Mazda has given its top-selling CX-5 yet another rolling update.
Where some brands keep new technology hidden away until a major update, usually four years after the car was first revealed, Mazda has opted to incrementally improve its CX-5 SUV with bigger-than-usual tweaks every year.
Having given the car a new look in 2022, the brand used its 2023 update to give the entry-level G20 Maxx model on test here a more modern infotainment screen and two USB-C outlets in place of the older USB-A that featured previously. Gone is the manual price leader option, too.
How does the mildly-updated CX-5 stack up against a tough crowd of rivals in 2023?
The base Mazda CX-5 is priced sharply in the context of its rivals.
The cheapest CX-5 comfortably undercuts the entry-level RAV4 GX ($38,050), and is aligned with the base Hyundai Tucson ($34,900), Kia Sportage SX ($35,300), and Nissan X-Trail ST ($36,750) – prices exclude on-road costs.
2023 Mazda CX-5 pricing:
- Mazda CX-5 G20 Maxx FWD: $35,390
- Mazda CX-5 G25 Maxx Sport FWD: $39,190
- Mazda CX-5 G25 Maxx Sport AWD: $41,690
- Mazda CX-5 G25 Touring AWD: $43,580
- Mazda CX-5 G25 Touring Active AWD: $43,880
- Mazda CX-5 D35 Touring Active AWD: $46,880
- Mazda CX-5 G25 GT SP AWD: $49,190
- Mazda CX-5 G25 Akera AWD: $51,380
- Mazda CX-5 G35 GT SP AWD: $51,690
- Mazda CX-5 G35 Akera AWD: $53,880
- Mazda CX-5 D35 Akera AWD: $54,380
Prices are before on-road costs
The current Mazda CX-5 has always had an interesting, upmarket feeling interior.
The Maxx feels high quality given its price tag, 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 sunroof offered elsewhere in the range makes the Maxx 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 also gets points for including a leather-wrapped wheel in its base model, rather than a nasty urethane unit.
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 better than before but still has some quirks to it.
The widescreen Mazda Connect system is a big step forward from the sluggish MZD Connect system that was standard on the base CX-5 until the start of this year.
It’s fast to start and has slick animations, but the fact you can’t touch the screen is a bit confusing. Although the inbuilt interface is simple to navigate using the rotary controller, Apple CarPlay is more intuitive when you can touch its big, colourful icons.
At least the inbuilt interface is simple enough to navigate using the rotary controller, so the learning curve is shallow.
It’s about time Mazda rolled out its newer 10.25-inch Mazda Connect system across the CX-5 range, rather than instead reserving it for the GT SP and above.
There’s plenty of storage space up front. Along with twin cup holders 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-size SUVs, and this update 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.
Folding the rear seats frees up 1342L of space. Beneath the floor is a 17-inch spare wheel across the CX-5 range.
The Mazda CX-5 Maxx is the only model in the range with a naturally-aspirated 2.0-litre petrol engine; moving up to the Maxx Sport gets you a naturally-aspirated 2.5, while more expensive models are offered with 2.5-litre turbo petrol or 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engines.
It makes 115kW of power and 200Nm of torque, and is front-wheel drive only. A six-speed automatic is now the only transmission on offer, with Mazda having axed the manual for 2023. All-wheel drive is offered higher in the range.
Claimed fuel economy is 6.9 litres per 100km on the combined cycle, making this the second-most efficient model in the range behind the diesel.
The naturally-aspirated 2.5-litre engine in the CX-5 won’t set your pulse racing – and the smaller and less powerful 2.0-litre is even less exciting.
At low speeds it’s pretty smooth and quiet, slurring smoothly from gear-to-gear on light throttle inputs, but put your foot down and it quickly becomes clear it needs to work hard.
The transmission is willing to kick down one or two gears if you’re in a hurry, at which point the revs flare and it gets noisy in the cabin.
This isn’t pitched as a sports car, and the 2.0-litre engine is adequate for tiptoeing around the city, but loaded up with people and their gear it can feel undercooked.
If you do plan to hit the open road with your family, we’d recommend the 2.5-litre engine in the Maxx Sport.
What it lacks in punch, however, the CX-5 G20 makes up for with 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 actually want it to, and the automatic transmission will feel natural to drivers hopping out of an older car in a way a dual-clutch might not.
Mazda has put lots of work into making its cars more refined, and it’s paid off in the CX-5. It’s one of the quietest mid-sizers out there, with little more than a muted grumble from the engine sneaking into the cabin.
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-keeping assist, which don’t try and wrestle the wheel from your hands as you drift towards the white lines.
With that said, overtakes require a bit of planning in this base G20. You’ll need to make sure there’s a big gap if you’re planning to cross the white lines in rural areas.
The ride is excellent. It’s reasonably taut, but it never gets uncomfortable over potholes or speed bumps.
The small wheels and chubby tyres standard on the base CX-5 add a layer of refinement to proceedings you just don’t get in more expensive models on bigger wheels and slimmer tyres. The sort of hits that slap into the cabin in a top-end car float beneath the Maxx’s wheels.
You don’t lose the feeling of fun, either. It’s an SUV that’s fun to drive on a twisty road, without the cumbersome, top-heavy feeling you get from some of its rivals.
Although it’s still light enough to make parking a breeze, the fact the steering has a bit of weight to it off-centre inspires confidence.
CX-5 G20 Maxx highlights:
- 17-inch alloy wheels
- Automatic LED headlights
- Automatic high-beam
- Rain-sensing wipers
- Body-coloured side mirrors with power folding
- 7.0-inch TFT digital instrument cluster
- 10.25-inch infotainment system (Mazda Connect)
- DAB+ digital radio
- Internet radio
- Wired Apple CarPlay
- Wired Android Auto*
- 6-speaker sound system
- Head-up display
- Two front USB-C ports
- Push-button start
- Leather-wrapped steering wheel
- Leather-wrapped gear shifter
- Electric parking brake with auto-hold
- Keyless window open function
- Black cloth upholstery
- Rear seat reclining function
The Mazda CX-5 wears a five-star ANCAP safety rating based on testing carried out in 2017.
It 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:
- Dual frontal, side chest and curtain airbags
- Autonomous emergency braking (AEB)
- Pedestrian detection
- Reverse AEB
- Blind-spot monitoring
- Rear cross-traffic alert
- Lane departure warning
- Lane keep assist
- Driver attention alert
- Adaptive cruise control with stop/go
- Reversing camera
- Rear parking sensors
- Tyre pressure monitoring
Mazda backs its range with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty and five years of roadside assist.
Service intervals for the CX-5 with a petrol engine have been increased to 12 months or 15,000km, whichever comes first.
The first five years or 75,000 kilometres worth of maintenance will set you back a combined $2082.
The CX-5 remains an excellent mid-sized SUV option, even at the bottom end of the range.
It’s polished to drive, has a functional and (reasonably) well-equipped interior, and is sharply priced relative to its mid-sized SUV rivals. You really don’t want for much now Mazda has fitted its higher-end infotainment system to the base model.
Whether or not the Maxx is right for you will come down to how you drive. If it’s going to be consigned to urban duties, the 2.0-litre engine is fine… just.
If you’re planning to load it up with kids and hit the road, we’d strongly recommend jumping to the 2.5-litre naturally-aspirated alternative.
It’s not exactly a firecracker, but it does have a hint of extra performance in reserve that makes it more comfortable at highway speeds.
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MORE: Everything Mazda CX-5