What stands out?
Easy on fuel for a medium SUV, the popular Mazda CX-5 drives very nicely and is well equipped, with an exceptionally appealing cabin. Auto emergency braking is standard. The 2012-2016 CX-5 seats five and comes in front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions.
Equipment detailed in this review reflects the first-generation CX-5 in its final form, as sold from October 2016 until it was replaced in April 2017. Prior changes are outlined briefly at the foot of the article.
What might bug me?
Driving below 80km/h on the space-saver spare wheel, until you can replace your full-sized flat tyre.
Waiting for power from the 2.0 litre engine in 2WD CX-5s. Similar to the 2.0-litre engine in a Mazda3 hatchback, it feels a little soft when propelling the bigger car.
What body styles are there?
Five-door SUV-type wagon only.
The CX-5 can be purchased as front-drive only or in all-wheel drive. It is classed as a medium SUV, lower priced.
What features do all versions have?
An infotainment system that you can operate from either a rotary controller or a 7.0-inch colour touchscreen, with auxiliary and iPod-compatible USB inputs, a CD player and an AM/FM radio. Internet radio integration (including the apps Pandora, Stitcher and Aha), and Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio connectivity.
Cruise control, and a reversing camera.
Height and reach adjustment for the steering wheel, and buttons on the wheel for operating the cruise control, sound system and your phone.
A space-saver spare wheel. Tyre pressure sensors, which warn when a tyre has lost pressure. (This can give you time to have a slow puncture seen to.)
Hill launch assist, which helps you start from rest on an uphill slope by controlling the brakes automatically.
Electronic stability control, which can help you recover from a slide. All new vehicles must have this feature.
Six airbags. A suite of active safety features comprising city-speed auto braking, a blind spot monitor and a rear cross-traffic alert. (For the placement of airbags, and for more on CX-5 safety systems, please open the Safety section below.)
The Mazda CX-5 warranty is for three years, with no limit on kilometres driven.
Which engine uses least fuel, and why wouldn't I choose it?
Of three engines available in a Mazda CX-5, the most fuel efficient is the only diesel, a turbocharged 2.2 litre four cylinder that consumes 5.7 litres/100km on the official test cycle (urban and country combined).
The diesel is also a sweet performer. One key reason why you might not choose it is that diesels are available only as all-wheel drive autos, and choosing diesel over petrol adds significantly to the price of the car. The diesel is not available on the least costly version, the CX-5 Maxx.
Of the two petrol engines, the more fuel-efficient is the 2.0 litre four-cylinder that is supplied with all front-wheel drive CX-5s, which returns 6.6 litres/100km on the official test. A close match for the 2.0-litre engine in the Mazda3 hatchback, it feels a bit tame in the CX-5 and needs to be worked hard for decent acceleration.
The alternative petrol engine, a 2.5 litre four-cylinder fitted to AWD CX-5s, feels more effervescent and muscular. It consumes about 7.3 litres/100km on the official test. In real-world driving, a CX-5 GT with the 2.5 petrol recorded an average of 10.2 litres/100km in comparison testing of four popular mid-sized SUVs for the November 2015 issue of Wheels magazine. That left the Mazda the most fuel-efficient of the four vehicles reviewed.
Only the CX-5 Maxx in front-wheel drive offers the choice of a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. On every other CX-5, the six-speed auto is your only choice.
What key features do I get if I spend more?
The least costly CX-5, the Maxx, has cloth trim on the seats and rolls on 17-inch steel wheels.
Spend more for a Maxx Sport and you get wheels of the same size but made from an aluminium alloy, which look nicer and are usually lighter. The Maxx Sport also has satellite navigation, and dual zone air-conditioning (which allows the driver and passenger to set temperatures independently). Headlights switch on automatically when it gets dark, and windscreen wipers operate automatically when it rains. The steering wheel and gear-shift handle are trimmed in leather.
The CX-5 Grand Touring, or GT, rolls on 19-inch alloy wheels and on tyres with a lower profile, which quicken the steering response slightly on hard surfaces. The GT has a powered sunroof, leather trim, and power-adjusted front seats with heating. Brighter, bi-xenon headlamps swivel their beams to help light up corners. A Bose sound system plays through nine speakers. There are parking sensors front and rear, and the auto braking also works in reverse.
The most expensive CX-5, the Akera, brings you adaptive headlamps, whose multiple LED bulbs dim selectively for oncoming drivers – retaining high beam in areas that won’t dazzle them. Automatic cruise control matches the speed of a slower vehicle ahead. And there is an expanded suite of active driving aids, which adds highway-speed auto braking, lane-keeping assistance, and a driver fatigue monitor.
Does any upgrade have a down side?
The lower-profile tyres on the GT and Akera ride more roughly on bumpy surfaces, as there is less rubber and air between the wheel and the road.
Ordering all-wheel drive will increase your fuel bill a few per cent, compared with an equivalent front-drive CX-5.
All colours but one are available standard: Soul Red costs about $200 extra.
How comfortable is it?
The CX-5 is not the biggest of the medium SUVs, but it’s a size that has won many buyers. Up front the colour touchscreen makes it easy to toggle between audio and navigation functions.
Large, logical dials look after the ventilation system, the steering wheel is superb, and there’s decent storage in the centre of the car.
Seats are supportive, even if complete comfort is elusive. The general level of cabin finish is as good as you will find in a medium SUV at this price.
The suspension tends towards the firmer end of the scale, feeling a bit stiff-legged over sharp bumps, but it is not uncomfortable, dealing with humps and heaves succinctly and quickly before getting on with the next challenge.
While there is some tyre roar on country roads, the CX-5’s cabin is quite well insulated.
What about safety?
Every CX-5 has six airbags, stability control, a reversing camera, city-speed autonomous emergency braking, a blind spot monitor, and a rear cross-traffic alert. These team with good crash protection to put even less costly CX-5s among the safer medium SUVs.
Two of the airbags are placed directly in front of the driver and passenger. The driver and front passenger also get an airbag each on their outer sides at chest level , to protect them from side impacts. The final two airbags stretch down each side of the cabin at head level, protecting front and rear occupants from side impacts.
The standard auto-braking scans the road ahead with a short-range laser-type sensor and is effective at speeds up to 30km/h. Mazda calls it Smart City Brake Support. If an obstacle is detected – typically another car that has slowed suddenly – the system will apply the brakes automatically if it believes you are at risk of a collision.
The blind-spot monitor uses radar sensors to look rearwards down each side of the CX-5. When you indicate to change lanes, it will flash a light in the door mirror and sound a buzzer if a car is approaching in that lane from behind, perhaps in a blind spot.
The rear cross-traffic alert operates in a similar way to detect vehicles approaching the rear of the CX-5 from either side. It is helpful when you are reversing out of a driveway or parking spot.
On a CX-5 GT, the auto-braking also operates in reverse, preventing you from backing into an obstacle that you might not have seen.
The CX-5 Akera supplements these safety aids with an extended auto-braking system, lane-keeping assistance and a fatigue monitor.
The Akera’s auto braking – called Smart Brake Support – uses a radar and camera to scan the road at longer range than the city oriented system on the less costly cars. It is effective up to 145km/h, and will warn you of an impending collision before braking automatically if you don’t react.
Its Lane-keep Assist uses the camera to monitor highway lane-markings. If it recognises that you are drifting out of your lane, it can apply some corrective steering while vibrating the wheel to alert you.
Lane-keep assist is particularly helpful as protection from the consequences of distraction or sleepiness on long drives. The Akera’s fatigue alert takes this a step further and looks for signs of weariness in your steering movements. If it thinks you might be falling asleep, it will recommend you take a break.
The Australasian New Car Assessment Program has awarded the CX-5 its maximum rating of 5 stars, most recently in October 2016.
I like driving - will I enjoy this car?
The CX-5 is among the better driving mid-sized SUVs. While it rides relatively high – part of its appeal for many – it is well controlled and does not lean too much in corners.
With direct steering it’s also very user friendly, whether punting around the suburbs or driven briskly through a set of bends. Brakes, too, are responsive and reassuring. A CX-5 isn’t particularly encouraging of enthusiastic use until you begin to hustle it, when its cornering talents reveal deeper reserves.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine can feel sluggish until you get used to it. The 2.5-litre petrol engine in the all-wheel drive models resolves that issue and makes for easier darting around town and more relaxed touring. The sweetly tuned six-speed auto gearbox supplies extra verve when you engage its Sport button, treading the fine line between keen and crazed with aplomb.
The turbo-diesel offers superior urge from low engine speeds and nearly as much outright power. While it’s not as quiet as the petrol engines, it’s well behaved for a diesel.
Four-wheel drive versions of the CX-5 are light-duty off-roaders, built to add confidence on gravel or snowy roads rather than to tackle steep or rough tracks. Should you damage a tyre, fitting the space-saver spare will diminish off-road performance.
How is life in the rear seats?
In the rear, space is generous, although head room starts getting tight for tall adults. There are no rear air-conditioning vents.
How is it for carrying stuff?
The boot is towards the smaller end of the medium-SUV spectrum, with a higher floor.
But the space is cleverly used. All but the Maxx model get a 40-20-40 split-fold rear-seat setup that allows easy flipping. The luggage blind, too, is clever: it is integrated into the tailgate, so that it is raised automatically but conceals valuables.
Where is it made?
Mazda makes the CX-5 in Japan.
What might I miss that similar cars have?
I like this car, but I can't choose which version. Can you help?
The CX-5 Maxx Sport adds more stylish alloy wheels, satellite-navigation, dual-zone air-con and a leather bound steering wheel over the Maxx, for a reasonable premium.
When did Mazda replace this CX-5?
This first-generation CX-5 went on sale in 2012, and Mazda revised the range mildly in January 2015. Changes included an attempt to reduce tyre noise, and a more cohesive interior that included a bigger and more powerful touchscreen. About October 2016 the auto braking and blind-spot alert previously offered in an extra-cost safety pack were made standard on all versions. That is the car reviewed here.
A second-generation CX-5 went on sale at the end of March 2017. The new car uses the same basic platform and engines but is quieter and more comfortable inside. It has more equipment, and its auto braking operates over a broader range of speeds.