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 and the CX-5 changes direction more swiftly than almost all its rivals. 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. The new 2022 CX-5 gets a tweaked suspension setup to make it more pliant, with new dampers that have been even more expertly tuned.

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.

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 twin-turbocharged 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.

We’ve also tried the 148bhp diesel equipped with a six-speed automatic gearbox. It has a bit more torque than the same-sized engine in the SEAT Ateca, but the SEAT has an extra ratio in its gearbox. Not only does this improve fuel economy, but we suspect an additional gear would make the CX-5 faster. The automatic gearbox is too slow to change up, which blunts performance somewhat and takes the edge off driver involvement.

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. 

The 2.0-litre petrol feels a bit gutless lower down the rev range because it goes without a turbocharger and has less pulling power than its rivals. Overtaking slow-moving vehicles will take at least one downshift, and most of the power comes in high up the rev range. That means you will often need to keep the throttle pressed down long after a gear change, unlike in some rivals, which harms fuel economy. But overlook this, and the CX-5 will leave a smile on your face.

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 9.1-second 0-62mph acceleration doesn't make it significantly faster than the 2.0-litre petrol, and it often feels more sluggish than anticipated. If you are coming from a turbocharged SUV, it takes a while to get used to how hard the Mazda’s 2.5-litre needs to be worked to extract its performance. The 2.0-litre TSI engine in the Skoda Karoq has more torque and gets it from 0-62mph nearly two seconds faster. This isn’t helped by the sluggish six-speed automatic gearbox, which isn’t as snappy as the Skoda’s dual-clutch DSG transmission. Mazda’s biggest petrol is less refined too, so we'd avoid it and go for the 2.2-litre diesel, which feels far better suited to the CX-5. 

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