From all the market sectors in the UK, the bulked-up, 4×4 style family car is the fastest growing and the most densely populated. Just about every major manufacturer makes one and it’s one of the toughest in which to grab sales.
So enter Mazda’s CX-5. Not traditionally one of the big guns, Mazda has gone to town and built an all-new series of platforms and technologies touting efficiency, starting with an attempt at making in-roads to the crossover market.
Netting a pretty creditable buzzScore of 7.6, it’s rated in and around the top of its class by the press. Well worth a look, we’ve bagged a top spec 2.2 Sport Nav from Mazda for a week to put it through its paces.
The CX-5 was the first of the new generation of Mazdas to be given the “KODO” exterior design treatment. Harking back to a concept car by the same name from 2011, this design language is starting to permeate the Mazda range, with the new Mazda 6 and forthcoming Mazda 3 also updated to match.
It’s a pretty bold look and, broadly speaking, the CX-5 is a handsome beast, with the design elements masking the sheer size of the car quite well. And make no mistake, it’s a big vehicle – parked next to a neighbour’s Nissan Juke looked like the difference between a car and a 1:18 scale model of a car.
Still, the flowing “KODO soul of motion” lines lead to some odd visual effects from certain angles. Directly head on for example, the Mazda seems to narrow at the base, making it look disproportionately tall and ponderous, with skinny tyres.
The overall look though is of a pretty distinctive car in a class of vehicle which seems largely homogenous. You’ll need to take a second glance at the rear to tell it apart from some of its competitors, but it’s different enough to stand out.
The car on test was supplied in Sport Nav trim and comes with a surprisingly vast array of standard kit – with the reversing camera and 9-speaker Bose audio system being particular highlights. The satellite navigation is a perfectly serviceable TomTom-based item which you can update by way of an SD card slot squirrelled away down by the steering wheel – and both the navigation and reverse camera are displayed on a clear 5.8″ touchscreen in the centre console.
There’s a little inbuilt redundancy to the controls too. While the navigation and audio can be operated with the touchscreen, there’s also a control panel down by the gear lever and steering wheel controls for the audio. On the face of it this seems a little incoherent, but it’s really a nice touch which allows habitual drivers of most other cars to hop in and use whichever control method they’re used to in order to get functionality right away.
Passengers won’t get claustrophobic in the CX-5 either. There’s simply masses of legroom front and rear for even full sized adult passengers to stretch out. The centre seat in the rear is a little narrow though and if you’ve got a baby seat strapped into one side, you’re left with either squeezing two kids in the back or letting one occupant luxuriate with better space than the front seat passenger.
The CX-5 is also the first Mazda to use the new “Karakuri” rear folding seat mechanism. This can be operated with a single button on the seats themselves or a latch in the boot and provides a one-touch automatic fold – though you’ll need to unlatch the seatbelts from their retaining hooks on the seats first. It’s a 40:20:40 fold too, so if you’ve just picked up some lengths of skirting board from the DIY shop you don’t have to choose which child to leave behind.
Still, even with the seats up there’s a colossal amount of space available – 500 litres is getting on for Volvo numbers and easily enough space for a couple of full sized dogs. Disappointingly though, there’s no inbuilt dog-guard in the otherwise clever tonneau cover – though you can order a fixed one from Mazda.
The test vehicle came with Mazda’s range topping 2.2 litre SkyActiv diesel, which is really the perfect tool for the job in this application. 175 hp might not seem like much in a 1.7 tonne car, but the 300 lb-ft on offer is enough to give it a pretty mighty shove. Even dulled by the 4WD system and the automatic gearbox, the CX-5 changes road speed quite alarmingly quickly.
Having driven the new Mazda 6 with the same engine, I was a little surprised by the diesel clatter at first – which is pretty much absent in the 6 – but as these units go it’s not a particularly noisy or hoarse engine and seems more refined than the previous generation of Mazda diesels.
Claimed fuel economies are 57.6 mpg extra-urban and 44.1 mpg urban – for a combined 51.4mpg figure. We didn’t manage to match those during the test though – the motorway run was a fairly reasonable 50 mpg and the urban economy ran in the low 30s through stop-start rush hour traffic on the hills of Sheffield.
Speaking of stop-start, Mazda’s version of this – iStop – performs reasonably well, with only a faint shudder to clue you in that it’s just started up again. It is a little finicky though – after a day of it failing to operate even once, it turned out that the system wouldn’t kick in when the heater controls were set to minimum temperature…
It’s a department in which Mazda are traditionally strong, but the experience of the Mazda5 a few weeks ago left me a little wary.
However, this turned out to be unwarranted – the CX-5 is an excellent car to drive. Not just for a vehicle of this class, but in general. The driving experience is almost akin to a really sweetly optimised estate car and the electric power steering is absolutely spot on – one of the best assisted systems (including hydraulic ones) I’ve ever driven. It panders very well to the inner child and though I’d prefer the six speed manual (which is 1,200 cheaper and gets better performance and economy numbers) to complete the experience, the sequential mode on the automatic transmission is a reasonable substitute.
A common downside to making this kind of car drive well on the road is a bone-shaking ride, but the CX-5 absorbed anything we threw it at all weekend – even taking the worst industrial roads at the highest legal speeds without jiggling us about or changing direction. It was perfectly compliant fully off road too and though we didn’t tax it with any hardcore greenlaning it’s certainly competent enough to take rutted declassified roads in harsh conditions.
It is surprisingly noisy though. A significant amount of road noise leaked into the cabin – thank goodness for the Bose audio – while the wind noise on motorways certainly required raised voices amongst occupants.
Value for Money
To specify the test car would require about 30,000 – and that’s no small change for a Mazda.
While the Sport Nav here is extremely well equipped for the price, you get almost all the same equipment on the lower spec SE-L at 25,000. You’d miss out on the Bose audio and the top 175-horse engine, but without the auto box the 150 hp diesel matches the performance and improves the economy. Of course dropping the auto box from test car brings the price down to 28,800 – for the best of all worlds.
At this price it’s a pretty strong performer within the class. It’s a better drive than all of its peers and offers more performance, better fuel economy and more kit than anything at the same price point. It’s hard to argue that anything in the sector represents better value for money.
The CX-5 is the first of the new breed of Mazdas, inspired by the KODO concept car design and utilising the full suite of Mazda’s new SkyActiv technologies – and it bodes well.
Those who’ve experienced the newest Mazda 6 will find the CX-5 just a hair less adept in almost all departments, but then the 6 is an exceptional car. It loses out to the CX-5 only through the latter’s availablility of 4WD and off-road useability, making the CX-5 is an excellent all-rounder.
The real benchmark of this class though is the best-selling Nissan Qashqai and the Mazda has the clear beating of it. It’s fundamentally better to drive, much roomier, more frugal, better looking and better kitted, pound for pound. But unless you have a particular need for the automatic, save yourself 1,200 and a few fill-ups a year and get the 6 speed manual.
For more check out our summary of the Mazda CX-5 alongside reviews, stats, photos and videos.