Road tests

New Mazda CX-5 2021 review

The revised Mazda CX-5 SUV now comes with a powerful 2.5-litre petrol engine

Overall Auto Express Rating

3.0 out of 5

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Tech updates to Mazda’s family favourite have certainly helped inside, but the new 2.5-litre petrol engine and auto gearbox combination is flawed. You can only opt for this powertrain in top-spec GT Sport trim so it’s pricey, but it doesn’t perform too well and lacks refinement. Quality, practicality and kit are still good, though.

The Mazda CX-5 family SUV is yet to adopt turbos on its petrol engines, so don’t expect much when it comes to electrification of the brand’s big seller. Of course, shunning turbocharging was a conscious decision for Mazda, while the brand is forging ahead with electrification elsewhere, with its fully-electric MX-30 SUV.

It’s a curious choice, then, that this new-for-2021 CX-5 features a naturally aspirated 2.5-litre petrol engine, which is available in the UK line-up for the first time. It’s paired exclusively with four-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic gearbox, and only comes in top-spec GT Sport trim.

This means a fairly hefty price tag of £36,860, while the powertrain results in middling efficiency of 35.3mpg and 182g/km of CO2 emissions. These figures are achieved by cylinder deactivation, shutting down two of the four cylinders under light load to reduce fuel consumption.

It shows that downsized turbo engines and electrical assistance have spoiled family SUV buyers, because while the Mazda makes smooth enough progress, it needs working hard and refinement is lacking. The gearbox feels old-school, kicking down with a long pause and a lurch before the car rears up. The engine has a similar approach, because the engine revs climb to a drone and refinement is impacted.

Yet even at full throttle the CX-5 doesn’t feel all that quick. The 0-62mph sprint takes 9.2 seconds, although gearshifts aren’t the quickest – but they are at least smooth. Drive gently, accelerate gradually and keep a lid on the engine’s noise, and the CX-5 makes much more sense. When the powertrain isn’t as stressed it works much better, but the level at which this occurs is much lower than in some of its key rivals.

It’s also a shame because, as has ever been the case, the CX-5 has superb steering that, for an SUV, encourages you to drive it with just that little bit more spirit than you might usually do in a car of this type. It has precision and good weight, plus a degree of feel, which is a welcome surprise.

The chassis is also up to the task. Occasionally it thunders over bumps, the wheels rebounding a little more violently than we’d like, but in the most part the ride is comfortable, while body control contains this top-spec car’s 1,719kg bulk relatively well. It has the kind of balance between engaging handling and a concession to ride quality that we like from Mazda’s SUVs. It’s a shame that the powertrain feels so old-school by comparison.

The CX-5’s interior has aged well, though, and is helped by some tech updates. A new 10.25-inch infotainment set-up running the same operating system as found in the 3 hatchback is a step forward and standard across the line-up, while all trim levels also get connected services.

A new MyMazda app means you can lock the car’s doors remotely and send destinations to the car’s sat-nav, among other features. However, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and may be preferable to some. Otherwise, the cabin design is smart and the materials feel plush – but then you’d expect them to in a top-spec car costing this much.

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Still, build quality is solid, and so is practicality, because the 506-litre boot is big enough, plus a standard powered tailgate helps access it. The rear of the car’s cabin is spacious enough, too, with plenty of headroom and just about enough legroom. One drawback is that the dark interior of our test car made it feel claustrophobic in the rear, but it’s a small point.

Otherwise, top-spec GT Sport trim comes well equipped, with heated front and rear Nappa leather seats, while there’s also ventilation for the front chairs. A heated steering wheel is standard, too, along with dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors plus a 360-degree camera, a sunroof, LED lights all round and lots of safety tech.

This is key to a family SUV in 2021, and with autonomous emergency braking (when reversing, too), blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist and a driver attention monitor, the CX-5 is well catered for. It’s just a shame that the flagship petrol engine is the weak link in the package.

Model: Mazda CX-5 2.5 AWD GT Sport auto
Price: £36,860
Engine: 2.5-litre 4cyl petrol
Power/torque: 191bhp/258Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto, 4WD
0-62mph: 9.2 seconds
Top speed: 121mph
Economy: 35.3mpg
CO2: 182g/km
On sale: Now

Sean’s been writing about cars since 2010, having worked for outlets as diverse as PistonHeads, MSN Cars, Which? Cars, Race Tech – a specialist motorsport publication – and most recently Auto Express and sister titles Carbuyer and DrivingElectric

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