New Mazda CX-5 2.2d Sport Nav review

The second generation of the Mazda CX-5 has arrived in the UK. How does it compare to its SUV rivals?

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

The second-generation Mazda CX-5 isn’t a huge leap forward from its predecessor. But don’t be put off, as its sharper design, higher quality interior and strong ride and handling balance make it a very likeable challenger for the best family SUVs on sale. If you can do without this car’s four-wheel drive, automatic gearbox and extra toys, mid-spec models represent pretty good value for money, too.

Mazda’s ability to offer genuinely fun-to-drive mainstream models at modest prices is something we’ve admired for years. But perhaps the hardest test of that philosophy is with the CX-5 SUV, the Japanese firm’s largest and heaviest car for Europe. The second generation CX-5 has now arrived in the UK, and after being impressed with it abroad, we’re driving it on some of Scotland’s greatest roads to see if it’s retained Mazda’s trademark ‘X-Factor’.

The best 4x4s and SUVs

Approach the new CX-5 from a distance and you’ll be struck by how similar the proportions are to the old model. It’s very slightly shorter and 30mm lower than the outgoing car, and both the width and wheelbase are identical. But the details are actually very different, with a sharp new front end featuring a jutting nose and enlarged grille. The slim tail-lights and smooth surfaces give the new SUV a sleeker look than before, and although the merits of the styling are subjective, we reckon it has the edge over the VW Tiguan for outright desirability.

Step inside and things will be instantly familiar to current CX-5 owners, as the design hasn’t changed an awful lot. The updated seven-inch touchscreen with rotary control now juts up from the dash, but the centre console, instruments and layout are very similar. Despite that, perceived quality is on the up, with soft-touch materials at every main touch point and a feeling of solidity that puts the Mazda right up there with the best in this class. Lashings of chrome on the dash help liven up models with darker materials, too.

Kit levels are strong even on base SE-L models, although our Sport Nav car (the higher of only two trims) comes packed to the rafters with 19-inch alloys, heated electric leather seats, a sunroof, an electric tailgate, keyless entry and a Bose ten speaker sound system. There’s even a heads-up display and heated steering wheel, meaning the CX-5 gets more kit than most rivals at the same price point. Storage is decent, though there aren’t any clever stowage touches or sliding rear seats. Nevertheless, rear seat room is ample – a Ford Edge has more legroom, but there’s enough for two six footers to sit comfortably in the Mazda. The 506-litre boot is only three litres bigger than before, however.

The design and interior are an evolution from what went before, then, but Mazda has worked just as hard on improving comfort and refinement. The brand has gone against its ‘Gram Strategy’ of weight reduction by adding around 50kg of insulation and vibration deadening features. As a result, the Mazda CX-5 seems a fair bit quieter than before, with road, wind and engine noise all staying subdued.

Our top-spec 2.2-litre diesel is carried over largely unchanged, but there’s less vibration through the controls and it only gets vocal when pushed hard. Performance is as strong as ever, too; our car’s six-speed automatic gearbox blunts pace off the line, yet once up to speed the Mazda feels gutsy in the mid-range and doesn’t mind being revved. We think the slick-shifting six-speed manual gearbox makes for a more engaging drive, and buyers are expected to agree. It’s slightly more efficient, too, though either way the CX-5’s claimed figures are competitive, and we found it easy to achieve over 35mpg in mixed driving.

The newfound quietness hasn’t impacted negatively on the CX-5’s driving experience; in fact, it’s one of the best all-rounders in the sector. Our Sport Nav model’s 19-inch alloys don’t absorb sharp surface imperfections as well as the SE-L Nav’s 17-inch rims, but it feels softer and less unsettled than before, and cruises impeccably. Suspension noise is also reduced, so even if you can feel potholes you can rarely hear them.

Arguably, the way a large SUV like this deals with bends is less important, but it’s good to know that the CX-5 manages to be both cosseting and fairly sharp on twisty roads. Body roll is as noticeable, as it is in most SUVs of this size, but the Mazda's positive turn-in and nicely weighted controls allow you to build confidence and speed in corners. Where a Ford Edge feels cumbersome, the CX-5 feels light on its feet and more willing to change direction, while the all-wheel drive system ensures limpet-like grip in the wet. Granted, the steering isn’t brimming with interaction, but neither is it in any direct rival.

There is one caveat, though – our top-spec car comes loaded with kit but isn’t much cheaper than a Volkswagen Tiguan, while a fair bit of safety technology is still optional. Better value is found in the SE-L Nav model, which still has a comprehensive kit tally but starts from under £24,000.

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