New car review

Mazda CX-5 test drive

Mazda’s acclaimed SUV has been updated for 2020, blending substance with style

In the car industry, few manufacturers are quite as underrated as Mazda. The Japanese car manufacturer builds some of the best-looking cars inside and out, and they’re great to drive, too. The CX-5 has long been no exception, standing out in one of the most hard-fought segment in the market.

Going up against cookie-cutter rivals like the SEAT Ateca and Volkswagen Tiguan, the latest CX-5 hopes to carve an even more tempting place for itself in the market. It’s sharp-looking and certainly well-made, so can it continue to be something of a hidden gem?

What’s new about the Mazda CX-5?

For 2020, we have a lightly facelifted CX-5 – even Mazda refers to it as a ‘gentle evolution’, going against the industry trend to tout absolutely any update as an ‘all-new model’. Across the range, the highlights are cylinder deactivation for petrol manual models, and a new metallic grey paint option.

Back in 2019, Mazda introduced some suspension improvements for more agile handling and a more comfortable ride, as well as adding G-Vectoring Control (GVC) to improve stability at speed. Both these upgrades have been carried through to this new model, along with improved sound deadening for increased refinement in the cabin.

How does it look?

While most of its rivals have that generic slab-sided style, the CX-5 rocks up and shows you can get creative and introduce sharp lines to the segment. It’s particularly interesting up front, with the bonnet swooping low into the large grille, which has some sharp angles that give it real character. The slim headlights do well to hide the car’s size, too.

Round the back it’s not quite so elegant. Given the stylish front end the rear looks a little boring, but with narrow rear lights and a couple of prominent creases at least make things interesting.

What’s the spec like?

Prices start at £27,030 for the SE-L trim, with standard equipment including the aforementioned infotainment system as well as 17-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, LED headlights, front and rear parking sensors and more – it feels like great value for money.

Our Sport car is quite a step up in price, starting at £34,785. It adds 19-inch alloy wheels, leather upholstery, Bose speakers, keyless entry and a head-up display. While it doesn’t feel like quite as good value as the SE-L, the leather seats really improve the feeling of quality inside and the alloys make it look much better, so if it’s within budget it’s worth the upgrade.

Opt for the top-spec GT Sport and prices start at £37,185. This adds a different set of 19-inch alloys, Nappa leather upholstery, adaptive LED headlights and more.

What’s the Mazda CX-5 like inside?

The cabin is spacious and bright, with the large windows all around making the cabin feel quite big despite the black trim. And although that black trim isn’t the most interesting design, it feels incredibly well put together, There are expensive-feeling materials used for all of the touch points, with cheaper quality reserved for places out of sight.

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The chrome trim surrounds elevate the interior look too, when they could easily look tacky, while perhaps the minor complaint could be that the eight-inch infotainment screen design Mazda uses is starting to feel a little dated.

What’s under the bonnet?

There’s a huge selection of engines on offer, with six petrol and eight diesel models to choose from. Our test car came with the 2.2-litre turbo-diesel unit, which is available with either 150hp or the 184hp we’re testing, promising 42.8mpg with CO2 emissions of 175g/km.

It’s a great engine, particularly thanks to its 445Nm of torque making it easy to surge up to a decent pace. Motorway on ramps are dispatched with ease and once you’re up to speed it’s a relaxed and comfortable cruiser.

Choosing between this and the lower-powered engine is tough. This being a big, heavy car, the extra power is welcome for driveability. However, it comes with all-wheel drive, which is largely unnecessary and means more fuel is used. If economy is key, the 150hp version might be more apt.

What’s the Mazda CX-5 like to drive?

If you’re looking at this handsome SUV and thinking it’s style over substance, or that Mazda diverted budget from driving dynamics to give the interior its premium feeling, you’d be wrong. The CX-5 is up there with the best in class behind the wheel.

It’s partly down to that GVC trickery, which controls the power going to the wheels during cornering in a way that manages the way the weight shifts. That sounds like something you shouldn’t care about in a family SUV, but it means the CX-5 feels sure-footed and confidence inspiring even when driven in a relaxed manner. The suspension tweaks introduced last year contribute to a relaxed and composed ride, too.

Verdict

The Mazda CX-5 has long been one of the top contenders in its segment, matching good looks to a great driving experience. As of September 2020, the CX-5 holds an Expert Rating of 80% on The Car Expert’s unique Expert Rating scale, which compiles new car reviews from 21 of the UK’s top motoring website. That puts it equal third in the hotly-contested mid-sized SUV class, behind the Peugeot 3008 and Skoda Karoq (and alongside the new Ford Kuga).

It’s little wonder, then, that changes are limited to gradual upgrades, because if it ain’t broke…

It’s one of those cars where it’s definitely worth checking the equipment lists to find the right trim, because it can start to get a little pricey. But if you’re looking for a spacious, comfortable SUV, this should be one of the first on the shopping list.

Similar cars

Citroën C5 Aircross | Ford Kuga | Honda CR-V | Hyundai Tucson | Jeep CompassKia Sportage | MG HS | Mitsubishi Eclipse CrossNissan Qashqai | Peugeot 3008 | Renault Kadjar | SEAT Ateca | Skoda Karoq | SsangYong Korando | Subaru XV | Suzuki S-Cross | Toyota C-HRVauxhall Grandland X | Volkswagen Tiguan

Key specifications

Model as tested: Mazda CX-5 Sport
Price: £34,785
Engine: 2.2-litre diesel
Gearbox: Six-speed manual

Power: 184 hp
Torque: 445 Nm
Max speed: 129 mph
0-60mph: 9.3 seconds

Fuel economy: 42.8 mpg
CO2 emissions: 175 g/km
Euro NCAP rating: Five stars (2017)
TCE Expert Rating: 80% (as of September 2020)

Darren Cassey
Darren Cassey
Articles by Darren Cassey are provided for The Car Expert by PA Media (formerly the Press Association). They include test drives of the latest new cars and features on various aspects of automotive life.

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