung, in sharp corners where the Outlander and RAV4 feel top-heavy, the CX-5 is planted, and therefore more rewarding to drive.

Unlike most CUVs, the steering at least makes an effort to tell you what’s going on with the front wheels, too.

Mazda has been harping about its Skyactiv technology, and you know what? It works. Over three days of testing and photography, the Mazda was used as the camera car, filled with heavy photography gear and driven with the sunroof and windows open to drag-inducing consequences. It was the only car that didn’t need a refill until the last day. It’s practical, fun, frugal, and it’s our Crossover of the Year.