With the arrival of our baby came the opportunity to convince my wife that we needed to upgrade our Honda Civic.
While I believe that a good wagon or liftback-shaped car is probably better (handling and economy) as a city car, like many new mums and dads, the change to an SUV was at the forefront of consideration for features such as high driving, vision, access, baby-loading and pram-loading positions that just aren’t available in lower-slung designs.
In searching for a suitable choice, a colossal shift in size wasn’t appropriate as our driving needs were mostly city-bound, and so the mid-size Mazda CX-5 2.5-litre Touring, Hyundai Tucson Elite 2.0-litre, Toyota RAV4 GXL 2.5-litre, Honda CR-V VTI-S, and Nissan X-Trail ST-L were obvious contenders. Their European counterparts (VW Tiguan, Skoda Kodiaq, Peugeot 5008) were test-driven and were excellent, but didn’t get any further consideration due to their higher average servicing costs.
The next to go were the CR-V and X-Trail, as I just couldn’t enjoy driving a car with a CVT gearbox that wasn’t at least electrified to offset the bogged down take-off. The RAV4 followed next due to its uninspiring interior and thirsty engine. The Tucson came close with its near perfect Aussie suspension calibration and superb NVH suppression, but was narrowly beaten by the CX-5 by virtue of a classier interior and exterior design (personal preference, of course), stronger engine and higher seating position.
Performance & Economy
The CX-5’s 2.5-litre six-speed automatic combo does a great job around town, with generally more perk than most other large naturally aspirated four-cylinder engines in the SUV market. Extra performance can be accessed via the sport mode switch, which sharpens throttle response, shifting and holds gears longer, but the latter sometimes a little too long, so the mode is best used in conjunction with the manual shifting option.
The transmission can also be a bit too keen to hold sixth gear to conserve fuel, but a firm prod of the throttle will get it to kick down. The engine itself is very responsive and rev-happy in nature, but the 4000rpm required to drum up the 251Nm peak torque on hills and overtaking can, however, affect the car’s refinement detrimentally. This was expected, though, when we opted not to go for a turbo or diesel car.
After one year of ownership, the car’s fuel consumption reading is averaging 9.4L/100km on a weekly driving mix of 80 per cent urban and 20 per cent motorways with stop/start always switched off. For long-weekend trips that ventured into more open roads with a significantly higher proportion of motorway driving, economy was much better and would average about 7.5L/100km over 400–500km journeys.
Cabin Space & Comfort
We tested legroom by bringing our baby capsule to all our test drives, mounting it in a rear-facing position behind the front passenger seat. This revealed that the CX-5 was marginally better than the Tucson, which had a slightly more laid-back seating angle, but both cars need the front passenger to sacrifice a decent amount of knee room.
The RAV4, CR-V and X-Trail were much better in this aspect, but we also kept in mind this was only going to be a temporary issue, as the space would revert back to normal after 12–18 months when the baby moves to a forward-facing car seat. Boot space comparisons have a similar result to the legroom, but we were fine with this, as the CX-5's boot was of a shape and size that was enough to put our pram seat and frame in side-by-side. The high boot floor is also a spine-saver in comparison to our old Civic.
Seating comfort is excellent in the CX-5, with just the right balance of softness and firmness in padding to make the car suitable for long road trips. The driver's lumbar adjustment featured in the Tucson and a little more bolstering would have made it perfect.
As covered in many motoring reviews, interior road noise is somewhat of an Achilles heel for the ’3 and CX-5, and is something that Mazda has worked hard to improve in its recent iterations of both models. Travelling over rough road surfaces during test drives showed the CX-5 was better at shielding the cabin from tyre roar than the CR-V, X-Trail and RAV4, but it wasn’t as serene as the Tucson or the European alternatives.
Mazda’s SkyActiv-G petrol engines can be a bit diesel-like and sound pretty grizzly on cold starts, but are smooth and quiet once warmed up. Hopefully, the new SkyActiv-X engines featured in the next ’3 can improve in this area.
Technology & Connectivity
Safety technology at the time of purchase was ahead of the Tucson and CR-V, and pretty close to that of the European cars. Mazda has since done two updates in the last 10 months adding radar cruise control, driver-attention alert, auto high beams, lane keep and alert technologies on top of blind-spot monitoring, front and rear AEB, rear cross-traffic alert, and front and rear sensors that were on our car.
The HUD showing speed, speed zones and GPS directions in the CX-5 Touring is also a great safety aid, saving the driver from shifting their eyes away from the windscreen. The BMW-looking MZD infotainment system has a layout that’s easy to navigate and can be used via the touchscreen when stationary or the rotary dial while on the move.
The system can occasionally be a bit slow, and Apple CarPlay would have been nice (standard on MY19 models, retrofit upgrade on ours), but the simplicity and adjustability are good enough that the only issue requiring me to refer to the owner’s manual was to find out how to connect it to mobile Wi-Fi. The audio quality of the sound system is also ahead of the other competitors we considered, producing excellent clarity and accurate bass response.
Price & Features
Being one of the most popular and competitive vehicle segments, all the cars we tested were feature-packed with most modern necessities. Although a car is not just about the bells and whistles, it was great that the CX-5 was not lacking when compared to the alternatives.
Highlight features of our CX-5 Touring, on top of the HUD and safety tech previously mentioned, are the superb wide-beamed auto LED headlights, innovative rear cargo blind, digital radio, and the proximity keyless entry – which is a godsend, particularly when you are holding a baby or shopping and don’t have to hunt for the key in bags or pockets.
One of the annoying things I have to note is Mazda’s (and other manufacturers I assume) tricky way of gouging more money from customers for something it could have added for little or no extra cost. One example we discovered in deciding between the Maxx Sport or Touring spec. The Maxx Sport had power folding exterior mirrors, but for them to auto-fold you have to move up to the Touring spec to get a feature that is surely just a small software enhancement that would have cost Mazda nothing.
Mazda’s saving grace, however, is that each spec upgrade does bring quite a lot of value for the amount you pay, making the gouging efforts somewhat more easily stomached.
Ride & Handling
All Mazdas since the company went through a rebrand in the early 2000s – when it changed the '626' to a '6' and brought out the RX-8 – have been pretty good in terms of their dynamic abilities. Thankfully, the CX-5 is no different, and attempts to mimic car-like handling in an SUV body as much as possible.
The suspension is tuned a little towards the firm side, but I’m fine with this, as it allows for flatter cornering and enthusiastic driving without the body roll typically found in SUVs. It isn’t harsh by any means, and only the deepest of potholes or crevices would be more jolting through the cabin. For a cushier set-up, the RAV4 and X-Trail are probably more appropriate with their softer-damped set-up, but I wasn’t quite ready to go full-SUV yet.
Overall, we’ve been very happy with our CX-5, and I still look forward to finding an opportunity to drive it, which is usually a good sign of ownership satisfaction. Sure, the car has some bugs that I would improve, like an extra gear in the transmission or having a memory function on the start/stop switch, but no car in this price range is perfect.
As a whole package, the CX-5 Touring is an excellent car, and probably why it has been the sales leader in the medium-SUV segment for a few years now.