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The first-generation Mazda CX-5 was Australia’s most popular SUV four years running, so the premiere of a more grown-up second iteration has genuine significance.

Australians purchased about 115,000 Mazda CX-5s from launch in 2012, making it the company’s number-two offering behind the Mazda 3. Globally, it accounts for about 25 per cent of its total sales.

Don’t let the 2017 version’s evolutionary styling, and familiar drivetrains and architectures, fool you into thinking there isn’t anything new to see. Cut through the spin and it’s obvious that Mazda hasn’t been idle, even if this doesn’t deservedly mark a whole generational change.

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The new model is similar dimensionally but offers greater cargo space, a more mature design outside and in, extra modern safety technology and the company’s interesting G-Vectoring Control to improve handling by altering torque distribution to the wheels.

Finally, there are strategies to cut road noise and improve NVH (noise, vibration and harshness) including reduced panel gaps, added insulation, improved seals and enhanced aero, and indeed the new CX-5 is a more quiet and refined than before. Not a class-topper, perhaps, but better.

In other words there appear to be plentiful changes to keep the Mazda ahead of a ravenous pack of rivals led on the charts by the Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail — the latter of which has just seen its own update.

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And let’s not ignore the still-new Volkswagen Tiguan, well-regarded Kia Sportage, rugged Subaru Forester, or the Honda CR-V — due for replacement in the third quarter of 2017.

Let’s be clear: this feature story and video is designed to talk to people who’ve made the CX-5 their choice, but haven’t quite got a handle on where precisely to go from there.

We’re not saying you shouldn’t look at other brands, at all.

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What stuff does the walk between CX-5 grades get you? Is your sales-person just having a laugh, trying to up-sell you? Hopefully this feature helps break down the 12 different CX-5 variations, comprising five spec levels, three engine options, and front- or all-wheel drive.


The Basics

Engine options kick off with a 2.0-litre naturally-aspirated petrol engine in base grades, offering 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm. This unit is matched to six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions, in FWD only. Claimed 91 RON fuel use is 6.9 litres per 100km.

Next up is the upgraded 2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol unit now making 140kW at 6000rpm and 251Nm at 4000rpm, available only with the automatic transmission and grippier AWD. Claimed 91 RON fuel use is 7.5 litres per 100km.

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Rounding out the range is the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, with 129kW at 4500rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm. This mill is available in six-speed auto and AWD form only, and Mazda expects it to account for about 25 per cent of all sales. This engine uses 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle.

Practicality-wise, back seat knee-room is modest at best for the class, and the rear seats lack sliding adjustment. On the plus side, you get a good 40:20:40 folding system and levers to flip the down situated in the cargo area. There’s a temporary spare wheel.

See more specifications in the table below.


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2017 Mazda CX-5 Maxx
15 per cent of total sales projected

Pricing before on-road costs:

  • 2.0-litre petrol six-speed manual FWD — $28,690
  • 2.0-litre petrol six-speed auto FWD — $30,690
  • 2.5-litre petrol six-speed auto AWD — $33,690

Four definitive features:

  • 7.0-inch touch-screen display with MZD Connect and rotary control
  • Rear-view camera
  • Blind-spot monitoring (BLIS)
  • Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)

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Summary:

Other standard features on the base car include six airbags, 17-inch steel wheels (ours had naff dealer-fit optional alloys), full LED headlights, 12V outlet in the cargo area, electric-folding mirrors, black cloth seats, digital radio, six speakers, Bluetooth phone and audio, two USB trickle chargers, internet radio integration (Pandora, Stitcher and Aha), cruise control, manual air-conditioning, push-button start, rear parking sensors and rear cross-traffic alert.

Few could argue that the base Maxx is now well-equipped, and we particularly extend plaudits to Mazda for adding BLIS and AEB as standard, as well as LED headlights.

However, the cabin does miss out on rear-seat air vents and a flip-down armrest for back seat passengers, and while the 7.0-inch screen with MZD rotary dial is also very user-friendly — it has the odd bug — and the lack of Apple CarPlay/Android Auto to counteract the absent sat-nav is a shame. You can option nav in this spec if you so choose.

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Our test car had the entry 114kW/200Nm 2.0-litre engine matched to a six-speed automatic and FWD. The Maxx is the only version that comes with a manual gearbox as standard, but the take-up rate is expected to be minimal.

The engine is a little breathless — a full 1.5 sec slower than the optional 2.5-litre between 60km/h and 100km/h — though is willing and pulls ok once you have the engine at more than 3000rpm, thanks to its 77kg weight advantage and the clever six-speed auto.

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Like all CX-5s, the Maxx feels pretty dynamic for the segment, with good body control/handling through corners, and sharp turn-in — though the electric steering is a little too resistant at low speeds for our taste. The Yokohama Geolander tyres fitted to the Maxx, Maxx Sport and Touring grip well enough.

If you’re just doddling around town it’ll be more than fine for your purposes. The Maxx is the version for those on a tight budget, who want a simple family car and don’t care about having all the fruit, or have a thing for steel wheels.


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2017 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport
22 per cent of total sales expected

Pricing before on-road costs:

  • 2.0-litre petrol six-speed auto FWD — $34,390
  • 2.5-litre petrol six-speed auto AWD — $37,390
  • 2.2-litre diesel six-speed auto AWD — $40,390

Four definitive features:

  • 17-inch alloy wheels
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Satellite-navigation
  • Rear air vents

Summary:

Other standard features the Maxx Sport adds are LED fog lights, auto on/off headlights, rain-sensing wipers, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and a flip-down armrest and two fast-charging USB points for the back seats. It costs $3700 more than the equivalent Maxx in 2.0 FWD auto or 2.5 AWD auto forms, and also introduces the 2.2 diesel engine.

You do get a welcome injection of standard features for the money, if you can afford it, including alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, air vents and two fast-charge USB point in the rear, and auto headlights/wipers.

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If you regularly carry four passengers, make the jump. As we’ve said, the CX-5 in any spec level is not the roomiest in the back, though four 180cm-ish adults would be comfortable over a longer cruise. It’s disappointing that on no variant do the rear seats slide as they do in a Tiguan.

The cabin trims and cloth seats are the same as the Maxx’s, though in typical Mazda style there are enough contrasting surfaces and colours to make it seem interesting and slightly upmarket. Dig that floating screen and those vents, too…

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Those looking to the Maxx Sport, projected to make up more than one in five CX-5 sales, have an interesting choice. The base 2.0-litre Maxx Sport FWD costs $700 more than the Maxx with a bigger 140kW/250Nm 2.5 engine and AWD.

The right solution sort of depends on your priorities. The 2.5 as mentioned is noticeably punchier, and the sensor-driven on-demand AWD system sends torque to the rear wheels when the fronts lose traction to lend grip on slippery surfaces.

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However, there’s the lower-powered 2.0 Maxx Sport’s extra equipment. Performance or spec? Honestly, for most urban buyers the 2.0 Maxx Sport would be more suitable, with the lower-spec 2.5/AWD Maxx a better bet for adventurous types with a tight budget.

Meantime it is also the cheapest way to get into the more efficient diesel, which is relatively rattle-free and easily the punchiest engine here, with great rolling response. Worth the $3000, though? Hmmm, we’d be hard-pressed to advise it on a cost basis, though it’s the nicer car to drive.


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2017 Mazda CX-5 Touring
21 per cent of total sales expected

Pricing before on-road costs:

  • 2.5-litre petrol six-speed auto AWD — $38,990
  • 2.2-litre diesel six-speed auto AWD — $41,990

Four definitive features:

  • Pop-up head-up display (HUD)
  • Keyless entry
  • Artificial leather (Maztex) and suede seat trim
  • Traffic sign recognition system

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Summary:

It’s only a $1600 walk to the new Touring variant from the Maxx Sport, yet in addition to the four features listed above, you also get other extras such as power-folding door mirrors with heating, and front parking sensors.

That extra seems like money well spent, which is clearly Mazda’s goal. The artificial leather is of decent quality and easy to clean (the suede inlays less so), while the power folding mirrors and front sensors could prevent damage to your car. Being able to open the door without taking the key from your pocket is also handy.

However, the flip-up HUD unit is looking dated now, and for taller drivers may be hard to view without stooping. Still, it’s the only version so far to offer a licence-saving digital speedo. The traffic (speed) sign recognition system works most of the time, and could theoretically save you a fine by reminding of the correct speed limit.

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We did some back-to-back time in the petrol and diesel versions, and found the latter to be far stronger though the mid-range and more suited to towing or ferrying loads — though three burly passengers up a steep hill proved no trouble for either.

For the dynamically minded, the 129kW/420Nm diesel’s 75kg weight penalty, mostly over the nose, lead the Touring with this engine to push-understeer more under fast, sharp turning.

That said with either engine, if you can make the jump, the Touring seems like a particular range sweet spot. A 2.5 petrol Touring for $38,990 looks pretty good to us.


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2017 Mazda CX-5 GT
27 per cent of total sales expected

Pricing before on-road costs:

  • 2.5-litre petrol six-speed auto AWD — $44,390
  • 2.2-litre diesel six-speed auto AWD — $47,390

Four definitive features:

  • 19-inch alloy wheels
  • Sunroof
  • Black or white leather trims
  • Electric tailgate

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Summary:

The $5400 price jump for the CX-5 GT over the Touring nets you the above four features plus adaptive cornering headlights, front seat heating, powered seating adjustment with driver’s seat memory settings, a more sophisticated head-up display projected onto the windscreen and a premium 249-watt sound system by Bose, with 10 speakers including a sub.

That’s a huge price gulf, though it’s also a long lost of extra equipment. The leather is of a better grade, though if you get white trim, the seat-backs are black, like a Top Deck chocolate bar. Weird.

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The cabin gets some nicer plastic contrast trims to enhance the ‘luxury’ feel, and superior trims/stitching on key touchpoints.

Some of the extra features are well worth shelling out for. The sound system is very bass-heavy but potent for audiophiles, the sunroof improves the cabin ambience — though hurts headroom a little — the leather is desirable (in black) and the electric tailgate is becoming de rigeur.

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On the downside, the 19-inch wheels on low-profile Toyo tyres transmit more road imperfections into the cabin, making the Maxx, Maxx Sport and Touring’s already firm ride a little jarring and unsettled at times, once you leave the nice smooth motorway.

Clearly though, the well-specified GT lends itself to Mazda’s brand, which is positioned as the new ‘Japanese premium’ in lieu of Honda. That’s why it’s expected to be the top-seller, and it’s not hard to see why. Especially if you’re on a novated lease or competitive finance plan.


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2017 Mazda CX-5 Akera
15 per cent of total sales expected

Pricing before on-road costs:

  • 2.5-litre petrol six-speed auto AWD — $46,990
  • 2.2-litre diesel six-speed auto AWD — $49,990

Four definitive features:

  • Radar-guided adaptive cruise control
  • Adaptive LED headlights
  • High-speed AEB
  • Lane-keeping assist

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Summary:

The $2600 pricier, range-topping Akera variant also gets a driver attention alert system, lane departure warning (the preamble to its lane-keeping aid that actually steers you between well-market road lines) and Mazda’s Smart Brake Support (SBS), an AEB system that works at any legal speed above 15km/h.

Here we tested the diesel. As with the others, we’d urge you to go for the 2.5 petrol unless you: a) tow a caravan or boat under 1800kg regularly, or; b) do a high number of country kilometres.

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That said, the price premium in return for punchier driving experience makes more sense the higher through the range you climb.

Is having a side camera, adaptive LED headlights, radar cruise and a lane-keeping assist system worth $2600? Well perhaps, and these are certainly high-end features, though given the GT feels otherwise identical and still offers plenty of safety kit, we’d hardly blame you for steering clear.

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Maxx

Maxx Sport

Touring

GT

Akera

2.0 petrol FWD manual

2.0 petrol FWD auto

2.5 petrol AWD auto

2.2 diesel AWD auto

Turning circle

11 metres

Cargo room

442L – 1342L

Spare wheel

Temporary 

Kerb weight

1511 – 1744kg

Towing capacity

1800kg braked, 150kg download max

Ground clearance unladen

193mm

Length

4550mm

Width

1840mm

Height

1675mm

Wheelbase

2700mm

Suspension

MacPherson strut front

Multi-link rear


VERDICT

The new Mazda CX-5 range generally plays to Mazda’s strengths – design, premium feel and mid-market value (in other words, affordable ‘premium’).

It’s not the most practical offering for a growing family, but neither was old one and that was consistently the top-seller. If you need maximum practicality, the X-Trail or Outlander are waiting with their up-to-seven-seat layouts. We also wish Mazda would stop being so stubborn and enable Apple CarPlay/Android Auto.

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The company has faced criticism from some quarters for keeping similar platforms and engines, but really, there were neither that old or bad as bases to jump from. So who really cares.

Overall, it’s a clear improvement that should resonate every bit as well as ever, despite the continuous stream of new competition.

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What’s the pick? The 2.0-litre Maxx Sport at $34,390 seems worth reaching for, since you get sat-nav, rear air vents and alloys. The mid-$40K range GT also offers a lot of upmarket crossover for the cash.

But the $38,990 petrol AWD Touring is the sweet spot for us, with the right mix of cool tech alongside a reasonable price impost over the Maxx Sport. Mazda fought hard to add this variant, and it was a clever decision.

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