2017 Mazda CX-5 review

The new second-generation 2017 Mazda CX-5 is now on sale in Australia, but has Mazda's mid-sized SUV had its day?

How do you follow up on what is the best selling SUV in Australia? The 2017 and second-generation Mazda CX-5 launches into a segment that its predecessor has led for four straight years, but now faces an ever-strong lineup of competitors. So has it changed enough to remain on top?

From the outside the new Mazda CX-5 can easily be mistaken for a facelift. Sure, it’s much sharper and far more modern in its styling than the previous-generation which came out in 2012, however it’s not exactly revolutionary. It appears Mazda designers have applied the thinking that, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

That is partially due to the fact the new CX-5 shares a fair bit with the old CX-5. The drivetrain, and around half of its componentry are carried forward. The good news, though, is the bits the Japanese have replaced are what really matters.

Mazda has fixed a pricing and equipment gap in the previous-generation that sat between Maxx Sport and GT with a new Touring grade. That makes it five grades in total and 12 different variants, including three Maxx and three Maxx Sport, two Touring, GT and Akera grades each.

Prices start at $28,690 for the base spec with a manual transmission and top out at $49,990. Full specification, equipment details and pricing can be found here.

The new CX-5 carries the same engine and transmission options as its predecessor with a choice of two petrol (2.0-litre and 2.5-litre four-cylinder) and one diesel (2.2-litre four-cylinder) powertrains. There are marginal real world fuel efficiency gains of around four per cent according to Mazda (full engine and fuel economy details here).

Jump inside and the cabin now feels far more premium than its predecessor. The tablet style 7.0-inch infotainment screen and the switchgear have a European-inspired feel to them and in fact, provide a better tactile sensation than some noticeably more expensive premium offerings.

There is no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which is surprising, so you are reliant on Mazda’s own infotainment software, which as far as Japanese infotainment software goes, is without doubt the user-friendliest.

However, it can be buggy if you start asking too much of it. We had our top-spec Akera test car’s infotainment system reset itself multiple times when we plugged our iPhone 7 in via USB and tried to play music via iPod connectivity rather than Bluetooth Audio streaming – this is the exact same bug we had in our own CarAdvice-owned Mazda MX-5, which Mazda fixed with a software update at the first service.

The cabin itself is a good mix of practicality and style, where some of its direct rivals seem to have gone one way or another. It has two USB ports up front inside the centre armrest, both of which failed to charge our phone at the full rate, trickle charging instead. An irritating limitation in this day and age.

The front seats are comfortable enough, though could probably do with a little more lumbar support for long drives. There is a great deal of room in the second row for a medium SUV and you can certainly fit two child seats back there and have some room left over. It's not the sort of car you'd constantly use to move five people, but it can do so in relative comfort, if asked. The boot now measures 442L, up 39L from the previous model.

We didn’t get a chance to sample the entire Mazda CX-5 range as of yet (comprehensive range review coming soon), but we did spend a few hundred kilometres behind the wheel of the top-spec Akera, which rides on 19-inch wheels and comes with the best Mazda has to offer in terms of active safety technology.

Something must be said of the fact you can now find yourself in a very well-equipped Mazda SUV with safety features that are rivalling that of Mercedes-Benz, Audi and BMW. Actually, apart from Mercedes, the other two Germans mostly offer what Mazda has standard in the Akera CX-5... as very expensive options. So while the $50,000 price tag might seem steep, it’s important to put the technological gains into perspective. It’s also worth noting the only option on the CX-5 range is premium metallic paint at $400.

All variants get a rear-view camera, rear sensors and autonomous emergency braking, which is now capable of also detecting pedestrians (between 10-60km/h) as well as vehicles (4-80km/h). The Akera, however, goes much further with Mazda radar cruise control with full stop and go functionality, lane departure and lane-keep assistance systems as well as side camera and smart brake support.

We used the system to hold us in our lane on the way back from the Gold Coast to Brisbane and found it to be effective, but not at the same level of the European competitors. The forward active cruise-control worked faultlessly but the lane-keep assistance struggled to detect certain markings and occasionally just gave up entirely. It’s nice additional support, but you probably wouldn’t want to rely on it with your life.

Behind the wheel, the CX-5 hasn’t lost its sporty edge. It still provides a very dynamically capable package that emphasises the Mazda DNA of producing engaging cars to drive. That sounds like generic marketing spin, because it has been diluted to death by every brand out there, however Mazda’s offering is a genuinely fit package that takes the S in SUV more seriously than its Asian rivals.

We threw it around numerous corners with some enthusiasm and it never felt nervous or unsettled. There is a load of grip at all times and while driving a family SUV enthusiastically isn’t exactly high on the agenda for most buyers, it’s a showcase of the dynamic competency of the CX-5 that can come in handy if you ever need to swerve to avoid an accident or react to obstacle.

There’s a downside of course, which in our Akera test car came in the form of ride comfort. The unnecessarily large 19-inch wheels (225/55) look great, but tend to provide a noticeably firm ride which we could feel even on the highway. That's not to say the ride is poor or harsh, because it’s not, just that on these bigger wheels Mazda has definitely prioritised dynamic handling over general ride comfort. We suspect this issue isn’t nearly as evident on the 17-inch wheels offered on the first three grades.

The six-speed automatic transmission might be showing its age on paper, but it provides a very smooth shifting experience that’s hard to fault. We should also thank Mazda greatly for sticking with a traditional gearbox rather than going for a tedious continuously variable transmission (CVT) for the sake of very minor fuel economy gains, like some of its rivals.

Not having to deal with CVT whine and a good deal of additional sound-deadening means the CX-5’s cabin is now super quiet where it was previously one of the noisiest in its class.

Mazda claims noise levels have been improved with a big focus on reducing low-frequency road noise (coarse surfaces), as well as high-frequency wind and tyre noise (higher speeds). The company claims the new CX-5 generates the same amount of noise inside the cabin travelling at 100km/h as the old car did at 80km/h. Of course we couldn’t verify that on the spot, but we can definitely say the new cabin felt far more refined in how quiet it was at highway speeds.

Overall, the second-generation Mazda CX-5 is very much a case of improving on the old without throwing out the basics. There is a lot to love about the improved levels of refinement, interior packaging, styling and dynamic capability. However only time will tell if the Japanese brand has done enough to stave off the horde of incoming competitors desperate to dethrone the reigning king.

Check back soon for a comprehensive review of the new Mazda CX-5 range.

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