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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-5

Our Opinion

We like
Improved diesel performance and efficiency, better value than before, well-tuned steering and suspension
Room for improvement
Questionable real-world benefits of cylinder deactivation, petrol engines continue to feel underpowered, most driver-assist technologies still restricted to Akera flagship

Gallery

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Mazda logo2 May 2018

Overview

IF YOU’RE feeling a bit of deja vu, we can’t blame you. It was only 13 months ago that Mazda launched the second-generation CX-5 mid-size SUV. But here we are again, having another look at Australia’s best-selling high-rider.

Car-makers are increasingly feeling the pressure to move their product game along, going beyond the usual five- to seven-year model life cycles and facelifts that we have become accustom to. Thus, the advent of the model year update. Enter the 2018 CX-5.

When it first launched, we thought the CX-5 was a pretty good thing – a class leader, in fact. Surely a tickle here and there would stand to improve matters? More importantly, what was so important that Mazda couldn’t wait until a facelift to introduce it? Read on to find out.

Drive impressions

They say it takes years to build a good reputation. Earning the respect of your peers is no easy task, either. However, when the first-generation Mazda CX-5 hit Australia showrooms in February 2012, its meteoric rise took many by surprise. This rise eventually took the mid-size SUV to the very top of the sales charts.

You can imagine Mazda felt some trepidation when it released the second generation in March last year. It was cautious to not stray too far away from what brought it to the big dance in the first place. Nevertheless, the Japanese brand successfully executed the changeover, introducing a vehicle that was as good or better in all regards than before.

However, one aspect that Mazda held back on was the CX-5’s three SkyActiv powertrains. The 2.0-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine carried over unchanged, while the larger 2.5-litre unit was only subject to some minor tweaks that reduced mechanical resistance. Meanwhile, the 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel powerplant picked up new technology that optimised performance and quietness.

Fast forward 13 months, and Mazda is at it again. Only this time it has gone all in on the engine upgrades, which are the headline act for this 2018 update.

The 2.2-litre diesel has received the most love, adopting an egg-profile combustion chamber, ultra-high-response multi-hole piezo injectors, a higher 14.4:01 compression ratio, sodium-filled exhaust valves and a two-stage twin turbocharger with variable turbine geometry.

As a result, maximum power is up by 11kW, to 140kW at 4500rpm, while peak torque increases by 30Nm, to 450Nm at 2000rpm. Significantly, Mazda says torque output is higher in the low to mid range, while fuel consumption on the combined cycle test drops by 0.3 litres per 100 kilometres, to 5.7L/100km.

The result? Pretty impressive, actually. The 2.2-litre diesel noticeably pulls harder than before thanks to its thick wad of torque at early engine speeds.

Overtaking is breezier, too. Despite a focus on improving quietness, the oil-burner performs like it did before – noisy when accelerated hard, but quiet when cruising. Vibration and harshness levels are also at a minimum.

However, the 2.2-litre diesel’s best party trick is its real-world fuel efficiency. We were able to dip below Mazda’s claim, at 5.6L/100km, across about 300km of mixed country driving, although this was skewed to highway speeds. Nonetheless, we walked away very impressed.

Therefore, even though 2.2-litre diesel variants command a $3000 premium over their 2.5-litre petrol counterparts, they are still the better pick. While it will take some time to make up the difference in cost via fuel savings, the extra driving pleasure afforded is well worth the spend.

That being said, the petrol engines have received some love, too, adding reshaped intake ports and pistons, redesigned multi-hole fuel injectors and a new water flow management system with a coolant control valve. The 2.5-litre unit also picks up cylinder deactivation technology – a Mazda first – which disengages two of its four cylinders under light loads, such as when cruising.

While we didn’t have the chance to sample the 2.0-litre petrol, we did have a steer of its bigger sibling. Annoyingly, there is no dedicated indicator for when its cylinder deactivation is engaged, meaning unless you monitor the instant fuel-consumption reading, it’s hard to say if it is in full swing or not. However, this is a testament to its seamless integration, as it operates quietly in the background.

Given most CX-5s are sentenced to the urban commute, it is hard to say if there will be any tangible real-world benefits. The 2.5-litre petrol officially sips 7.4L/100km, down only 0.1L/100km, while its smaller sibling continues to drink 6.9L/100km. Over about 150km of country driving – mainly on highways – the former only averaged 8.5L/100km.

Also, output gains for either petrol are negligible. The 2.0-litre’s maximum power is up 1kW, to 115kW at 6000rpm, while its peak torque holds steady at 200Nm at 4000rpm. Comparatively, the 2.5-litre produces 140kW and 252Nm, up 1Nm, at the same engine speeds. Needless to say, you would need to be other-worldly to be able to spot the differences here.

Performance-wise, the 2.5-litre petrol still feels underpowered. Bury your right foot and progression is less than rapid as the 1641kg SUV labours along.

It requires plenty of revs to get going and will, when needed, always drop an extra gear compared to the 2.2-litre diesel. Nevertheless, it is much quieter than the oil-burner. From previous experience, the 2.0-litre tells a similar story.

Aside from the powertrains, the CX-5 is very much the same SUV we know and love, but now it is better value. The mid-range Maxx Sport and Touring variants have received a $400 reduction in cost, while the flagship GT and Akera variants have been dealt an $800 price cut. Pricing for entry-level Maxx variants carries over.

This is teamed with the addition of a windscreen-projected head-up display for Touring variants and a 360-degree camera for Akera variants. While we didn’t have the chance to test the latter, the former is a great extra for a grade that already offers the best bang for your buck. If you’re sensing that the 2.2-litre diesel Touring is the range sweet spot, you’d be right.

However, it is a shame that Mazda continues to restrict its full suite of advanced driver-assist safety technologies to the flagship Akera variants.

While low-speed front and rear autonomous emergency braking is standard range-wide, it is a bit rich that access to lane-keep assist, among others, starts from $46,190 before on-road costs.

Elsewhere, the CX-5 is still a good looker inside and out, including a comfortable, premium-like cabin that is sure to please all occupants.

Nevertheless, it still lags behind when it comes to cargo capacity, at 442 litres, despite not having a full-size spare wheel.

While its steering continues to be on the lighter side, the CX-5 should continue its reign as the driver’s choice in the mid-size-SUV segment. Its bodyroll is less pronounced than that of its rivals, making it a sweet handler despite its two-box proportions.

The suspension does well to soak up bumps and imperfections in the road, which were rampant along our drive route in the ACT. This was further evident when venturing onto a gravel road for a 50km stretch, which the CX-5 handled with aplomb. This scenario also exposed how good its i-Active all-wheel-drive system is, providing plenty of grip when the conditions became more challenging.

Mazda Australia predicts it will sell about 2000 CX-5s per month for the first year post-update, which seems a little conservative given the SUV has already managed more than 2200 monthly sales this year. This is further amplified when you consider how good the CX-5 is, even more so after a relatively small update. It is easy to see why the CX-5 has been – and will likely continue to be – Australia’s best-selling SUV for such a long time.

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