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Iconoclastic but competent large SUV continues to do its own thing in a class of identikit rivals
James Attwood, digital editor
10 February 2021

What is it?

Recently, mid-life facelifts for large SUVs have all followed certain trends: a minor makeover, a range of new electrified engines topped by a plug-in hybrid and a reworked interior with a larger, shinier touchscreen. 

The Mazda CX-5 has always been a bit different from the SUV pack, standing out for its driving attributes and sharp style. This mid-life facelift is a bit different too: most notably, there are no new electrified engines and there’s no touchscreen. Instead, there’s the option of a new 2.5-litre petrol engine and an interior makeover that features a bigger screen, but it's one you – gasp! – still need a rotary dial to control. 

The upgrades to the CX-5 might not be bang on the latest industry trend, but that might be no bad thing. After all, the CX-5 has always excelled by taking a somewhat alternative path to rivals, and it shows no signs of fading into the pack.

What's it like?

The most notable addition is that new ‘flagship’ engine to sit atop the powertrain range. It’s Mazda’s 191bhp 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G four cylinder petrol engine, first seen in the UK on the Mazda 6 saloon and which bucks industry trends by being devoid of even the merest wisp of electrification (you’ll need the mild-hybrid CX-30 or electric MX-30 for that).

The unit isn’t entirely without some tricks to increase efficiency, though: it features cylinder deactivation technology to automatically switch between two and four cylinders, contributing towards an official WLTP fuel economy figure of 35.3mpg. While that’s far below the inflated official figures of some hybrids – and, as a result, without their favourable tax bands – it is a figure you can actually get close to in the real world.

The engine is refreshingly responsive, offering a useful slug of power that helps offset the not inconsiderable SUV heft of the CX-5. Without any electric boost there’s no engine-free running from start-up, but while that does make for a modicum less refinement, the payoff is the surprisingly pleasant roar of the Skyactiv-G unit. Once up to speed it doesn’t lack for refinement or response compared with class rivals, and if you select Sport mode it offers a pleasing soundtrack. And, happily, the unit doesn’t affect the CX-5’s positive handling and driving dynamics.

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The rest of the engine line-up remains, including the front-drive 2.0 Skyactiv-G petrol unit and two different outputs of the Skyactiv-D diesel.

The CX-5 was already one of the most stylish machines in its class, and Mazda has wisely resisted the temptation to fiddle with the exterior much. Given how gracefully this machine – and Mazda’s Kodo design language as a whole - has aged, that’s entirely understandable.

The interior updates are minimal too, and again that’s understandable. Even if it can’t quite match the perceived quality of some rivals, our GT Sport trim test car was plush, comfortable and packed with kit and features. 

The major upgrade has been made to the infotainment system, which has new connected features and graphics and is accessed via a larger, sharper 10.25in screen located high in the dash. Note that I didn’t write touchscreen there: the system is still controlled purely by a rotary dial, which seem be a touch old-fashioned but is in fact simple, intuitive and quick to use.

The system definitely represents an upgrade on that previously offered in the MX-5, and while it again lacks some of the sheen of rivals, it doesn’t compromise in terms of functionality.

Should I buy one?

Your reaction to the CX-5’s lack of a touchscreen will likely be a good barometer of the appeal that this large SUV will hold for you. It might not win over some buyers seeking premium sheen, fancy tech and emission-lowering, tax-busting powertrains. Instead, it continues to plough a different path – and it presents a compelling alternative in the process.

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It’s a path that has clearly worked for this generation of CX-5, and Mazda has wisely resisted any urge to mess with the formula by trying to follow the pack. The new engine adds to a driving experience that continues to be shaper and more engaging than most in its class. And that means the CX-5 continues to stand out as a compelling alternative in a crowded pack.

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Comments
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Add a comment…
xxxx 11 February 2021

I too would like to see a fwd manual and maybe it will come later, problem is you are looking at just over 30k and maybe there is no money to made in that 

Will86 10 February 2021

How fast do you really need to go? This will get along just fine, afterall it's not a sports car. Plus I reckon that engine will deliver decent real world economy and probably be pretty reliable. It's a tried and trusted unit. Sure it may cost more to fuel than a diesel but theres no adblue to buy and likely cheaper servicing too. I would like to see it in manual FWD form though. Cheaper to buy, probably quicker and perhaps a little more economical.

The Apprentice 11 February 2021
Will86 wrote:

How fast do you really need to go? This will get along just fine, afterall it's not a sports car. Plus I reckon that engine will deliver decent real world economy and probably be pretty reliable. It's a tried and trusted unit. Sure it may cost more to fuel than a diesel but theres no adblue to buy and likely cheaper servicing too. I would like to see it in manual FWD form though. Cheaper to buy, probably quicker and perhaps a little more economical.

If that is in response to my comment, I have no problem with its pace - I was more joking at calling it a 'GT Sport' as rather pretentious for a mere competent pace. Mazda are far from alone in this by the way, plenty Sporty named cars that have nothing more than a red stripe.

Will86 13 February 2021

No, it was more in response to people wanting more power. I tend to agree the name is a bit out of place. In fact Mazda's trim names could use a rethink. I mean Sport Lux and GT Sport? But I guess the marketing department likes them. 

The Apprentice 10 February 2021
'GT Sport' haha! not so much! Might put the caravan club members off buying it as its sounds a bit hooligan even if its anything but. Mind you even the vanners will be hunting for a diesel before this vehicle I would imagine.

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