From £23,695
The SUV departs our fleet with its family reputation intact, but there is one important caveat

Why we’re ran it: To see if the Japanese firm managed to inject any of its flair into the family-friendly Mazda CX-5 SUV

Month 3Month 2Month 1 - Specs

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Life with a Mazda CX-5: Month 3

It departs our fleet with its reputation as a family SUV for keen drivers intact, but there is one important caveat 

If we’re being completely honest, the Mazda CX-5 didn’t have the easiest start with us at Autocar. 

And none of that was the Mazda’s fault. You see (and I can hear your heartstrings pinging from here), I jumped from a McLaren GT long-termer straight into the Mazda. On the same day, in fact. Supercar GT meets 2.4-child-family SUV. It was like a mid-life crisis in reverse.

But as in any relationship, time is a great healer, and now that CX71 CVT has gone back to its maker, I’m honestly going to miss it. The element that stood out most was the little twinkle that it had, that extra hint of body control and handling aptitude that meant it wasn’t a simple monobox solution to ferrying the children around.

We asked at the start whether Mazda could inject a bit of Japanese sparkle into a family SUV and, spoiler alert, it just about did. Granted, it was no MX-5 on stilts, but there was enough to set it apart from most others in its class.

It turned in sharply and gripped well, with the sort of poise that shouldn’t be possible from a tall-ish SUV, or at least not one lacking pricey electronic anti-roll bars and variable damping.



Read our review

Car review

New version of Mazda's established family SUV looks to hone its driver appeal further and move upmarket in a rapidly expanding segment

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There’s a great road near me, with a fair amount of off-camber Tarmac that gets a bit knobbly in places, but the CX-5 handled this with aplomb. Even the children didn’t complain when we were late for school and chuntering on, and they’re normally the canary in the mine that all is not well with the body control.

And we weren’t the only ones. Reader Richard Hill wrote in to explain how much he liked his CX-5 (a 2019 2.0 Sport Nav in Eternal Blue, the same colour as ours), praising its reliability and build quality. Interestingly, he has taken out a dealer service plan – not something we needed to worry about while our CX-5 was with us.

Hill’s deal is £20 per month and his local dealer has “been great”, which is good to hear in this age of internet sales. He’s also pleased with the fuel economy, managing to drag 42mpg out of his petrol 2.0-litre.

We never got close to that in our 2.5, and it remains a disappointment that the car was so expensive to run. Hill’s figure was from motorway runs at 70mph, but even my 120-mile drive into the office, entirely on motorways, yielded a best of only 37mpg, and that was also at a 70mph cruise.

Diesel might be the antichrist these days, but a naturally aspirated petrol SUV weighing more than 1.5 tonnes surely isn’t the answer.

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The powertrain is the one fat fly in the ointment. To me, it will forever be the CX-5’s weak link. The six-speed automatic gearbox felt like a CVT (it seems that someone at the DVLA isn’t without a sense of humour, given the numberplate), because whenever I wanted any power, it would spin to 5000rpm and sit there, droning away with very little to show for it, like a bunch of parliamentarians.

I compared the set-up to Nigel Farage (lots of show but no go) in an earlier report, and it never got any better, despite bedding in as the miles piled on. I tried the first-generation CX-5 for one report and its diesel felt far more pleasant. It’s odd that Mazda has gone to so much effort to make the car handle well, only to spoil it with an engine that doesn’t encourage you to exploit the chassis.

There is hope that Mazda can resolve this because I drove the PHEV version of this engine in the new CX-60 and it was a more pleasant companion. Here’s hoping that lessons have been learned. It’s a pity, as the looks, practicality and standard equipment impressed.

Like most SUVs, the CX-5 was an effortless fit for family life, with all the usual clicheÃs about ease of use and decent space. But to me, a few things made it stand out in what is an incredibly crowded field.

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A lack of touchscreen was a serious bonus, because it meant all the media controls were worked off an iDrive-lite rotary controller. Easy sat-nav, easy radio and easy phone, as well as actual knobs and switches for the climate control.

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Although, and I can’t quite believe I’m saying this, when using Apple CarPlay (plugged, no wireless connection here), it wasn’t quite as intuitive as a touchscreen.

That lack of complication appealed about the Mazda. Its interior engineers and designers haven’t got lost up their own fundaments being too clever. They’ve not bothered answering a question that no one has asked. If a lever has done the job for the past 50 years, why bother making it electronic now? It’s a refreshing way of going about building a car and can only really come from the slightly quirky company that is Mazda, bravely ploughing its own furrow.

Do I still miss the McLaren? Of course I do: don’t ask daft questions. But the CX-5 will also stick in my memory bank fondly, and there aren’t many run-of-the-mill SUVs that I can say that about.

Second Opinion

Mazda would rather you see it as a rival for Lexus than for Toyota, and you can take the freshened-up CX-5 as an embodiment of that upmarket ambition. Attractive inside and out, with impressive dynamic refinement and suitably snazzy infotainment, it’s the family hauler to buy with your heart. Boy, does it need turbocharging, though. 

Felix Page

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Love it:

Cool seats The standard vented leather seats were a huge bonus in the heatwave. Brown leather also looked great

Dial it up No grubby fingermarks on the screen here. All the controls were easily operated by the rotary dial. 

Beeping useful I’d often curse the proximity sensor for beeping unnecessarily... only for a hidden pedestrian to appear. 

Loathe it:

The one that got away For all its sensible switchgear, the button for the heated wheel was on the wrong side of the dashboard. 

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Blinded by the light At night, the infotainment screen was almost dangerous. It was so bright you could start a fire with it.

Final mileage: 6678 

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Cooling seats are the perfect answer to record UK temperatures - 3 August

Well, would you look at that? Chilled front seats for the record-breaking temperatures in the UK. It’s as if the gods of climate control are smiling on me. Leather is a great material (wipe-clean, hard-wearing and a waste by-product) but is also a swine in 40deg C heat. The CX-5’s fan-blown seats, standard fit on GT Sport trim, are the perfect answer to one of the few cow-skin drawbacks.  

Mileage: 5966 

The CX-5 is starting to wrench Ward's wallet - 20 July

A day racing at Snetterton recently meant I could test the efficiency of our 2.5-litre petrol Mazda over a slightly more mixed run. The average had been creeping up to just over 33, but that included a lot of motorway miles. A cross-country potter would be more realistic. I was gentle, but it still fell back to nearer 30. In these times, that’s starting to hurt. 

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Mileage: 5146 

Life with a Mazda CX-5: Month 2

The CX-5 boasts an impressive seating set-up - 28 June

A remote release for the rear seats isn’t anything new, but Mazda’s tri-handle set-up impresses regardless. Pull the longer lever for the outer seat, the smaller one for the middle seat. They don’t go quite flat, but the boot is still a healthy size. The 40/20/40 split was also useful on a four-up airport run with skis, as they easily slid down the middle. 

Mileage: 4619

We speak to its designer about the philosophy behind the look - 22 June

If we had done something really fashionable and cool, it would have dated already,” said Jo Stenuit,

Mazda Europe’s design boss, about the CX-5, the first car to combine the firm’s Kodo ‘soul of motion’ design language and Skyactiv technology.

That might come across as a slightly odd thought process for someone who is dedicated to making something look as good as possible, but it’s an interesting jumping-off point for a discussion around the design philosophy at Mazda.

Our CX-5 isn’t without its faults. For all the chatter about ‘right-sizing’ engines with Skyactiv technology, the 2.5-litre naturally aspirated four- pot and six-speed automatic gearbox do not happy bedfellows make. But it’s hard to criticise the looks of the thing – or any Mazda, for that matter.


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Where other brands have made their cars look like they lost a fight with the steel press, with a plethora of sharp creases and angry snouts, Mazdas are serene by comparison: tight details where they’re needed (like the headlights) and flowing panels elsewhere to give that sense of motion that’s so vital to Kodo.

I spoke to Stenuit at the launch of the CX-60, as I was intrigued to see the reasoning behind the simple lines that mark Mazdas out. It’s too easy to get lost in all the verboseness of designer-speak (the verbal equivalent of a turtleneck jumper and trendy glasses), but Mazda’s man was pretty refreshing about all this stuff.

“It’s not easy [to keep it simple],” said Stenuit. “Designers tend to like to make cool drawings with lots of bits, and shiny bits, and we try to stop them. The few parts you have then have to be perfect. Like on the Mazda 3, where you have a lot of flowing connections between the C-pillar and the door, it has to be right. Because other brands would just put a break line in. We didn’t, and that makes it extra difficult.”

What’s interesting is not only the challenge this gives to the designers but also to the engineers. Expansive flat panels can lead to vibrations, whereas creases make the metal stiffer. It speaks of the efforts of both teams that our CX-5 still feels as rigid and rattle-free as it did when it arrived, 4000 miles ago.

Stenuit feels the proportions of the CX-5 are the best reflection of Kodo’s sense of motion. “Although the CX-5 doesn’t have the most current surfacing, it’s still very pure, especially with the proportion you get with the long nose,” he said. “You also have a long line that starts at the front, runs all the way to the back and then drops, which gives you an impression of length.”

Mazda minagi 2011 sketch 7

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It’s clear that Kodo has had a massive effect on the overall brand, all thanks to Mazda’s global design boss Ikuo Maeda and his vision when he landed the top job 13 years ago.

That has rubbed off on Stenuit: “For me, the big difference in the past 10 years is the confidence. We became really confident without being arrogant, and we can dream big.”

The CX-5 and CX-30 are the stars of the moment, taking more than half of Mazda’s UK sales, but for Stenuit, it’s onto the next challenge: how to make Kodo work with electric cars.

“We’re working on the scalable EV platform, and we’re looking at how we can evolve Kodo because of electric propulsion,” he said. “We don’t have the answer yet internally. It’s both very exciting and very scary at the same time, but it’s nice, because we can look into crazy stuff again.

Love it

Slick integration 

Apple CarPlay works well with the infotainment’s control wheel.

Loathe it

Lots of pumping

Fuel economy has ticked up but, at 33.0mpg, it’s still not great.

Mileage: 4130

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Ward is blinded by the light - 8 June 

If anyone wishes to light up the white cliffs of Dover, may I suggest they borrow my CX-5? The infotainment screen is dazzling at 100 paces at night. There’s an auto mode, so you’d think it would automatically dim itself in the darker hours, but it doesn’t. There’s also a night mode, which you’d think would be ideal, but it’s so dim that you then can’t read the screen during the day. Daft. 

Mileage: 2896

Comparison with a 2016 model highlights Mazda’s guile - 1 June

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'Five years’, David Bowie once sang. It’s not a huge amount of time, as the great man so brilliantly told us in his mournful ballad. 

And it’s all that separates the registration plates on the two Mazda CX-5s pictured here – a facelifted Mk1 and our surgically enhanced Mk2 but boy can you tell the difference. The original CX-5 was the first car to feature Mazda’s Kodo design language combined with Skyactiv technology, but our car is, to my eyes at least, a much better example of the styling brief.

Where the older car is slightly frumpier around the nose, the newer one benefits from sharper headlights and better use of chrome around the grille.

The differences at the rear are subtler, but parking the two side by side gives you a chance to see the slightly sharper creases running into the boot or the edgier tail-lights. The brightwork also helps to lift it.


I’ve been running the CX-5 for a while now, and I still think it’s one of the best-looking cars in the family SUV class. I reckon it will age well, too, because it’s not chasing too much aggression or attitude, instead keeping things simple and clean.

Slip inside the old car and it’s clear that there has been a massive step change at Mazda recently. Although the two work on similar principles (a central infotainment screen, a rotary dial controller and physical menu buttons), the execution in the latest model is far more modern.

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It’s no Mercedes-Benz S-Class-like screen smorgasbord, thank God, but with a larger 10.25in screen and more current graphics, it feels and looks much better than the 66-plater.

Crucially, the ease of use, based around the dial controller and five  buttons, has remained. Well done to Mazda for not following the tappy-tappy touchscreen craze. Not that the modern car has got it all its own way, mind you.

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The 2.5-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine is a weak link, not only suffering in direct comparison to rivals like the Kia Sportage but also even to its forebear. 

Admittedly, the older CX-5 is a 2.2-litre diesel, but with a satisfying slug of torque from low revs and a more relaxed gait, it’s a smoother and easier car to potter around in. And that’s even allowing for the fact that it has a six-speed manual gearbox, not an automatic like ours.

But maybe all is not lost for Mazda on that front, because I recently drove the all-new CX-60 plug-in hybrid SUV, and that was much more refined. It also retained the user-friendly interior and clean exterior styling. It all bodes well for Japan’s most resolutely individual manufacturer.

Love it: 


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A couple of recent journeys have shown this to be one of the better-handling family SUVs.

Loathe it:


The CX-5 is its own micro cost- of-living crisis, with an average fuel economy of 31.4mpg.

Mileage: 2211


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Life with a Mazda CX-5: Month 1

Mazda CX-5 or Kia Sportage? - 18 May

Two similar-size family SUVs, two very different ways of going about ferrying two and a half kids around. While the Kia Sportage has a PHEV powertrain with an impressive 43- mile electric range, the Mazda CX-5’s 2.5-litre atmo petrol is struggling to average more than 30mpg. Here’s hoping that it either improves as the miles increase or I learn to be less leaden in my right foot. 

Mileage: 1643

Welcoming the C-X5 to the fleet - 11 May 2022

It can’t be easy being Mazda. The Japanese company tries like mad to forge its own path – building the MX-5 when no one else is producing cheap sports cars, or whacking a rotary engine into a ‘suicide-doored’ coupeÃ, or even plugging away with naturally aspirated units when everyone else is downsizing and turbocharging.

We all admire the brand and its tenacity. And then we all toddle off and buy the latest German SUV. Same old, same old.

But even Mazda can’t buck the inevitable forever and is now making headway along a similar path:last year in the UK, 60% of its cars were of the SUV variety.

So here we are, staring at our fleet’s new and facelifted Mazda CX-5 and wondering whether it’s going to be bonkers or boring. To be fair, it’s a family SUV, so it’s a more nuanced question than my slightly glib phrasing, but the point remains: has Mazda managed to inject enough of its cool gene to make this car stand out in what is an increasingly crowded market?

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The looks are certainly a good start. Where some are shouty and a bit too try-hard – Kia Sportage, anyone? – the Mazda is more understated and a good example of the Kodo design language. Maybe not as sharp and distinct as the 3 hatch, but it’s handsome nonetheless. In our optional Eternal Blue Mica paint (at £580, the only option on the car), it’s a classy thing in the school drop-off zone.

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We’ve gone for the 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G petrol engine, producing 191bhp and 190lb ft, the latter from 4000rpm. That final figure is the telltale here: this is a naturally aspirated engine. Mazda is a firm believer in ‘right-sizing’, meaning the engine should be the correct displacement for the size of the car.

How we get on with it at the petrol pumps is going to be a test, because the claimed fuel economy is 35.3mpg, despite the company’s recently adopted cylinder deactivation tech. With recent fuel price spikes, the CX-5 might not be much cheaper to

run than my last long-term test car – a McLaren GT...

Other omens for the engine are equally as foreboding. I wasn’t too enamoured with the four-cylinder petrol in the Kia Sorento I ran last year, but this Mazda’s lump really is the Nigel Farage of engines, making an awful lot of noise with no discernible results. It’s not the most auspicious of starts. Still, let’s give it time because the car is otherwise fitting into life effortlessly.

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The interior is swathed in leather (high-class nappa, no less), a rich dark brown colour that looks smart and is standard on this trim. Or, according to my children, it is either chocolate brown or poo brown, depending on the mood they’re in.

Ours is the top-level GT Sport trim, with four others also available: SE-L, Newground (no, me neither), Sport Edition and Sport Black Edition.

The GT certainly isn’t lacking for kit: 19in wheels, heated and ventilated seats, heated steering wheel, adaptive LED headlights (very effective at night), 360deg parking cameras and head-up display. No wonder it hasn’t got any options: I’m struggling to think of what extra I could need.

Mazda obviously feels the same. A quick trip into the configurator reveals nothing more extravagant than a set of branded dust caps or colour-coordinated key fob.

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The GT Sport is available from £33,675 (the cheapest CX-5 starts at £28,175), but with our top-line engine, we’re up to £37,785. Punchy, but no more so than rivals.

So far, we’re about 1000 miles into ownership and there are some neat touches that have already stood out. Such as the powerful bulb in the bootlid, which casts a decent wash of light into both the boot and the floor around it. Or the three-way handle for folding the rear seats, so you can lower them from the boot in their 40/20/40 split – a handy feature for posting skis through where the middle seat would be.

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I know, hardly hold the front page headlines, but it’s the sort of stuff that makes the car easier to live with.

That will be the real kicker with the CX-5. Can it keep that easy-going manner over the few months of our ownership but still maintain the quirks that make Mazda such a great brand for car enthusiasts like us?

The Sorento I ran was a good family hack, but it wasn’t a memorable car. Let’s hope the Mazda is.

Second Opinion

I found the CX-5’s dynamic limit quite quickly on a wet Trossachs pass, but it held the road much more confidently than other SUVs of this size and stature. There’s no doubting its athleticism, but efficiency matters more in this segment and I fear Piers might soon tire of that atmo engine’s thirst.

Felix Page

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Mazda CX-5 specification

Prices: List price new £37,785 List price now £38,905 Price as tested £38,365

Options: Metallic paint, £580

Fuel consumption and range: Claimed economy 35.3mpg Fuel tank 58 litres Test average 33.7mpg Test best 37.4mpg Test worst 28.7mpg Real-world range 430 miles

Tech highlights: 0-62mph 9.3sec Top speed 121mph Engine 4 cyls, 2488cc, petrol Max power 191bhp at 6000rpm Max torque 190lb ft at 4000rpm Transmission 6-spd automatic Boot capacity 510-1626 litres Wheels 19in, alloy Tyres 225/55 R19 Kerb weight 1600kg

Service and running costs: Contract hire rate £480 CO2 182g/km Service costs None Other costs None Fuel costs £1286.03 Running costs inc fuel £1286.03 Cost per mile 23 pence Faults None

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Join the debate

Add a comment…
Tuffty 8 December 2022

The screen-brightness issue is an easy but completely unintuitive fix. Set the day and night brightnesses via iDrive and select the Auto mode. If the display doesn't change automatically, just press the old-school button on the instrument cluster... 

xxxx 6 July 2022

Think this version is 1660kg kerb weight, 33mpg, not so brilliant.

jason_recliner 29 May 2022

1,560kg. Mazda brilliance.