The second-gen CX-5 looks fantastic on the Akera's 19-inch wheels
Mazda's second-generation CX-5 is a terrific car in almost any spec, but with a torquey 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, few could argue with its all-around versatility. But the top-of-the-range Akera tipping over $50,000, that's a lot of money for a Mazda.
I think it's fair to say the Mazda CX-5 has done about as much a single model line could have done for the population explosion of SUVs. The car is still selling like crazy when the economy isn't crippled by a global pandemic and that's despite the second-generation shuffling itself into more upmarket territory.
The CX-5 Akera is not the car people tend to go into Mazda dealers to buy without first doing their homework. Despite hardly anyone (relatively speaking) buying the Akera, you have a choice of three engines, the naturally aspirated petrol, the turbo-petrol and the turbo-diesel (in ascending price order).
The latter two both start at over $50,000. You can't spend that much on a Tucson or a Sportage, or even a RAV4. So you're going to want to know what you're getting yourself into, right?
Mazda CX-5 2020: Akera (4x4)
Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with? 7/10
Mid-size SUVs for 50 grand better be good, no matter where they're from. As with the GT version, you're really gunning for the bottom end of the German crowd here, so you've got to have your marketing types sharply attuned to what buyers will cop switching to a Japanese brand.
The $50,830 Akera scores 19-inch alloys, a 10-speaker stereo, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, keyless entry and start, hefty safety package, around-view cameras, front and rear parking sensors, active cruise control, heated steering wheel, electric and heated front seats, heated rear seats, sat nav, active LED headlights, LED fog lights, auto wipers, head-up display, lovely Nappa leather trim, powered tailgate, power windows and mirrors, electric sunroof and a space-saver spare.
Mid-size SUVs for 50 grand better be good, no matter where they're from.
Mazda's older version of 'MZD Connect' fills the 7.0-inch touchscreen which also features digital radio and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. You can control the screen with the rotary dial once you're moving as the touch function is disabled when you're driving.
The sat nav is a bit light on for detail, so your phone is probably more helpful if you're going somewhere tricky.
Is there anything interesting about its design? 9/10
I really like cut of the CX-5's cloth. It is a bit colour sensitive, although I really like this 'Polymetal Grey Metallic' hue ($495) which changes a lot depending on the lighting conditions.
The second generation has a more resolved, more ears-pinned-back design which is kind of ironic because one of the ads for the previous car used big cat imagery. The sleek headlights, the beautiful proportions and general elegance is going to age just as well as the older machine. That's a good design.
I really like cut of the CX-5's cloth.
The interior is very clean but still really dark. The 'wood' in the Akera doesn't really help matters, but that's what you get for going for the top of the range. The Nappa leather on the seats is quite lovely, though and the car smells nice (at least when new). As with other Mazdas, the switch count on the centre stack is minimal with some lights moving up to the ceiling console. It's very calm and composed.
How practical is the space inside? 7/10
The boot may now be 442 litres but it's well down on its obvious rivals, the Tiguan (615 litres) and RAV4 Edge (580 litres). Fold all three elements of the 40/20/40 split fold rear seat and you have a handy 1342 litres and a reasonably flat floor.
There are four cupholders evenly distributed and bottle holders, with a pair in each row.
The Mazda tradition of tight rear seating continues.
The boot may now be 442 litres but it's well down on its obvious rivals.
Fold all three elements of the split fold rear seat and you have a handy 1342 litres.
The Mazda tradition of tight rear seating continues. I just about fit comfortably behind my own driving position set for 180cm. Kids will be fine but, as ever, the rear door aperture is a bit tricky to quickly enter (like if it's raining). Three across the back is definitely a 'short trips only' proposition.
There are four cupholders evenly distributed and bottle holders, with a pair in each row. You can also hide your valuables in a good-sized centre console in the front and you have somewhere to put your phone - under the centre stack - when you're on the move.
What are the key stats for the engine and transmission? 8/10
The 2.5-litre turbo engine is a familiar one, first appearing in the bigger CX-9 and then the lovely Mazda6. Pushing 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at just 2000rpm to all four wheels via a six-speed automatic, it's a lot more relaxed than the other petrols in the CX-5 range and more refined than the diesel.
The 2.5-litre turbo engine is a familiar one.
It also comfortably out-punches everything else in the segment.
The all-wheel drive system is obviously road-biased - along with the wheels and suspension - and is mostly front-wheel drive to help save fuel.
Once again, the turbo excelled, with a 9.2L/100km reading, close to the 9.1 I got in the GT last year in October. It's a point worth making because the 2.5-litre struggles to better 10L/100km in my hands.
An added bonus is that you can run it on standard unleaded.
The turbo's official combined cycle figure came out at 8.2L/100km.
What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating? 8/10
What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered? 7/10
Mazda provides a healthy five year/unlimited kilometre warranty that now also includes roadside assist.
Service intervals are close together, with 12 months/10,000km - 12 months is normal. 10,000km isn't. Mazda does offer capped-price servicing, with services costing between $315 and $343 meaning $660-plus annual spend. That's before extras like brake fluid and pollen filters.
Mazda provides a healthy five year/unlimited kilometre warranty.
What's it like to drive? 8/10
For a mid-size family SUV, the CX-5 is still a very nice car to drive. Mazda doesn't have to engineer in nice steering, a crisp turn-in, well-judged brakes or pour the effort and expense into a well-sorted multi-link rear end. We know from other cars in the segment that not all of these things need to be in the mix to make a car sell.
Even on these huge 19-inch wheels and without the inclusion of dynamic or adaptive damping, the Akera manages to ride well for most of the time. You'll get the occasional jolt from one of those nasty rubber speed bumps that councils have been randomly installing at roundabouts over the past couple of months.
For a mid-size family SUV, the CX-5 is still a very nice car to drive.
It's also very nice in the corners if the mood takes you and your passengers are willing. While the tyres could be better - this seems to be where Mazda suddenly decides to skimp a little - the all-wheel drive helps keep things calm and composed.
What really makes this car, though, is the engine. No, it doesn't turn it into a performance SUV, that is absolutely not the point, but a lot of smooth torque means your options open up.
Overtaking is quiet and unfussed, 420Nm and third gear working together like Torvill and Dean (there's a contemporary reference for you). What it really means, though, is that kicking around town in the CX-5 is much more relaxed.
Even on these huge 19-inch wheels, the Akera manages to ride well for most of the time.
You need a lot less throttle, the transmission doesn't have to shift around as much and you see that in the real-world fuel economy. While that's an added bonus that won't cover the extra cost of the turbo, everything else is.
The six-speed auto is pretty good and in this segment isn't a bother because you either get saddled with a CVT or a seven-speed twin-clutch. I'll take a conventional six-speed transmission over a clunky DSG or droning CVT any day.
The CX-5 Akera is an acquired taste in the sense that it costs more than the GT for what are essentially cosmetic extras. The Nappa leather is lovely, yes, and the sunroof is good (I guess, I don't like them) but it doesn't do anything any differently than the GT.
However, like the GT, it's loaded up with gear and in the case of the turbo, it's the pick of the engines. It's also still right up at the head of the pack dynamically and aesthetically. Fifty grand is a lot of money, but the Akera is a lot of car.