In-depth reviews

Mazda CX-5 SUV - Engines, drive & performance

Engaging driving manners are key to the Mazda CX-5 experience

Carbuyer Rating

4.0 out of 5

Owners Rating

3.3 out of 5

Read owner reviews
Engines, drive & performance Rating

4.5 out of 5

Without beating around the bush, the way the CX-5 drives is one of its strongest suits. If you’re moving to an SUV from a hatchback like a Ford Focus and are afraid you’ll miss out on driving fun, the CX-5 should be high on your shortlist of candidates.

This is despite the fact that, like all SUVs, physics really aren’t in its favour. It’s a long, wide and reasonably heavy car, so there are significant forces for its suspension and brakes to keep under control. Nevertheless, you wouldn't know it because the Mazda responds obediently to commands through the steering wheel and pedals – the steering is accurate and satisfyingly weighty and there’s lots of grip from the tyres, so fast corners can be taken with confidence.

The Mazda’s 1,500kg weight is borne out by a greater tendency to lean in corners than you’ll notice in a lighter hatchback, and this is exacerbated by its greater ride height, but it doesn’t detract from the experience. We rate the CX-5 as among the most nimble of all the SUVs, and it’s the one we recommend if driver appeal is on your priority list.

Perhaps more relevant is the fact that fun behind the wheel doesn’t come at the expense of passenger comfort, particularly on SE-L models with 17-inch alloy wheels. Here, ride quality is pliant, if a little firmer than some rivals – certainly a big improvement on the comfort of the previous model. Versions fitted with 19-inch wheels aren’t quite as soft over bumps, but still far from uncomfortable.

Mazda CX-5 diesel engines

The engine lineup is largely carried over from the previous model, albeit with various minor tweaks to keep them up-to-date. The diesel choices are a 148 or 182bhp version of a 2.2-litre four-cylinder engine, which has been proven in several Mazda cars.

When we tested the 182bhp engine, we found it to be quieter and smoother than it had been in the previous CX-5, but its pulling power is as impressive as ever – 0-62mph takes just over nine seconds in manual form. For a diesel engine, it seems very keen to rev and is responsive when you make sudden demands, such as when overtaking slower traffic.

The standard gearbox is a six-speed manual, which has a very slick shift action and is, we reckon, more pleasurable than the six-speed automatic alternative, feeling quite similar to that found in the Mazda MX-5 sports car. The automatic also adds considerable expense while dropping fuel economy and increasing emissions, but it’s otherwise adequate and will appeal to anyone who spends most of their time driving in heavy traffic.

Petrol engines

Only one petrol engine is available in the majority of the line-up: a 2.0-litre 163bhp four-cylinder with a six-speed manual or automatic gearbox. Its key appeal is that it’s by far the least expensive engine in the range, and low-mileage drivers (below 12,000 a year or so) are likely to find it no more expensive to run than a diesel. It’s quieter than the diesels at tickover when cold, too, although the diesels are just as quiet when you reach cruising speeds.

Despite its 163bhp, the petrol engine can’t match the pulling power of either of the diesels, and their more muscular feel means they suit the CX-5 rather better. Getting from 0-62mph takes 10.5 seconds in the manual, while the automatic is actually a bit quicker, managing the dash in 9.9 seconds. 

Somewhat curiously, there's also a range-topping 2.5-litre petrol engine that's only offered in GT Sport trim. This offers 191bhp and comes with an automatic gearbox as standard. It suits a relaxed driving style but its 9.3-second 0-62mph acceleration doesn't make it significantly faster than the 2.0-litre petrol. It's less refined too, so we'd avoid it. 

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