Where once upon a time keeping up with the Joneses was all about the Holden or Ford sedan in your driveway, the suburbs are bursting with Japanese, Korean, and Chinese-made family crossovers in 2022.
Mazda’s weapon in the fight for family dollars is the CX-5. It’s consistently the brand’s best-selling car in Australia, and is nipping at the heels of the Toyota RAV4 on the hotly-contested mid-sized SUV sales charts.
The more expensive CX-5 Akera and its turbocharged engines tend to hog the headlines, but they aren’t necessarily the best models to test if you want to know whether a mid-sized SUV is built on strong foundations.
Our 2023 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport tester, with its more basic interior and engine, doesn’t have as many bells and whistles to hide behind. This is the CX-5 in close to its purest form.
Even without bells and whistles to hide behind, it’s a good thing.
The Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.5 FWD on test here is priced from $38,190 before on-road costs, $3800 more than the entry-level CX-5 Maxx automatic with its smaller 2.0-litre petrol engine.
It’s the most expensive front-wheel drive CX-5 you can buy; the Touring and above are all-wheel drive only.
All are similarly-specced versions of their respective model ranges, and all are in the same ballpark on price.
2022 Mazda CX-5 pricing:
- Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.0 FWD manual: $32,390
- Mazda CX-5 Maxx 2.0 FWD: $34,390
- Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.5 FWD: $38,190
- Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport 2.5 AWD: $40,690
- Mazda CX-5 Touring 2.5 AWD: $42,580
- Mazda CX-5 Touring Active 2.5 AWD: $42,880
- Mazda CX-5 Touring Active 2.2D AWD: $45,880
- Mazda CX-5 GT SP 2.5 AWD: $48,990
- Mazda CX-5 GT SP 2.5T AWD: $51,490
- Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.5 AWD: $50,880
- Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.5T AWD: $53,480
- Mazda CX-5 Akera 2.2D AWD: $53,880
Prices exclude on-road costs
The current Mazda CX-5 has always had an interesting, upmarket feeling interior. Even the Maxx Sport feels high quality, although it’s lacking some of the more expensive materials that feature elsewhere in the range.
The driving position is good, with plenty of adjustment for different-sized bodies, and losing the headroom-sapping sunroof offered elsewhere in the range makes the Maxx Sport feel a bit less claustrophobic behind the wheel than in the Akera if you’re unusually tall, and already close to the roof like me. Mazda says the difference in headroom is 9mm between sunroof and non-sunroof models.
With soft cushions and warm, comfortable cloth trim, the seats are a nice place to spend time. There’s enough manual adjustment for taller driver to get comfortable, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel is a quality item.
The cold, knurled climate controls make a satisfying click when you turn them, and all the buttons are nicely damped.
Mazda’s digital dashboard is basic compared to what’s on offer in Volkswagen products, and doesn’t offer mapping or many options in the way of customisation.
It’s easier to swallow at this price than it is in top-end models, but a more up-to-date digital dashboard would make the CX-5 feel more modern.
Then there’s the infotainment system, which is a real weak spot in every CX-5 below the GT SP.
Where most of the range has moved to a new infotainment system, the older MZD Connect setup featured here is slow to load, features blocky graphics, and isn’t a touchscreen. It feels faster here than in the CX-3 we tested recently with the same system, but it’s still not up to scratch.
At least the inbuilt interface is simple enough to navigate using the rotary controller, so the learning curve is shallow.
It’s disappointing Mazda hasn’t rolled out its newer 10.25-inch Mazda Connect system across the CX-5 range, and instead reserves it for the GT SP and above.
There’s plenty of storage space up front. Along with twin cupholders behind the shifter, there’s a phone-sized space at the base of the dash, bottle holders in the door pockets, a central bin beneath the armrest, and a spacious glovebox.
Rear seat space is acceptable, but it’s not standout. The CX-5 has never been one of the most practical mid-sized SUVs, and this update – given it’s a refresh, not a proper overhaul – does nothing the change that.
That’s not to say it’s terrible. There’s enough leg room, knee room, and headroom for kids and shorter adults back there, and the bench is generously padded if you’re sitting in the either of the outboard positions.
Things aren’t quite as rosy perched atop the harder, slightly raised central seat.
The windows are reasonably tall, so enough light gets back there to keep little kids happy. Air vents and USB ports round out the rear-seat amenities.
There are two ISOFIX and three top-tether points for mounting child seats.
As for the boot? With a claimed 438 litres of space with the 40/20/40 folding rear bench in place, it trails bigger rivals such as the Hyundai Tucson on paper. In practice, it’s a flat and broad space with enough room to comfortably swallow a set of golf clubs or a week’s shopping.
The luggage cover is smartly designed. It doesn’t need to be removed to load the car, instead lifting with the tailgate.
Power in our Maxx Sport FWD tester comes from a 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 140kW of power and 252Nm of torque.
It’s sent to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission, although all-wheel drive is available.
Claimed fuel economy is 7.4 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, and the car runs on 91 RON regular unleaded.
Turbo petrol and turbo diesel engines are offered elsewhere in the range, but aren’t available on the one-from-base Maxx Sport.
Even without the more powerful turbocharged engine used in more expensive models, the CX-5 is one of the nicest mid-sized SUVs out there to drive.
The steering is light and fluid at low speed, but has just enough weight off-centre to inspire confidence at higher speeds, while the suspension neatly balances ride comfort with body control.
With chubby sidewalls on the base models’s smaller wheels, the car floats over small bumps. It has a lovely, relaxed feeling that you don’t get in more expensive models with bigger wheels, but that also doesn’t mean it’s floaty at higher speeds.
The CX-5 is nicely controlled on the highway, settling over crests quickly. It’s also impressively hushed behind the wheel, meaning this is a base SUV you could happily drive long distances.
Road and wind noise are impressively suppressed, even on some seriously average rural roads. Mazda points to sound deadening as one of the things it’s worked on with this update, and whatever it’s done has worked.
Anyone spending long hours on the highway will appreciate the smoothly-tuned adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist, which don’t try and wrestle the wheel from your hands as you drift towards the white lines.
It’s not brimming with punch, but the 2.5-litre petrol engine is adequate for the most part. It’s smooth and quiet at low revs, and the six-speed automatic is tuned to shuffle unobtrusively through the lower gears when you aren’t in a hurry.
Put your foot down and it’s happy to chase the redline, backed by a reasonably sporty snarl.
As is the case with the naturally-aspirated engines in most mid-sized SUVs, you need to work the CX-5 hard to get the best out of it. Mazda has put lots of work into making its cars more refined, and it’s mostly paid off.
It’s one of the quieter mid-sizers out there, but you’re always aware when the engine is up near the redline. If you’re constantly carrying lots of people and lots of stuff, the more powerful turbocharged engine is a better bet. If you’re always on the highway, the diesel is worth a look.
For pootling around town though, the naturally-aspirated engine is going to be fine for most people. Traction from the front wheels is decent, but if you bury the accelerator off the line you can get them spinning – especially in the wet.
All-wheel drive isn’t strictly necessary, but it does make the CX-5 feel more sure-footed in the rain. If you’re heading away from paved roads, or want your SUV to feel more capable than the average family hatchback, it’s a box worth ticking.
Where the Maxx Sport excels is in its simplicity. There’s no learning curve here.
Mazda sets its auto start/stop up to active only when the driver presses the brake firmly, which means the car doesn’t cut out unless you want it to, and the transmission will feel natural to drivers hopping out of an older car in a way a dual-clutch might not.
CX-5 Maxx highlights;
- 17-inch alloy wheels with 225/65 tyres
- Automatic LED headlights
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Power-folding mirrors
- Rear seats with reclining function
- 40/20/40 split-fold backrest
- Black cloth seat trim
- 8.0-inch touchscreen (MZD Connect)
- 7.0-inch digital instrument display
- Apple CarPlay, Android Auto (wired)
- AM/FM radio, DAB+
- Electric park brake with Auto Hold
- Leather-wrapped gearshift, steering wheel
- Push-button start
CX-5 Maxx Sport adds:
- Dual-zone climate control
- Paddle shifters
- Rear-view mirror with auto-dimming
- Rear centre armrest storage incl. USB charging ports
- Satellite navigation
- Traffic sign recognition
All versions of the Mazda CX-5 wear a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on tests carried out in 2017.
The CX-5 scored 95 per cent for adult occupant protection, 80 per cent for child occupant protection, 78 per cent for pedestrian protection, and 59 per cent for safety assist.
Standard safety features include:
- 6 airbags
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Forward, Reverse
- Pedestrian detection (Forward)
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane departure warning
- Lane-keep assist
- Driver attention alert
- Auto high-beam
- Adaptive cruise control (6MT) with stop/go (6AT)
- Rear parking sensors
- Tyre pressure monitoring
Mazda backs its range with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years of roadside assist.
Maintenance is required every 10,000km or 12 months, and the first five services cost a combined $1777 using Mazda’s capped-price service program.
The Maxx Sport might be a base model (or close to it), but it doesn’t want for much.
It handles with the same polish as more expensive members of the range, and has a comfortable interior that doesn’t feel stripped back or poorly specced thanks to the thoughtful design and quality materials.
It’s missing a few key features, however, in what feels like a bid to push you into the more expensive Touring AWD model; keyless entry should be standard, and it’s time Mazda stopped offering the creaky MZD Connect infotainment system in anything but the most basic CX-3 – it feels so far off the pace it’s not funny.
The Maxx Sport shows the CX-5 is a good thing, even without all the bells and whistles. It’s just a shame Mazda hasn’t made it even more compelling by adding a few choice features.
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MORE: Everything Mazda CX-5