Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport AWD First Drive Review

Tim O'Brien | 28 Comments


Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
$36,040 (plus on-roads)
2.0 litre SkyActiv petrol
AWD with six-speed automatic

Consumption (claimed): 6.9 l/100km (and 160 g/km)
Consumption (tested): 8.6 l/100km


The company that mostly ‘gets it right', has got it right again. We're talking about Mazda's new CX-5.

After a day in the saddle in the AWD Maxx Sport 2.0 litre SkyActiv petrol, it has just one shortcoming as far as we can find - just one. Park that one debit, and Mazda's new CX-5 is the best driving, best finished, and best-buying SUV of the moment.

It has to be good, it's ploughing the toughest of markets: between the Sportage, Tiguan, new Ford Kuga, Rav4 and Forester (among others), it's hard to spot a dud.

But it barely takes 30 seconds at the wheel of the new CX-5 to recognise that this one is a bit special.

With crisp modern lines, 'alive' and responsive handling, a beautifully trimmed and appointed interior, and superior on-road dynamics, Mazda has landed a very good car here.

It's bigger than we anticipated, and more spacious inside. It certainly feels 'airier' and more instantly appealing than the CX-7 it's replacing.

With a range starting at $27,800 for the CX-5 Maxx FWD (with six-speed manual), $33,540 for the Maxx Sport FWD with six-speed auto, and $36,040 for the Maxx Sport AWD auto we drove, it's priced pretty right.

2012 mazda cx 5 australia launch event 08

This puts it on par with the Forester, that it comfortably betters, and not too far from the Sportage, that it also comfortably betters.

And it's shortcoming? We had under test the petrol SkyActiv 2.0 litre. It will happily rev its head off, but it's a tad underpowered.

Not that you'd notice too much in normal driving. But pushing it high into Snowy Mountain country between Khancoban and Canberra, the long steep climbs were a bit of a struggle.

The diesel will address this when it arrives. It's packing class-leading torque of 420Nm under the bonnet.

We drove this diesel engine in the Mazda6 prototype at Sandown last year... it absolutely hauls. CX-5 buyers are going to be faced with a tough choice when the diesel lands.


Open the door and you're presented with one of the best interiors in the business, both for style and for finish.

The sporty leather-wrapped wheel presents nicely 'square-on' and seats are set high but are well-shaped and comfortable.

The understated lines and organisation of the dash and controls, with the instruments set under a hooded cowl, are classy and appealing.

And all tactile surfaces are first class - something we've come to expect from Mazda - with cold-touch satin-chrome metal garnishes, superior soft-feel dash and door trims, and really good switchgear.

2012 mazda cx 5 australia launch event 04

The more upright seating (than the CX-7) and 2700mm wheelbase creates good space inside; there’s ample legroom and headroom in the back (except maybe for beanpoles), and a good-sized boot of 403 litres (up to the cargo blind), expandable to 1560 litres with the rear seats folded.

The tailgate has a low loading lip that many will appreciate when doing the weekly mega-shop.

And it’s not short of standard features, primary among them a crystal-clear nine-speaker Bose sound system.

Plus, each in the CX-5 range comes with a 5.8-inch touchscreen, USB and Bluetooth connections, iPod playback (with on-screen music information) and aux-in, sat-nav with live updates, climate control and fully integrated rear view camera.

The Maxx Sport we drove also features auto on-off headlights, leather-wrapped gearshift knob, handbrake and steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, fog lamps, 40/20/40 split-fold rear backrest (flat fold) and centre fold-down armrest and 17-inch alloys.

Nothing missing among that spec list.

On The Road

The CX-5 is the first new model from Mazda with the whole box and dice of its SkyActiv technologies, encompassing the engine, transmission, chassis and body structures.

The 2.0 litre DOHC SkyActiv-G petrol engine runs a gut-busting 13:1 compression ratio, multi-port direct fuel injection, continuously variable valve timing (CVVT) on inlet and exhaust ports, lighter engine components and a 30 percent reduction in internal engine friction.

It’s a delightfully balanced unit, producing a free-revving 113kW at 6000rpm and 198Nm at 4000rpm in the AWD we had under test. (The front wheel drive gets one extra kW and two more Nm).

It’s mated to the six-speed auto with friction-reducing and ‘lock-up’ technologies (to reduce slippage from the torque converter) and rapid gear-changes more like a dual-clutch transmission.

Both in Sport and Normal mode, it works very well. Sport livens up the changes and hangs longer onto gears. It can also be paddled manually via the gear-shift – push forward for downshifts, back for upshifts.

Despite – or because of – the six-speed box (with two high loping ratios at the top end), overtaking needs a bit of forward planning. While the engine will spin like a jewel to 6000rpm, there’s quite a noticeable torque hole between 2500 and 3000rpm.

Unless you drag it back a few cogs it’s a bit slow to get moving, reluctant even, as though it’s struggling with the CX-5’s bulk. When overtaking, you have to anticipate with the right gear and a heavy right foot.

It won’t whistle out-and-around like the eager new Ford Kuga for instance.

It’s the same on hills and when pulling out of corners. If you want anything to happen quickly you’ve got to be prepared to wring a few revs out of the engine.

Any shortcomings of the petrol however will be more than adequately compensated for by the 2.2 litre twin-turbo diesel; it’s arriving next month (we’ll be attending the launch) and it’s going to be packing 129kW and 420Nm of torque.

Numbers like that will make the diesel CX-5 a real belter.

It’s the handling of the CX-5 that really sets it apart though. With a somewhat conventional front strut and rear multi-link set-up, it provides both a sporting feel and a well-isolated and elastic ride.

It’s untroubled by rippled tarmac, is quieter than both the Mazda3 and 6 on coarse bitumen (its NVH is surprising good), is really responsive through the steering and points more accurately than any of its direct competitors.

And, despite its high stance, it doesn’t get all wobbly or flustered when pushing on through corners.

There’s some understeer, especially if you get onto the sauce too early into the corner, but this is one very nice handling SUV. And you can, as we did, belt it over gravel and corrugations without unsettling things or crashing through the suspension.

It’s got all the safety bits (naturally) like anti-lock braking, dynamic stability control, traction control, emergency brake assist and emergency brake-force distribution, plus hill-start assist and front, side and curtain SRS airbags.

First Drive Verdict

On the basis of this first drive, it’s hard not to be very impressed with Mazda’s new CX-5.

Dynamically, and for finish and that elusive sense of quality, it is - as Mazda claims - a cut above others in its segment.

It’s also very nicely proportioned and has a classy presence on road. The 2.0 litre petrol engine is a bit underdone for power and responsiveness, but there is a very big upside to its SkyActiv technologies.

We absolutely wrung its neck on launch and still returned a remarkable 8.6 l/100km. The claimed 6.9 l/100km looks very easily achieved.

Mazda’s CX-5 is one very nice car. And certainly one to consider if shopping in this part of the market.


  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.0 litre petrol FWD 6MT - $27,800
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.0 litre petrol FWD 6AT - $29,800
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.2 litre petrol AWD 6AT - $32,300
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 litre petrol FWD 6AT - $33,540
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.0 litre petrol AWD 6AT - $36,040
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.2 litre diesel AWD 6AT - $39,040
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring 2.0 litre petrol AWD 6AT - $43,200
  • 2012 Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring 2.2 litre diesel AWD 6AT - $46,200

Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price (unless otherwise noted) and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.

Filed under: Featured, review, wagon, petrol, Mazda, diesel, 2012, awd, suv, automatic, Manual, fwd, cx-5, mazda cx-5, mazda skyactiv, family, medium, Advice, special-featured, 4cyl, 5door, 6m, 6a, tim o'brien, 5seat, available, mazda cx

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  • Smart us says,
    4 years ago
    why no turbo charger for this small engine... underpowered and lazy... good for city run but they are targeting families... guess we wait for diesel...
    • AndrewS says,
      4 years ago
      Agree with Marc, I'll check it out when diesel arrives.
  • wardski
    Wardski says,
    4 years ago
    Great review, but as always, lacking the "Baby Seat" test - which for an SUV, isn't this what the damn thing is going to be used for?? Carting around kids + the whole box n dice.

    As for "The diesel will address this when it arrives. It's packing class-leading torque of 420Nm under the bonnet." - the Hyundai Santafe kicks this one by almost 20Nm. Failz

    .. and "With crisp modern lines.." - take a few blinks of the eyes fellas, and yes it looks like the Hyundai Santafe too! Mazda turned Chinese copy copy??

    At $46k for the top model, and with all the Mazda reliability issues around these days, I think I'd rather take the Hyundai Santafe lol

    • Andrew says,
      4 years ago
      The Hyundai Santa Fe is in a different class. The CX-5 competes with the ix35, against which it has a comfortable advantage in torque and economy.

      Are you able to qualify your statement regarding Mazda reliability? While I agree Hyundai have proven to be reliable (just look at the number of Excels still on the road), Mazda has always held an enviable reputation for fit and finish, build quality and high reliability.
      • catb66 says,
        3 years ago
        1 like
        The Hyundai ix35 looks like a lovely SUV but fails badly with blind spots and drives a bit light on the road. sad
    • Smart us says,
      4 years ago
      great comment - yeah it looks Santa Fe (i like santa fe better tho)... and being smaller the asking price is ridiculous... I bet we wait for brand new Santa Fe that will kill SUV market for value and performance
    • Helmut says,
      3 years ago
      Mazda reliability issues?? what planet are you from, You stick with your sub par Hyundai models and let the rest of enjoy Mazda's quality and resale value!
  • WheresBear says,
    4 years ago
    Definitely a winner - it'll sell boatloads. Santa Fe?
    That's a larger vehicle with a 2.2 diesel - not 2.0. Think ix35/Sportage with 392Nm if you want to compare apples with apples. I think the point is that the CX5 is at the pointy end in terms of power/torque output in its class but can achieve very low consumption figures. Dynamically Mazda has set the benchmark for many classes of vehicle for a long time and as an overall package it seems to be a winner though time will tell.

    Reliability problems? I think not. Mazda 6 diesel for over 5 years for me and apart from brake pads, tyres and a battery not a single rattle after 120000km. Thats in sharp contrast to my Hyundai before that - it spent 3 weeks off the road in the first year for warranty issues.
  • Roger says,
    4 years ago
    1 like
    I know I keep saying it, but the Japanese are so far behind. Europe have accepted that GDI turbo petrols are the future and everyone is pumping them out now. They offer big torque and low consumption. The Japanese are falling further behind every release. Its a pity as they really know how to put stuff together, but their technology is perhaps 2 generations behind Europe. At least the diesel is up to scratch, but the price is out of the market for that category vehicle. Europe offers better options at better prices.
    • Dave says,
      3 years ago
      I appreciate the quality and leading edge technology Roger, but how about the ongoing service costs and pitiful realiabilty of the so called "advanced" European vehicles which are not made and seem unable to endure the Australian climate.
      These road tests need to carry out a follow up test with owners 12-24 months down the road to see which product has actaully delivered what we have paid our hard earned cash for.
      How can manufacturers justify the service costs of a Euro vehicle being 2-3 times more expensive than a Japenses vehicle.VW produce excellent vehicles but how do they justify the service costs? Not to mention the reliability issues? A great product quickly looses its shine when your let down with ridiculous quailty issues.
      • JUANJO says,
        3 years ago
        I agree Dave. I live in Bilbao, Spain. Euro cars are expensives and worst than japaneses. I´m waiting for my CX5 diesel. It will arrive in may. It´s my fourth Mazda. I have a Mazda6: 231.659 kms. with NO PROBLEM. How many european brands can say this?.
      • Roger says,
        3 years ago
        1 like
        I am suggesting the Japanese need to move ahead. There is no reason for us to accept either low tech or low reliability. I understand what you are saying, but I dont think we should let the Japanese off the hook. They can do it...they just choose not to as they get profit for little effort, take Toyota HiLux for example. They wont upgrade while we still buy them. It was only BHP requiring all 4WD had a 5 star ANCAP that prompted them to say it will be updated next year. Lazy. I am still impressed by the euro tech though. The massive power/torque they get is very impressive. Mercedes 2.1 TDI 4 cylinder for example...betters a 6 litre V8 for torque down low.
        I just checked the US customer satisfaction charts, Mercedes and BMW are up in the top group, Mercedes has been number 1 in the past. That being said I would not buy either...too expensive here, double the world market price.
        • roget says,
          3 years ago
          You seem to be making rather broad generalisations.

          Also, if you took a closer look at those 'US customer satisfaction charts' you've got there, you'd realise Lexus consistently ranks up at the top as well.
  • Keith says,
    3 years ago
    Yay a,,,,eurovowner cured for life,,, big buck, expensive service and worst still don't last,,, I'm talking with experience of a AMG merc and vw bora,,,so disappointing when you pay the extra and believe the sales man,,,,,sorry back to a Japanese car that I know will last
  • Arun says,
    3 years ago
    Hii guys.....this is arun, im thinking to buy cx5 what do you recommond me !? Do you think this is the best suv.
    • Bruce says,
      3 years ago
      Yes mate. I got my CX5 diesel two weeks back and totally enjoy the car. I have had Merc's and BMW's in the past and really enjoy this Mazda. Very good quality and the diesel has excellent power and performance.
  • Sonny says,
    3 years ago
    Nice car with little gasoline consumption. If you want a good acceleration than go with manual acceleration. when you need low gasoline consumption, just drive normal. you have to try CR-V 2.0 in my country, very very under power car, no acceleration at all, so sucks honda
  • irm says,
    3 years ago
    CX-5, you must have been driving a different car from the one I tried at Mazda today. The drivers foot well is cramped, very difficult to move your feet into a comfortable position. The dashboard protrudes too far into the car, giving a claustrophobic affect.
    Back seats too small, not readily adjustable and not good head room for any one around 6ft tall.
    You can't see let alone judge where the front of the car is.
  • gail says,
    3 years ago
    Just like to say that I am thrilled with my Mazda CX5 Maxx Sport Petrol AWD 6AT 2.0 litre-fantastic ladies car but at the moment I am experiening a problem with the warning lights coming on all the time-mainly tyre pressure & brake system. Have had it checked by Mazda several times-cant find any problems. Is anyone having the same experience.
    • Aluap says,
      3 years ago
      Hi , I took deliv of my CX5 in May and the tyre sensors keep buzzing and annoying the hell out of me. I had this checked yet nothing found. Rep didn't sell me the reverse camera sensor which I'm not impressed with after we discussed the safety options we required! This should be sold as a package and as a standard. Would of been nice if side mirrors folded in once parked. Perhaps on the next release.Nice looking car and drives ok except if you need to go up a hill. It's very sluggish.. I'm still happy though with my new car.
    • hmmm says,
      3 years ago
      1 like
      yes Gail, I am experiencing the same problem. Had the car only 3 months and at the moment it is at Mazda having the gear box replaced. (after 15,000km) I also have had the check engine light come on aswell as tyre pressure light and brake system light. Mazda are investigating this but at the moment I am paying off a car I can't drive.....not happy with Mazda
      • Eddie says,
        2 years ago
        Yes, I am experiencing problem with not starting after stopping at traffic light twice. The brake pedal was stick to the floor and all dash board light on and engine dead. after 5 to 10 minutes, the pedal released back to throttle level and then can start the engine again.
  • taggerty says,
    3 years ago
    1 like
    Cx5 2ltr is so under powered i absolutely hate it. I found myself having to bury the paddle to overtake a truck and it seems to take forever to get past it. The engine a screaming out to change gears and when it changes half way through the overtaking maneuver you actually slow down!
    I have to say the interior is nice its competitors.
    IF you have to get the CX5 get the bigger engine or the Diesel STAY well away from the 2ltr.
    • John says,
      3 years ago
      1 like
      Easy solution maybe? If you are driving the automatic switch manual drive and select the best passing gear. I driven both manual and automatic and I don't have any problems passing other cars.
  • Marco says,
    3 years ago
    Funny that hmmm says that. I bought my CX5 drove it out of the parking lot and all the lights came on (engine, tire pressure and AT (something to do with the axles)). The did give me another cx5 to drive, but its been over a week and they are still doing test on it! No impressed!
  • Rob says,
    3 years ago
    Agree that the 2ltr is underpowered and diesel is the preferred option. The Grand Touring I feel is overpriced otherwise a lovely car!
    • Victor. says,
      3 years ago
      Waiting on delivery of CX-5 Maxx Sport Diesel can't wait. test drove a few other makes in the same class, But the CX-5 stood out as well built and drove well. Just hope we don't get a lemon.The Diesel we drove had more than enough power and fuel ecomony to boot.
      • Wheeler1 says,
        3 years ago
        The problem with the diesel is that it is only available in high equipment level config. Despite all the fancy technology, paying 50k+ in case of the top spec Grand is just insane and the Maxx Sport is not far behind.
        I'm in the market for a similar car and I actually like the CX5 but the petrol engine is pissy (couldn't they do at least a 2.2L one??). I would have paid $3k extra for the diesel but you have to jump up to the Sport or Grand where the price is a deal-breaker for me.
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