MAZDA'S CX-5 HAS ALMOST ALL MEDIUM SUV-BASES COVERED - THERE'S A BROAD MODEL RANGE TO PICK FROM, TWO-WHEEL-DRIVE OR ALL-WHEEL-DRIVE, AND PETROL OR DIESEL SKYACTIV ENGINE POWER.
That range of choices has helped make the Mazda CX-5 Australia’s favourite medium SUV. But range alone doesn’t lead to success; the right price, features and ‘feeling’ are all crucial.
Despite four years on the market, and only a slight facelift early last year, Mazda’s well-judged medium SUV seems to still have "that certain something". We climbed behind the wheel for a fresh look.
Vehicle Style: Medium SUV
Price: $32,190 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 7.4 l/100km | Tested: 8.5 l/100km
If you enjoy getting a bit beyond the fringe, then the all-wheel-drive Mazda CX-5 Maxx is the place to start, priced from $32,190 with a 2.5-litre petrol engine and automatic transmission.
While there’s no diesel Maxx (you need to step up to the Maxx Sport for that), the more powerful engine and surety of all-wheel-drive will to get you comfortably to your chosen campsite or ski slope.
- Standard equipment: Manual air conditioning, push-button start, power windows, multi-function trip computer, cloth seat trim, urethane steering wheel with audio and cruise buttons, rear cargo blind, cruise control, centre armrest, 17-inch steel wheels
- Infotainment: 7.0-inch touchscreen infotainment, MZD Connect clickwheel interface, AM/FM/CD playback, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, Aux and USB inputs, Pandora, Stitcher, Aha connectivity (with compatible smartphones), four-speaker audio.
- Cargo volume: 403 litres (seats up) 1560 litres (seats folded)
Despite being the entry point to the CX-5 range, the Maxx offers most of the same materials and finishes as the rest of the range. The result is that it feels somewhat more upmarket than other base-model medium SUVs.
While the soft-touch dash and black gloss-trims remain, as well as the user-friendly MZD Connect infotainment system, the steering wheel is of the urethane variety and the trim is simple cloth.
There’s also a few less knick-knacks; small features like auto lights and wipers that you get in the higher grade cars are missing. The CX-5 Maxx however is simple, rather than spartan.
We’re a little perplexed by Mazda’s faux-stitched navigation screen surround, which looks and feels out of place with the rest of the interior - and we’d like to see the upgraded instrument screen from the Mazda6 in the CX-5, but these are minor gripes.
More importantly, the front seats are comfy and offer decent space. The driver’s seat however lacks adjustable lumbar support, which, for longer trips, may be a bit of an omission.
Rear seat travellers are well accommodated. They don’t lack for space, there’s a clear view out the side-windows, a raised rear bench that's also decently comfortable. (Although taller passengers might find the seat base a wee bit short.)
Behind the rear seats there’s 403 litres of boot space, the folding rear seats drop to a flat-floor offering 1560 litres of space.
Mazda has also cleverly integrated the cargo blind into the tailgate, which makes loading shopping easier. Also, you need never adjust it, while still keeping your goods away from prying eyes.
ON THE ROAD
Engine: 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol four-cylinder
Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
Brakes: 297mm ventilated front discs, 303mm solid rear discs
Steering: Electrically assisted power steering, turning circle 11.2m
Towing capacity: 1800 kg braked, 750kg unbraked
The CX-5 Maxx we’re testing here features a 2.5 litre four-cylinder engine, six-speed automatic, and all-wheel-drive.
For the budget-conscious, there are cheaper front-wheel-drive Maxx variants, powered by a 2.0-litre engine with a choice of manual or automatic transmission.
The 2.5-litre SkyActiv four-cylinder engine produces a quite reasonable 138kW of power at 5700rpm, and 250Nm of torque at 4000rpm.
Bucking the trend for downsized turbo engines, Mazda instead equips its engines with the latest high-compression clean-burning technology (an approach the company believes is more sustainable in the long term).
And, thanks to the extra torque provided by the larger capacity, the 2.5 litre Maxx drives more comfortably than the 2.0 litre variants, which can at times feel a little strained.
With a completely fuss-free demeanour, the CX-5 is happy to loll about town but can easily summon enough zing to merge confidently into fast-moving traffic.
While it won’t venture into the great unknown, you can take it a little way off-road and it's actually pretty good when the path gets a little more marginal.
Mostly though, having on-demand all-wheel-drive means the CX-5 is able to venture more confidently onto loose surfaces and wet roads. If you fancy winter weekends at the snow, its AWD grip will give you some extra confidence in slippery conditions.
(We found the CX-5 AWD system provided surprising traction in heavy snow and ice when testing last year in Colorado.)
Mazda’s six-speed automatic also performs well. It is not a quick as twin-clutch unit, but is well matched to the engine, and, in general operation, it is configured to keep engine revs low to reduce fuel consumption.
On more demanding roads, or if you’d just like a little more zing, the selectable sport mode keeps revs higher and offers a more immediate kickdown response.
Highway cruising is, for the most part, calm and quiet. However, despite changes made to the CX-5 range last year that included extra sound-deadening, there’s still a little more road noise evident than you’ll find in a Toyota RAV4 or Nissan X-Trail.
Otherwise, wind noise is low, as is engine noise. Only when really being 'wound out' does it intrude, and then not unappealingly - the slightly higher-pitched Mazda wail sounds distinctly different to its competitors.
While it may ride on higher suspension than the Mazda3 range it’s based upon, the CX-5 still handles more like a hatchback than a traditional SUV. Its wider tracks, and well-calibrated suspension tune ensure stable and comfortable road-holding.
The ride and handling is such a strong point for the CX-5. It's an SUV, but still shows a balanced sporting soul with a real eagerness to point and turn on a country run.
Importantly though, at parking speeds the CX-5 delivers low-effort steering, but adds weight as speed rises, making for more stable driving at freeway speeds. It remains one of the sharpest drives of its segment.
ANCAP rating: 5-Stars - this model scored 35.10 out of 37 possible points when tested in 2012
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, front side, full length curtain) ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and emergency brake assist, electronic stability and traction control, front seatbelt pretensioners, tyre pressure monitoring, and a reversing camera.
An optional safety pack adds autonomous city braking, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and a self-dimming rearview mirror for $1230
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
The list of CX-5 rivals is huge, but among Australia’s favourites are the perennially popular Subaru Forester with its reputation for ruggedness, and the versatile and family-friendly Nissan X-Trail.
Toyota’s restyled, and re-engineered RAV4 offers a similarly wide model range, while the Hyundai Tucson impresses with its high quality and strong equipment list.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
With its more powerful engine, and the added versatility and peace of mind of all-wheel-drive grip, the CX-5 Maxx tested here really feels the more complete car than its front-wheel-drive range-mates.
That’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the 2.0 litre models, it’s just the 2.5 feels more substantial and more capable on the road.
While the Maxx may not offer a full suite of luxury features, satellite navigation and a reversing camera are both handy things to have, and the handsomely styled interior doesn’t feel underdone.
Vitally, the budget won’t take a hard hit - even with the $1230 safety pack added - something that young families are sure to appreciate.
Spend a little time with it, and you'll appreciate why the CX-5 has dominated SUV sales for the past three or more years in this market.
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VISIT THE SHOWROOM: Mazda CX-5 Showroom - Prices, Features, and Specifications