Mazda CX-5 Review
by KARL PESKETT
Price: CX-5 Grand Touring diesel from $46,590 plus options and on-road costs
Engine/Trans: 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre twin turbo diesel / 6-speed automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 5.7 l/100km combined
Suspension: Coil sprung independent
Towing: 1800kg braked / 750kg unbraked
Stuttgart. Munich. Ingolstadt. Three German cities known worldwide for their impressive manufacturing. Rumour has it, though, that they also hold the world record for the greatest population of people with short fingernails.
There is a lot of nail-biting going on behind closed doors in those locations; German car-makers have discovered there’s an imminent threat. Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi have long held sway in the premium mid-size SUV segment and for good reason.
Their cars are well-built, stylish and extremely refined. Challengers have come and gone with many claiming to match the Teutonic titans at what they do best. But the claims have always dissolved under the heat of scrutiny, forcing “competitors” to limp away with their tails tucked between their legs.
Mazda, however, has thrown down the gauntlet with its mid-sizer and has put the Germans on notice. This time, it means business.
A minor revision last year was needed to keep the CX-5 in the running with the new Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage, and while it’s not as roomy as either of the South Koreans, its quality is what sets it apart from the rest of the segment. We’re not just talking about how it’s built, though. We’re talking about the materials themselves.
The plastics across the dashtop are worthy of particular mention. It’s soft to touch, has a nice low-sheen finish and a beautiful texture. Sure, harping on about a plastic’s softness seems a little strange, but bear in mind as a car gets older and starts to flex a little more, a bit more ‘give’ in the car’s interior reduces the risk of those annoying rattles and creaks.
Even the harder parts of the interior trim have been crafted out of decent materials, but before you think it’s all sweetness and light it must be said there’s a few faux-stitching pieces around that look good from a distance but up close fall a little flat.
The leather, though, is first class; soft, with a light grain and well padded seats. For a classy interior, it’s hard to go past.
Unlike the latest additions to the Mazda range the CX-5 doesn’t have a dash-mounted external screen, rather it’s a slightly smaller built-in unit. The rotary infotainment controller popularised by BMW makes an appearance and makes scrolling through and selecting menus quick and easy.
There’s also a voice control but it’s not quite as intuitive as using the controller, which is why we stuck with the physical option for our week of testing.
The 2015 update also brought an electric parking brake which liberated more storage, but the interior room is the same as before. Which means front seat passengers will be fine and the second row is quite tight for three but reasonable for two.
The boot space is also average, with 403 litres available and when the second row is folded you’ll get 1560 litres.
So, interior space isn’t remarkable, but the build quality definitely is. What about how it drives?
Under the bonnet of our tester was the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel which produces 129kW and 420Nm. Again, for this segment, that’s middle of the road, but with peak torque coming in at 2000rpm there’s plenty of mid-range pull. And for a Japanese diesel the smoothness is commendable.
The six-speed auto does a good job of keeping the engine on the boil, but as with all Skyactive drivetrains the changes aren’t as smooth as other autos, feeling more like a dual-clutch with slightly sharper shifts rather than slurred changes.
Mazdas have been noted for being quite loud on the roll (just ask any previous gen Mazda3 owners) but thankfully the company has improved the sound deadening from the previous CX-5 using thicker glass and more absorbent materials. We say improved, but there’s still road noise, especially on our test car with 19-inch wheels.
Also noted with the 19s is the ride quality which tries its best to be supple but the low-profile tyres simply don’t have enough give (though lower-specced versions have a more compliant ride). It can be a bit jiggly over rough surfaces, amplifying the road noise. As the speed increases, it settles down, so on a long country run, it feels very sure-footed.
If you want handling, though, you’ll get it. The CX-5 can change direction with the best of them, turning in sharply and exhibiting a limpet-like grip. And its steering also deserves a mention. In an age of fake feel and electric systems devoid of heft, the Mazda’s steering is a revelation, with good weight and plenty of feedback.
But what about value for money?
Well, the Grand Touring model we had on test kicks off at $46,590, and there’s plenty of included equipment. But a lot of it is niceties that aren’t overly necessary – things like electric seats (which take too long), LED foglamps (how often do you use those anyway) and leather (cloth doesn’t scuff or scratch). In which case, the Maxx Sport at $38,790 will do the job just fine. And it has a better ride.
Overall, the CX-5 is a good machine. Not if you’re going off-road, of course – its low ride height puts paid to that idea – and if it’s acres of space and absolute silence you’re after, then look elsewhere. But dynamically, the CX-5 is a cut above and its interior quality is fabulous. Having an unlimited kilometre warranty also helps.
The CX-5 is almost a premium mid-sizer without the price tag. Certainly the Germans will want to lift their game because it’s clear Mazda’s gunning for them.