The Mazda CX-5 has been a perennial performer on the Australian sales charts since its 2012 inception. While early models wowed by bringing a new benchmark to the family SUV market, the current car has focussed on adding premium levels of refinement to the mix. This recipe goes over well with us, but Mazda continually tinkers with their cars, adding new features when they’re ready, rather than waiting for facelift time. For 2020, the CX-5 gains incremental improvements to refinement and comfort – plus new off-roading tech for the AWD models. This should help to fight the new Toyota RAV4, which this year has dethroned the CX-5 from its position as Australia’s favourite medium SUV.
Our test car is a front-wheel-drive CX-5 Maxx Sport ($36,290, $38,240 driveaway) finished in Deep Crystal Blue Mica – a conservative colour choice, but one that reveals the subtle curves of the vehicle over time. Unlike the original CX-5, the current car is fairly reserved – but handsome – in the metal. There’s a new colour choice for 2020 in Polymetal Grey, the slate-like colour carrying over from the Mazda 3 small car, but we still favour the signature Soul Red Crystal hue. Aside from the larger wheels, it’s a challenge to tell the entry-level Maxx apart from the range-topping GT and Akera grades thanks to the standard inclusion of chrome grille trim.
Hopping inside the CX-5 requires fumbling in pockets to find the key fob’s tiny unlock button on the Maxx and Maxx Sport – fully keyless ingress comes standard on the $43,740 Touring grade and up. Settle into the soft ‘Maztex’ upholstered driver’s seat and things get better. The driving position is high and commanding, with the seat offering decent manual adjustment. Poking and prodding reveal very high-quality materials, soft-touch plastics line every surface even in the more affordable variants, and the overall build quality is excellent.
What isn’t so excellent is Mazda’s infotainment system. The CX-5 has not been upgraded to the newer, better unit found in the slightly smaller CX-30 crossover – and the old, tablet-style unit now looks and feels a little old. Mazda’s software is dated, so we found ourselves using the standard wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto most of the time. It’s also worth noting that this display only operates as a touchscreen when the car’s stopped – the rest of the time, the input method is the rotary dial between the seats. Still, that’s safer, and Mazda have actually deleted touchscreens from the new 3 small car and CX-30 SUV models that sport the new interior the CX-5 will likely pick up in future.
On the safety tech front, though, the CX-5 still excels. The Maxx Sport is well equipped, with all CX-5s packing high and low-speed AEB, reverse-gear AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, driver fatigue detection, and a reversing camera. Go for the range-topper Akera Turbo AWD – tested here – and you’ll score a 360-degree parking camera. Unfortunately, the tuning of some systems is lazy. This includes the lane keep assist, which is very weak – and the resolution on the reversing camera is like watching a YouTube video on dial-up. Credit where it’s due, though: Mazda’s rear cross-traffic alert is excellent. So is the standard adaptive cruise control, as buttons fall easily to the thumb on the multifunction steering wheel and the system is smoother than most in its operation.
Mazda develops some stellar engines, with a return to rotary on the horizon and the new Skyactiv-X unit about to arrive in Australia – so it’s no surprise that the simpler motor in the CX-5 is a smooth operator. Our test car was equipped with the base two-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder engine and six-speed automatic, producing 115kW/200Nm. Compared to some turbocharged rivals, these outputs are modest, but the CX-5’s silky four is peppy enough both in town and on the freeway. There’s an optional 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit producing 140kW/252Nm, while high-milers should consider the muscular 2.2-litre turbo diesel producing 140kW/450Nm. The ‘crown jewel’ engine, optionally offered on the high-spec GT and Akera grades, is the CX-9’s 2.5-litre turbo four producing 170kW/420Nm. There’s no wanting for choice in configuring a CX-5, then…
With the CX-5, Mazda strikes an excellent balance of ride comfort and body control, particularly on the smaller-wheeled models: the Maxx Sport wears chunky tyres and 17-inch alloys. The reassuring suspension tune means occupants barely notice speed humps and expansion joints. Higher speeds don’t bother the CX-5 either: cruising at 110km/h on the freeway is dead easy. With a range of driving, we managed a fuel consumption figure of 8.4L/100km, which we found to be easily reproducible.
However, there’s a noticeable difference in the CX-5’s handling at low and high speeds. Around town, the CX-5 is controlled but feels top heavy – a facet exacerbated by the relatively flat seats. Driven at moderate speeds around suburban corners, the CX-5 struggles to conceal its mass. Conversely, if you up the pace on country roads, tackling corners at higher speeds, the CX-5 reacts brilliantly, shrinking into a tightly controlled raised wagon offering something for the engaged driver. You’ll need to test drive it to see whether this mix works for you.
Mazda’s new ‘Premium’ brand philosophy has put it on a course to compete with higher-end German marques, and the CX-5 demonstrates the strong refinement necessary to support this quest. Gone are the days of journalists praising a Mazda for its driving dynamics and engine, only for it to fall at the last hurdle of noise vibration and harshness. The CX-5 is an isolating vehicle in the cabin. Our testing roads north-west of Sydney provide some of the world’s most horrendous coarse-chip pavement, and it was easy to chat at a reasonable volume, even when having to push the two-litre engine. Kids in the back should have no trouble listening to YouTube videos.
A flip-down armrest in the rear seat features two fast-charge USB ports to keep the iPads filled, with adjustable rear air vents to keep rear occupants cool. The CX-5 is big enough for taller occupants, too: at six-foot-two, I fit comfortably behind my driving position. There’s about an inch of legroom for me, but plenty of toe and headroom to accommodate basketball stars. Shuffle around the rear, lift the manual boot – it’s a power tailgate in the GT and Akera – and witness 440 litres of cargo space.
Mazda’s nifty cargo-cover solution retracts as the tailgate lifts, a neat and smart touch of engineering. A standard-fit cargo net would be nice, although the convenience of a remote folding rear bench is appreciated for bicycle portaging. A spare tyre sits under the high-set boot floor meaning a minimal load-lip, too.
It’s easy to see why the CX-5 is still a family favourite; Mazda’s mid-size SUV is a practical and pragmatic choice. The myriad ways to configure a CX-5 to suit different budgets and outcomes improves prospects further. Maxx Sport FWD trim does without the off-road credentials added for 2020, but what matters is that even at the lower end the CX-5’s character is intact. Mazda’s deft updates for 2020 have increased the feeling of premium, too. Excellent ride and comfort remains while the driving experience is more serene than ever. The CX-5 won’t stand out in a crowd; instead, the Mazda happily joins its family like an ageing labrador; warming your feet in winter and following commands without protest.
Key specs (as tested)
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