Mazda CX-5 review

Our Rating: 
4
4.0/5.0
2012 model
By Auto Express Test TeamComments

The Mazda CX-5 is a good-looking, reliable crossover that's solidly built, reasonably efficient and fun to drive

For: 
Sharp to drive, good looking, improved interior
Against: 
Could be more spacious, limited engine line-up, load floor isn't flat

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One of the very best crossovers you can buy, the Mazda CX-5 is well made, really enjoyable to drive and good-looking too. Recent upgrades have improved the interior ambience and upped the technology levels so it's now on a par with rivals.

Group test: Mazda CX-5 vs Subaru Forester

The interior isn't quite as spacious as the most practical crossovers and compact 4x4's but that doesn't stop the CX-5 serving as a fine family car. The engine range is smaller than you'll find elsewhere but there isn't a bad unit amongst them and this helps confirm the Mazda CX-5 as the driver's choice in this market.

Our Choice: 
Mazda CX-5 150hp SkyActiv-D Diesel 2WD SE-L Nav

The Mazda CX-5 was somewhat of a saviour for Mazda. Launched at a time when the company was lacked a fashinable SUV, it introduced a new platform, all-new engines and a selection of lightweight, fuel-saving technologies - named SkyActiv. Happily for the Japanese brand, it paid off, and the CX-5 is a brilliant crossover, combining all the new items to brilliant effect and producing a car that's not only impressively practical and efficient, but fun to drive, too. Some 800,000 sales later, it's helped put the company back in the black, and the lightweight SkyActiv technology has gone on to star across most of Mazda's range.

Essentially, the CX-5 replaced the short-lived Mazda CX-7 - an SUV that was gorgeous to look at and great to drive, but hamstrung for much of its life by the lack of a competitive diesel engine. Few buyers wanted a tall family 4x4 with a turbocharged 2.3-litre petrol engine, and by the time a diesel unit was introduced, the car was feeling its age and newer and more efficient rivals proved more attractive to buyers.

• Group test: Mazda CX-5 vs Honda CR-V & Ford Kuga

So the driving force behind the CX-5 was a determination not to make the same mistake twice, and this explains why Mazda went to so much trouble, with so much new technology, to get it right.

At launch, Mazda talked about this SUV carrying over some of the DNA of the MX-5 sports roadster. That sounds like a bold claim, but the company's engineers have given the crossover similarly sharp steering and a fun-to-use, slick-shifting manual gearbox. The result is that the CX-5 puts handling agility far higher up its list of priorities than most of its rivals in this class. Yet these focus on driver engagement doesn't come at the expense of comfort and refinement, as the Mazda rides well and is remarkably hushed at a cruise.

A mid-life update brought with it more small tweaks than wholesale changes, but there have been useful improvements to items such as the infotainment system, a boost in the quality of the materials used in the cabin and extra features such as piercing LED headlamps. Buyers have a simple choice of three engines and three specs - SE-L Nav, SE-L Lux Nav and Sport Nav - and all three come with a generous level of equipment as standard.

Engines, performance and drive

4
You get a choice of 148bhp and 173bhp 2.2-litre diesels or a 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol, and all are capable engines

Mazda would like you to believe that it modelled the CX-5's driving dynamics on those of its evergreen MX-5 roadster, and while a high-riding SUV is never going to match a two-seater sportscar, there's more shared DNA than you'd think. In fact, the CX-5 it's one of the most involving choices in its class.

The steering is fluid, accurate, and full of feedback, while the suspension manages to soak up bumps without the trade-off of body roll in corners. The best test of this crossover's abilities is to drive one on an unfamiliar back road in bad weather - the sheer balance and poise on offer ensures the CX-5 inspires confidence behind the wheel like no rival. And of course if you go for the six-speed manual gearbox you'll benefit from slick and precise shift action that's reminiscent of the MX-5's.

Engines

Mazda offers only three engine options: one petrol and two diesels. Happily, the best engine in the CX-5 is also the greenest. The 148bhp 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D diesel is smooth, quiet and (thanks to its low-friction and low compression ratio design) generally economical.

We say generally because it's an easy engine to push beyond its impressively efficient comfort zone, but this model will take you further between filling station stops than the 173bhp 2.2-litre diesel or the 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol.

That means there's not much to be gained from upgrading to the more powerful diesel engine. It's only fractionally quicker from 0-62mph, yet is significantly thirstier than the 148bhp 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D.

Don't discount the 2.0-litre SkyActiv-G petrol by default though. While it will certainly get through more fuel than the diesels, it's around £4,000 cheaper to buy up front in base SE-L Nav trim. You'd have to cover quite a few miles in the diesels to cancel out that price difference with filling station stops. 

Plus, the petrol engine revs sweetly and silently, even compared to the impressively smooth diesels. Certainly anyone who does most of their driving around town should consider it carefully, as this kind of use won't be getting the SkyActiv-D engines up to the kind of temperature to perform at their best. That said, it lacks the mid-range muscle you'd expect of an SUV, meaning you have to work the engine hard to keep up with the flow of traffic. That means fuel efficiency will suffer.

MPG, CO2 and running costs

4
Drive it gently, and the CX-5 is still one of the most efficient cars in its class, with low emissions

The whole point of Mazda's SkyActiv programme was to make its cars as light and as strong as possible, and its engines as frugal as they could be, all in the pursuit of lower emissions and improved economy, as well as decent dynamics.

Early examples of the CX-5 struggled to meet their official efficiency figures, but over time Mazda has kept improving the engines - especially the diesels. The result is a car that is now noticeably more economical than it used to be.

Although the official figure of 61mpg for the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel is still a little unrealistic for everyday use, drivers can set 50mpg as a reasonable target. That's much better than the first CX-5s, which barely managed 40mpg in the real world, leaving them trailing most of the competition.

Of course, you still need to drive the crossover gently to achieve these figures - and it can be difficult to resist the 148bhp diesel's punchy nature, thanks to its 380Nm torque output. But press on and you'll start to notice the fuel gauge plummeting. That's even more the case for the higher-spec diesel, with its 173bhp power and 420Nm torque figures; it claims 54.3mpg officially.

While the 2.0-litre petrol engine is often unfairly ignored in favour of the diesels, it's a fine choice if you're doing lower mileages. Yet while its fairly frugal at a gentle cruise, the unit gets thirsty when extended.

The SkyActiv-G is not only quieter and smoother, it also brings no concerns about a particulate filter getting clogged if you don't do enough high-speed driving, unlike the diesels. Road tax is currently £80 more expensive than for the 148bhp 2.2-litre SkyActiv-D, but a saving of around £4,000 on the price rather puts that into perspective.

Insurance Groups

The Mazda CX-5 is likely to be ever so slightly more expensive to insure than rivals like the Nissan Qashqai or Skoda Yeti, as it has higher insurance group ratings. This is perhaps a reflection of the cars status as a more sporty crossover.

Kicking off the CX-5 line-up is the 2.0-litre petrol model, in insurance group 15, while the most expensive model to insure is the 173bhp 2.2-litre diesel in Sport Nav spec as it sits in group 21. Our pick of the range, the 148bhp 2.2-litre diesel in SE-L Nav trim, is in insurance group 18.

Depreciation

The Mazda CX-5 seems to hold on to its price better than most rivals in the crossover market. Our experts predict that it will retain around 46 per cent of its value after three years, which puts the car ahead of rivals such as the Nissan Qashqai, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, Ford Kuga and even the old-shape BMW X1.

Interior, design and technology

4
Recent upgrades have significantly improved the quality inside, and also brought a new level of technology and connectivity

Critics of the interior design of the CX-5 think it looks a little too dark and gloomy, while fans praise the high-quality fixtures and fittings and call the layout classy. 

Either way, things have improved further since Mazda carried out its mid-life update, which brought various tweaks inside the CX-5. Some of the overly cheap plastics that plagued early models have been banished, while there are now clearer, more expensive-looking main instruments and a new central infotainment screen that's bursting with added technology. Little touches make a difference too - changing the background lighting of the heating and air-conditioning controls from orange to white adds a little more class, for example.

You could still accuse the cabin of being a touch too plain in its looks, but for most customers this won't be important. The crucial thing is the incredibly solid construction. You get a strong sense of quality sitting inside the CX-5, and that inspires confidence in the car's long-term reliability.

While there aren't many of the soft-touch surfaces that you'll find in more premium rivals, all the controls have a solid feel. It would be nice if Mazda jazzed the cabin up a touch, but if the trade-off for a sombre feel is a sensible layout and a high-quality finish, it seems like one worth making.

Sat-nav, stereo and infotainment

You did have to peer a bit at the old CX-5's smaller infotainment screen, but the newer seven-inch unit, shared the Mazda 6 and Mazda 3, is now far better and simpler to use, too. The rotary controller between the seats and steering wheel buttons have taken obvious inspiration from BMW's iDrive system in that regard.

The new set-up comes with satellite navigation as standard on all models, and the update brings Facebook and Twitter integration, plus internet radio streaming and DAB. You can even set it up to read out and respond to text messages on your mobile phone.

Practicality, comfort and boot space

3
While most crossovers are tall and roomy, the CX-5 is deceptive inside; passenger and boot space are a bit tight

It's not that the CX-5 isn't spacious - there's reasonable room in the front and back seats, as well as the boot. It's more that the SUV bodystyle leaves you expecting it to be a little bigger on the inside than it is; climb aboard, and you can't help being a little disappointed.

Size

At 4.5 metres long, the Mazda CX-5 sits somewhere between the SUV and crossover classes. It's larger and more substantial than the Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti, about the same size as the Ford Kuga and Hyundai Tucson, and smaller than the Honda CR-V.

That means a trim kerbweight of 1,600kg for the two-wheel-drive diesel models, thanks in no small part to the SkyActiv programme that focuses on the weight of the car as much as on the engines and chassis. Mazda was one of the first companies to realise that to make significant weight savings you had to trim mere grams out of every component where possible. Small changes add up to big ones when you put them all together.

Leg room, head room & passenger space

Mazda treats its front and rear passengers to more or less equal legroom in the CX-5, which means it has got the measure of most of its rivals in the crossover class. It's spacious enough for a growing family, however, and even adults can travel comfortably in the back. There's a little less space in every direction than in a Honda CR-V, for example, but it's a more spacious option than the more compact Nissan Qashqai and Skoda Yeti.

Mazda is rumoured to be looking at the potential for a bigger CX-7, with space for seven seats. With desirable models like the Hyundai Santa Fe and Kia Sorento enjoying success in this market, such a car is likely to prove a hit.

Boot

At least the boot is a decent size - a capacity of 503 litres with the seats in place gives the Mazda CX-5 a significant advantage over the Ford Kuga and Nissan Qashqai. It's well beaten by the 589-litre load space in the similarly priced Honda CR-V, though - although that car can't match the Mazda for value, driver appeal and performance.

The seats in the CX-5 are easy to tumble forwards simply by pulling a handle in the boot - this folding mechanism is called Kakakuri and was pioneered on the 2001 Mazda 6 saloon. However even when the seats are down in the CX-5 the load floor isn't completely flat.

Reliability and Safety

5
There's loads of safety kit, but Mazda's great reputation for reliability isn't reflected in the CX-5's Driver Power ranking

The CX-5 should be a dependable car. Most models in the Mazda range have a great reliability record, so it was a surprise to see the SUV languishing down in 87th place in the reliability category of the Auto Express Driver Power satisfaction survey. The car finished 64th out of 200 cars overall, and we would have expected to see it ranking higher up the charts.

Even so, we'd be surprised if a CX-5 gave you much bother in reliability terms - perhaps the car was held back by owners criticism of the cheap cabin trim and fiddly infotainment system. Both of these were addressed by Mazda as part of the 2015 facelift.

Buyers should certainly have no worries on the safety front. The CX-5 was awarded a five-star crash test rating by Euro NCAP, which included an impressive score of 94 per cent for adult occupant protection. Mazda has also been one of the pioneers of fitting camera and radar-based braking systems, which respond automatically when they detect cars or pedestrians. All CX-5's come as standard with a set-up that can apply the brakes at speeds of up to 20mph if it detects an imminent collision.

Optional safety equipment includes lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, rear parking sensors that warn of passing traffic when you're reversing out of a space and adaptive anti-dazzle LED headlights. That braking system can be a bit hyperactive, though - try gently pulling up to something like a car park barrier and watch it go beserk.

Warranty

Mazda's standard warranty runs for three years or 60,000 miles, while the brand also overs varying levels of extended cover through its Essential, Elite and Complete plans. included in the standard package is a three year paintwork warranty and 12-year anti-perforation cover, though.

There's also the Mazda Accident Aftercare scheme, which sees the company liaise with your insurer in the event of an accident, making certain drivers have access to a courtesy car if they need one and ensuring that all repairs are carried out to Mazda's exacting standards.

Servicing

Mazda recommends servicing the CX-5 every 12,500 miles or 12 months, whichever arrives first. And owners can kep track of their cars maintenance schedule via the online and app-based My Mazda programme; this also stores your service history digitally. In addition, the company offers a fixed-price maintenance plan, which covers all scheduled servicing parts and labour for the first three years or 37,500 miles. Prices start from £499, depending on the model.

Last updated: 20 May, 2016