At the outset, I should confess that I am not the demographic buyer of a Mazda CX-5. At the time of purchase (about 12 months ago), I was a 28-year-old, (partnered) male. As I understand it, your average CX-5 buyer, at least as stereotypes go, is a mum who spends much time ferrying kids between sports matches and shopping.
I ordered my white 2017 CX-5 (Akera – the top-spec one) before they had hit the roads, trading in my 2013 black Mazda 6 Atenza (again, also the top-spec model). I loved my Mazda 6, but was after a new car given I was about to hit the 100,000km mark, and something that would fit with my more active lifestyle than a large sedan.
My key criteria focused on: some off-roading ability, radar cruise control, heated seats, and enough storage for weeklong camping trips with two dogs and a couple of mates. After extensive research, I narrowed the options down to a handful. Based on my desktop and test-drive investigations, I narrowed the choices down to the Nissan X-Trail, Ford Escape and Jeep Cherokee.
At the time, Nissan had not rolled out its current, much more attractive internal fit-outs. My recollection is also that the X-Trail came with a CVT gearbox (not a traditional automatic shifting system), an instant deal-breaker for me. The Cherokee is just too ugly. And the Ford? Assuming I could get over what I find a visually offensive interior layout, there was just nothing about it I could get excited about.
In all circumstances, there was really only one option that offered the lot: the CX-5. Ultimately, the deal-makers were the active-safety features – radar cruise control, autonomous emergency breaking, and lane-keeping assist – that only the Mazda offered at the time of purchase.
So 18 months on, what’s the wrap? I love the CX-5 and am thrilled with the choice, even if I am still outside the stereotypical purchaser!
Starting with the positives, which will be most of the review, the CX-5 is a hoot to drive. The only 'modifications' I have made to the Akera have been the addition of Mazda roof-racks, two Whispbar bike racks, the addition of the metal sports pedals, and deep-tray plastic off-road floor mats.
So, turning to the car, despite sitting with a reasonably commanding ride height, it is a dynamic and engaging drive. The engine has plenty of grunt, which has felt sufficient, including overtaking on the open road with two bikes or a kayak on the roof and a car packed to the rafters with people and camping gear. The steering is responsive and fun to toss around corners when the car is empty. The only hints of understeer have come at low speed when putting the boot in to pass someone taking off outrageously slowly at the lights.
On unsealed roads, the ride is very comfortable, with only big potholes or very uneven surfaces causing any discomfort. Similarly, the CX-5 has proven surprisingly capable off-road for use on camping adventures and getting to out-of-the-way mountain bike tracks and hikes. I have (cautiously) taken the car on a few 4x4 tracks in the Grampians National Park to get to hiking locations and on some semi-soft sand locations. I have also taken a handful of tracks for short cuts to campsites at Lerderderg National Park without any difficulties.
The important thing to remember is that the CX-5’s ground clearance is not great (which is why it handles so well on-road), and care must taken when heading off the beaten track. Of all of these adventures, the only harm that has come has been a dislodged wheel arch (replacement $400). On balance, off-road requirements accomplished.
Where the CX-5 truly comes into its own, though, is on the open road. After becoming accustomed to radar (adaptive/active – whatever you want to call it!) cruise control on my Mazda 6, the technology became a prerequisite for my new car. Having driven a few mates' cars with this technology (Lexus, Mitsubishi, Ford), the Mazda is a real standout.
It can gently monitor the car in front at any speed (yes, I often lazily use it cruising from one side of Melbourne to the other) and come to a complete halt behind them when they stop. In combination with the active lane-keep assist that gently pushes the car back into the lane at freeway speeds, the car is an absolute dream as a highway cruiser.
I can just set the appropriate podcast, lock cruise control on, and relax knowing the car will get me where I want to go, and will tell me off if the driver-attention alert senses that I am getting a little too relaxed. The headlights offer outstanding vision at night and automatically flick between high and low beam depending on nearby traffic.
So that covers the drive, safety technology and soft-roading use. The other key items to mention are comfort/practicality and technology.
The CX-5 at Akera level is supremely comfortable. It has dual-zone climate control, tinted privacy windows, electronically opening boot and delicious heated seats. The Bose sound system delivers excellent quality sound and is easy to use, like the balance of the infotainment system. The presence of Apple Carplay/Android Auto did not sway my decision to buy/not buy the CX-5. However, having recently used the system on an otherwise awful Mitsubishi Eclipse hire car on a weekend away, I can see that the system would be a great addition.
I am evangelical about not using my phone while driving, and horrifyingly seeing most people with eyes in their laps. I can see how useful it would be to send texts and have them read out while driving through the system. Mazda has confirmed (which I was told but not guaranteed at the time of purchase) that the system will be available to be retrofitted to all models with its current infotainment system. I look forward to the roll-out, although it seems to be moving at a glacial pace.
One other feature that I routinely miss from another previous car (Volkswagen Polo GTi) is the ability to open and close windows with the car remote. I would love it if Mazda included this feature in its cars.
The final component for this review should probably address any gripes or reliability issues. My CX-5 came with the then standard Mazda warranty (three years/unlimited kilometres). It is pleasing to see that Mazda has recently boosted its offering to five years/unlimited kilometres to bring it closer to the offering of other makers.
The service interval of 10,000km could definitely do with an increase. Otherwise, thankfully reliability is never an issue for Mazdas in my experience. After a Grampians trip involving a lot of dusty, corrugated, unsealed roads (the same trip that the wheel arch dislodged), I noticed that a rear brake light had a fair amount of red dust in it. Mazda replaced the part at my routine services. Otherwise, the CX-5 has had no issues to report 25,000km in.
In conclusion, I highly recommend the CX-5 for people wanting a safe, very comfortable car that can manage some fun exploring on the weekend.