2018 Mazda CX-5 review

Mazda has given the CX-5 a tweak: pumping up the diesel to 450Nm, putting fuel-saving cylinder deactivation on the petrol, and adding extra gear to luxury versions - in return for lower pricing. A solid upgrade for the number-one seller.

Given the second generation of Mazda’s uber successful CX-5 only hit showrooms in March of last year, changes hardly seem necessary. But with the SUV market in constant flux, the company has made them anyway.

While the updates aren’t huge - price cuts of between $400 and $800, petrol and diesel engine enhancements, and additional cabin tech - they’re worthwhile, and should help it keep fellow top-sellers such as the Nissan X-Trail at bay.

While the CX-5 doesn’t offer the biggest boot or most capacious back seats in class (those mantles belong to the Volkswagen Tiguan and Honda CR-V) it remains a well-equipped, premium-feeling option sold through a lauded dealer network.

It’s number one in the sales charts for a reason…

The big story on this MY18 CX-5 is the more powerful 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine option which, while only expected to account for 15 per cent of the 2000-unit per month overall sales tally, serves as the flagship power source in lieu of a turbocharged petrol, like the 2.5t in its bigger CX-9.

In short, the diesel donk has more rapid multi-stage combustion (necessitating revised combustion chamber and injectors), plus a new two-stage quick-spool twin-turbocharger with variable turbine geometry, and a slightly higher 14.4-to-one combustion ratio.

The result is a hike in peak power from 129kW to 140kW, and a maximum torque increase from 420Nm to 450Nm – at 2000rpm. For context, the diesel offering in Audi’s premium Q5 SUV has only 400Nm at peak.

Mazda also claims to have improved NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) suppression by putting a dynamic damper in each piston pin, and overlapping the frequency ‘valley’ of combustion vibrations with peak frequencies of resonating parts, and in so doing cancelling out vibrations/knock.

It’s also cut fuel use to 5.7L/100km (down 0.3L) on the combined cycle, if you drive very carefully.

Okay, you’re already bored. The long and short of things is the fact that this engine remains extremely refined, with deadened noise through the firewall and almost no vibrations to your hands/seat, and offers a solid wall of pulling power not far above idle. It’s quite probably best-in-class. You’d barely know what fuel it uses…

On the petrol side, Mazda has added unobtrusive cylinder deactivation on the 140kW/252Nm 2.5 petrol engine to slightly reduce fuel use – basically when the engine’s load is low, you’re running on two cylinders – while the base 2.0-litre petrol engine gets the most minor power hike, up 1kW to 115kW. The base engine battles a touch. Both can run on 91 RON.

The 2.5 petrol and the diesel come exclusively with an on-demand AWD system that only engages the rear wheels when the onboard computers sense slip at the front, while the 2.0 engine comes with FWD and a manual gearbox option that accounts for a hilarious 2 per cent of sales.

All bar the base Maxx come with a standard six-speed automatic transmission with torque converter and an aggressively downshifting sports mode option, maximising smoothness and linear response in return for slightly less crisp rolling response compared to a Volkswagen DSG. Probably an ideal balance.

Dynamically it remains as before, meaning greatly improved road roar and wind suppression over the original 2012-16 CX-5, typically decent chassis balance, inert (but low-resistance) steering and typically good ride quality that rounds off sharp inputs even when fighting against the higher-grades’ 19-inch wheels/slim rubber.

Other tweaks include the addition of a 360-degree overhead camera view in addition to the rear-view camera, on the top-of-the-range Akera. On top of this, all grades from Touring upwards get a new head-up display that projects onto the windscreen rather than the crappy old flip-up separate glass screen.

More impressively, despite the improvements, Mazda has also cut pricing largely across the 12-variant range: the Maxx Sport and Touring drop $400, while the GT and Akera are $800 less.

Mazda remains a leader when it comes to creating cabin ambience, with higher grades getting tasteful leather and faux wood inserts, and all grades coming with its rotary dial controller touchscreen that apes BMW. Still no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto though.

The back seats aren't as capacious as some class leaders, though two teenagers will be right at home, nor is the 442-litre boot anything to write home about. If you want maximum cargo storage then look elsewhere. The huge sales Mazda manages every month suggest many buyers care not at all.

MORE: 2018 Mazda CX-5 pricing and specs

There aren't any equipment changes beyond those flagged, but the spec breakdown looks a little like this:

The $28,690-$33,690 (depending on engine) petrol-only Maxx gets cheap 17-inch steel wheels, LED headlights, power folding mirrors, 7.0-inch screen with MZD Connect, DAB+, push-button start, rear parking sensors, reversing camera and excellent safety extras such as blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and forward/reverse AEB.

There are also six airbags and a five-star ANCAP crash rating against the 2017 test sequence.

A jump to the $33,990-$39,990 Maxx Sport gets you extra kit such as satellite-navigation, 17-inch alloy wheels, climate control and a rear-seat armrest with USB points. This version also introduces the diesel option, and offers both the 2.0/FWD and 2.5 petrol/AWD drivetrains.

Then there's the next trio, all of which remains 2.5 petrol/2.2 diesel only, both AWD.

The $38,590-$41,590 Touring adds the new head-up display, fake suede/leather seats, proximity key fob, front sensors and a traffic sign recognition system. Next, the $43,590-$46,590 GT adds much nicer-looking 19-inch alloys, electric tailgate, sunroof, leather seats and a crisper sound system made by Bose

Finally, the flagship $46,190-$49,190 Akera adds that 360-degree monitor (much crisper than Nissan/Mitsubishi's, thanks we presume to a half-decent lens), adaptive LED headlights, radar-activated adaptive cruise, lane assist that nudges you between the lines (only sometimes, we found) and a higher-threshold forward AEB.

A diesel Akera at just under $50k before on-roads represents a pretty good luxury buy. For a full pricing table, head over here.

Interestingly, Mazda expects the high-end CX-5 GT to account for 23 per cent of sales, behind only the Maxx Sport (33 per cent). The flagship Akera is projected to make up 20 per cent of sales, the Touring 15 per cent and the price-leading Maxx just 9 per cent.

Mazda also reckons 58 per cent of the 2000-monthly sales target will be the 2.5 petrol engine with all-wheel drive, with a further 15 per cent for the revised diesel/AWD. The smaller 2.0-litre petrol and front-wheel drive combination will make up the remaining 27 per cent.

From an ownership perspective Mazda offers a three-year warranty with no distance limit. While its cars tend to be reliable (the early 2.2 diesel issues seems to have been resolved, from what we hear) and the resale values strong, we'd still like a five-year term to match Honda, Hyundai and Mitsubishi. Kia's seven-year term is an outlier.

On the upside, Mazda's national network regularly tops customer satisfaction surveys, and the company's success here has allowed it to invest heavily in helping franchise partners. Servicing intervals are a meagre 10,000km, with capped costs available here.

Look, this MY18 upgrade to the CX-5 isn't huge, but the raft of tweaks move the dial on what was already one of the better medium SUVs in the country. By staying ahead of the curve, Mazda Australia has assured its staple crossover will remain atop most people's shortlists.

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