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The Mazda CX-5 is not exactly a car that has slipped under anyone’s radar here at CarAdvice. Since it launched in 2012 it has consistently ranked as one of our favourite medium SUVs. Its facelift at the start of 2015 only enhanced the appeal.
Our stance to the car has long been reflected in the sales charts too. The Mazda CX-5 is, more often than not, Australia’s top-selling SUV of any sort, and almost always in the overall monthly top 10.
But the medium SUV segment just keeps on booming — no part of the new vehicle market is growing faster — and a swathe of new rivals just keep on launching. First it was the Hyundai Tucson, then the new Kia Sportage. The past few months have also brought with them updates to the Toyota RAV4, Ford Kuga and Subaru Forester.
As you can read in our recent comparison test against the Hyundai and Kia — a veritable battle of the class heavyweights — the Mazda still holds up pretty well. But the general consensus is that it’s no longer the undisputed class champion.
The car we used in the comparison test, and the one we review separately here, is the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport with the optional Safety Package, in front-wheel drive form with the base 2.0-litre petrol engine.
The reason is simple — it’s the specification that a significant number of CX-5 buyers opt for. At $32,790 plus on-road costs ($34,020 as tested), it’s not a lot of coin for a well-equipped family hauler. And for many urban dwellers, the idea of all-wheel drive is nice, but no necessity.
So what do you get? The CX-5 comes with a class-competitive equipment list including cruise control, a 7.0-inch screen with satellite navigation, Bluetooth/USB, climate control, 17-inch alloy wheels, privacy glass, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights and a five-star ANCAP rating.
It also gets upmarket niceties less common at this price point such as a very upmarket-feeling leather steering wheel, keyless start and Mazda’s version of the BMW iDrive system, called MZD Connect — a rotary dial with shortcuts that operates all of the screen’s functions.
Notable misses include the lack of leather seats, which many price-point rivals get, as well as the lack of a full-size alloy spare wheel, parking sensors (it does come with a rear-view camera, however) and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto smartphone mirroring software.
But while it misses out in these areas, Mazda’s Safety Pack is nigh-on unsurpassed. For $1230, you get blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert (you can back out of a car park and the camera warns you of oncoming traffic), an auto-dimming rear-view mirror and low-speed autonomous braking. This options pack is the definition of a no-brainer.
All told, the Mazda CX-5 still offers a compelling package. The cabin itself is just a lovely place to spend time with plenty of storage and good ergonomics. That leather wheel, the knurled switches, silver cabin inserts, expensive-looking gauges (albeit without a digital speedo) and electric parking brake all feel high-end European.
Plus, said MZD Connect system that operates the screen (which is integrated but surrounded by some of the cabin’s few cheap plastics) remains a class benchmark, and the infotainment UX is a breeze to operate. The standard six-speaker sound system is also superior to most rivals, with no obvious distortion or tinniness.
The only real CX-5 weak spot up front is the seats. We can overlook to a degree the lack of leather trim, which is not uncommon at the price, but they’re also flimsy, lack bolstering and are short in the base. Mazda’s cloth seats tend to be a little average, and these are no exception.
Rear seat space is sufficient for two adults, and the seats themselves are of acceptable comfort, though the soft front seat-backs won’t be super child-friendly. The outboard pews have ISOFIX anchors, and the Mazda has a neat seat-mounted middle seatbelt rather than the bothersome roof-mounted belts of some rivals. But there are no rear air vents, and no rear USB or 12-volt inputs.
Cargo space with the rear seats in use is a claimed 403 litres, which is enough for four big suitcases stacked in pairs, expanding to an above-average 1560L with the middle seats folded.
The Mazda also has the class-best cargo cover, because it clips to the tailgate, and is one of few in the class with levers in the cargo area to drop the middle seats (it even drops them 40:20:40 individually), meaning you don’t have to walk around the car to perform this task. Gold.
Under the bonnet is a small 2.0-litre SkyActiv engine familiar from the Mazda 3. It makes a modest 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm, but then again, the CX-5’s kerb weight of 1491kg is light for the class, which counts in the Mazda’s favour.
It’s a surprisingly willing engine once you overcome the loud and tinny initial idle. It delivers its torque to the front wheels in a linear and immediate fashion and has a half-decent mid-range under revs. It’s not going to win any drag races, but for urban duties it’s absolutely fine. Still, it's also never exactly 'zoom zoom'.
Its claimed fuel use of 6.4 litres per 100km is among the best in the class. We managed high 7s, but we’d note that this still beat the Tucson and Sportage in our comparison. The towing capacity is listed as 1800kg braked, but it’d be slow going.
For those want some extra grunt, an extra $3000 gets you a Maxx Sport with a 138kW/250Nm 2.5 petrol engine and AWD, and a further $3200 on top of that gets you the 129kW/420Nm diesel option.
Matched to the engine is a six-speed automatic gearbox, which is among the cleverest around. It’s non-intrusive and decisive in urban work, and if you flick the car into its sports mode, gets notably aggressive and eager to downshift if you want to tackle some corners.
In typical Mazda fashion, the CX-5 is a fairly dynamic drive, with a little more steering resistance (weight) than some, and a keen-ness to turn-in. Its chassis is balanced, its body control hatch-like, and its ride firm without being uncomfortable — though it isn’t quite as cosseting as a Tucson.
There’s still a little excess road noise, though sound-deadening was improved as part of the MY15 update. This only becomes pronounced at highway speeds on coarser chip roads, however.
From an ownership perspective, the Mazda comes with a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Mazda standard roadside assistance costs $68.10 per year, while its premium roadside assistance adds benefits such as accommodation, a rental car, or vehicle recovery, at a cost of $83.50 per year - most other brands don't charge for roadside care. It also comes with lifetime capped-price servicing, with maintenance due every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever occurs first (that's more regular than some competitors, too).
All told, the Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport is still an outstanding buy, especially with the Safety Pack. If you’re just ambling around the city, the 2.0-litre and FWD combination will suffice. If you can find the extra $3000, the 2.5 with AWD is more desirable again.
As we found in our separate comparison test, the Kia Sportage provides extremely stiff competition, but don’t think this Mazda staple has weakened with a few years under its belt. It’s still vital, and still needs to be on your shortlist.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Tom Fraser.