Mazda loves that ‘new year, new me’ optimism. What’s not to love? A little optimism goes a long way.
In the case of the CX-5 medium SUV, the ‘new year’ means this year’s model comes with a couple of tiny revisions. Maybe not quite enough to have you lamenting if you bought last year’s model, but there to keep things fresh all the same.
As far as visual cues go, there aren’t any, and the 2020 Mazda CX-5 Akera turbo tested here keeps the same engine as before, though there’s also the option of a non-turbo model or a diesel, if you’d prefer.
The standout new feature is an ‘off-road traction assist’ function for the all-wheel-drive system. This essentially locks power to all four wheels (normal operation only sends power to the rear wheels on demand), and can brake a spinning wheel to send power to wheels with traction.
There’s no doubt the CX-5’s popularity stems from its crossover appeal, but apart from the odd gravel road on the suburban fringe, upgraded off-roading seems like an odd inclusion. But if that’s your bag, we’ve made a video about it and you can watch it here.
Other teeny-tiny updates include the autonomous emergency braking system’s ability to detect pedestrians at night, steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and some natty details that attempt to isolate noise and vibration from the road for quieter cruising.
Mazda has also taken a tiny step forward upgrading the infotainment display from 7.0 to 8.0 inches in size for all variants in the range, though it’s still the ongoing MZD Connect system and not the newest Mazda Connect. The console click-wheel controller is slick in its operation on the go, and it’s handy to be able to use touch input when stopped, but the older system can still lag terribly.
It’s not unusual to find the system stuck loading navigation, locking out all other functions in the process. Long enough for me to start the car, leave my driveway, and make it through a set of traffic lights before the system comes to life.
They’ve also swapped the key out from the old compact slimline version to the newer, bulkier, flimsier-feeling new-gen key that looks like a Volvo fob, but feels like a take-away container.
Win some, lose some – I guess. Visual changes between last year’s model and this year’s are limited to a new typeface for the badges on the tailgate.
As the absolute range-topper in a chock-a-block range, the CX-5 Akera 2.5T wears a list price of $50,830, or almost 20-grand more than the cheapest model in the range, albeit with all-wheel drive, an auto transmission, and a turbo engine that the cheapest model doesn’t provide, plus much, much more equipment.
Amongst the Akera’s exclusive equipment are: adaptive LED headlights that build on the adaptive lighting of lesser models by including the ability to partially dim around oncoming traffic and a claimed further reach with highway mode; heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats; a 7.0-inch digital instrument display; nappa leather trim; frameless interior mirror; and a 360-degree camera.
Other specification highlights shared with lower-grade models include: dual-zone climate control, power tailgate, auto lights and wipers, proximity key with push-button start, 19-inch alloy wheels, adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, speed limiter, power-adjustable front seats, 10-speaker Bose audio, Apple CarPlay and Android auto, digital radio, and satellite navigation.
The CX-5’s turbo engine is shared with the bigger CX-9 and offers a decent uptick in outputs of 170kW and 420Nm compared to the non-turbo 2.5 rated at 140kW and 252Nm. Mazda claims the CX-5 turbo will use 8.2L/100km and happily accept 91RON petrol, and during a week of very light traffic, the trip computer settled on 8.8L/100km.
While it might seem a little old-hat against rivals with ever-climbing gear counts, Mazda’s six-speed automatic is at least smooth and sensible. No rough changes, hesitation or jerkiness around town, and sensible enough with downshifts at speed for overtaking or to keep pace uphill.
In reality, the engine does more of the work than the transmission will ever need to, but barely breaks a sweat doing so. With a diesel-like 420Nm, there’s plenty of mid-range shove to keep things moving smartly. It’s subtly swift, but no hot hatch in disguise.
Because of years of negative attention around road noise, Mazda has stuffed even more sound-absorbing materials into the CX-5. While the interior may not be library-like on the freeway, it’s close, and there’s only ever a murmur of tyre rumble at highway speeds.
The turbo engine is mostly quiet and smooth around town, but if you plant your foot, the tone changes to an almost sporty induction rumble. It’s never coarse or strained, but with the best of its ability delivered in the strong mid-range, it feels happiest there.
Overall, the on-road demeanour is a little on the firm side, but without the tautness found in some Euro SUVs. Aussie roads like a bit of rough and tumble, and the CX-5 does a decent job of disguising the worst of it while still letting you know what’s going on underneath.
You get responsive steering at low speeds to make parking easy. As speeds rise, the CX-5 strikes a nice balance of feeling settled without becoming numb, and the overall impression is more agile and connected than your typical SUV fare.
That fits well with the brand’s play as a near-premium contender. From inside the cabin, the fit, finish, texture and tactility of the interior feel impressive.
The soft, fine-grain nappa leather is leaps and bounds ahead compared to the faux-leather you’d find in a similarly priced Mercedes or BMW, and the buttons, switches and dials all click, turn or operate with a solid syrupy heft.
It’s a nice place to be, and if your drive to and from the office is one that requires solid stints of sitting in crawling or stationary traffic, you may as well be doing so in a calm and comfortable interior, right?
The front seats can feel a little narrow, and the base lacks length so long-legged drivers may not find all the under-thigh support they need. There’s still a broad range of adjustment for seat and steering wheel, though, so most can find a suitable seat.
Although configured to seat three, the rear bench is ideal for two, and the backrest can be reclined slightly to kick back on longer trips, too. Amongst mid-size competitors, the CX-5 is hardly the most spacious, knee room can be tight, but there’s enough under-seat space that you can push your feet forward and stretch out a little.
Fold down the centre armrest and the lidded armrest hosts USB charge points and heated rear seat controls. Certainly a tidy solution, but a bit tricky to access with a full load of passengers. There are air vents at the back of the console, too, for year-round rear seat comfort, but no separate temp control for the rear like you’d find in a Volkswagen Tiguan.
The boot provides a nice deep space to fill, with a level lower lip to make loading and unloading easier. There’s 442L of space to the back seats with a cargo-blind that attaches to the tailgate to keep itself out of the way, plus the rear seats can be folded from levers at the side of the boot to reveal up to 1342L of capacity.
Safety has long been on Mazda’s agenda, so it comes as no surprise to find driver-attention monitoring, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keep assist with departure warning, forward and reverse AEB, and traffic sign recognition amongst the standard features.
Disappointingly, the 360-degree camera system is delivered in misaligned low resolution and portrayed in postage-stamp size on the centre display, making it of no real benefit. Given how crystal clear rival systems can be, it's a stand-out disappointment.
Service visits are set every 12 months or 10,000km, which means big-distance drivers might be back to their dealer inside of an annual stop-in. Prices apply to basic servicing in an ‘odds and evens’ pattern: $347 for your first, third and fifth service, $378 for your second and fourth with additional charges for brake fluid, air filter and cabin filter.
Expect to pay $2092 in total for the first five services, with extras included. Mazda also provides a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Ultimately, the CX-5 Akera provides a sophisticated option amongst a packed market full of similarly sized and specified alternatives.
A Toyota RAV4 Cruiser might match if for equipment, but can’t deliver the same plush feel. A Mitsubishi Outlander Exceed frees up more space and hones in on value, but is no performance match. And so it goes, though CR-V, Forester, X-Trail, 3008, Tucson, Koleos and more.
Each comes close to either the CX-5’s swish contemporary luxury or its broadly muscular performance, but not both. Many exceed its passenger real estate, though few can match its amenities.
The Mazda CX-5 Akera ends up somewhere between mainstream SUVs of a similar size and those wearing prestige badges. It may not carry the badge cred of a Benz or BMW, but can certainly embarrass those upmarket marques when it comes to standard equipment.
Bargain-hungry buyers may not be best served by the high-spec fully loaded CX-5 Akera, but discerning value-motivated shoppers are sure to be charmed by Mazda’s approachable premiumness.