Mazda CX-5 review: the art of maturing gracefully
Mazda's family SUV might not be the newest model in town but it can still hold its own in a packed segment
There’s an art to ageing gracefully. George Clooney’s managed it, so has Julia Roberts. And to that list you can add the Mazda CX-5.
Despite being launched five years ago - half a lifetime in car terms - the Mazda SUV still looks and feels modern and fresh.
A big part of that is down to Mazda’s impeccable design ethos. By sticking with a simple clean design and not burdening the car with scores of styling creases and slashes this five-year-old design still looks modern. It’s a trick Mazda applies to all its cars and it’s a lesson some other brands could do to learn.
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The interior is a similar story. When it was launched in 2016 the second-generation CX-5 felt like a more premium model compared with its mainstream rivals and even now it still has an easy sense of class that outstrips many other cars.
Some elements - the big instrument binnacle with its trio of resolutely analogue dials - hint that this isn’t the newest kid on the block but, by and large, the simple approach works in its favour.
Some parts have been recently updated. The HUD now projects directly onto the windscreen rather than a flip-up panel and is big and clear. The 10.25-inch infotainment screen is slimmer and better integrated than before as well as being enhanced with a quicker operating system and more connected services. Mazda continues to use a scroll wheel rather than a touchscreen for its infotainment controls and in most instances this is easier and less distracting to use than prodding at the screen.
Materials remain a step above the norm as well with some actual real metal among the touchpoints and decent leather on the seats. Those seats, though, are one of the interior’s weak spots. They might suit smaller drivers but I found them too narrow and flat, lacking much in the way of side support, especially in a back-to-back comparison with the rival Nissan Qashqai.
That grumble aside, space is good, certainly on a par with the likes of the Qashqai and Ford Kuga, although not noticeably better, and the boot’s a well proportioned 506 litres, with a powered tailgate among the luxuries fitted to the GT Sport spec.
If the styling and interior quality are echoes of every other Mazda, the engine is too, meaning it’s the car’s biggest weakness. It’s not too coarse unless you’re really pressing on but it’s not particularly responsive or quick.
The 191bhp unit is a new addition to the UK range but it’s an old-fashioned approach. A 2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol without a turbo is a rare thing these days and while it’s smooth and powerful enough it lacks the response of modern torque-laden turbos.
The automatic transmission is also smooth and quick enough but it doesn’t do anything for the car’s performance and combined with the standard all-wheel-drive it makes for claimed economy of 35.5mpg. Thanks to clever cylinder deactivation I eked it out to 40mpg on a long but gentle motorway cruise but the long-term trip computer gave the game away with an average reading of 33mpg. That big petrol engine also means high first-year road tax, so running costs aren’t a strong suit.
Mazda’s cars are usually among the sharpest handling in their respective classes but the CX-5 has fallen slightly behind the curve. Its road manners are on a par with the Nissan Qashqai but a little behind the Ford Kuga and Seat Ateca. Ride comfort is generally pretty good although it can still get caught out by particularly rough surfaces. Refinement, however, is a real strength with good noise insulation right up to motorway speeds, making for a relaxed drive on long journeys.
The CX-5 range starts at £27,545, with 18 variants depending on trim and engine choice. A limited edition Kuro has just been launched with exclusive exterior and interior options but above that sits the tested GT Sport, at around £38,000 with the big engine. For that you get the expected full suite of safety assistance along with adaptive cruise control, auto dipping adaptive LED headlights and a 360-degree parking camera. Brown Nappa leather upholstery, real wood trim, heated and cooled seats, heated steering wheel plus dual-zone climate control and a 10-speaker Bose sound system mark this out as the range-topper, as does the standard auto, four-wheel-drive transmission.
In the huge spectrum of the C-segment SUV, the Mazda CX-5 definitely sits towards the top end and not just due to its price. Its size, feeling of quality and equipment help it stand out among its rivals, with only potentially high running costs letting it down.
Mazda CX-5 GT Sport
Price: £37,185 (£37,765 as tested); Engine: 2.5-litre, four-cylinder, petrol; Power: 191bhp; Torque: 190lb ft Transmission: Six-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Top speed: 121mph; 0-62mph: 9.2 seconds; Economy: 35.5mpg; CO2 emissions: 182g/km