Marcus Craft road tests and reviews the 2016 Mazda CX-5 Maxx Sport AWD diesel with specs, fuel consumption and verdict.

Mazda Australia staff have had a real bounce in their step for quite a while now; maybe they've even been doing a bit of strutting around their Melbourne offices. And with good reason. Mazda has, for a chunk of time, been producing some of the best SUVs available in this country, especially in terms of mid-sized soft-roaders (CX-5 etc) and 4WDs (BT-50). And, as we all know, SUVs sell – and the CX-5 has been selling very well indeed.

Again, with good reason. The CX-5 is a great driver's car, as well as being an excellent family mover and a top tourer. It packs a lot into its price-tag at all spec levels – base-model Maxx, Maxx Sport, GT and top-shelf Akera – and fares supremely well in a busy and competitive segment against rivals such as Toyota Rav4, Hyundai Tucson, Nissan X-Trail, Subaru Forester and the rest.

Mazda has added extra i-ACTIVSENSE safety gear to the Maxx and Maxx Sport as standard, rather than as an option, and yet it's dropped $530 from the price, making the CX-5 even more of an appealing purchase.

Price and features

The five-door, five-seater CX-5 is available in four grades (as mentioned above), with one of three powertrains (2.0L or 2.5L petrol, or 2.2L diesel), one of two transmissions (six-speed auto or six-speed manual) and in FWD or AWD.

This CX-5 is well equipped with a heap of gear.

Our tester – the Maxx Sport AWD with the 2.2-litre diesel and auto – costs $39,490 (plus on-roads) and is the pick of the CX-5 bunch for day-to-day drivability and versatility.

This CX-5 is well equipped with a heap of gear including keyless push-button engine start, electric parking brake, seven-inch full-colour touch-screen MZD Connect system (with satnav etc), reverse camera, as well as that i-ACTIVSENSE bonus (Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Smart City Brake Support-Forward and auto-dimming rear-view mirror), previously offered as an option, now standard.

It has dual-zone climate control, six-speaker audio system, auto on/off headlights and rain-sensing wipers.

Engine and transmission

The Maxx Sport AWD diesel has a 2.2-litre four-cylinder SKYACTIV-D turbo-diesel engine, producing 129kW at 4500rpm and 420Nm at 2000rpm. This model has a six-speed automatic transmission.

Design

The CX-5 has always been a relatively sexy beast for a thing of its size. From the outside (cleverly shaped metal and smooth profile) to the interior (roomy cabin and, in this model, nice touches like the leather-wrapped gear stick and steering wheel), it is a cool and classy SUV. It brings to mind the style and sass of more expensive European models, without the price tag, or the classy smell. A few tweaks in the most recent round of model updates have merely added a real polish to its presence.

Practicality

Spending a lot of time in this car is no problem; from driver and passenger comfort to the functionality of just about everything, it all works and works well.

The steering wheel is loaded with controls and is adjustable for tilt and reach.

The MZD Connect system is among the best in class – easy to read and operate – and slots in well with the streamlined dash.

The cabin is well laid out and has plenty of nifty storage spots: cupholders, door bottle-holders, a sizeable glovebox and centre console.

The CX-5 is a high-riding soft-roader with a lot of attitude and plenty of pizazz.

Seats are comfortable, with plenty of support – even in the rear row. The ISOFIX points in the outer rear seats are easy enough to get to and use.

There are two USB ports up front but none for the rear passengers.

The rear seats fold down in a 40/20/40 configuration. With that back row up, cargo space is 403 litres; folded down, that space increases to a handy 1560 litres.

The cargo area has a 12V power outlet.

Safety

The Maxx Sport has a five-star ANCAP rating. It has six airbags, ABS, Dynamic Stability Control, Emergency Brake Assist, Emergency Stop Signal, Traction Control System, reversing camera, as well as the i-ACTIVSENSE pack (incorporating Blind Spot Monitoring, Rear Cross Traffic Alert, Smart City Brake Support-Forward (aimed at preventing low-speed accidents) and auto-dimming rear-view mirror now as standard.

There is also a Tyre Pressure Monitoring System.

Driving

The CX-5 is a high-riding soft-roader with a lot of attitude and plenty of pizazz.

With a punchy engine, smooth-shifting auto and a kerb weight of 1663kg, the Maxx Sport diesel is a lively drive. Compared to other body-rolling and bouncy SUVs, this is much more fun to drive – and to ride in – and consistently feels sure and stable on the road.

Tight, sporty steering inspires confidence; while light-touch (but not too light) braking builds on that. The 2.2-litre turbo-diesel is a real goer, producing pronounced “zoom-zoom” from way down low.

Much is made nowadays of a vehicle's suspension being tuned for Aussie conditions but the problem is that  it has become a catch-all phrase merely denoting that engineers have made the suspension set-up stiffer. Well, the good news here is that ride is firm, sure, but not overly so; it soaks up the bumps nicely.

Its all-wheel-drive system is handy on fast, smooth gravel roads and 150mm of ground clearance make it a winner on bumpy bits.

NVH levels are fine, although some road noise (tyre thrum especially) creeps in over older or rougher roads.

The i-Stop system (automatically switching the engine off at a stop and then on again for take-off, aiming to cut fuel consumption) is a tad annoying, but not so bad that we bothered to switch it off (It defaults to 'on' when you start the vehicle).

The CX-5 is a soft-roader – it should really only be used on formed tracks and the like, not for hard 4WDing – but its all-wheel-drive system is handy on fast, smooth gravel roads and 150mm of ground clearance make it a winner on bumpy bits.

It rides on 17 inch alloys but has a space-saver spare, which is not ideal for our wide, brutal landscape.

The Maxx Sport is rated to tow 1800kg (braked) and 750kg (unbraked).

Fuel consumption

The Maxx Sport has a 58L fuel tank. It has a claimed fuel consumption of 5.7L/100km (combined). On test, the computer was showing 8.3L/100km; we recorded 8.6L/100km of mostly bitumen driving, with about 20km of gravel road thrown in.

Ownership

The CX-5 has a three-year/unlimited kilometre warranty. Mazda standard roadside assistance is $68.10 a year. Lifetime capped-price servicing includes scheduled maintenance every 10,000km/12 months.