One of the best SUVs on the market just got better. Matt Campbell drives the 2015 Mazda CX-5.
Australia's best-selling SUV has just been updated, with the 2015 Mazda CX-5 bringing plenty of new equipment, technology and a revised interior to the table.
From the outside the updated Mazda CX-5 may not look too different to the model it replaces – indeed, the changes to the exterior are minor, with a revised grille, headlight inlays, bumper features, tail-light inlays, slightly different door mirrors and a marginally smaller sharkfin antenna the talking points. There are also newly designed 19-inch alloy wheels on the high-end GT and flagship Akera models we drove at the launch in Victoria this week.
But don’t let the minimal exterior tweaks fool you. There are plenty of new bits worthy of mention, namely inside – and underneath – the 2015 model car, which gets equipment enhancements and price drops across nearly every variant. Read our full pricing and specifications story here.
Starting inside the car, there are noticeable changes in terms of storage and convenience for the driver or front passenger.
The most notable change is between the front seats, with the introduction of a new, streamlined gear selector and electronic parking brake saving space between the chairs.
Also new is a revised centre console area including a reshaped storage bin and repositioned bottle holders, not to mention the Commander rotary dial controller for the new MZD Connect media screen.
That system is a simple and intuitive one, offering easy menu navigation and a clear colour screen that measures 7.0 inches in diameter – bigger than the less impressive, low resolution unit in the pre-update model.
The screen is also capacitive to touch inputs, though on one of our test vehicles this function wasn’t operational. And, while the fit and finish of the cars we drove was, on the whole, quite good, the new pressed plastic surround for the MZD screen seemed a little low rent, particularly with its imitation stitching.
Still, we managed to use the rotary dial to connect a Bluetooth phone and stream audio using the Pandora internet radio app (there’s also Stitcher and Aha capability) – but we did have some problems with the playback from a connected phone, with some glitch skipping meaning sing-alongs were stilted. Perhaps Mazda has some work to do in getting its media systems up to a better standard.
Beneath the screen the centre stack has also been tidied up, with a rethought climate control interface doing away with the previous red instrumentation in favour of white numbers that make it look a bit more classy.
Rounding out the major changes to the front-cabin are redesigned seats that are said to have been made more comfortable for long-distance drives, as well as larger front door pockets which can now fit more than just a bottle.
The rear seat gets a slight change, too, with a lengthier seat squab offering, according to Mazda, better comfort for those in the back seat. It is among the best in class in terms of head- and leg-room, and you’ll fit three adults across the back pew. Frustratingly, however, there are still no rear air vents.
In the models we tested the rear seat folded 40/20/40, which makes stowing items such as skis or snowboards easy, and the smallish 403-litre boot retains its nifty flip-down triggers for the back chairs that allow you to liberate up to 1560L of cargo capacity. There are ISOFIX anchor points and top-tether harness holders, too.
Mazda says it has improved NVH – noise, vibration and harshness – levels inside the cabin, and on our road loop we certainly found it quieter at higher speeds than the model it replaces. The redesigned wing mirrors are said to be sleeker, while the glass is thicker, and there is more insulation between the engine compartment and the cabin, as well as more under the carpet.
Aside from some extra sound deadening, nothing much has changed under the bonnet of the CX-5. The majority of our time was spent in the bulk-selling 2.5-litre petrol automatic with all-wheel drive.
That four-cylinder unit produces 138kW at 5700rpm and 250Nm at 4000rpm, and by those peak output zones alone there’s no denying this is an engine that works better with revs on board.
It isn’t sluggish from down low, but in D it certainly can’t be called sprightly either. The engine does rev freely and with nice linearity, though, and while it can be a little noisy (despite the extra noise-killing material) under heavy load, it is willing enough.
There’s a new trick with the petrol models, too – a Sport mode switch sits alongside the shifter, capable of giving the CX-5 sharper throttle response and making the transmission hold gears longer, allowing the driver to spend more time where the powerplant is at its most effective.
Fuel consumption remains a highlight for the CX-5 2.5-litre, with the claim staying stable at 7.4 litres per 100 kilometres. Our fuel use on test displayed at 8.4L/100km across a mix of urban, country, twisty and highway roads.
The CX-5 is also known for its dynamic prowess – we’ve regularly heaped praise upon the Japanese SUV for living up to the company’s “Zoom, Zoom” fun to drive mantra.
The new model is no different in terms of cornering capability, with nice steering response, good cornering balance and a reasonably comfortable ride on less-than-perfect B-road surfaces.
The 2015 model car’s revised dampers may have been designed to improve the flatness of the car through bends, but we found the urban ride comfort somewhat lacking. This was no doubt due in part to the 19-inch wheels with Toyo 225-aspect 55-profile tyres, but we found it could pogo over oscillating bumps and also thump over larger potholes.
The Akera model has a lane-keeping assistance system (LAS) uses a camera to monitor the road ahead and electronically intervenes with the steering to assist the driver in keeping centred in their lane. It does work well on slight curves, but the system will apply torque to the wheel, sometimes at inopportune moments, which can be disconcerting. Thankfully the system has an ‘off’ switch.
The levels of safety on offer across the range is worthy of accolade. Mazda is giving buyers of the more affordable Maxx and Maxx Sport the choice of adding blind spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and Smart City Brake Support (forward collision warning and auto-braking) for a reasonable $1230 asking price.
The Akera we drove also had all of that and more, including a competent radar cruise control system, a kerb-view camera and automated low-speed braking when in reverse – very clever.
In terms of ownership, Mazda’s lifetime Service Select program requires maintenance be undertaken every 10,000km.
So where a competitor – such as a Hyundai ix35 – may need services every 15,000km or 12 months, the average Mazda owner (according to the brand) will need to see their dealer every nine months. The costs are reasonable, at least, averaging out at $312.50 per 10,000km. Mazda offers a three-year, unlimited kilometre warranty.
We’ll reserve our judgement on the ride comfort for our garage review – as well as a model with more rough-road-friendly rubber – but there’s no denying with the facelifted CX-5, Mazda has taken something that is already entirely competent and managed to make it even more impressive.