Oh yeah ... that’s more like it!
Pulling out from a side road onto the highway, I had an opportunity to test the acceleration of the 2019 CX-5 GT Turbo. It was a test drive after all, so you have to find out these things. Judging by the push in the back and the excited reactions of my kids in the back seat, it was clear that the performance on tap was significantly better than our previous car. It felt strong.
With a left hand corner fast approaching, I hooked the car in to assess its handling. It turned in confidently, the steering wheel providing a reassuring sense of connection. It felt engaging, balanced and alert. There was even a hint of ... dare I say it ... enjoyment to be had!
Performance: tick. Handling: tick.
The other thing that struck me about the car on our test drive was its refinement. Noise isolation was a lot better than our 2015 CX-5 GT, with relatively low levels of wind and road noise. It felt well sealed inside the cabin. Mazda have clearly been working hard in this area over the past few years.
The suspension was surprisingly firm though. Not uncomfortably so, but there was a tautness to it that was probably key to its dynamic abilities. It certainly wasn’t soft and wallowy, and that was fine by me as I’ve always preferred a more planted feel.
By the time we got back to the dealer, my wife and I had made up our minds. The CX-5 offered strong AWD turbo performance in a compact package that shares the same footprint as a Mazda 3, but with a more versatile body that is better suited to our family needs.
Of the mid-size SUVs offering decent performance, such as the VW Tiguan 162TSI, Ford Escape Titanium and Holden Equinox LTZ, we preferred the CX-5’s blend of interior quality, exterior styling and equipment for the price. The next step was to find the best deal.
It was mid-Feb 2019 and Mazda were having sales on 2018-built cars. However, we wanted to pay a lot less than the sale price. We were aiming for under $45k on the road with extras thrown in. When our local dealer couldn’t give us the price we wanted on a 2018-plate CX-5 GT Turbo in Soul Red, we walked away and went to another dealer who was more willing to play ball. We pushed hard and were perhaps a bit cheeky, but we ended up reaching a deal that we were extremely happy with.
We also took advantage of the Mazda Corporate Select program, which provides 4 years (or 40,000km) of free servicing if you are an employee of a company registered with the program. The company I work for wasn’t registered at the time, but I was able to get it organised in the week or so it took for our car to arrive.
It wasn’t long before we were being given the keys to our new car as part of a handover, which included presenting the car to us with a giant bow on it. The kids got a kick out of that and it’s those little things that made our buying experience a very positive one.
Now that we’ve had the car for a while, what’s it like to live with? What are the highlights and the niggles?
Well nothing has fallen off yet and there are no rattles or squeaks to speak of. But you would expect that of a new car.
The thing that continues to impress me on a day-to-day basis is the smooth and linear torque delivery of the turbo engine and the overall refinement of the vehicle. It’s more composed than our previous-gen model while offering effortless performance when needed. Meaningful urge is just a small flex of the right foot away. Having 420Nm of torque available at 2000rpm will have that effect.
The 6-speed automatic transmission is well matched to the engine with smooth take up and intuitive gear shifts. The AWD system provides excellent traction in slippery conditions, even when pushed hard off the line. It just grips and goes, without a hint of torque steer, despite the significant amount of torque going through the wheels.
But it’s the little things that you don’t necessarily read about in reviews that add to the ownership experience compared to our previous model. Things like the auto-folding mirrors when you walk away from the car, the auto-locking doors when you drive off, the auto up/down on all four windows, the auto tailgate, the rear air vents and USB ports for the kids, the digital radio (ours seems to be locked to ABC4Kids), the brilliant head-up display (which remembers its vertical position via the key linked to the memory seats) and of course Apple CarPlay / Android Auto.
Sure, other cars have had a combination of these things for years, but they were all missing in our previous gen model.
Then there’s the host of active safety systems such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, lane keep assist, driver fatigue monitoring and AEB (forward and reverse), none of which were on our previous model and all of which provide a higher level of reassurance when carting the family around.
Another new feature compared with our previous car is adaptive cruise control with stop and go. I’d never driven a car with ACC before, so it was a bit unnerving letting the car take over the braking for the first time, but I soon learnt to “adapt” and it came in handy on a recent drive down the Mornington Peninsula on a busy long weekend.
I still felt that I could out-perform it though, as I could see further ahead rather than looking just at the car directly in front of us like the system does, so it’s not as good at anticipating changing traffic conditions and therefore not quite as smooth as a human driver. It’s more reactive than proactive.
I do like how the HUD displays your set speed, actual speed and the speed limit, as well as blind-spot warnings and navigation info in a clear format that seems to float out over the bonnet, so you rarely have to take your eyes off the road or feel concerned that you are inadvertently straying over the limit.
Given the minimal price change compared to our 2015 model, I would say that the new one represents excellent value for money considering what you now get standard, and that’s before you factor in the 5 year warranty compared with the 3 year warranty we had previously.
So what about niggles?
The additional performance comes at the cost of higher fuel consumption. It uses about 10-15% more petrol than our previous one did. Given that the engine still takes standard unleaded petrol and we only do about 10,000km per year, we’re prepared to trade a bit of fuel economy for the improved driving characteristics. The diesel would have been better in that regard, but it’s not as suitable for the type of driving we do (mainly short trips).
Next on the list of niggles is the fact that the HUD cannot be used with polarised sunglasses because they eliminate the reflection on the windscreen. I’m going to have to replace my beloved Ray-Bans with a non-polarised pair for driving.
In terms of interior space, the back seats are not the most spacious in class. However, given that my kids are still young and my wife and I are not super tall, there’s more than enough interior space for our needs. As a practical side benefit, it’s easier to pass things through to the back when the kids are not too far away!
In terms of boot space, it’s not the biggest in class either at 442 litres. However, it is well shaped with a wide and flat floor, so it makes good use of what it’s got. It easily fits our pram and the week’s groceries or the kids' bikes and scooters or as much luggage as we’re ever going to need on a trip. It would have been nice to have some baggage hooks though. The 40/20/40 split fold rear seat provides good flexibility if we need to carry larger loads, and the flexible cargo cover is brilliant.
The infotainment system is starting to feel its age and is not as slick or fast as some of the newer ones I’ve seen, but it’s simple and intuitive to use, and the rotary controller works well. It would have been nice if the touchscreen worked while driving, especially when using Apple CarPlay which is really designed for touchscreen use with big, clear icons.
The positioning of the HVAC controls could be better. They’re positioned down low in front of the gear selector, and the buttons to adjust fan speed are not easily distinguishable by feel. It would have been better to have a rotary knob for fan speed and move the whole thing up a bit higher so you didn’t have to take your eyes off the road to adjust it.
The last niggles are purely aesthetic, but while I really like the overall styling of the car, it would have been nice to have some external differentiation to indicate that this is the more potent model. I found a small metal “Turbo” badge on eBay and stuck it on the back to give it some distinction. Hey, if it’s good enough for Porsche, it’s good enough for me!
I’m also not a fan of the 19-inch “pizza slice” wheels that come with the GT. They look smaller than their size would suggest. Mazda has a tendency to design attractive cars with sporty, elegant lines and then stick awkward looking wheels on them. I have since fitted a set of five spoke 20” wheels (off my previous car) with Eibach Pro Kit springs to give it a sportier stance without compromising ride quality. If anything, the ride is now more supple over small amplitude bumps due to the progressive rate springs. And it now has the looks to match the performance.
When the second-gen CX-5 was released in 2017, I was a bit disappointed because it was largely the same as our 2015 model underneath and I felt that it didn’t move the game forward enough. But Mazda have continued to improve the CX-5 incrementally over time to the point where it now offers a significant step up in performance, refinement, convenience and safety features with the added benefits of a 5 year warranty and 4 years of free dealer servicing (to qualified buyers).
I’m pretty excited about this car as it finally has everything we want in a well-rounded, attractive and relatively affordable package.