Car reviews - Mazda - CX-5 - 2.5l petrol
Extra power, spacious and well-equipped cabin, road manners, cargo space, sharp looks, still good value
Room for improvement
Engine refinement, transmission has a propensity to hold low gears for too long, occasionally clunky sat-nav
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26 Feb 2013
PERFECT one day, torrential rainfall the next. We’re driving through Queensland in the new Mazda CX-5 2.5 petrol and the ominous grey clouds overhead have unleashed.
Through thick and humid fog we snatch glimpses of the saturated country roads beset by lush paddocks inundated with murky brown flood waters. Treacherous, maybe, but also perfect conditions for a test like today’s.
Indeed, the conditions serve as a timely reminder of the all-wheel-drive Mazda’s relative dynamic prowess relative to a score of compact SUV rivals, with a feeling of surety that renders the slippery tarmac, if not quite a breeze, at least less of a chore.
But then, the ride and handling were never the most pertinent issue with the CX-5 – rather, it was the lacklustre 2.0-litre petrol engine under that curvaceous bonnet.
Mazda’s entrant might have deservedly raced to the top of the sales charts after its launch 12 months ago, but the almost unanimous reaction to the petrol offering – in a field as bereft of unanimity as motoring journalism – was that it needed more herbs.
Well, now Mazda claims to have delivered just the ticket, transplanting the meatier 2.5-litre SkyActiv unit from its well-received new Mazda6 mid-sizer into AWD versions of its compact SUV powerhouse.
With 138kW and 250Nm, the new engine offers the second most power and the most torque among its key rivals. Simultaneously, Mazda claims class-leading fuel economy of 7.4 litres per 100km.
The new powertrain certainly offers more poke than its smaller capacity sibling, with noticeably improved response off the mark.
Being naturally aspirated, its delivery is also more instant and linear than the diminutive turbocharged units becoming more and more commonplace in rivals.
Towing capacity is an unchanged 1800kg, but you can bet your bottom dollar the new version would have a much easier time of it.
The six-speed transmission is also better calibrated here. In the 2.0-litre, Mazda has programmed the six-ratio unit to sit in the highest gear possible, to keep revs down and improve fuel economy.
The problem with this is that it hurts response off the line, because its peak torque arrives high the rev band.
If anything, Mazda could be criticised for going too far the other way with the 2.5 – we left the lever in D for drive most of the day, and at one point up a steep-ish hill saw the engine ticking over at an abrasive 5000rpm.
Generally though, the SkyActiv transmission is well-matched, and in the most part unobtrusive, especially in stop-start traffic (and despite Mazda’s aggressive ‘Cheetah’ advertising campaign raising images of the serengeti, the urban environ is very much the CX-5’s natural habitat).
The manual mode is a strange beast, in that it won’t automatically change up once the redline is encroached – please, drivers, show some mechanical sympathy. The lack of paddle shifters kills any semblance of dynamism here.
Mazda claims class-leading fuel economy of 7.4L/100km, but we averaged between 8.5 and 9.0L/100km with measured driving – albeit in challenging conditions.
Basically, the new 2.5 is no firebrand, but it’s sufficient.
As with the 2.0-litre – but not, incidentally with the superb 2.2 diesel – refinement is below class-leaders.
There is a noticeable engine drone, which on the launch was enough to be distinguished from the driving rainfall.
The rest of the CX-5 package remains as strong as ever. The cabin is still excellent, both in terms of presentation and quality. The list of standard equipment is long – a Mazda hallmark, and doubtless one of the secrets to its disproportionate sales success in Australia.
Not much has changed, although the interface – replete, incidentally with a slightly clunky TomTom unit in all variants – now houses the updated Bluetooth system that can read out SMS and MMS messages by voice.
Unlike some key rivals, the CX-5 has a laudable amount of soft-touch plastics on major contact points.
See our separate new model story for the full list of specification, but even the base variants get a reversing camera, Bluetooth, cruise control and a tyre pressure monitor, just to scratch the surface.
Rear seat accommodation remains top-of-class, with plenty of shoulder, head and knee room even for oversized writers such as yours truly, although the lack of rear vents is an issue. Likewise, rear cargo space is excellent, although the spare wheel is a space-saver.
The seats fold flat to help with those weekend trips to Ikea, although the flip-fold arrangement isn’t quite as flexible or clever as, say, the grossly under-appreciated Skoda Yeti.
As ever, the CX-5 is one of the sharpest handlers among an admittedly dour class, with decent steering feel, crisp turn-in and next to no bodyroll.
Naturally, as a tall wagon with a front-wheel bias, there is some understeer when pushed, but nobody wants this to be a rally car.
The ride is also excellent – the car neither wafts or jitters, even on the high-spec variant’s 19-inch alloy wheels.
To sum it up, Mazda reckons it can keep selling 1600 units a month, which is probably enough to retain the CX-5’s position as segment top-seller since launch.
Even with a host of new rivals now on the scene – and the new-generation Ford Kuga to join from April – we have no reason to doubt them.
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