6 mins to read

Mazda revitalises the CX-5 so well it’s a contender for class honours

Sometimes a carmaker can be too clever for its own good.
David Linklater talks about the car of the week on NBR Radio and on demand on MyNBR Radio.

Fri, 05 Jun 2015

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What exactly is it? The first major update for Mazda’s first mid-sized sports utility vehicle (SUV). Exterior and interior changes are minor but the underneath the CX-5 gains a suite of active safety technologies called i-Activsense. 

Mazda has made changes to the front suspension to improve ride comfort and there is more sound-deadening material, different sealing in the doors and thicker rear-window glass, which the company claims has reduced cabin noise by 13%.

Powertrain: 2.0-litre turbo-diesel four producing 133kW/400Nm, 8-speed automatic gearbox, front-drive. Combined fuel consumption 4.7 litres per 100km.

Anything interesting in the equipment list? All models from GSX upward have i-Activsense features such as blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and smart brake support (forward). The Limited model tested here also has adaptive LED headlights, lane-keep assist, and driver attention alert, which learns your driving style and then issues a warning if you appear to be fatigued.

The Limited’s smart city brake support also works in reverse so, if an impact is imminent while you are reversing it will brake autonomously.

The Limited also features 19-inch machined alloy wheels, leather upholstery, nine-speaker Bose sound system and privacy glass in the rear.


Price: $56,795.


Sometimes a carmaker can be too clever for its own good.

Mazda hit the jackpot with the CX-5 in 2012. It was the first model from the Japanese maker to be designed around a new modular platform and powertrain package called SkyActiv, and its first mid-size sports utility vehicle (SUV).

Which of these two things is the more important is open to debate. In a global sense it’s the former, because the CX-5 was the foundation for the Mazda SkyActiv range as it has evolved today. From a local point of view it’s the latter, because the CX-5 has ridden the wave of an all-conquering SUV movement. The SUV is now the single most popular type of passenger vehicle in New Zealand and models of the CX-5’s size are the biggest sellers within that genre.

When Mazda launched the CX-5, it forecast 1400 sales per year. In 2013 it sold 2189 (third in segment behind the Toyota RAV4 and Holden Captiva), while the 2014 total was 2361 (second behind RAV4). Those numbers are both an indication of the increasing scale of the SUV market and the excellence of Mazda’s product.

The first comes last
Clever product planning by Mazda, then. But being a pioneer is problematic. What happens to a foundation? It gets rather overshadowed by all of the cool stuff that gets built on top of it.

Mazda has launched at least one new SkyActiv model every year since the CX-5: the Mazda6 in 2013, the Mazda3 in 2014 and the Mazda2 earlier this year. It’s a small company that moves fast, so every time a new SkyActiv model has appeared, quality and technology have taken another step forward.

The weak points of the CX-5 at launch were refinement (engine noise seems to be a Mazda bugbear), rather ordinary cabin architecture that didn’t do justice to the exterior and a rather aftermarket-feeling satellite navigation system based on hardware from TomTom.

By the time the Mazda6 appeared, Mazda had evolved its cabin styling. The 6 also had an extended range of active safety features.

Then the Mazda3 arrived, introducing an even more stylish interior and the MZD Connect information and entertainment system, a sophisticated affair that made the existing CX-5/Mazda6 setup look decidedly last-century.

This year’s Mazda2-based CX-3 was the most serious call for a CX-5 catch-up. The CX-3 (pictured behind the CX-5 in the main picture) is a smaller SUV sibling to the CX-5 but also the newest SkyActiv Mazda in the showroom. It has an impressive looking cabin, that MZD Connect system and a host of safety technologies that rival the first-generation CX-5.

Facing the future
It’s no coincidence that the facelifted CX-5 was unveiled at the same time as the new CX-3 late last year. In one sense the timing was perfect because it’s been nearly three years since the original was launched. In another it was a matter of urgency because the CX-5 was in danger of being overshadowed by the company’s baby SUV.

I’m not sure the exterior styling changes were needed but you can’t have a facelift and keep the same face. So in comes a new CX-5 grille, bumpers, side mirrors with turn-indicators and the obligatory shark-fin antenna.

The changes that really push the CX-5 forward are focused on the camera/radar-based safety technology that Mazda calls i-Activsense.

It’s significant that you still can’t have adaptive cruise control on a Mazda2 or CX-3; you have to keep something as a selling point for the upmarket models. So the flagship CX-5 Limited gets Mazda Radar Cruise Control (MRCC), which automatically keeps you the correct distance from the car in front. Just like the Mazda3 and Mazda6. MRCC doesn’t stay operational right down to a standstill; instead, it cancels with a loud ‘bing’ at about 30km/h and you have to reach for the brake. But it works well on the motorway and it’s an excellent adjunct for the relaxed cruising ability of the flagship Limited diesel featured here.

Blind-spot warning has always been a CX-5 feature but the new model also has an active lane-keeping feature, which not only warns you of departure from the white lines but can also countersteer. Safe and annoying in equal measure – but you can switch it off.

The Limited also has braking assistance in both forward and reverse. The latter is a boon for any SUV: cross-traffic alert will warn you of approaching traffic as you reverse but the autonomous braking feature will also activate if there’s an obstruction behind.

Class action
So the CX-5 is right up to the head of the class on active safety technology and, more importantly, right where it needs to be in the Mazda SkyActiv scheme of things.

It’s still a really impressive car to drive, particularly with the torquey turbo-diesel engine in tow. You’ll probably get more of the benefit of Mazda’s work on noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) in the 2.5-litre petrol model, because the turbo diesel still produces quite a clatter at low speed and a prominent thrum on the highway. But it remains the driver’s choice by a long shot – despite the addition of a pushbutton sport mode for the petrol version.

Naturally, the CX-5 gains the MZD Connect system – although you wouldn’t necessarily pick it because the screen is still recessed into the dashboard, instead of sitting proud tablet-style as it does in every other SkyActiv model (including the also-updated Mazda6). The CX-5 is also the only new-generation Mazda to lack a head-up display.

This highlights one lingering issue with the CX-5: it has the least impressive interior styling in the SkyActiv range and a complete redesign is obviously too expensive when the model is already at the midway point. Quality is excellent, the look a bit dowdy. There have been changes to the instrumentation, front and rear consoles and storage areas. But it’s still nowhere near the cool cabin ambience of its siblings.

That’s the bad news. The good news is the changes in the latest CX-5 ensure it’s still a clear contender for class honours. That’s the beauty of competing with yourself – ultimately you can’t lose.

Smaller sibling aims for fastest-growing market

The medium-sports utility vehicle (SUV) segment might be the largest in New Zealand but small SUVs are the fastest-growing: from 3% of the market in 2010 to 9% in 2015.

That rapid growth is partly due to the fact that the segment hardly existed a few years ago. There is an influx of new models on the way and Mazda is getting in on the ground floor with the CX-3. A smaller sibling to the CX-5, the CX-3 is based on the Mazda2 supermini (they share a wheelbase and cabin architecture) but is larger, more powerful and aimed at a broader market.

Apologies to the Range Rover Evoque for the profile and blacked-out D-pillar but CX-3 makes a stronger styling statement than any Mazda before it. There are a few tricks in the cabin to create a perception of extra space, including front seats from the Mazda3 and a theatre-style rear bench that’s positioned 37mm higher than the front.


The CX-3 comes with 2.0-litre petrol and 1.5-litre turbo-diesel engines, in two or four-wheel drive. The flagship model is the Limited diesel – again, echoes of the CX-5 – at $42,595.

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Mazda revitalises the CX-5 so well it’s a contender for class honours