First Drive - Mazda CX-5

The CX-5 is Mazda’s top-selling model and now its 2022 refresh aims to keep it ahead of its rivals

The Car.co.uk First Drive Verdict: 4.1

Mazda is one of those automakers who really gets it, more so in fact than many people realise. The Japanese brand likes to make sure its vehicles tick all the boxes in terms of design, comfort, just the right amount of technology, great driving dynamics and a package that is both practical and enjoyable. 

Things are going quite well for the brand too, they’ve sold 70,000 units of this, the CX-5, since its inception in the UK. Like most car makes, SUVs are going to account for a huge amount of their sales this year, up to around about 65%, with another being added to the line-up later in 2022 in the form of the CX-60.

They are also one of the only automakers who's really holding on to the idea that the internal combustion engine can be more efficient, more environmentally friendly, provided you put in the research and development, whether it be E fuels, hybridisation or other solutions. They've avoided going too far into electric just yet, with only the MX-30 available and frankly that’s a bit of a token gesture with poor range and a high price. The bulk of their sales continue to be petrol and diesel and that’s the case with this updated CX-5 which we recently drove around the Highlands of Scotland.

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DESIGN - 4.5 out of 5

It's a good looking car, the Kodo design philosophy that we’ve seen on Mazdas for many years now proving popular and it's still very much on trend as far as the looks are concerned. Just as with other aspects of the cars, there's nothing in the design that is superfluous. There are shiny bits, but everything is laid out really nicely and that’s true of the interior too, where it all has a sharpness to it. The instrumentation looks a bit Aston Martin band it has a clear and crisp look to it all. The infotainment display is not a fancy thing, it does what it needs to do without being anything more, but it does contain everything that you need in terms of navigation, ability to connect to your phone and stream music, DAB and all the rest of the stuff we expect these days. There are even actual buttons for things like climate control, Mazda continuing to believe that you can’t just put everything into a touchscreen.

There are also new trim levels; Newground and Sport Black. The former has some lime green accents, which the managing director of Mazda UK, Jeremy Thomson, describes as being subtle, although we’re not sure that lime green can ever be subtle. No surprise that the Sport Black has black wheels and black trim. Then on the Sport model you can have different trim Inserts with red stitching to spice things up a little.

PRACTICALITY -  4 out of 5

Practicality is excellent with a great driving position and loads of space in the back for the family. There’s a good amount of boot space at 510 litres, more than enough for most needs and of course you can fold the seats down to increase it for those weekend purchases. The materials feel hard wearing but at the same time premium and almost luxurious with a good combination of metal and quality plastic, leather and fabric surfaces, even some real woodgrain on top-spec models. 

TECH - 3.5 out of 5

Mazda isn't big on having anything that's superfluous to requirements, so you've got a nice infotainment screen that's not too big. It sits on top of the dash with a rotary dial controller between the seats and some controls on the steering wheel. Some models have a very clear head-up display screen and there’s navigation and the ability to pair your smartphone, all what you need rather than stuff you don't. That also applies to the safety systems, there's no unnecessary driver assistance or self-driving stuff here. There's lane departure, but interestingly, once it's switched off, it stays off and so you decide whether you want it to be on or not, which is nice because like so many of these systems, it can be a bit irritating. Mazda is very big on making sure that its driver assistance systems are only there to protect the driver and to genuinely assist the driver and that’s refreshing. Other tech includes auto wipers and auto lights, a remote key fob, wireless phone charging, LED headlights and all the other fundamentals we’ve come to expect.

DRIVE -  4.5 out of 5

Along with other updates, the changes are focused on comfort and convenience, so all models now have uprated damping control to reduce vibrations on the road. The suspension springs have all been updated to enhance comfort and the engineers have also focused on further reducing the sound inside the car. Some models now have Mazda Intelligent Drive, or Mi-Drive, which offers three driving modes; Normal, Sport and Off-Road. 

We kicked things off in the GT Sport petrol with its 194hp engine and an automatic gearbox. It’s a nice package with its colour-coded exterior trim, upmarket looks and a good transmission and engine combination. There’s plenty of power available but we found that Sport mode did little more than boost the revs and make more noise, effectively providing more show without more go. We settled back into Normal mode which was excellent and the sweet spot for enjoying some normally-aspirated fun in the Scottish mountain passes. The larger wheels on the GT also translated into a slightly firmer ride but nothing that you don’t expect from something with Sport written on the back.

The diesels are worthy of a special mention, party because it's unusual these days for a manufacturer to be launching a new model with a diesel option, but also because the 2.2 Skyactiv diesel really is a phenomenal piece of engineering. Mazda has managed to get the best in terms of efficiency out of it, but it is very torquey, great for overtaking, quiet and able to provide an impressive driving range even if you like to drive in a slightly enthusiastic way. 

That said, petrol is the propulsion of choice at the moment and Mazda’s petrol engines also provide great power delivery, although they aren’t as torquey as the diesel. Automatic transmissions are good but the manual is so good that it is even supplied to some sports car manufacturers. It too is a lovely piece of engineering, reflecting not just Mazda’s passion for driving but for comfort and ease of use too. Around town on the urban commute or as family transport, it's easy to live with, but then when you find a Trossachs mountain pass then you can really have some fun with the combination of the manual gearbox and those responsive engines.

As a package, the CX-5 is a really nice thing to drive, delivering a much better combination of comfort, performance and driving dynamics than you might expect in a compact SUV.

VERDICT - 4.1 out of 5

As you might have gathered by now, we are impressed with the new Mazda CX-5. It’s another great vehicle from Mazda proving once again that the Japanese manufacturer is committed to making cars which are great to drive, whether you are looking for an urban commuter vehicle, a long distance traveller or something that can hustle through the mountains. Priced from £28,145, it is a great all-round SUV with a more premium look and feel than rivals like the Ford Kuga, Toyota Rav4 or Volkswagen Tiguan and we’d even go so far as to say that in some respects its interior feels more premium than premium brands like Audi, BMW and Mercedes.

We really enjoyed the entry-level SE-L version although the Sport is expected to be the top seller in the range and surprisingly I'm going to say that the diesel is the best option, but the trend is definitely in favour of petrol at the moment. Fortunately the petrols are just as good and deliver a great combination of fuel consumption and driver enjoyment. 

The updates might seem minimal, but they add just enough to keep the Mazda CX-5 fresh and it’s still one of the best SUVs in its class.

SPECIFICATIONS

Model driven: 2.0 165hp Sport 2WD

Price: £33,245 (£33,825 as tested)

Engine: 2.0 litre Skyactiv-G petrol

Transmission: 6-speed manual

Power: 165hp at 6,000rpm

Torque: 213Nm at 4,000rpm

0-62mph: 10.5 seconds

Top speed: 125mph

Combined economy: 41.5mpg

CO2 emissions: 153g/km