The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport has historically been the best-selling variant within the company's hugely popular medium SUV range.
Sitting one rung above the base $3700 cheaper Maxx in the five-variant 2017 CX-5 line-up, yet priced below $35k before on-road costs, it'll be the sweet spot for many family buyers on a budget.
Yes, with the heavily revised new-generation CX-5 moving upmarket, higher-grade GT and Touring versions are expected to steal away sales, but the Maxx Sport remains an incredibly important offering.
The bigger question is whether Mazda has done enough with the second generation, 2017 CX-5 model to keep it ahead of a pack of challengers to its sales crown, led by the Hyundai Tucson, Toyota RAV4 and Nissan X-Trail, and also including the Subaru Forester, Kia Sportage and Volkswagen Tiguan.
It's a crowded segment, so should Mazda get your money for reasons beyond habit?
Despite sporting evolutionary design that means your friends may struggle to spot the difference between the old model at first, the new 2017 CX-5 is a handsome offering, blending some lovely curves and sharp bodywork together. The big grille may not appeal to all, but it sure is bold.
Our hot tip is to spend $300 to option the Soul Red or Machine Gun Grey paint, which are by far the most desirable shades.
The carried-over platform, with suspension tweaks, mean the new CX-5 is dimensionally similar to the old car, sitting on the same 2700mm wheelbase and only 10mm longer thanks to its bigger schnoz.
The new cabin certainly looks a million bucks, more mature and resolved, with a slick new floating tablet screen matched to Mazda’s MZD Connect rotary dial, chunky silver dials, tactile switches and soft touch-points.
Even the doors now ‘thunk’ a bit like a German car, thanks to Mazda’s work to minimise noise intrusion and improve refinement.
Key extra features for the initial outlay of $34,390 plus on-road costs include 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, satellite-navigation, rain-sensing wipers, auto on/off headlights and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror. None of these are on the Maxx.
This is alongside range-wide standard equipment including six airbags, autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, reversing camera, rear cross-traffic alert and all the requisite infotainment connectivity.
We like the user-experience of the infotainment and the way you can use the tablet as a touchscreen (rather than via dial) to enter directions into the sat-nav. We don’t like the slow loading times and Mazda’s continued lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration.
The Maxx Sport is also much more generous to back row passengers than the Maxx, adding rear air vents and a flip-down armrest and USB point for these occupants. You also get your own reading lights, though they aren’t LED, which feels a little anachronistic. Hmm.
Rear 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 (despite a 30mm lower body height) and toe-room are sufficient, the door apertures are wide and there are two ISOFIX anchors.
It’s disappointing however that on no variant do the rear seats slide, or recline as readily, as they do in a Tiguan.
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. Also, a temporary spare wheel only.
If sheer practicality for the money is your biggest desire, then the Volkswagen Tiguan or Honda CR-V — old as that latter car now is — are better bets. Mazda's massive CX-5 sales tell us that many buyers either don't know, or care.
Interestingly, the Maxx Sport is the only variant of the five on offer to be available with all three engines in the CX-5 line-up.
The base $34,390 version's engine is a familiar 2.0-litre normally aspirated unit with a modest 114kW at 6000rpm and 200Nm at 4000rpm matched to a six-speed automatic transmission only.
Claimed 91 RON fuel use is 6.9 litres per 100km, and in typical Mazda form, is actually nearly achievable. The 2.0-litre version comes standard as a front-wheel drive car.
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.
For another $3000 you can upgrade to the more popular $37,390 2.5-litre normally aspirated petrol unit now making 140kW at 6000rpm and 251Nm at 4000rpm, (up 2kW/1Nm) available with the automatic transmission.
It also comes with grippier on-demand all-wheel drive (not available on the base Maxx) that can send torque to the rear axle when the front wheels slip, ideal for adventurous buyers. Claimed 91 RON fuel use is 7.5 litres per 100km.
The engine has quite strong rolling response, as reflected by the high engine speed at which peak torque arrives, though the clever 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.
Rounding out the range is the 129kW (at 4500rpm) and 420Nm (at 2000rpm) 2.2-litre turbo-diesel, in six-speed auto and AWD form only. This engine uses 6.0L/100km on the combined cycle and is easily the best to drive.
It’s more effortless but really only makes sense for buyers doing high mileage, though its 1800kg braked-towing legal maximum is no greater, and at $40,390 that $3000 price premium is simply too high to be good value.
The engine variance offers up a conundrum. You can have a less powerful but better-equipped FWD 2.0-litre CX-5 Maxx Sport or a lesser-equipped by more powerful, and AWD, CX-5 Maxx for similar money (the latter costs $700 less). Tough call...
Dynamically, the turn-in is 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 17-inch alloys shod in Yokohama tyres look great and offer more noise and bump isolation than the GT and Akera's 19s, though the springs and dampers are tuned to be form to maximise body control, or reduce roll and pitch.
A Tucson is more cosseting over bad B-roads than the Mazda, but the CX-5 remains a car-like offering that matches the company's zoom-zoom brand.
Thankfully Mazda has also 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.
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.
You can find Mazda's advertised servicing prices here, which vary by engine.
All told, the CX-5 Maxx Sport makes sense if you have the extra few grand in your pocket. Additions such as alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav and rear air vents/USB plug are key features for family buyers, and it's a rung above the cut-price special.
We hate to play Mazda's game and urge you to spend more money, but the mid-range $38,990 CX-5 Touring costs a reasonable $1600 more in 2.5 guise and adds a dinky head-up display (the only way to get a digital speedo, annoyingly) keyless entry, artificial leather/suede seats, and traffic sign recognition.
That car is the real pick of the range.
Yet whatever the case, the new 2017 Mazda CX-5 sticks to the proven formula that made the old car such a massive seller, but adds more sophisticated design, improved cabin ambience and still makes a strong enough value case for a vaguely upmarket offering.
Many buyers will opt for the Maxx Sport, and it's a strong offering. However, if you have the cash to pony up for the 2.5-litre AWD, consider the Touring version instead.