The Mazda CX-5 is the top-selling SUV in Australia, updated back in 2015 with additional equipment and improved refinement. The Mazda CX-5 SUV is a great vehicle - one of the best - but in this review I’ll tell you exactly what’s not to like with the CX-5, so you can make an informed decision about whether to drop the cash on one or not.
This review is my honest, personal assessment of the Mazda CX-5. Mazda has no say whatsoever in the content or opinion in this review, and no money was paid to me by Mazda or its agents in order to produce this review. Furthermore, I accept no advertising revenue or other revenue from Mazda.
This current version of the Mazda CX-5 is a mid-life model upgrade (done in 2015) - and constitutes just the hair and makeup really. The major Mazda CX-5 bodywork carries over from the original 2012 model, as does the powertrain. Basically, with the 2016 Mazda CX-5 you get to choose from three engines, two transmissions, and four equipment grades. The current model CX-5 is essentially the same old CX-5, released in 2012, but it’s had the lipo, the botox and the porcelain veneers.
The previous model Mazda CX-5’s strengths carry forward to the model you can buy today. You'll find the Mazda CX-5 is very good to drive. It’s precise, if a little noisy. Two out of three of the engines perform just fine. (The baby engine is a bit anorexic - a basic workhorse, but nothing more.) All of the SKYACTIV engines deliver great fuel economy. The fundamental engineering in a Mazda CX-5 is spot-on. The latest CX-5 is basically the exact polar opposite of a Holden Captiva >>. (They don’t call that vehicle a ‘Crap-tiva’ for nothing.)
The 2015 Mazda CX-5 powetrain breaks down like this: unless your budget is really tight, forget the front-wheel drive 2.0-litre CX-5. (Buy a Mazda3 >> instead of that.) The AWD Mazda CX-5 with 2.5-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel is where you want to be. And the diesel Mazda CX-5 offers much better mid-rev performance - it’s got 70 per cent more torque at half the revs, compared with the 2.5 petrol, so the diesel blows even the best petrol engine out of the water for ordinary driving and towing.
The full story on petrol versus diesel >>
However, if you don’t get out on the highway once every two to three weeks, the petrol CX-5 is probably a better idea - because the Mazda CX-5 diesel has a particle filter in the exhaust, and a regular highway run is necessary to keep it’s ouija board communicating with those dead particles. In the afterlife. Otherwise the engine enters 'limp home' mode, which is just what it sounds like.
The model range starts with the Mazda CX-5 Maxx, steps up to Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, then the Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring and range-topping Mazda CX-5 Akera. The entry-level Mazda CX-5 Maxx is a base-model cheapie designed principally to price-lead the range and appeal to the kinds of accountants who sign off on rental car fleets.
You want to buy in at Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport model grade or above.
It’s almost a $6000 price hike from the base model Mazda CX-5 Maxx to the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport, but you get a lot more SUV for that money. Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring models - the next step up - are also very nice - commensurate with the price - and the ‘works burger’, which Mazda calls the Mazda CX-5 Akera, presumably because Mazda CX-5 ‘Works Burger’ was already taken - can you imagine it: the CX-5 Works Burger. That would probably get lost in translation. Those crazy Japanese and their jinba itai...
...anyway, the range-topping Mazda CX-5 Akera is brain-bendingly well equipped - in fact, it’s so well equipped for about $50k that you could put a CX-5 Akera up against an Audi Q3, a BMW X1 or a Mercedes-Benz GLA, dollar-for-dollar, $50k to spend on each, and the Mazda CX-5 Akera is going to blow each German contender out of the water and into the stratosphere against any robust objective criteria.
Mazda has an excellent comparison tool on its website if you want to drill down into the granular detail of exactly what features come with what model grade. Click here for the comparison tool >> or download the specifications in full >>
The Mazda CX-5 is very safe. It scored 35.10 out of a possible 37 points in ANCAP's stringent safety assessment, in addition to a 'good' rating for whiplash protection and 'acceptable' for pedestrian impact safety. All model variants are rated at five stars.
The five-star rating is based upon the European crash test assessment of the left-drive Mazda CX-5. ANCAP says: "The AWD diesel left-hand-drive European model was tested by Euro NCAP. ANCAP was provided with technical information which showed that the results apply to all Australian variants of the CX-5."
GERMAN CAR 'WONDERBRA' EFFECT
You want value? The Germans just can’t deliver value at $50 grand. Mazda CX-5 Akera is extremely good value. The Germans at that price are really just the Wonder Bra of prestige cars. After jumping through all the hoops, you finally get the clasp undone - and the choozies on a $50,000 German SUV go from double-D to triple-A faster than you can say, 'but I was expecting more...'
Above: $50k German car 'Wonderbra' effect: Take the badge off, and you'll wonder where all the prestige actually went... SUVs like the 2015 Mazda CX-5 Akera absolutely murder $50k German notional equivalents
2015 MODEL TWEAKS
So, Mazda’s designers changed the CX-5's exterior trim, added a couple of additional colours, tweaked the lights front and rear - even messed with the door mirrors and the shark fin aerial, imperceptably. They also re-jigged the Mazda CX-5's interior. The infotainment system is now a lot better integrated - as in, it looks better and there’s now a command dial down near your left hand, to drive the screen, and that makes it easier to navigate the menus. So that’s nice. Overall, the Mazda CX-5's dashboard has a sleeker layout as well. There’s now two USB ports, a revised centre console and an electronic park brake.
Mazda has copped something of a justified critical kicking for excessive NVH - that’s insider talk for nose, vibration and harshness. So they took that on board and with the Mazda CX-5 they boosted the acoustic insulation in the firewall and on the floor, and they even thickened up the glass to cut the noise. So that’s good - it is quieter. The Mazda CX-5's suspension has been re-tuned as well for less roll in the corners - with the trade-off being firmer ride. So if you’re a driver that’s fair enough. If you wanted the loungeroom on wheels experience, it’s less of that. You’ll definitely feel the bumps and the ripple strips a bit more.
NEW SPORT MODE
Mazda CX-5 petrol models now get a sports mode that increases throttle response at the flick of a switch - it also raises the revs at which the transmission decides to shift ratios. So it doesn’t actually increase the vehicle’s absolute performance - it just feels like you’re trying a bit harder.
CRITICISM 1: i-STOP
Mazda CX-5 is a very good SUV, but it’s far from perfect. The first speed hump is appropriate technology. And here, Mazda’s engineers are literally too clever by half. Yes, they did a good job cutting fuel consumption. But i-Stop is hateful. Just hateful. (That’s the automatic engine shutoff and re-start system.) For starters, it’s hardly dignified, especially when it’s fighting the diesel engine’s compression to achieve an autonomous re-start. You can turn i-Stop off, by pressing and holding a button. But then, every time you get back in the car, it is active once again. It’s default setting is ‘on’ and that can’t be changed. So, if you hate i-Stop, as I do, you have to turn it off manually. Again. And again. And again. And that gets old. From an engineering point of view, that’s kind of philosophically hateful and extremely conceited - note to Masashi Otsuka, the CX-5 program manager: Just let me turn it off like a light switch, buddy. Then I’ll stop criticising it and we can all get on with our lives. We both know it’s really only there to cook the books on the official fuel consumption tests.
CRITICISM 2: LANE DEPARTURE WARNING
Also for Otsuka-san’s attention: this new auto lane-keeping feature really is an example of mining for the lowest-common denominator of drivers. Mercedes-Benz and others do it as well. Like, your reward for being a good driver is: we’re going to insult your intelligence. I’m sure all the engineers think it’s really clever. Say you’re driving down the road, you drift right, toward the edge of the lane. The system sees you going off-course, and shakes the wheel and otherwise carries on like an off-meds bipolar prima-donna. It’s designed to keep you in the centre of the lane. Sounds good when you say it like that, right? Helps you stay in the centre of the lane. Hard to argue the toss there.
However, let’s say you’re having what Mazda would call a ‘zoom-zoom’ drive around a right-hand bend. And, because you’re a actually good driver, you point the CX-5 at the apex of the curve, on the edge of the lane. Imagine one’s immediate surprise and confusion, followed by absolute discontent, that sinking feeling, when the steering wheel carries on in this undignified, unmedicated fashion at every apex. A real ‘Hal-9000’ moment. A passion killer. Listen up, Mazda engineers: you lot should not design systems for people who can’t drive, and which are also detrimental to the driving experience of those of us who can. Personal view. It’s probably a great system if you want to habitually SMS and drive, or you feel like driving despite suffering from narcolepsy.
DOES SIZE MATTER?
Finally, plenty of people tell me they need to step up from their Mazda3-sized car to an SUV. And they say this is because they need the additional space. And I’m thinking: What additional space? Let’s think about that. CX-5 is bigger than a Mazda3 - but not as much bigger as you might think. It’s all of 8 centimetres longer (that’s three-and-a-quarter inches, in the old money). Now, eight centimetres is a big deal in other domains ... but in cars???
CX-5 is also 4.5 centimetres wider than a Mazda3 (that’s less than two inches) and it’s 24 centimetres higher (a bit under 10 inches). So, if you’re looking for a justification for dimensional upgrades, that’s it. Any increase in length and width, stepping up from a small car to a CX-5 is minimal, and that means the accommodation on offer in the SUV is actually very similar. The height is greater, sure. But even that is not as great as it seems. Some of it is actually just extra ground clearance, and the rest is ceiling height - the least-useful dimension for carrying cargo. (Because you can’t stack the boot to the ceiling unless you fit a cargo barrier. If you do, in the absence of a barrier, all the stuff ‘up there’ will just rain down on the kids when you hit the brakes.
CAR -vs- SUV
So, in practical terms, the latest Mazda CX-5 has pumped up the volume - but probably not by as much as you might presume, compared with a small car. Interestingly, the same engines are used in Mazda3 and the Mazda CX-5 - but the CX-5 weighs almost a quarter of a tonne more. So the performance is somewhat less. Spec for spec, it’s going to cost you $7000- $10,000 more to step up from a Mazda3 to a Mazda CX-5 - and you’ll have to decide for yourself whether you think that’s good value, or not.
The Mazda CX-5 is a damn good SUV - it’s absolutely one of the best you can buy, but like all vehicles, it’s not perfect. Decide first if you really need an SUV - because size does matter, but they’re really not that much bigger in practice. If you want an SUV, the 2015 Mazda CX-5 is definitely one to put on your short list. You should test drive it against a Hyundai ix35 or Kia Sportage, and a Subaru Forester. And then, if you really don’t feel like playing that emotionally uplifting, spiritually fulfilling and intellectually stimulating game we call ‘negotiating with a car dealer’ - and it is so hateful - click the red link to the contact form below, and I’ll help you out. Saving thousands on a new car is dead easy. Even a politician could do it.