The Mazda CX-5 has been Australia’s most popular SUV for the past five years, and the Japanese brand seems determined to make it six. After releasing the second-generation CX-5 in 2017, it has already introduced an update for 2018.
It’s just a minor one for now, with some tweaks to pricing, technology and engines, though everything counts in the hugely competitive medium-SUV segment that includes powerhouse nameplates such as the Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4.
The battle is not just at the lower and middle pricing areas of these SUVs, either. Mazda, for example, estimates its two most expensive CX-5s – the GT and Akera – will combined account for 43 per cent of the model’s overall sales.
The range-topping Akera that’s our focus here starts from $46,190, after Mazda pared $800 from its starting price as part of the MY18 update. That positions it $2600 above the GT – a premium that brings extra tech, including a new-for-2018 surround view (360-degree) camera.
The Akera will also adjust your distance to the vehicle ahead on freeways (adaptive cruise), monitor the driver for potential fatigue (Driver Attention Alert), help keep you in your lane or help prevent you wandering out of it (Lane Departure Warning and Lane-Keep Assist), help avoid dazzling other road users at night (adaptive LED headlights), aid parking (side camera), and brake autonomously if necessary at higher speed (Smart Brake Support).
Carried over from other variants is low-speed autonomous emergency braking, blind-spot monitoring, speed-limit sign recognition, and windscreen-projected head-up display.
The MZD Connect touchscreen infotainment system is complemented by digital radio, navigation and (from the GT) a superb-sounding 10-speaker, 249-watt Bose audio. Intuitive operation of the MZD system is aided by the rotary dial/joystick and surrounding shortcut buttons on the centre console – and the only way of selecting functions on the move as the touchscreen is locked out.
The 7.0-inch display is small by today’s standards, though the graphics are neat enough and the camera image sharp and clear for the rear-view and surround-view cameras.
The Akera’s black leather upholstery, with electrically adjustable front seats, contributes to an upmarket look and feel, along with plenty of soft-touch plastics, gloss-black surrounds, and faux-wood trim inserts. All side windows can be raised/lowered with a single touch, too.
On the practical side, there are wide door bins up front, a storage compartment beneath the centre stack, cupholders, and a usefully sized console bin featuring a tray, 12V socket and USB/AUX ports.
Mazda also acknowledges smartphones will be used in the rear seat: lifting the lid on the rear centre armrest reveals another two USB ports and a felt-lined tray to store devices.
Rear-seat leg room isn’t as generous as head room, but will accommodate taller passengers with sufficient knee space, and there’s good under-thigh support from the bench. Rear air vents are another improvement – along with cabin presentation – over the original CX-5.
Boot space also improves, to 442L, though only marginally, and leaves the Mazda trailing the cargo volume of many rivals. Luggage capacity increases to 1342L with the 40-20-40 rear seats folded via super-handy release levers.
The boot, featuring an automatic tailgate, includes a cargo blind, side compartments, flip-out tie-downs and a 12V socket. A temporary spare wheel sits beneath the boot floor.
If the CX-5’s interior space isn’t class-leading, it remains one of the best medium-sized SUVs to drive. It offers genuine enthusiasm for corners with its willing turn-in and composed road-holding backed by nicely modulated brakes.
The Mazda’s suspension also flows nicely across typical country roads – when coarser surfaces confirm the Japanese brand has succeeded at improving its notorious tyre-noise issues. Those relatively big 19-inch wheels can just bring a touch of sharpness to the Akera’s ride around town at lower speeds, though it’s comfortable most of the time.
CX-5 Akera buyers are offered the choice of petrol or diesel power, though the latter attracts a $3000 premium.
The 2.2-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel is the best engine in the CX-5 range – and improved for 2018 with increased power and refinement – but the 140kW/252Nm 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit remains a solid pick.
While it lacks the pulling power of the 400Nm diesel (a fact reinforced when more people and cargo are aboard), the petrol engine doesn’t feel underpowered like the 2.0-litre petrol found in lower-spec CX-5s. It likes to rev and sounds good doing so, providing more than adequate performance for everyday driving as well as overtaking on the open road.
The six-speed auto also deserves praise as it shifts smoothly and is quick to ensure the best gear is selected. A Sport switch increases throttle response if so desired.
It can’t match the diesel’s fuel economy, though the introduction of cylinder deactivation improves the petrol’s official consumption from 7.5 to 7.4 litres per 100km. The system reduces the engine to two working cylinders when there’s only light throttle use.
CX-5 resale values have generally been strong ever since the nameplate arrived in 2012, helped by its huge popularity, and in August the Japanese brand topped its third successive JD Power Customer Service Satisfaction survey.
There was more good ownership news for 2018 when Mazda Australia announced its factory warranty was switching from three to five years.
Servicing costs still have room for improvement. A $1596 total cost across five years via a capped-price servicing program is actually competitive, though Mazda limits annual mileage between services to 10,000km whereas 15,000km is the norm.
Roadside assistance is also extra – if only from $99 per year – whereas some rivals include it as part of warranty or servicing.
Overall, there’s plenty of value to be found in this CX-5 Akera, even at this higher end of the medium-SUV spectrum. Competitors struggle to match the Mazda’s expansive list of technological features, whether you consider – for example – the slightly more expensive Volkswagen Tiguan 162TSI Highline (from $49,490) or the slightly cheaper Kia Sportage GT-Line petrol ($43,490).
The 2.5-litre turbo petrol engine from the CX-9 would just help to give the range-topping CX-5 the performance to at least match the Tiguan. Mazda Australia has already indicated a desire to see that engine in its second most popular model (after the Mazda 3), though nothing is confirmed yet and it may set up a new flagship variant instead.
For now, the top-of-the-line Mazda CX-5 combines a smart cabin ambience with an impressive array of active safety, and a satisfying driving experience, to sit at the pointy end of the medium-SUV class.