Quirky or better?
Even when it comes to a facelift, Mazda is cocky, as the sheet metal has remained almost the same. Still the lines are based on organic shapes. The changes for the 2023 model year are in the trim. Henceforth, a trim is more decisive for character than the trim level. Thus, the test car is an elegantly sporty "Homura". It can be recognised by accents in high-gloss black, including black rims. The grille, on the other hand, features playful red accents.
The test car is finished in the new colour "Rhodium White" which replaces "Snowflake White". Thanks to aluminium particles in the paint, it is said to be more sparkling, but in fact the difference is minimal. It is the weather that determines how vibrant a colour is, and coatings with shimmering particles can do little to change that.
The organic shapes and black of the Homura trim are also reflected in the interior. Red accents can be found in the stitching of the steering wheel, dashboard and door panels. Space in the front and rear was and remains good, with subtleties making all the difference.
Mazda says it has done extra work on the shape of the seats, which would require less muscle power to maintain balance when cornering. This would be less strenuous on long distances. At the same time, the front seats give the torso more freedom of movement, making it easier for the driver to look around. Although the differences with other brands are not immediately noticeable, the seats were found to be above-average in terms of comfort and enjoyment.
When it comes to equipment, while the CX-5 is luxurious, age is starting to show. Technology introduced in the newer (but more expensive) CX-60 does not find its way to the CX-5, which is a missed opportunity. For instance, the CX-5 has to make do without automatic adjustment of the seats based on the height of the driver and without facial recognition to automatically choose settings when sharing the car with multiple users. The CX-5 lacks a smart voice assistant and the amount of driver assistants (automatic braking for danger, cornering assist) is no more than adequate.
Though there are new features for the 2023 model year. A Qi charger can now be found on the centre console to charge a phone wirelessly. Cameras all around make manoeuvring easier. An app can now be used to send a destination to the sat nav from a mobile phone. The app can also be used to locate the car or enquire its technical condition.
One lingering problem remains unresolved: the CX-5 does have a central display screen, but this is not a touchscreen. All functions have to be controlled by a push/pull button on the centre console. This has been found time and again to be dangerous because it requires a lot of coordination: the hand operates one element and the result is visible elsewhere. A touchscreen is faster and more logical. This is even more true when opting for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto (now also wireless). Mazda should give the driver free to choose how the audio, communication and sat nav is operated.
Mazda is perhaps the most stubborn when it comes to engines. It argues that the extra pollution caused in the production of electric cars can hardly be made up during the use of that car and therefore opts to refine existing technology. Moreover, Mazda is not following the trend of small turbocharged engines, as they would be too turbulent, which would eventually make them more thirtsy anyway.
The CX-5 therefore comes with a 2.0 or 2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol engine, without a turbo. To save fuel, the engines switch off two of the four cylinders when little power is required. During braking and coasting, kinetic energy is converted into electricity. That power is later used by an electric motor that can assist when the petrol engine has to work hard. This so-called "mild hybrid"-drive uses 24 volts, not the usual 48 volts.
This quirky technology results in a quirky character. First, the 2.5-litre engine with automatic transmission and front-wheel drive was tested. When driven calmly with the flow of traffic, this strongest engine on the price list (194 hp / 263 Nm) is quiet and smooth. However, as soon as more power is required, the engine makes more noise, but the corresponding performance falls short. Maximum pulling power is only available at an unusually high engine speed and it takes a long time to reach that speed. A new "kickdown" function of the automatic should make up for this, but in practice this results only in alert shifting and not in better performance. The new sport mode also increases noise and hardly any performance.
The 2.0-litre engine has much the same character. In town and at low speeds, the difference with the 2.5-litre engine is even minimal. Combined with the automatic gearbox, sprint power is again disappointing and the sound slightly rawer than that of the 2.5-litre engine.
When the manual gearbox is chosen, everything gets better! Then the driver not only has more control over the engine, the gearbox ratios also match the engine's power structure better. Thereby, the gear changes are exact and the clutch is easy to feel.
It is therefore easier to drive smoothly. Conversely, the 2.0-litre four-cylinder's rare suppleness is striking. The revs can drop very far and, thanks in part to the electric assistance, the engine will never protest. On the contrary: even when the accelerator pedal is depressed to the floor, the shift indicator can suggest selecting a higher gear. If this is heeded, the power unit still doesn't falter (although the feeling is that this is bad for the mechanics).
The same, demanding course was taken with all three engine variants. With the strongest engine, this took 7.7 litres per 100 km, with the base engine with automatic 7.4 litres per 100 km and with the base variant with manual transmission 7.2 litres per 100 km. This is consistently above average and proves that for a large SUV, a turbocharged engine and/or more electric assistance is really desirable. In other Mazda models, the quirky powertrain technology comes into its own better.
Mazda has tuned the seats and chassis so that the driver's body would be in balance with the car's mechanics. This means the CX-5 does not have a hard suspension or heavy steering like a sports car, but rather a refined suspension and precise steering to still achieve an equally confident result. In addition, the handling is linear, so the car responds the same in a variety of conditions and never surprises the driver.
This last point is both a strength and a weakness. In fact, the CX-5 behaves so naturally that all the refinement is hardly noticeable. Only on a long drive does it become clear how easy the CX-5 makes life and that gives appreciation for its quirky engineering.
Thanks to Mazda's engineering, is the CX-5 just quirky or actually better than the rest? A bit of both. Mazda forces how the infotainment system should be operated and this should be a driver's choice. The rest of the controls and ergonomics (seats!) are only different in details.
How the engines are rated depends very much on driving style. Power is built up extremely gradually and those who drive hurriedly or sportily will be annoyed. On the contrary, those who let the car set the pace and/or drive calmly with the flow of traffic will find the engines quiet, smooth and even soothing. Consumption is above average; (plug-in) hybrids are simply better suited to a big, tall and heavy car like this.
In the end, it's all about refinement. It's small details that make life with the CX-5 just that little bit more comfortable or easier. This is particularly true of handling. It is excellent, but comes across so naturally that you don't notice how good it actually is.
- Excellent handling
- Quiet, smooth engines
- Spacious and practical
- No touch-screen
- High consumption
- Poor performance