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Mazda CX-5 2019 review: Akera turbo petrol

EXPERT RATING
8.1
Mazda's CX-5 is the country's best-selling SUV and the introduction of a new 2.5-litre turbo-petrol version is designed to help keep it on the top of the heap. It's dearer and faster, but is it better?

Never judge an engineering book by its marketing jargon cover. Take Mazda's 'Skyactiv' program, for example. Talk about head in the clouds, and seriously, where's the e?

But over the better part of this decade Mazda has focused its engine and aero efficiency developments, as well as weight reduction and chassis improvements under the Skyactiv umbrella, with spectacular results.

The Japanese brand has been wringing everything it can from the internal combustion engine, conspicuously avoiding turbocharging its mainstream petrol units until long after key competitors had gone down the forced-induction route.

And it's a tribute to Mazda's determination that when it finally dropped the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol 'Skyactiv-G' engine into the CX-9 and Mazda 6, you knew it was going to be a thoroughly developed response to ever-tightening emissions restrictions rather than a quick-fix.

Now that engine has found its way under the bonnet of the country's best-selling SUV, the CX-5, and we've driven the top-spec Akera to see how the new drivetrain matches the mid-size five-seater.

Mazda CX-5 2019: Akera (4x4)
Safety rating
Engine Type2.5L
Fuel TypeRegular Unleaded Petrol
Fuel Efficiency7.4L/100km
Seating5 seats
Price from$48,130

Is there anything interesting about its design?   8/10

Mazda's styling evolution is as disciplined as its engineering strategy. Debuting at the 2010 Paris Motor Show, the Shinari four-seat coupe concept was the first public expression of the brand's 'Kodo – Soul of Motion' design philosophy.

It's given Mazda a solid platform for visual differentiation ever since, and Ikuo Maeda, Mazda's head of design who created the taut yet flowing look, says it's intended to reflect "the power and elegance of a wild animal in the instant when it pounces on its prey".

The Akera's standard leather trim combines with polished metal trim pieces, genuine wood inserts, and shiny black dash and door surfaces. (image: James Cleary) The Akera's standard leather trim combines with polished metal trim pieces, genuine wood inserts, and shiny black dash and door surfaces. (image: James Cleary)

While that prey is more likely an open parking space than a gazelle on the Serengeti, there's no doubting the CX-5's distinctive exterior. And this second-generation version arrived in early 2017 with a more menacing expression, characterised by slimmer LED headlights sitting either side of the signature chrome 'wing' defining the lower edge of the large grille.

Some re-profiling of the character lines along the car's flanks, as well as a smoothed and simplified rear-end, complete with more intense LED tail-lights, are the other major changes, with tweaks like single piece rear side windows (previously divided by small quarter panes) and new wheel designs joining the party.

You can add 19-inch alloy wheels. (image: James Cleary) You can add 19-inch alloy wheels. (image: James Cleary)

The interior also received a classy tsjuz-up in 2017 with a configurable 7.0-inch TFT digital screen taking centre stage in the instrument display and a new 7.0-inch media screen (protruding from the dashtop) armed with Mazda's 'MZD Connect' connectivity system, now including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The armrests were re-profiled, the air vents simplified, and the seats reshaped. Overall, the Akera's standard leather trim combines with polished metal trim pieces, genuine wood inserts, and shiny black dash and door surfaces to complete a look that's simple, clean and contemporary.

How practical is the space inside?   8/10

The CX-5 is a five-seater offering a ton of room for the driver and front passenger, as well storage options including a modest glove box, a lidded box between the seats, a pair of cupholders and an oddments tray in the centre console, door bins with room for bottles, plus a sunglasses holder in the roof.

There are two USB ports in the storage box (one charge, one connect), as well as an 'aux-in' jack, SD slot and 12-volt outlet (with another 12-volt in the centre console).

Space in the back is just as generous. Sitting behind the driver's seat (set to my 183cm position) I had heaps of head, leg and toe room, although three full-size adults will be a squeeze across the rear seat for anything but short journeys.

Sitting behind the driver's seat (set to my 183cm position) I had heaps of head, leg and toe room. (image: James Cleary) Sitting behind the driver's seat (set to my 183cm position) I had heaps of head, leg and toe room. (image: James Cleary)

A pair of directional vents in the back of the centre console is a big plus, as are two cupholders in the fold-down centre armrest, as well as a pair of USB ports in the lidded tray just behind them. There are also bottle holders in the door bins and map pockets in the front seatbacks.

With the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat upright, luggage space is quoted at 442 litres (VDA), which proved more than enough to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres), or the CarsGuide pram.

Fold the rear seat forward and you're looking at 1342 litres, a substantial figure helped in no small part by a folding mechanism which lowers the rear seat cushion as the backrest pushes forward to create a flat load floor.

  • With the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat upright, luggage space is quoted at 442 litres (VDA). (image: James Cleary) With the 40/20/40 split-folding rear seat upright, luggage space is quoted at 442 litres (VDA). (image: James Cleary)
  • It proved more than enough to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres). (image: James Cleary) It proved more than enough to swallow our three-piece hard suitcase set (35, 68 and 105 litres). (image: James Cleary)
  • It also had plenty of room for the 'CarsGuide' pram. (image: James Cleary) It also had plenty of room for the 'CarsGuide' pram. (image: James Cleary)
  • Fold the rear seat forward and you're looking at 1342 litres. (image: James Cleary) Fold the rear seat forward and you're looking at 1342 litres. (image: James Cleary)

Other thoughtful touches in the cargo area include remote handles to release the rear seatbacks, small lidded storage bins in the floor behind each rear wheel tub, four strategically placed tie-down hooks, a 12-volt outlet and useful lighting.

The spare is a space-saver hidden under the boot floor, and if you're a keen tower capacity is limited to 2000kg for a braked trailer (200kg more than the non-turbo petrol models), and 750kg unbraked.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?   8/10

This 2.5-litre turbo-petrol Akera sits at the top of the CX-5 pyramid, giving $50k a serious nudge at $49,170 before on-road costs.

At that price point the CX-5 is competing with top-shelf, small-volume versions of the mid-size SUV segment's usual suspects such as the Ford Escape Titanium ($48,340), Holden Equinox LTZ-V ($49,290), Honda CR-V VTi-LX ($44,290), Hyundai Tucson Highlander ($46,500), Kia Sportage GT-Line ($47,690), Nissan X-Trail TL ($47,790), and Toyota RAV4 Cruiser ($50,500).

The interior received a classy tsjuz-up in 2017 with a configurable 7.0-inch TFT digital screen taking centre stage in the instrument display. (image: James Cleary) The interior received a classy tsjuz-up in 2017 with a configurable 7.0-inch TFT digital screen taking centre stage in the instrument display. (image: James Cleary)

But the fifty grand ball park also brings some less expected contenders into the picture, including the Audi Q3 2.0 TFSI Sport Quattro ($53,400), Jeep Cherokee Limited ($46,950), Mini Countryman Cooper S ($48,900), Peugeot 3008 GT ($50,990), Renault Koleos Intens X-Tronic ($47,990), Skoda Kodiaq 132TSI ($47,490), and VW Tiguan 162TSI Highline ($50,150).

So, no surprise the CX-5 Akera's standard equipment list is suitably lengthy, including a bunch of active and passive safety tech (covered in the safety section below), luxury features, and aesthetic touches that nudge it towards the premium SUV pack.

For a start, LED lighting is a popular inclusion with those powerful little diodes illuminating the adaptive headlights, daytime running lights, front fog lights and tail-lights, the cabin's ambient system, even the rear numberplate.

You can add a power slide-and-tilt glass sunroof. (image: James Cleary) You can add a power slide-and-tilt glass sunroof. (image: James Cleary)

Then you can add 'Dark Russet' nappa leather trim, power slide-and-tilt glass sunroof, a remote power tailgate, 19-inch alloy wheels, rain-sensing wipers, auto headlights, heated and auto-folding power (exterior) mirrors, a head-up display, the 7.0-inch TFT LCD instrument display, dual-zone climate control air (with rear vents), (green) tinted windscreen, side and rear windows, as well as chrome exhaust extensions.

Plus, there are heated and ventilated front seats with 10-way electric adjustment (and two-position memory) for the driver (six-way for the passenger), heating for the outer rear seat positions, heated leather-trimmed steering wheel, satellite navigation, keyless entry and start, the 7.0-inch MZD Connect colour touchscreen media display running a 10-speaker, 249-watt Bose Premium audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, digital radio (DAB+) and internet radio integration (Stitcher and Aha), plus Bluetooth hands-free phone and audio connectivity. Not bad.

The spare is a space-saver hidden under the boot floor. (image: James Cleary) The spare is a space-saver hidden under the boot floor. (image: James Cleary)

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?   9/10

The CX-5's 'Skyactiv-G' turbo-petrol engine is an all-alloy new 2.5-litre four-cylinder featuring direct-injection (using multi-hole injectors), 'S-VT' variable valve timing (on the inlet side), and a very tricky exhaust manifold.

It produces 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm at a low 2000rpm, and if that's all the info you need, skip four paragraphs because this mechanical gem is the main reason we're testing this car and I'm about to take a brief but significant dive into the oily bits. Trust me, it's pretty brilliant.

Centrepiece of the engine is Mazda's 'Dynamic Pressure' turbo, sitting at the end of a short exhaust manifold incorporating a valve which channels exhaust gas through a narrower opening at engine speeds below 1620rpm to restrict flow and increase velocity, thereby minimising turbo lag.

At higher revs the valve opens to allow full exhaust gas flow, and while the narrow opening strategy sacrifices some efficiency, the engine's relatively high (for a turbo-petrol) 10.5:1 compression ratio wins much of it back.

The CX-5's 'Skyactiv-G' turbo-petrol engine is an all-alloy new 2.5-litre four-cylinder. (image: James Cleary) The CX-5's 'Skyactiv-G' turbo-petrol engine is an all-alloy new 2.5-litre four-cylinder. (image: James Cleary)

The manifold is a '4-3-1' design, meaning four cylinders, ducted to produce three outlet pipes, into one turbo. The engine's firing order and a parallel venturi effect (created by the manifold's set-up) help quickly and completely scavenge exhaust gas from each cylinder prior to its upcoming intake stroke (rather than relying solely on the piston to push the gas out).

Plus, a 'Cooled Exhaust Gas Recirculation' system nicks some of the exhaust gas, runs it through the EGR cooler and re-introduces it into the engine's air intake, lowering combustion temperatures to help prevent knocking and maximise high-rev, high-load power.

So, with the non-tech heads back on board, it's time to move on to the transmission which is the 'Skyactiv-Drive' adaptive six-speed auto using inputs including vehicle speed, throttle position and engine speed to adjust shift mapping.

Drive goes to all four wheels via the 'i-Activ' (where's that e?!) all-wheel drive system which uses multiple sensors monitoring factors like steering angle, brake pressure, gear position, wheel slippage, and acceleration to distribute drive to wheels that can make best use of it. In normal operation 98 per cent of drive goes to the front wheels, but front-to-rear torque distribution can shift to 50/50 if required.

How much fuel does it consume?   7/10

Claimed fuel economy for the combined (ADR 81/02 - urban, extra-urban) cycle is 8.2L/100km emitting 191g/km of CO2 in the process.

That's 11 per cent more than Mazda's non-turbo 2.5-litre engine (7.4L/100km), and despite the standard 'i-stop' start-stop system and the engine's ability to deactivate two cylinders in light load situations, we recorded 10.5L/100km over roughly 300km of city, suburban and freeway driving.

The good news is the engine will run at peak efficiency on 91 RON regular unleaded, of which you'll need 58 litres to fill the tank.

What's it like to drive?   8/10

First impressions of the CX-5 2.5-lire turbo are dominated by the engine's ability to fill the lower half of its rev range with sweet, sweet torque. The peak of 420Nm (only 30Nm off the 2.2-litre twin-turbo diesel) is available from just 2000rpm.

The throttle is an electronic 'drive-by-wire' set-up which combines with the tricky Dynamic Pressure turbo system to supply power in a linear, turbo lag-free stream.

Pin the gas from step-off and Mazda claims you'll sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.7sec, which is genuinely quick. But even in a less urgent mode throttle response is crisp, acceleration clean, and the transmission slick as the CX-5 effortlessly breezes up an 80km/h cruise.

Pin the gas from step-off and Mazda claims you'll sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.7sec, which is genuinely quick. (image: Thomas Wielecki) Pin the gas from step-off and Mazda claims you'll sprint from 0-100km/h in 7.7sec, which is genuinely quick. (image: Thomas Wielecki)

The electrically-assisted steering delivers good road feel, the grippy front seats are comfortable, and noise levels are commendably low, but overall ride quality is less convincing. Mildly bumpy describes it best, with minor imperfections unsettling things inside the cabin.

Suspension is strut front, multi-link rear, and the patchy ride could be down to the standard 19-inch rims, shod with 225/55 Toyo Proxes R46 rubber, overly firm damping, or more likely a combination of the two.

Pushing through some favourite corners the AWD system distributes drive seamlessly with torque-vectoring (by braking) chipping in to keep the relatively hefty (1720kg) CX-5 stable and balanced.

Mildly bumpy describes it best, with minor imperfections unsettling things inside the cabin. (image: Thomas Wielecki) Mildly bumpy describes it best, with minor imperfections unsettling things inside the cabin. (image: Thomas Wielecki)

Speaking of braking, it comes courtesy of 320mm ventilated front and 303mm solid rear discs, delivering progressive yet firm stopping power.

Big tick for the brilliant 10-speaker Bose sound system, the ventilated front seats were a godsend during a week of hot summer testing, and the console-mounted rotary 'commander control' is a handy adjunct to the media touchscreen.

But be prepared for a beep-fest when parking, unless you're willing to switch off the audible warnings from the front and rear parking distance controls. The proximity settings are conservative and the beeping incessant.

Warranty & Safety Rating

Basic Warranty

5 years / unlimited km warranty

ANCAP Safety Rating

ANCAP logo

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?   9/10

The CX-5 scored a maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was assessed in September 2017.

Active safety includes ABS, brake assist, EBD, DSC, traction control, 'Smart Brake Support' (Mazda-speak for auto emergency braking, or AEB) operating from 15km/h-160km/h, active (radar) cruise control, 'Driver Attention Alert' (DAA), adaptive LED headlights with 'High Beam Control' (HBC), blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, cross-traffic alert, an emergency stop signal function, plus a 'View Monitor' 360-degree camera with parking distance control (front and rear).

If all that fails to prevent a collision the CX-5 is equipped with six airbags (driver and passenger front, front side and full-length curtain).

There are three child restraint/seat top tethers across the rear seat, with ISOFIX anchors on the two outer positions.

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?   8/10

The CX-5 is covered by Mazda's five year/unlimited km warranty (recently upgraded from three years/unlimited). But it's worth noting this cover doesn't include roadside assist. Mazda's 'Standard' roadside assist will cost you an extra $99 per year, with the 'Premium' package sitting at $108.35.

Toyota, which has also just stepped up to five years/unlimited km warranty cover, tips in seven years' worth of emergency assistance for its new car customers, and of course Kia leads the mainstream with a seven year/unlimited km warranty with roadside assist included for eight years (if the vehicle's serviced annually at a Kia dealer).

Scheduled maintenance for the CX-5 is due every 10,000 km or 12 months (whichever comes first), and the first five years of the 'Mazda Service Select' capped price serving program breaks out as - $315 for the first service, $343 for the second, then back to $315 for the third, another $343 for the fourth, and, you guessed it, $315 for the fifth.

You'll also need to replace the brake fluid every 40,000km or two years ($65), and the cabin air filter every 40,000 km ($71).

Mazda's Australian website delivers forensic detail on what goes into each service, also allowing owners to enter their vehicle's VIN and calculate current service pricing.

Verdict

The Mazda CX-5 Akera with the new 2.5-litre Skyactiv-G turbo-petrol engine in its nose is hardly cheap for a mid-size SUV, especially one without a posh Euro badge. But the drivetrain is superb, it comes loaded with leading-edge safety tech, as well as a host of luxury features matching or bettering the best in an impossibly competitive segment. Niggles on ride comfort and relative thirst for unleaded aside, it's a super-impressive package.

Does its new engine put the CX-5 on your mid-size SUV shopping list? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Pricing Guides

$41,005
Based on Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP)
Lowest Price
$30,880
Highest Price
$51,130

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
Akera (4x4) 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $48,130 2019 MAZDA CX-5 2019 Akera (4x4) Pricing and Specs
GT (4x4) 2.2L, Diesel, 6 SP AUTO $43,780 2019 MAZDA CX-5 2019 GT (4x4) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (4x2) 2.0L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $32,880 2019 MAZDA CX-5 2019 Maxx (4x2) Pricing and Specs
Maxx (4x4) 2.5L, ULP, 6 SP AUTO $35,880 2019 MAZDA CX-5 2019 Maxx (4x4) Pricing and Specs
EXPERT RATING
8.1
Design8
Practicality8
Price and features8
Engine & trans9
Fuel consumption7
Driving8
Safety9
Ownership8
James Cleary
Deputy Editor

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