Mazda CX-5 2020 akera turbo (awd)

REVISIT: 2020 Mazda CX-5 review – Off-road traction assist

Rating: 8.2
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April 2020: The ever-popular Mazda CX-5 gained a few tweaks this year, not least of which a better off-road traction program. So how does the urban favourite deal with a non-urban landscape? James hits the trails to find out!
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Refine. Repeat. Refine. Repeat.

This is the approach taken to the rollout of the mild updates on the 2020 Mazda CX-5 range. Still a sales powerhouse (second in the medium SUV category to date – 5562 units, behind Toyota RAV4 at 8656), the CX-5 has been ‘enhanced’ rather than changed for the new model year.

Additions to the safety suite, refinements to sound deadening and the inclusion of the Off-Road Traction Assist function in AWD models, simply improve one of Australia’s most popular vehicles. You get a snazzy new keyfob too, and all of this comes at a very minor cost increase, just $200 per model across the lineup.

Things like the rear seat accommodation, cabin fit and finish and 442/1342-litre cargo space haven't changed, which is both good and bad, but if a CX-5 by nature is new to you, we have a number of places where you can get to know the mid-sized Mazda in words, pictures and video.

You can also read our detailed price and specification breakdown for the MY20 CX-5 range here.

As for this review, we’ll be taking a closer look at how the Mazda performs in a wider touring mode, taking in both a longer country tour as well as some unsealed tracks to put its new ‘off-road’ ability to the test.

Our drive car was the range-topping Akera AWD with the Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine. The $200 price bump sees this now sit in the showroom for $50,830 before options and on-road costs.

Like most Mazdas, ours is finished in Soul Red Crystal Metallic ($495 option), which is now one of nine choices, as the blueish-grey ‘T-1000’ Polymetal Grey Metallic now joins the spread. You can see this in some of the photos that make up this story. It’s a cool colour – and if you are like me, a cool name to say in Arnie’s Austrian accent – but in my opinion, better suited to the sporty Mazda 3 hatch than the CX-5.

Also of note, one of the changes to the MY20 range is only available in cars with the Skyactiv-G 2.5-litre non-turbo motor. A cylinder deactivation function to improve touring fuel consumption now shows in the fuel economy application on the MZD Connect infotainment screen.

This essentially turns off cylinder one and four during light-load situations, like highway-speed cruising. The result, a reduction in mechanical resistance and overall fuel use, with the system operating imperceptibly to the driver. The MZD update is a display in the fuel consumption menu screen showing what is happening – a visual feedback loop, if you will.

While on MZD Connect, the entry-level Maxx now receives the same 8-inch screen as the rest of the range.

It’s a good system, and reasonably intuitive to use – although I refuse to refer to it as a touch screen, as the touch operation only works when the vehicle is stationary. No biggy for most functions, as the rotary dial and menu buttons are easy to use, but what if you feel like using the Apple CarPlay or Android Auto device projection?

Quick summary? It’s a pain.

The Apple interface was designed to be used in a touch scenario, and so using the wheel to find and select options is a lot less intuitive and more time consuming than just reaching out to tap the screen. I’d argue it makes it more distracting this way.

My solution was to ditch CarPlay and revert to the native system, which doesn’t so much solve as avoid the problem. Worth noting too is that the interface hasn't changed, despite the newer cars like CX-30 receiving a nicer implementation 'skin', which seems like a lost opportunity to modernise the focal point of the car's interior.

Our launch run took in freeway sections and country touring roads where, in my mind, the most important update to the CX-5 was able to be understood. Increased sound deadening.

All models receive improved insulation to the headliner, which now uses new materials to better absorb low frequency noise, by a factor of 10 percent. I know, right?!

In the 2.5-Turbo, the upgrades extend to the exhaust silencer and rigidity of the spare-tyre pan to further reduce the ‘booming’ from the exhaust when you lift off the throttle.

All very scientific, and while Mazda claim a 3dB decrease, without the cars to compare back to back, I can’t really substantiate. Rest assured I’ve already reached out to Mazda to arrange to perform a back-to-back noise test. Stay tuned!

That said, it did seem a lot quieter. Cleaner asphalt experiences are no longer crushed by tyre roar and wind noise, coarse-chip roads are still loud but with less echo. There’s a new vibration damper on the steering wheel to help reduce physical vibrations and amplify the sensation of a smoother driving experience too.

The CX-5 has always been a good corner-carving family tourer, the 2.5-turbo offering 170kW at 5000pm and 420Nm at 2000rpm, meaning solid response in all gears and a bit of top end should you need to overtake.

It’s all much of a muchness around town, but on the open road the car sits between 80 and 100km/h very happily, and is poised and balanced through the bends. Arguably you could push it harder than the family would enjoy, should you be so inclined, but keeping it in the 6-to-7 tenths range continues to offer a pleasant driving experience.

Fuel use is above Mazda’s claim, with my touring thirst at 8.8L/100km to their 6.9L/100km listed figure. Methinks there must have been a few downhill stretches for Mazda’s brochure writers. A days-end result of 9.1L/100km to a combined cycle claim of 8.2L/100km is again high, particularly as not one metre of my journey was spent in stop-start urban confines.

If trips to the bowser are of primary concern to you, then I’d suggest the 140kW 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel option, as there is still no hybrid choice in the Mazda showroom.

The long list of driver assistance features that have adorned the CX-5 for some time all work well in a touring environment. The adaptive cruise control is easy to set and manage, the blind spot warnings clear and the lane keep assistant accurate but unobtrusive. The AEB (called Smart City Brake in Mazda town) now comes with a night-time pedestrian detection capability.

But enough of winding tarmac, the buzz about the 2020 CX-5 is a revised traction control program called ‘Off-Road Traction Assist’, which will work its way onto the rest of the AWD CX family in due course.

The system, which we’ll call ORTA for short is, for all intents, an electronic rear differential lock. The action is quite simple: if you have somehow managed to position yourself at the Woolies carpark with a free-spinning diagonally opposite front and rear wheel, the standard differential will keep the wheels turning and you sitting still for as long as it takes.

Now, just tap the ORTA button on the dash, the car will figure out which of the rear wheels need traction, and applies power there. And before you can say tickety boo, you are back on your way.

To demonstrate this in an unfamiliar environment to most CX-5s, we hit some slushy rainforest tracks and got the car nice and dirty.

What was perhaps more impressive than the ORTA system though, was that the CX-5 didn’t actually need it for the majority of the drive. The Mazda team even boasted they needed to dig some holes to help get the cars stuck, as the 193mm ground clearance on the Akera (185mm on other models due to the smaller wheel diameter) is enough to see it happily trundle along all but extreme washouts on our light-duty track.

You can watch a cool 360-degree video of our jaunt through the Toolangi State Forest to see just where the Soul Red explorer ventured too.

Keep in mind that this was a marked road, close to civilisation, so don’t think the poor CX was being thrown into the off-roading deep end. The long and low nose of the CX-5 only offers a 17-degree approach angle, but the 22.5-degree departure angle is not far off some ‘proper’ four wheelers.

If you recall, in our 2019 medium SUV off-road mega-test, the Mazda surprised and impressed the CarAdvice team for just how capable it was right out of the box. This function only enhances that ability.

When we did manage to get the Mazda stuck, the ORTA system worked faultlessly to keep things moving again. Being electronic, there’s no delay to wait for mechanical gearing to wind in or out, just click and drive. It’s not something that you’ll use all that often (unless you royally mess up that park at Woolies), but it’s a capability enhancement that might just come in handy – better to have and not need than need and not have, as they say.

As an enhancement to the already proven second-generation CX-5, these refinements come as a worthy update to one of Australia’s favourite SUVs. No need for a major overhaul, just a tweak here and there, to keep the model at the front of buyers minds, and top of sales charts.

Personally, I’d drive all engine variants in the grade you like, to see which one best suits your needs and fuel consumption expectations. Given there are 14 CX-5 options to choose from, there’s bound to be one that works.

The Akera 2.5-litre turbo petrol model has 10,000km service intervals and costs $348 for the first and third service and $378 for the second. There's a five-year unlimited warranty across the range and, if you purchase using Mazda's finance products, you may be eligible for a guaranteed future value commitment.

We look forward to spending some more time with various trim and engine combos over the next few months, so let us know if there is something you would like us to explore in more detail.

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