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Car reviews - Mazda - CX-5 - range

Our Opinion

We like
Quieter, smoother ride, lower entry prices, Sport mode on petrol autos, diesel refinement and punch, dash changes
Room for improvement
Still noisier than the best, no rear-seat airvents, some spec shortfalls like a passenger seat height adjuster


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20 Jan 2015

HAS it really been three years since the Mazda CX-5 smashed open the Australian mid-size SUV segment with its shapely styling, sporty chassis, smooth drivetrain and quality presentation?Before the Japanese crossover landed, most of its competitors languished gormlessly in dynamic and refinement mediocrity, reflecting a cynicism from their makers who seemed content to foist any old thing upon consumers hungry for high-riding wagons.

What the CX-5 demonstrated was that SUV buyers could enjoy an affordable, efficient and well-made alternative that didn’t pale against the usually superior passenger car alternatives on offer.

Brandishing a post Ford-era, box-fresh, Mazda-made, high-tech platform and drivetrain under the SkyActiv banner, the newcomer showed up many pricier luxury SUVs, especially in terms of driver enjoyment.

The CX-5 went on to become one of the company’s global best-sellers, systematically saving it from looming bankruptcy in the process.

All that was in 2012, and in the time since, a number of newer challengers have lobbed in to give the mid-size SUV leader a harder time – although the disappointing Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Mitsubishi Outlander weren’t among these.

Thankfully, Mazda is not a company to rest on its laurels, as the CX-5 Series II makeover proves.

Almost invisible at first glance, the facelift sees most of the non-sheetmetal plastics and trim altered, including the grille, headlights and tail-lights, to give a slightly more aggressive appearance. Since there’s never really been anything wrong with the Mazda’s styling to begin with, it’s clear that the designers chose wisely not to mess with a winning formula.

Inside the spacious cabin there was plenty of room for betterment, however, although not everything has been addressed here to the degree that we might have hoped.

The entire lower half of the dashboard has been revised, with new console switchgear fitted for improved functionality. There’s a larger touchscreen set up high and controlled by a BMW iDrive-style knob down by the now-electric park brake switch, more contemporary trims and colours have been introduced, and a sizeable increase in storage area volume certainly helps with practicality.

That’s all fine and good, and we are relieved to learn that the Mazda’s fine driving position, excellent ventilation and high-level build quality virtues remain. The front seats have been altered and seem comfortable and supportive, while the overall front-row ambience in the mid-range (and volume selling) Maxx Sport and flagship Akera is pretty much on the money now.

Furthermore, with thicker side glass and more sound deadening, there is significantly less road drone entering the rear seat area than before – although you wouldn’t exactly call the CX-5 hushed now.

Finally, the ride quality on the Maxx Sport wearing Yokohama Geolander G98 225/65R17 tyres has also improved, with a suppleness that was missing last time.

But foibles remain unfortunately.

Where is the digital speedometer? The existing analogue item is a little too busy to read in a hurry. The front passenger cushion lacks a height adjuster – a conspicuous item missing in a $40K-plus vehicle. Why are there no face-level airvents for rear-seat occupants? And does the trim back there have to remain so drab?Sampled over the rural roads in and around the Healesville area just outside of Melbourne, we also found the suspension on the Akera fitted with 225/55R19 rubber to be a bit too firm over broken surfaces. At least CX-5 buyers now have a more comfortable option available to them in the cheaper models.

We drove the larger of the two four-cylinder petrol engine choices – the 138kW/250Nm 2.5-litre naturally aspirated unit – and found the acceleration to be brisk and the performance delivery smooth across the driving spectrum.

The inclusion of a Sport mode for the slick and responsive six-speed auto transmission is a success, as it quickens reactions a bit, holding the gears longer than normal over hilly roads for a more involving experience. This is still a class-leading powertrain choice.

Equally notable is the 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel powerplant, since it punches strongly once the engine is in its substantial torque zone, pulling away effortlessly and yet with a veneer of refinement you might normally associate with far costlier machinery. No changes were made here and none were needed. The diesel-powered CX-5 is a peach.

Throw in light yet nicely modulated steering, agile handling and excellent all-wheel drive road-holding, and it is clear that the Mazda remains right up there with the Ford Kuga as the driver’s choice out of the mainstream mid-size SUV brigade, but now with less of the road noise that marred the outgoing version somewhat.

So while the 2015 CX-5 Series II isn’t perfect, the improvements made are more than enough to keep it at the pointy end of a class – one that Mazda has helped lift the standards of so significantly over the past three years.

Keep up the great work, Hiroshima.

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