Despite the Mazda CX-5 launching its way to the top of the sales charts down under with the original 2.0-litre petrol engine (not to mention the diesel that followed not long after), it only took Mazda 12 months to opt for a bigger, more powerful 2.5-litre Skyactiv petrol engine. There’s the new top specification ‘Akera’ nameplate too, along with a few other (very minor) tweaks to pack in even more value for money.
A bigger engine might seem superfluous in a diminutive ‘medium’ SUV like the 2014 Mazda CX-5. It isn’t - especially when you consider just how well sorted the Mazda’s chassis is. Thanks to the 2.5-litre petrol engine, the Mazda CX-5 has the grunt to match its ability. CarAdvice testers universally agreed, that despite the strong points of the CX-5, the original 2.0-litre petrol engine felt a little breathless and underdone.
The 2.0-litre petrol engine remains the price leader in the range, and diesel fans still get to opt for the 2.2-litre oiler. Now though, the 2.5-litre engine as tested here will go hand in hand with AWD models, while the 2.0-litre engine is reserved for front drive models only. On test, we have the top of the tree in the CX-5 range, the new 2014 Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.5.
Given the Akera is the top of the range model it comes equipped with all the fruit you’d expect at this level. Crucially Akera is also fully loaded with active and passive safety including blind-spot detection and lane-departure warnings. Along with the new 2.5-litre engine, there’s an upgraded Bluetooth phone system, which has better, higher tech phone and audio connectivity.
While pricing for the Mazda CX-5 range starts at $27,880, the Akera on test here costs $46,570. Comparatively, a Mazda CX-5 Akera with the diesel engine costs $49,420. Along with the aforementioned safety additions, it’s fitted with heated leather front seats with electric adjustment on the driver’s pew, dual zone air-conditioning, satellite navigation, a nine-speaker Bose audio system, bi-xenon headlights and attractive 19-inch alloy wheels.
The slow demise of the large four-door sedan in Australia has been accompanied by the explosion of the very sector the Mazda CX-5 has conquered. Spend any amount of time with a medium SUV and you start to get a very clear picture as to why they are so popular with buyers as the new default family car. There’s a real measure of practicality to the seating position – getting in and out is close to perfect for drivers of all heights. The second row is roomier than you might think with only really tall passengers struggling for knee room. And the luggage area, while a little tighter than we would have liked, is more than adequate for daily family duties, such as lugging prams or sets of golf clubs.
We liked the ergonomics from the driver’s seat too. The central touch screen is within easy reach and it’s clear. The steering wheel mounted controls never seem to get in the way of driving and the voice activation works well. Connecting your smartphone via the Bluetooth system is easy and the audio streaming works seamlessly. There’s been no attempt within the Mazda design brief for unnecessary flair in the cabin, rather the design is simple and functional with everything you need, and nothing you don’t.
Passengers during our test noted the lack of electric adjustment on their side and that’s one thing we think would be a smart addition to the CX-5 Akera’s kitbag. The driver’s seat gets electric adjustment, it makes sense to couple the passenger’s seat into that system too. The front seats are comfortable though, with longer drives dispatched easily and without any aches or pains. As we’ve come to expect from Mazda, there’s an underlying sense of quality to the fit, finish and execution of the cabin. It must be said though that not all the interior plastics are great, some having a harsh, hard feel to them.
Around town, the seating position affords excellent visibility and the turning circle is worthy of mention, especially if you spend a lot of time negotiating tighter streets. The compact external dimensions should make the CX-5 the perfect city SUV, but it is big enough to be a chore in really tight parking areas. The Maxx Sport model for example has no sensors and only a rear view camera, which isn’t as accurate as we’d like – you’re not always as close to the car behind as you might think.
As you’d expect, the new direct injection engine has done nothing to detract from the Mazda CX-5’s exceptional all round driving dynamics. If anything, the bigger engine has enhanced that part of the portfolio with more power and torque delivering a more relaxed, less urgent drive. The engine churns out a smooth 138kW and 250Nm, which is up from the 2.0-litre petrol engine’s 113kW and 198Nm. The extra torque is especially noticeable around town and off the mark where the CX-5 gets up to speed effortlessly.
The torque is perhaps even more relevant out on the open road when you point the CX-5 at a decent incline or ask the driveline for roll on overtaking on the freeway. The six-speed automatic is smooth shifting and decisive and even irons out some of the engine’s torque deficiencies. That can result in a higher engine rpm than you might have expected, but the ADR fuel figure of 7.4-litres/100km indicates the combination is efficient enough. Over our weeklong test, we achieved a measured 9.1-litres/100km, impressively close to the ADR claim. It’s worth noting here that despite us brimming the tank with 98RON, the Mazda CX-5 – even in top spec Akera guise – will happily run on lower grade 91RON.
Around town, in stop/start city driving, the CX-5 is in its element. Laborious driving chores are conquered with genuine ease, and there’s no argument to be made questioning the CX-5’s top dog status in the class. I ran three of my young siblings around for weekend soccer duties and the CX-5 shone brightly as the perfect family truckster.
Much has been made in previous CarAdvice tests and videos about the composed nature of the CX-5’s handling and bump absorption and team members have universally praised the steering, chassis balance and ride. Broadly, we reckon the CX-5 handles, stops and steers in a more competent fashion than any SUV has the right to. There’s more than a cursory nod to Mazda’s handling DNA under the skin, that’s for sure.
This subtle update to the CX-5 in the form of the top spec Akera model with its new engine package ensures the status quo will remain. Medium SUVs seem to be making the most sense in Australia as the family car of choice – so long as you don’t need seven seats. The CX-5 is the best of the medium SUV brigade by some margin.