Mazda CX-5 review - a sleek, left-field family SUV
"The Mazda CX-5 is stylish, well equipped, great to drive and painless to own"
- Engaging to drive
- Well equipped
- Great looks
- Top spec expensive
- Rivals more spacious
- Some safety features extra
Verdict – is the Mazda CX-5 a good car?
The Mazda CX-5 offers something a little different in the mid-size SUV class, and will appeal to buyers who are after the big-car practicality combined with style, and engaging driving dynamics. The Mazda CX-5 delivers on all those fronts and even feels well-equipped, making it a compelling choice. If you’re looking for the last word in interior and boot space and safety features the CX-5 isn’t it, but it strikes a great balance while still standing out in a car park full of mainstream SUVs.
Mazda CX-5 models, specs and alternatives
The Mazda CX-5 may not be a household name in the same way the Nissan Qashqai or Toyota RAV4, but it does aim to inject a little character into the mix. Beauty is of course in the eye of the beholder, but first impressions of the CX-5’s styling are of a svelte, sophisticated family SUV. Leaning on its heritage of building driver’s cars such as the MX-5 roadster, Mazda’s engineers have strived to do the same for the CX-5, so it’s aimed at buyers who want something that feels good to drive, too.
Aside from the aforementioned SUVs, buyers looking for a car in this area of the market are likely to also be considering rivals such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Vauxhall Grandland, or even upmarket models like the BMW X3 and Audi Q3.
The design is unlike that of its blocky and bulky rivals. The grille is much larger than before and is partnered with slim headlights, and although the CX-5 is a little shorter than its predecessor, it looks sleeker, which gives it a more distinctive and confident appearance that topped voting in 2021 Driver Power survey, and continues to rank highly, coming fifth in 2023. In short, it’s better looking than most of its rivals, including the stylish Skoda Karoq and SEAT Ateca.
Mazda gave its big-selling CX-5 a makeover for 2022. New cars got redesigned lights and bumpers, there are new trim level selections - some with vivid red or green detailing - and the suspension setup has been overhauled. The focus has been on making the CX-5 more comfortable than before, and after our test drive, we can confirm the changes have been mostly successful.
The interior of the CX-5 looks much as before, but has a different feel thanks to Mazda’s use of higher-grade materials. Surfaces are pleasantly tactile while discreet chrome highlights convey a real sense of quality. There’s up-to-date technology too, including a prominent 10.25-inch infotainment screen. A conveniently located rotary controller prevents you from having to reach to operate it and leaving smudges on the screen.
Over the years the CX-5 has been offered in various trim levels, but the most recent lineup is extensive. The range starts with the Centre-Line trim, moving up through Newground, Exclusive-Line, Homura and Takumi grades. You'll not find a meagrely equipped CX-5 in the range; even Centre-Line packs lots of features including the aforementioned touchscreen infotainment system which has a sat nav, a DAB digital radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity.
There’s also dual-zone climate control so front-seat occupants can control their own temperature and air-conditioning levels, smart 17-inch alloy wheels and bright LED headlights. Crucially from a safety perspective, it also comes with autonomous emergency braking, which automatically applies the brakes if it detects an obstacle you’re not slowing down for. Mazda packs in more standard equipment than its rivals, and often for a lower price too.
Newground brings some welcome styling upgrades including 19-inch alloy wheels and a silver undergarnish, chrome detailing and black front grille with lime green accenting. Electric, heated door mirrors, black half faux-leather upholstery with green stitching and suede inserts and heated front seats are also added to this model and it costs just £1,000 more than entry-level cars at the time of writing, so we think it would be the best model for most buyers.
Most CX-5 passengers will find interior space to be more than adequate, although the 522-litre boot is a little smaller than the 615 litres the Volkswagen Tiguan can provide if its adjustable rear seats are slid fully forwards. If the boot frustrates, though, it’ll soon be forgiven when you experience how quiet the Mazda is inside. Engine noise is subdued and carefully considered sound-deadening blocks the worst of the rumble from the car’s wide tyres. The facelifted car is quieter still.
What about a used or nearly new Mazda CX-5?
A well-equipped, solidly made and stylish mid-sized SUV with punchy and efficient diesel engines, low running costs and excellent reliability, the Mazda CX-5 is a great choice for families or older buyers wanting a comfortable car to cruise around in. Some rivals offer more interior and boot space, but most people won’t mourn the absence of a few millimetres here and there. You should find a reasonable number of used Mazda CX-5s on dealer forecourts, in a variety of specifications: typically, they hold their value better than many rivals, but if you’re able to spend between £20,000 and £30,000, you’ll bag yourself a good example. A further highlight of the Mazda CX-5 is that it feels very good to drive, and even if you’re not especially interested in cars, you’re likely to appreciate that fact.
- Read the full used Mazda CX-5 Mk2 review
What’s its history?
Launched in 2017, the Mazda CX-5 offered buyers the choice between a 2.0-litre petrol engine and a 2.2-litre turbocharged diesel with two power outputs – 148bhp and 173bhp. It was available with front- or four-wheel drive, and with a six-speed manual gearbox or a six-speed automatic. Trim levels were initially pegged to just the two (SE-L Nav and Sport Nav), both generously equipped. Late in 2018 the trim range was upgraded to SE-L+ and Sport Nav+, and a new GT Sport Nav+ was introduced. The power output of the 173bhp diesel was increased to 181bhp at the same time. Equipment levels were gradually increased over the years and an update in January 2021 included an improved infotainment system, together with the launch of a 191bhp 2.5-litre petrol engine. In early 2022 the CX-5 received a more substantial refresh, with facelifted exterior styling and more luxurious interior trim.
Used Mazda CX-5 Mk1 (2012-2017)
The original CX-5, launched in 2012, saw Mazda break into the mid-sized SUV market with a car that had all the practicality and versatility of the breed but without the full-on off-roader looks. The CX-5 Mk1 was stylish, well-made, reliable and spacious, and was powered by a range of petrol and diesel engines, the latter very fuel efficient and offering good performance. The CX-5 was facelifted in 2015 before being replaced with an all-new model in 2017.
- Read the full Mazda CX-5 Mk1 buying guide