2017 Mazda CX-5 GT review

The fact this upper-grade GT is expected to be the most popular new CX-5 variant shows Mazda Australia's premium aspirations. Are they well-founded? And is the new generation of the market's most popular SUV sufficiently different from the old one?

Few figures better reflect Mazda Australia's claimed status of 'semi premium brand' than its expectation of the GT becoming the top-selling CX-5 variant.

As the second best-equipped member of the new five-variant 2017 CX-5 line-up, the GT kicks off at a not-insubstantial $44,390 (plus on-road costs) for the petrol model here, yet is projected to account for 27 per cent of sales.

That represents a huge number, considering the outgoing Mazda CX-5 was Australia's single biggest-selling SUV of any type for four years running and in all likelihood will remain so in second-generation guise.

Pitched below the Akera and above the Touring, the CX-5 GT offers high-end features including 19-inch alloy wheels, a sunroof, black or white heated leather seats, and an electric tailgate.

Over and above the lower grades it also adds a 249 watt 10-speaker Bose sound system, a ‘proper’ head-up display that illuminates on the windscreen and shows your speed and navigation, and adaptive cornering functionality for its LED headlights.

As such, the CX-5 GT is clearly aiming as much at low-end Germans such as the BMW X1 and X3, much like the Volkswagen Tiguan Highline does.

The evolutionary design certainly does the job to my eyes, especially with Machine Gun Grey or Soul Red paint – the only metallics Mazda charges for, and even then a very reasonable $300.

It’s a slick design with the right amount of chrome and curves, though your neighbour with an old CX-5 may struggle to see the difference at first. Incidentally, that massive front badge and grille shows how confident modern Mazda has become, doesn't it?

The ‘new’ CX-5 also has a more mature and resolved cabin treatment than before, with a slick new floating tablet screen matched to Mazda’s MZD Connect rotary dial, chunky silver dials, tactile switches and soft leather and plastic touch-points.

It all looks and feels decidedly high-grade. Even the doors now ‘thunk’ a bit like a German car, thanks to Mazda’s work to minimise noise intrusion and improve refinement.

We like the user-experience of the infotainment, the way you can use the tablet as a touchscreen (rather than via dial) to enter directions into the sat nav, the fact you get digital radio, and the strong bass-heavy Bose audio system’s sound quality.

We don’t like the slow loading times, the occasional glitches numerous staff members experienced – for instance, unplugging a phone from the charger and experiencing a brief freeze – and Mazda’s continued lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.

As a medium SUV it stands to reason that practicality is a key purchase motivator, and thankfully the new CX-5 offers a better experience for back-row passengers – even if you can neither slide or recline those rear seats.

Legroom is still marginal for the segment, and the driver/passenger may not appreciate rear occupants’ ability to knee them through the soft front seat-backs, but headroom and toe-room are sufficient, the door apertures are wide and there are two ISOFIX anchors.

There are also now rear air vents, and a flip-down centre armrest with in-buildt storage and a USB point to charge your device. Fantastic. You also get your own reading lights, though they aren’t LED, which feels a little anachronistic.

Cargo storage is also up 39 litres to 442L – better, though still not class leading – and the back seats can flip-fold 40:20:40 via nifty levers in the cargo area if needed. There’s a high-quality sliding cargo cover fitted, a rear 12V outlet and handy shopping hooks.

For reference, the new CX-5 measures 4550mm (+10mm on previous model) in length, 1840mm in width and 1675mm in height (-30mm). The wheelbase remains at 2700mm.

It has to be said though, if sheer practicality for the money is your biggest desire, then the Tiguan or Honda CR-V – old though the latter now is – are better bets.

A ‘sporty’ driving feel has long been something Mazda has hung its proverbial hat on, and the reworked (but very similar under the skin) CX-5 retains the old car’s signature hatch-like body control, staying flat through corners.

The turn-in is also sharp, assisted in subtle form by Mazda’s new G-Vectoring system that adjusts torque flow to the wheels to transfer the car’s weight, and the fairly resistant electric steering system, which it must be said is too heavy at urban speeds, has good weight during dynamic driving.

The 19-inch alloys shod in Toyo tyres look great, though there’s a trade-off to the ride, making the already firm feel in the Maxx, Maxx Sport and Touring (all on 17s) a little unsettled once you leave smooth blacktop.

Thankfully Mazda has gone to some lengths to reduce noise, vibrations and harshness (NVH), taking measures like stiffening the body, improving aero, adding sealant and reducing shut-line gaps.

The company claims its new CX-5 achieves a level of quietness roughly equivalent to that of travelling 20km/h slower than on the previous model, and we believe it. While still not as utterly cosseting and isolating as a luxury car, you don’t need to raise your voice anymore.

Under the bonnet is an upgraded 2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol unit now making 140kW at 6000rpm and 251Nm at 4000rpm (up a whole 2kW/1Nm), available only with the automatic transmission and grippier on-demand AWD that uses 27 sensors to reactively direct torque to the rear wheels when the fronts lose traction.

Claimed 91 RON fuel use is 7.5 litres per 100km, and our round loop returned low 8s, which is commendable for the class.

The engine has quite strong rolling response, as reflected by the high engine speed at which peak torque arrives, though the clever six-speed gearbox doesn’t quite mask the comparative lack of low-end pulling power. It’s also still very loud for about 20 seconds on cold-start.

You can have a potent 129kW/420Nm 2.2-litre turbo-diesel option for $3000 more if you want more grunt, though its 1800kg braked-towing legal maximum is no greater. It’s more effortless but really only makes sense for buyers doing high-mileage.

Safety on the 2017 CX-5 range is good. All variants get AEB and a blind-spot monitor, though if you want adaptive cruise control and a proper lane-keeping assist system you’ll need to step up into the $2600 more expensive (over our GT) Akera.

From an ownership perspective you only get a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, and you'll be asked to pay $68.10 annually for roadside assistance cover. On the plus side, Mazda's dealer network regularly wins multi-brand customer satisfaction surveys, and offers rapid servicing times.

Service intervals for the 2.5 petrol as tested are a modest 10,000km (or annually). Current advertised prices for the first five visits are $304, $333, $304, $333 and $304. Every 40,000km you'll need a $67 cabin air filter and $64 brake fluid, a $61 engine air filter after 60,000km, and $261 spark plugs at 120,000km.

So on reflection after a few days at the wheel, has Mazda done enough with its heavily revised Mazda CX-5?

The architecture and drivetrains are familiar, but the target buyer surely won't be fazed, though the fact its rear legroom is still limited will no doubt annoy a few, and we wonder whether you should shell out $2600 more for the Akera's additional semi-autonomous tech.

But if we're to assume the company's old formula was the right one to attain top-selling status, this new model with its more grown-up design, improved refinement and additional amenities surely means the Mazda remains one of the top picks.

Moreover, in highly-specified GT form, you get the right amount of luxury and premium feel to make you feel like you aren't just driving another bland family car, which is what Mazda has done so well, for so long. If you liked the old CX-5, this one will float your boat.

An invariable test against the Tiguan, Hyundai Tucson and more surely awaits, and we can't wait to make it happen.

MORE: 2017 CX-5 Australian launch review
MORE: 2017 Mazda CX-5 pricing and specs
MORE: CX-5 news, reviews, comparisons and videos
MORE: Everything Mazda