Review

2017 Mazda CX-5 Review: First Drive

  • GT 2.2L Diesel AWD 
  • | $47,390 

the verdict

Pros

  • Much quieter and more refined
  • Impressive equipment levels
  • Strong, frugal diesel engine

Cc rating

8/10

cons

  • Petrol engines feel their age
  • Boot size trails some rivals
  • Active cruise only at top end
Review
Photos
Specs

Editor
8 months ago

When you build the car that has been Australia’s best-selling SUV for the last four years and customer feedback remains positive, you don’t mess with the recipe. That explains why the second-generation 2017 Mazda CX-5 that we drove this week feels similar, and looks familiar, to the tremendously popular outgoing model. Mazda have played a smart, if conservative game with the CX-5 update, but that makes total sense. There were few glaring issues with the previous car, which was barely five years old, so most of the changes in the new model are directed towards the easy criticisms of the old version: the new CX-5 is much quieter, more upmarket inside, and offers more standard toys across an enlarged range. Prices do rise a little – the base model is $800 dearer – but this new CX-5, sitting beneath sharper, simpler exterior lines, is an altogether more premium car.


It’s more premium to drive, but also to look at. The first-generation CX-5 introduced Mazda’s Kodo design language – and while Kodo lives on, the new maturity of the concept is obvious. Gone are the oversized lights and chunky cues; the second CX-5 keeps the athletic stance, but adopts a far more restrained and upmarket image, in line with its larger sibling, the much lauded CX-9 seven-seater.


The family resemblance to the CX-9 is even clearer inside, where the CX-5 makes its biggest leap forward. On first impression, the CX-5’s cabin appears as the most refined, elegant set up in the medium SUV class. Atop the classy, wide dash is an Audi-like floating navigation screen, and material quality feels leagues ahead of the old car. Leather and soft plastics, especially in the higher-end GT and Akera grades, are everywhere you look and touch. Finally, this is also an interior that stays quiet on the move – massive increases in harshness insulation means the CX-5 is so quiet, it’s like driving the old model 20km/h slower.


If the new look inside and out, coupled to real improvements in quietness, are clear wins for the new CX-5, it’s when we turn to the rest of the driving experience that things aren’t so clear cut. That’s because the three engines from the old model have carried over almost entirely unchanged. While the 2.2-litre turbo diesel – a $3,000 option, though it receives additional sound deadening – is a true delight, the two naturally aspirated petrols feel outdated compared to the turbo petrols available in the Volkswagen Tiguan and Hyundai Tucson – and we’re left wondering why Mazda chose not to adapt a version of the CX-9’s terrific turbocharged four-cylinder for this CX-5, in which it would be so well suited.


2017 Mazda CX-5 Akera Soul Red Crystal Rear End

DRIVE

7.5/10

Three engines are available in the new CX-5 – and each carries over from the previous car. Two are naturally aspirated petrols: a front-wheel-drive 2.0-litre produces 114kW and 200Nm; Mazda tells us the larger all-wheel-drive 2.5-litre that makes 140kW and 251Nm will be the most popular engine, taking 60% of all sales. The sole diesel is a 2.2-litre turbo four making 129kW of power and a stout 420Nm of torque. The main transmission is a slick-shifting six-speed automatic, while a six-speed manual is available only on the base grade.

With their high compression ratios – 13.0, which is adjusted down from 14 to account for poor Australian fuel quality – these petrols were genuinely innovative when the first CX-5 was launched in 2012. While they still get the job done, in 2017, it’s undeniable they are feeling their age. In a vehicle weighing about 1,600 kilos, the relatively limited torque in the petrols means the engines have to rev – and even in the punchier 2.5-litre, the engine can get noisy and thirsty. We saw about 10L/100km in town.

We hope and expect that Mazda are working on a version of the larger CX-9’s outstanding 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. Even if it packed less power, it would be an ideal fit in the smaller, lighter and more agile CX-5.

It is clear to us that the CX-5’s optional 2.2-litre turbo diesel is the standout, and the engine to opt for. Unusually, the diesel is very easily the quietest engine – and it’s also the most enjoyable to drive. The muscly 420Nm of torque makes the CX-5 feel strong in so many situations – overtaking, climbing hills, simply darting into traffic. Turbo lag feels incredibly minimal. And then there’s the good fuel economy, which we just couldn’t get above 7.5L/100km in town.

Given it’s priced at $3,000 over the 2.5-litre petrol, the diesel isn’t cheap, but it’s money you should spend. The superior fuel consumption means it would pay for itself in about six years, but it’s worth it in driveability alone.

2017 Mazda CX-5 GT Snowflake White Pearl Side Profile

But no matter the engine, all CX-5s share a key part of the original car’s spirit: they feel darty, agile, and light. In fact, the CX-5 feels remarkably natural to drive. The pedal and steering weighting, in concert with the revised driving position, mean that even after a short drive the car feels very familiar.

The steering is particularly light at city speeds but eventually weights up when driving faster and harder – and the CX-5 can be pretty fun to drive at the limit. Only relatively limited grip from the standard Toyo tyres prevents the CX-5’s sparkling chassis from fully shining through – however, with better rubber, even more of this sporty SUV’s talents could be realised on a country road.

There is some body roll, but like other Mazdas it is easily manageable and actually part of the fun. It’s when you really push the CX-5 that you can sense a dusting of MX-5 DNA, with predictable and enjoyable driving dynamics. Those that like their driving will like the new CX-5, particularly with the diesel engine, which provides the shove to back up the cornering capability.

Ride comfort has increased, though like many SUVs, this varies by wheel size. The 17-inch wheels standard on the lower three grades help in creating a cosseting, supple ride that stands up to the Hyundai Tucson, but the 19-inch wheels on the GT and Akera introduce noticeable fidget across poor tarmac. And while road noise is there on the nineteens, the CX-5 is much, much quieter to drive than the outgoing car.

That should make it a lot more relaxing on road trips – something we’ll be personally testing. What’s certain is that this is a safe car – while it’s untested for crashworthiness by ANCAP at this point, there are eight airbags, and there are at least a few key advanced safety features on every model. Each CX-5 has AEB that works in forward and reverse; blind spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic alert. If you want more, though, it’s a big step into the Akera flagship for active cruise control and lane keep assist.

COMFORT

8.5/10

A fully redesigned interior that looks and feels noticeably premium will sell plenty of CX-5s in dealerships. While the cabin is particularly nice in the top-shelf models, with the bold white leather option, you don’t feel short-changed in any grade. Each CX-5 is trimmed in the front with pleasant soft-touch surfaces, and features a crisp seven-inch floating navigation screen.

Like other Mazdas, you control that screen either by touch, or by the MZD rotary ‘commander’ dial between the seats – it’s a smart imitation of BMW’s iDrive, or Audi’s MMI system, and it’s better than what you get in the Volkswagen Tiguan or Hyundai Tucson. There is still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto – a future update, hopefully – and you’ll need at least a Maxx Sport for navigation, but interacting with the CX-5’s electronics is easy.

A heads-up display is now standard from the mid-range, with the new Touring grade inheriting the old-tech flip-up HUD – better than nothing, definitely – but it’s the GT and Akera that adopt Mazda’s new windscreen-projected version. It looks great, but with most sunglasses, it’s still near-invisible. Those grades also pack a ten-speaker, 249 watt Bose stereo, which provides excellent sound.

The seats vary by grade. There’s fabric on the Maxx and Maxx Sport and the pews themselves are comfortable enough, though thigh support is a little limited thanks to short squabs. The new Touring has quite a classy man-made leather and suede mix while the GT and Akera have ten-way adjustable leather. The CX-5 addressed our complaint about the CX-9, which oddly left out thigh angle adjustment in every grade: the CX-5 has it, but it needs even more if this car is going to be seriously comfortable for long stints.

Top models also add faux-leather to where the driver’s knee rests – that’s a Lexus feature. Kudos, Mazda. The material quality is generally very impressive – the dash and door tops are soft and look expensive. However, some elements feel incomplete in this regard: the indicator stalks still feel too light, and cheap, while the door closing should sound heavier.

The visibility is quite strong out the front and to the sides, though the rearward side view is obscured somewhat by the dramatic C-pillars. The standard blind spot monitoring helps to alleviate the annoyance – and the large rear window and standard reversing camera do make parking easier.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Akera White Leather Back Seat

PRACTICALITY

7.5/10

Despite the overall size of the CX-5 changing very little – it’s not as tall, and it’s a centimetre longer – Mazda’s engineers have been able to improve the boot space by just under ten per cent. The boot, while still smaller than some rivals, now measures 442 litres with the seats up. Once we have the car through for an extended test, we’ll let you know exactly what fits – but a few suitcases, or all the schoolbags, or a big grocery shop will all be fine.

You’ll have to move around to the back doors to fold those seats down – and while there’s a long and relatively flat load bay once you do, we’ll similarly wait until we can get real objects into the car to report on what it’ll take. Impressively, the back seats fold three ways – or 40/20/40 – as standard. The rear bench now reclines, which will make the back seat a better place for a snooze on long drives.

The tailgate is manual – but light and easy – on the first three grades and, like many other luxuries, it’s a step up to the GT to shift to a powered tailgate. On all the models, though, there’s not much of a load lip – so sliding heavy things in or out of the boot won’t be a chore.

Storage in the cabin is good. In the front, there’s a large shelf in front of the shifter for multiple phones, and a central bin, too. The bin houses two USB ports for those up front – and in the back, the flip-down centre armrest that only the base Maxx misses, houses another USB port. With three juice points on offer, charging devices won’t be a problem here. Air vents in the back are standard – once again, in everything but the Maxx base model.

The cupholders up front are best described as medium and while the door bins can take another water bottle, they aren’t lined with felt at any of the four doors. It’s a classy feature that Mazda ought to poach from Volkswagen – it’s these little things that add up to a premium product.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Boot Space Seats Folded

VALUE FOR MONEY

8.5/10

Mazda are hoping to generate a strong number of repurchase sales for the new model: owners of the outgoing CX-5, who are happy with the car and looking for something a little more premium. It was this demographic that were front-of-mind in the decision to introduce a fifth CX-5 grade – a new mid-range option called Touring.

Pricing generally rises gently across the CX-5 range, but this is offset by better value: at each step, there are more standard toys than before.

The Maxx base model is the only model available with a six-speed manual ($28,690), and includes LED headlights, cloth trim, the seven-inch MZD Connect screen, DAB+ power folding mirrors, three-way folding rear seats, keyless start, AEB, blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, rear cross traffic alert, and a reversing camera.

An automatic on the Maxx’s standard 2.0-litre petrol is $2,000 extra, while the 2.5-litre is another $3,000 again.

However, the Maxx’s biggest shortcomings – agricultural, 17-inch steel wheels, and the lack of rear vents and a rear armrest – will push plenty of showroom floor traffic up to the Maxx Sport (from $34,390).

That grade adds the vents and USB-stocked armrest, plus 17-inch alloys, automatic headlights and wipers, LED front fog lights, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, dual zone climate control, and satellite navigation. On Maxx Sport, the 2.5-litre petrol is another $3,000 ($37,390), and the 2.2-litre diesel is further $3,000 ($40,390).

Newly-introduced is the Touring ($38,990 for 2.5-litre; $41,990 for diesel), which adds a few premium touches: nice leatherette-and-suede seats, keyless entry, automatically folding mirrors, a flip-up heads up display, front parking sensors, and traffic sign recognition.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Touring Sonic Silver Front End The new Mazda CX-5 Touring model

From there it’s up and into premium territory with what is potentially the ideal spec – the GT ($44,390 for 2.5-litre, $47,390 for diesel). The GT adds 19-inch alloys on 225/55 tyres, the electric boot, a sunroof, leather seats that are heated and with memory settings in the front – the driver gets 10-way adjustment and the passenger 6-way – plus a 10-speaker Bose stereo.

The best adaptive safety features are reserved for the flagship Akera ($46,990 for 2.5-litre, $49,990 for diesel), which looks no different to the GT but adds an adaptive function to the headlights, plus active cruise control, lane departure warning and lane keep assist, driver attention alert, and a side camera.

Equipment levels – and prices – generally bob around those of a competing Volkswagen Tiguan, though the VW’s optional, fully-digital instrument cluster is not available on the CX-5, which counters with a heads-up display, better headlights across the range, and a more robust basic safety offering. However, the Tiguan smartly allows the full safety suite to be added as an option – with the virtual dials – on the mid-spec models. Restricting features like active cruise control to the top CX-5 Akera – rather than in an option pack on less expensive models – seems a touch unsporting.

2017 Mazda CX-5 Range Akera Touring Maxx

COMPETITORS

Volkswagen Tiguan 110TDI Comfortline 4MOTION ($42,990)

The current class-leader in our eyes, the second-generation Volkswagen Tiguan will be the car for the Mazda CX-5 to beat. The conservative Tiguan will be competing against a more stylish Mazda and prices are relatively similar; however, the Tiguan’s engine range is far more robust; the cabin is comfortable and well-built; and the VW is a bigger, more practical car.

Hyundai Tucson Elite CRDi AWD ($41,750)

Hyundai’s diesel Tucson is a really good car to drive: like the Mazda, the diesel is punchy, quiet and lag is well-restrained. Plus, Hyundai have almost nailed the ride-handling balance – another fierce challenger for the CX-5, then. The Mazda have edged the older Tucson’s interior, but with a more attractive ownership proposition, the Hyundai is a must-consider.

Ford Escape Trend Diesel AWD ($38,490)

Price is firmly on the Ford’s side when it comes to comparing a mid-specification CX-5 and Escape – but while this medium-size Ford has recently been renamed and refreshed, it’s now a relatively old product under the skin. The question is, how much do you miss out on in order to pocket a few thousand in savings?

wrap up

DRIVE 7.5
COMFORT 8.5
PRACTICALITY 7.5
VALUE FOR MONEY 8.5
Total cc score 8

Engine

Capacity 2.2L
Fueltype Diesel
Cylinders 4
Configuration In-line
Induction Single turbocharger
Power 129kW at 4,500rpm
Torque 420Nm at 2,000rpm
Power to weight ratio 76kW / tonne
Fuel consumption (combined) 6.0L/100km
Fuel capacity 58L
Average range 967 kilometres

Transmission and Drivetrain

Transmission Automatic
Configuration Torque converter
Gears 6
Drivetrain All wheel drive

Dimensions and Weights

Length 4.55 metres
Width 1.84 metres
Height 1.68 metres
Unoccupied weight 1,708 kilograms
Cargo space (seats up) 442 litres
Cargo space (seats down) Not listed