What Car? says...
Jinba Ittai is a Japanese phrase that represents the unity of rider and horse. It’s also an ideology that inspires Mazda, and something the brand says is the secret sauce that’s sold nearly 70,000 examples of the Mazda CX-5 in the UK.
Impressive stuff, but it takes more than Japanese philosophy to stay relevant, so Mazda is hoping that it's done enough with multiple updates to keep the CX-5 competitive against rival family SUVs.
So, what does it have up its proverbial sleeve? Well, as a five-seater, it's not a complete behemoth to handle in a multi-storey car park. It doesn’t have a premium brand badge on its nose, but still cuts a dash, and is much cheaper than the equivalent German-built alternatives.
Heck, it even handles well compared with other cars in its class. That's a bonus if you’re trading in a smaller family car and don’t want to suffer the culture shock of an SUV with excessive body lean and poor road manners.
What's more, Mazda recently gave the CX-5 a facelift, updating the aesthetics and adding a few extra trim levels to ensure that there’s one to suit most needs – including a rugged-looking version called Newground. As before, you can twin these trim levels with a choice of petrol or diesel engines, manual and automatic gearboxes, and two or four-wheel drive.
Over the next few pages, this review will tell you all you need to know about the Mazda CX-5, and compare it with its key rivals, including the Citroën C5 Aircross, the Honda CR-V, the Peugeot 5008, the Skoda Kodiaq and the Toyota RAV4.
When you've decided which make and model of vehicle is the right one for you, we can help you save thousands off the list price without any haggling – just use our free What Car? New Car Deals service. It has lots of the best new family SUV deals.
Performance & drive
What it’s like to drive, and how quiet it is
Engine, 0-60mph and gearbox
Mazda doesn't use turbochargers to boost the performance of its petrol engines, which makes it almost unique among car manufacturers. That means that while the CX-5's 163bhp 2.0 Skyactiv-G 165 petrol has more power than, say, the Citroën C5 Aircross 1.2 Puretech 130, it's no quicker.
It's a lot less flexible from low revs, too, so you have to get to 3000rpm and beyond to release its performance, making it harder work to drive because you're changing gears more often. It's still our favourite engine in the range, though. The 191bhp 2.5 e-Skyactiv G is only a little bit faster and uses a lot more fuel, although it does come with a responsive automatic gearbox as standard, sparing you the constant gear-changing.
Don’t ignore the entry-level 148bhp 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 diesel either. It pulls harder than the petrols from around 1500rpm and revs out freely all the way to the red line (0-62mph takes 9.9sec in the manual). Again, the more expensive 182bhp 2.2 Skyactiv-D 184 is a bit stronger at the top of the rev range but not by much.
Suspension and ride comfort
The CX-5 has relatively stiff suspension, which makes ride comfort one of its weaker points. It's not uncomfortable, but it fidgets more on a motorway and is more jarring over sharp-edged bumps than the wafty C5 Aircross.
That’s especially true if you upgrade to one of the higher trims that come with larger 19in alloy wheels and lower-profile tyres. For the best ride comfort, we’d advise sticking to entry-level Centre-Line trim, which includes 17in alloys.
Thanks to its stiffer suspension setup, the CX-5 is better at controlling body lean and has more grip through corners than the softer C5 Aircross.
The steering is quicker than you might expect in a car of this size and takes some getting used to. Once you're familiar with it, though, you’ll find that it’s accurate, naturally weighted and gives you ample feedback to make placing the car easy.
Noise and vibration
There's a bit of road noise in a CX-5 fitted with the bigger 19in wheels – but that criticism also applies to many of its rivals, including the CR-V and the Toyota RAV4. The 5008 and the Skoda Kodiaq are quieter motorway cruisers.
The Mazda diesel engines are smooth when worked hard but sound a bit gruff at very low revs. The fact that you need to work the petrol engine harder than you do in petrol-powered rivals makes it an altogether rowdier companion.
The standard six-speed manual gearbox is a pleasure to use, with a relatively precise and sporty action that almost feels like a toned-down version of the fantastic manual gearbox in the Mazda MX-5 sports car. An automatic is available as an option with all engine choices (it’s your only option with the most powerful petrol engine) and changes through the gears smoothly and quickly. It’s also not as jerky as the Kodiaq at slow speeds.
The interior layout, fit and finish
Driving position and dashboard
If you like to sit high up in your car, you’ll appreciate the Mazda CX-5’s lofty driving position. True, it’s not Range Rover tall, but you feel higher up than you do in smaller family SUVs including the Peugeot 3008 and Seat Ateca.
It’s easy to get comfortable, too. The driver’s seat comes with plenty of adjustment (electronically controlled if you avoid entry-level Centre-Line trim) and adjustable lumbar support as standard, while the steering wheel offers ample movement up, down, in and out.
The dashboard is sensibly arranged and everything is exactly where you’d expect. Refreshingly, you won’t find a single touch-sensitive or touchscreen control anywhere. Instead, good old-fashioned physical buttons are the order of the day, even on the top-spec versions.
Visibility, parking sensors and cameras
The CX-5's slim windscreen pillars and high driving position mean you have a good view out over the bonnet and as you approach junctions. The view over your shoulder isn’t quite as good because of the thick rear pillars, but the large rear window means your view directly out of the back isn’t bad.
To make parking easier, every version comes with front and rear parking sensors as standard. If you upgrade to Exclusive-Line trim, you also get a rear-view camera, and top-tier Takumi trim has a 360-degree camera that displays a bird’s eye view of the car.
Takumi also replaces the standard adaptive headlights with brighter adaptive LED headlights. They give you better visibility in the dark and let you leave the lights on full beam without dazzling other drivers.
Sat nav and infotainment
The display is crisp and positioned high on the dashboard, so it’s easy to see without taking your eyes off the road for too long. You control it using a physical rotary dial positioned just behind the gearlever, which is much less distracting than operating the touchscreen-only set-ups in many rival cars.
We found the CX-5's infotainment more responsive and intuitive to use than the systems in both the Citroën C5 Aircross and the Peugeot 5008. Indeed, while iDrive in the BMW X3 is better still, you pay for the privilege.
The CX-5 really delivers when it comes to the quality of the interior, which is really solidly put together. It's much classier than the Ford Kuga and its high standards are only beaten by pricier premium rivals such as the Audi Q5 and the BMW X3.
Most surfaces are soft to the touch, and those that aren’t tend to be hidden low down. There’s an eclectic mix of materials that work well together to enhance the ambience, including leather highlights around the base of the dashboard and, on the range-topping Takumi, attractive dashboard inserts.
Passenger & boot space
How it copes with people and clutter
The amount of space in the front of the Mazda CX-5 is comparable with most of its key family SUV rivals. As such, there's enough head and leg room for tall adults to sit comfortably, and they won't struggle for shoulder room either.
There are long, deep storage pockets in the front doors, a large cubbyhole at the base of the dashboard (which is where wireless phone-charger is found – standard on mid-spec Exclusive-Line and up), and a big glovebox with enough room for more than just the owner's manual. The two cupholders between the seats will keep large coffee cups or bottles of water steady.
You get generous amounts of space in the back of the CX-5, and two six-footers will have plenty of headroom and a fair gap between their knees and the front seats. If you're expecting to carry particularly long-legged passengers, bear in mind that the Peugeot 5008 and Toyota RAV4 are a bit more generous, while the limo-like Honda CR-V offers loads more leg room.
A passenger in the middle seat will have a little less headroom than in the outer seats because the middle of the rear bench is slightly raised. Most people will be fine there without having to bend their neck, but three adults sitting across the back won't have much space width-ways.
If you need seven seats, rather than the maximum five the CX-5 offers, consider the CR-V, the 5008 or the Skoda Kodiaq.
Seat folding and flexibility
The CX-5's rear seats benefit from a two-stage reclining mechanism, allowing passengers to kick back and relax on longer jaunts. It's a pity the seats don’t slide back and forth, though, as they do in the Citroën C5 Aircross, the 5008 and the Kodiaq.
Folding down the rear seats is easy. You simply pull some handles on the sides of the boot and the seatbacks drop by themselves. This handy feature is also available in the Kodiaq, but you have to pay extra for it.
The CX-5's seatbacks are split in a 40/20/40 arrangement as standard, which offers more seating options than the less versatile 60/40 layout in some of its rivals.
There's slightly less room for luggage in the CX-5's boot than in many of its rivals, including the C5 Aircross and the CR-V. Even so, we managed to fit eight carry-on suitcases back there, so you shouldn’t struggle to fit in two large pushchairs.
The Kodiaq and the 5008 managed to take 10 carry-on cases, making them ideal for pretty much any situation.
The rear seats in the CX-5 can be folded down to create a huge flat load bay with no annoying steps or crevices. The boot floor isn't height-adjustable, but there is a usefully large storage area below it, plus two handy cubbyholes behind the rear wheel arches. The floor sits almost flush with the boot opening so there's no awkward lip to heave things over.
Buying & owning
Everyday costs, plus how reliable and safe it is
Costs, insurance groups, MPG and CO2
A Mazda CX-5 fitted with the 2.0 Skyactiv-G petrol engine feels a little weaker on the road compared with the diesels, but is our pick for private buyers because it's much cheaper and still offers decent fuel economy. It costs less than the equivalent Peugeot 5008 and Skoda Kodiaq but slightly more than the Citroën C5 Aircross.
The CX-5 is predicted to hold on to its value as well as the Kodiaq does, but should depreciate slower than the C5 Aircross, and 5008, making PCP car finance deals competitive. If you’re a high-mileage driver and want the best fuel economy in the range, the manual 2.2 Skyactiv-D 150 and front-wheel drive 184 diesels are for you. Our favourite 2.0 Skyactiv-G offers very competitive real-world fuel consumption for a petrol, though.
CO2 emissions are on a par with the CX-5's rivals, but because there’s no full hybrid available, there are better options if you want to cut your benefit-in-kind tax bill. The Ford Kuga PHEV plug-in hybrid and others are in much lower company car tax bands.
Equipment, options and extras
No matter what you’re looking for in your CX-5, one of the five trim levels will probably fit the bill, and each has its own styling quirks. Entry-level Centre-Line is our pick of the range because it keeps costs to a minimum but still gets plenty of goodies, including adaptive cruise control, dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights and various parking aids, alloy wheels and infotainment bits.
Newground – which is only available with a petrol engine – makes the CX-5 look a bit more rugged but doesn’t really get any additional kit, other than the larger 19in alloy wheels and a reversible rubber mat in the boot. If your budget can stretch to it, Exclusive-Line trim is not drastically more expensive and brings some extra luxury. It adds leather seats (heated in the front), a heated steering wheel, keyless entry, an electric tailgate and a head-up display, which projects speed and other information on to the windscreen in front of the driver.
Homura is another trim concerned with aesthetic changes, while the range-topping Takumi gets Nappa leather trim, a powered tailgate and various other toys, including a 360-degree camera.
The CX-5 did a respectable job in the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey claiming a spot near the top of the 32-strong large SUV section. It couldn’t beat the BMW X3 or the Honda CR-V but did finish above the 5008 and the Kodiaq.
Mazda as a brand did well too, claiming eighth out of the 32 manufacturers included. That places it above Citroën, Peugeot and Ford, but behind Hyundai and Toyota.
CX-5s come with a fairly average three-year/60,000-mile warranty, which can be extended for a fee. Kia’s warranty is far better, running to seven years as standard.
Safety and security
You get a healthy list of safety equipment with the CX-5, including city emergency braking, stability control and six airbags, plus features that many manufacturers charge extra for, such as lane-keeping assistance, blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert. The Mazda scored a maximum five-star rating in Euro NCAP safety tests.
It’s worth noting that it achieved that rating back in 2017, when the tests were less stringent. Rivals tested more recently might be more effective at keeping you safe in a crash.
A Driver Assistance pack is available as an option on the CX-5 from Exclusive-Line trim and comes as standard with Takumi. The pack isn’t a necessity but it does include useful extras including a driver attention monitor and rear automatic emergency braking (AEB). The Mazda has an alarm and engine immobiliser, and security experts Thatcham awarded it four out of five for guarding against being broken into and five out of five for resisting being stolen.
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It should be. Petrol-engined CX-5s performed respectably in the large SUV class of the 2022 What Car? Reliability Survey finishing towards the top of the table. Mazda as a brand came near the top of the manufacturer reliability table, coming eighth out of 32 car makers, ahead of Citroën, Ford and Peugeot.
Our chosen version is the entry-level Centre-Line trim with the two-wheel-drive 2.0 Skyactiv-G petrol engine. We like that combination because it keeps costs down but still gives you plenty of luxuries, including automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, front and rear parking sensors and driver adjustable lumbar support.
While the entry-level CX-5 Centre-Line gets lots of luxuries, the Exclusive-Line has an even more extensive equipment list. The Exclusive-Line costs quite a bit more but gains bigger 19in alloy wheels, a reversing camera, wireless phone-charging and other kit.
All versions of the Mazda CX-5 come with a 10.25in infotainment screen that’s only touchscreen while you’re stationary. When the car is moving, you can control the system using a handy rotary controller between the front seats. We like that, as it makes scrolling through the menus less distracting while you’re driving. Read more here
Petrol versions of the Mazda CX-5 have 522 litres of boot capacity while diesel versions get 510 litres (due to its larger Adblue fuel tank). That’s enough to carry a couple of pushchairs, but even the larger boot of the petrol version gives you less space than many rivals, including the Citroën C5 Aircross and Honda CR-V. Read more here
|RRP price range||£31,045 - £42,730|
|Number of trims (see all)||5|
|Number of engines (see all)||3|
|Available fuel types (which is best for you?)||diesel, petrol|
|MPG range across all versions||37.2 - 50.4|
|Available doors options||5|
|Warranty||3 years / 60000 miles|
|Company car tax at 20% (min/max)||£2,029 / £3,081|
|Company car tax at 40% (min/max)||£4,057 / £6,162|