From £23,6958
Stylish family SUV brings dynamism and kerb appeal to edge its rivals, but not the eco credentials

What is it?

When the original Mazda CX-5 launched in 2012, SUVs accounted for just 2% of its UK sales. A decade later and as the second-generation Mazda enters the second half of its lifecycle, that proportion has climbed to 60%.

That’s emblematic of not just of the success of the model itself but also the meteoric surge in the popularity of family SUVs as a whole over the past decade, which means the CX-5 now contends with a field of rivals that is one of the most comprehensive and most competitive of any on the market. 

This is actually the latest in a series of updates for the second-generation car since it was launched in 2017, but the closest to what you’d recognise as a mid-life facelift. New for the 2022 Mazda CX-5 is a revamped front end (note the chunkier grille surround and redesigned LED headlight clusters), a claimed boost in rolling refinement and the addition of a new drive mode select function on automatic models, called Mi-Drive, which brings dedicated Sport and Off-road driving modes. 

The line-up has also been shuffled to accommodate the oddly named Newground trim, which comes in a divisive shade of Zircon Sand Metallic (other, less flattering names have been suggested - although this tester appreciates any colour that isn’t silver, grey or white being offered) and brings bright green trim accents and seat piping. If nothing else, it’s an effective means of exhibiting individuality in this, the most crowded – nay, ubiquitous – market segment, but entry-level SE-L and best-selling Sport are more familiar in their conception.

Mazda also claims to have boosted ride comfort and refinement with modifications to the CX-5’s bodyshell – chiefly for enhanced lateral rigidity – and tweaks to the suspension’s damping settings with the aim of reducing pitch and roll. This focus on comfort extends to the reshaped seats, which “use their shape and the entire cushioned surface both keep the pelvis upright, and optimise the curvature of the spine”. Chiropractors rejoice. 

We spent most of our time in the range-topping GT Sport car, equipped with Mazda’s most powerful engine, a 191bhp 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four-cylinder, sending its reserves to both axles. Unlike the bulk of its rivals, the CX-5 is not available with a hybrid powertrain as yet, although start-stop is standard fare and this engine is equipped with cylinder deactivation for reduced consumption at a cruise. 

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What's it like?

Mazda stands out from its peers by virtue of its capacity to design cabin environments that seem near universally well received, and the CX-5 continues to attract in this respect. The infotainment screen is sensibly sized and sensibly controlled via a console-mounted rotary dial (thumbs up), and there’s a physical button or switch for all of the most commonly used functions (two thumbs up). It’s far from cluttered, though. Mazda’s sleek, minimalistic Kodo design language carries through to a cockpit that’s airy and modern, with good visibility and comfortable seating.

There’s plenty of knee, elbow, shoulder and head room in each row, and the agreeably capacious boot is made bigger still courtesy of a ‘hidden’ storage tray where once you may have found a spare wheel. The brown nappa leather upholstery and wood-grain trim make the GT Sport car feel like a bona fide premium offering, and the intuitive gauge cluster format is a well-timed lesson in ergonomics for those other manufacturers which attempt to show too much data behind the steering wheel. 

The 2.5-litre range-topping engine is a noisy lump, making itself well known in the cabin as it progresses through the automatic gearbox’s six ratios – perhaps another couple of cogs at the top end would stretch things out sufficiently to abate some of the fuss – but compared with rivals that use a CVT gearbox, the accelerative experience is far easier on the ears. Cruising economy is far from the class best, though, with 35.3mpg on the WLTP combined cycle putting it some way behind the exclusively hybridised Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V and Nissan Qashqai - and the 182g/km of CO2 it pumps out puts it at least two tax brackets above. However, it's a smooth and suitably potent performer generally and never feels wanting for power, even when overtaking at speed or pulling out onto busy roads.

But if you’re considering a Mazda as your household's next steed, you must care – at least slightly more than a jot – about dynamic appeal. And the good news is that beneath this lofty and eminently sensible body (at least on the 4WD top-rung car) is an attainably engaging chassis and powertrain - on the right roads, in the right conditions and with the drivetrain configured appropriately.

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In the case of our test drive, the roads were a mixture of tight and slick, sweeping and drenched, with plenty of scope to verify the 9.3sec 0-62mph sprint time between bends – hardly rapid but far from dull – and tackle bends enthusiastically. This being Mazda’s least overtly sporting car, dynamic verve is hardly going to be the factor that nabs the bulk of buyers, but even in this prevailingly sensible and staid segment, there’s got to be room to cut loose occasionally. 

There’s a fair bit of lean to contend with, obviously, even when not going for it – but for the most part, the CX-5 feels well tied down and predictably composed. The steering becomes perceptibly weightier off centre and torque-vectoring trickery makes it possible to almost pivot through tight corners at speed, but at all times, there’s a sense of disengagement between the thin-rimmed steering wheel and the front wheels, and it quickly becomes clear that although the CX-5 is more inspiring to pilot through the twisties than its competitors might be, this is not a car that will tempt you out of bed for a blast before the kids get up. But you didn’t expect it to be, so that’s fine. 

Sport mode, added as part of the newly integrated Mi-Drive powertrain management system, makes everything a bit louder and redder for that artificially enhanced sporting experience, which only begins to feel slightly less synthetic with the gearbox operated manually through the column-mounted paddles. In this scenario, the Mazda manages to entertain beyond what might be considered the bare minimum, but the bar – let’s remember – is not a high one to clear in this regard. The four-wheel-drive range-topper also gets an Off-road mode for peace of mind and ease of use over more challenging terrain, although it may as well be called ‘Football Practice’ mode and reserved exclusively for Sunday mornings. 

The CX-5 is at its best in day-to-day driving scenarios, rolling smoothly and quietly over all but the most chasmic of imperfections, and dependably maintaining grip at each end when the going gets greasy. Gripes extend to a vibration through the steering wheel and seat base over crumbly Tarmac and a noticeable amount of tyre and wind roar at speed, but neither of these overly blights the driving experience and the CX-5 is a capable tourer, irrespective of specification. 

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There are two other powertrains on offer: a more frugal 163bhp 2.0-litre petrol, which drives just the front wheels and feels a tad gutless by comparison (but can be paired with a satisfyingly snickety six-speed manual ’box) and a 181bhp 2.2-litre diesel. The diesel, while hardly the fashionable choice, is certainly the sensible one for any buyer with a lot of ground to cover, given it’ll crack 42.8mpg, and because the petrols are naturally aspirated, it barely gives anything away in terms of top-end grunt. Just don’t expect to be encouraged into any exuberance by the gruff engine note.

Should I buy one?

For manufacturers, there’s quite a risk attached to any sort of attempt at differentiation in the family SUV segment: too little and there’s nothing to set your high-rised hauler apart from the Qashqais and Ford Kugas of this world, but too much and you risk alienating the vast majority of family and fleet buyers, who tend not to give two hoots whether or not their car looks and drives a bit like the Jones’s next door.

The updated CX-5 remains a perfect example of compromise, in spite of its sub-par economy ratings. The brand’s prevailing selling points – among them attractive styling inside and out, agreeable levels of kit and well-rounded dynamics – shine through tangibly, and without threatening the CX-5’s positioning as a capacious and comfortable do-it-all crossover. One to buy with your head, for sure, but your heart won’t sink to see it on your driveway.

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Mazda man 2 4 February 2022

I am on 2nd Mazda CX-5 awd GT nav 2.2 diesel.

and at 53000 miles weighing up next choice. I achieve 50 mpg 575 mile range and diesel is quiet powerfull for real world driving and I cover 20000 miles yearly. Always enjoy driving and cabin and toys like heads up, multiple sensors and intel cruise etc are good value.

I am torn whether to go for another final diesel as pick of range for me and have been quoted £41500 but hope could neg under £40k to reduce road tax. Or pay £48000 for hybrid Lexus but not keen on cvt box

or maybe pay more for new merc C 300 e wagon. Any suggestions

jer 3 February 2022

Love Mazdas but hard to reconcile the more sporty SUV with the offered engines. How much effort to put a turbo on the petrol 2.0/2.5 4 cyl but years later nothing and neither hybrid. Should have partnered with JLR for 4 cyl engines.....

superstevie 3 February 2022

Nice interior in this car. Has a decent screen but enough buttons for the controls you use the most. I like it, for an SUV type car. Far more interesting than a Kuga or Tiguan