Car ReviewsFirst Drive

Mazda CX-5 First Drive

The Mazda CX-5 hits the sweet spot with Australian buyers, but some of the “driver aids” will drive you mad. You can turn them off, but you’re still paying for them, says Paul Murrell.

To read some of the reviews, you could be mistaken for believing the Mazda CX-5 is the best car on the road. It’s good, but it’s not perfect.

The new Mazda CX-5 is roomier than the CX-7 it replaces, although smaller on the outside. The rear seat will accommodate three people, but there isn’t a lot of stretch-out space. The boot space is fairly limited at 403 litres, significantly smaller than, for example, the new Toyota RAV4, and the nearly-full size spare limits depth. With the rear seats folded, there is a flat floor and 1560 litres of space, plenty for most uses. The seats themselves are released with levers in the cargo area or buttons inside the cabin. The Maxx version makes do with a 60/40 split, other models get the more flexible 40/20/60 configuration.

The 2013 line-up adds a new 139kW/250Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine borrowed from the Mazda6. This is a far better choice than the somewhat disappointing 2.0-litre petrol engine that’s hampered by a lack of torque, made all the more obvious when paired with a hesitant six-speed auto. Until now, the diesel variants were the pick of the range. So can the 2.5 petrol take over the mantle?

Mazda CX-5 Driving Side

As you’d expect, there’s an obvious increase in performance, as Mazda seem keen to promote with their new advertising campaign. The engine is exactly the same as in the Mazda6, so the extra weight of the CX-5 blunts the performance, despite boasting 22% more power than the 2.0-litre and 26% more torque. It is, however, a happier match for the six-speed auto because thanks to the extra torque it has to play with, it isn’t constantly changing up and down to get an acceptable response from the engine.

Compared to the diesel variant, the 2.5 still falls a little short. The diesel puts out 129kW but the real difference is its strong 420Nm. It’s quicker than the petrol version and more economical at 5.7 L/100km as against 7.4 L/100km. At least the petrol version is able to run happily on regular unleaded.

The model range can be quite confusing: the 2.0-litre petrol model is no longer available in AWD; the 2.5-litre petrol is AWD only, as is the 2.2-litre diesel. Entry level for Mazda is called the Maxx (not available in diesel), Maxx Sport (only available in auto), Grand Touring and a new top-of-the-line Akera (which sounds like something I remember from Cubs).

Mazda CX-5 interior

You’ll need to spend quite some time with the brochure and sales person to decide which spec is best for your needs. The Akera now includes a Tech pack that was previously an option on the Grand Touring model. This pack includes blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and auto dipping high beam. The blind spot monitor is useful so long as you treat it as a secondary warning system – nothing beats using your own eyes – and it often send out false alarms that can be most unsettling. Lane departure is another system that seems to work only intermittently. Even when there appear to be clear lane markings, there are occasions where the system is inoperative. It can also be annoying on twisting country roads where it seems to be constantly alerting you even when you are staying in your own lane. Finally, the auto headlamp dipping system is prone to dipping when anything reflects light back at the vehicle (such as large road signs) and often holds high beam long after an oncoming vehicle is within range, especially when the approaching car is coming around a bend.

There is a raft of other technology upgrades in the new CX-5. A Bluetooth function allows SMS, MMS and email to be displayed on the 5.8-inch touchscreen and messages can be read aloud by an automated voice. Up to 1000 phone contacts can be made using voice activation. For our money, that’s way too many distractions for a driver to cope with.

The CX-5 shows how far SUVs have come in driving dynamics and on-road behaviour. Stability and well-weighted steering approach saloon car standards. The added confidence of all-wheel drive and excellent tyres are welcome in vehicles that so often carry families and young children. The downside is a slightly firmer ride, and if you opt for the larger wheels this becomes even more noticeable. Tyre and road noise is also an issue across some surfaces.

Mazda CX-5 Driving Cornering

Also approaching or equalling saloon car standards is the interior of the CX-5. It is stylish and classy, and certainly the best in its class. But there has to be a question mark over the durability of some of the surfaces as they cope with the cut and thrust of daily use. High gloss and satin inserts look fabulous when new, but quickly show marks and scratches. Another niggle is the considerable blind spot created by the triangular D-pillar – maybe that lane departure warning system isn’t so superfluous after all.


Mazda seem determined to confuse potential buyers. The new 2.5-litre petrol engine seems good value at just $500 more than the delisted 2.0 AWD, but you can’t get it in 2WD guise. The diesel can only be specified with the Maxx Sport and above, pushing it close to $40,000 (and beyond when on road costs are factored in). The CX-5 with the 2.5-litre petrol is a major improvement, but it still can’t quite match the all-round capability of the diesel model.

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PRICE from $32,880  (+ORC) WARRANTY three-year, unlimited kilometres SAFETY RATING five-star ANCAP ENGINE 2.5-litre DOHC petrol POWER/TORQUE 139kW/250Nm TRANSMISSION six-speed auto BODY 4.54m (L) 1.84m (W) 1.71m (H) WEIGHT 1560kg THIRST 7.4L/100km (combined)

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Isaac Bober

Isaac Bober