Mazda's CX-5 was once the default choice for Australian buyers looking for an SUV, reigning as the top family car for 10 years since its debut in 2012.

In 2020 though, Toyota's RAV4 knocked the CX-5 from that perch, but Mazda isn't going to go down without a fight.

To keep the spotlight on its mid-size SUV, Mazda has updated the range with more equipment, reshuffled pricing and a sporty new variant, but does the CX-5 still have enough to compete?

Our test car is finished in Mazda’s signature 'Soul Red Crystal', which incurs the added cost. (image: Tung Nguyen) Our test car is finished in Mazda’s signature 'Soul Red Crystal', which incurs the added cost. (image: Tung Nguyen)

To find out, we've snagged the keys to the top-spec Akera, with the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, for six months to see if, in 2021, the Mazda CX-5 is still an attractive package for small families.

Priced at $51,880, before on-road costs, the Mazda CX-5 Akera is certainly pricey for some, but the Japanese brand has loaded this variant to the hilt with equipment to justify its cost.

As standard, the CX-5 Akera is fitted with a glass sunroof, powered tailgate, keyless entry, push-button start, dual-zone climate control, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear outboard seats and Nappa leather seat trim.

The CX-5 Akera comes with heated and cooled front seats and Nappa leather seat trim as standard. (image: Tung Nguyen) The CX-5 Akera comes with heated and cooled front seats and Nappa leather seat trim as standard. (image: Tung Nguyen)

A nice feature for families is the inclusion of second-row air vents, which can be used to keep precious little ones comfortable on cold or hot days.

On multimedia duty is a 10.25-inch screen, which is larger than the 8.0-inch unit found in lower grades, with features including a premium 10-speaker Bose sound system, satellite navigation, Bluetooth connectivity and digital radio.

But the larger screen is not touch enabled, meaning all inputs are done through the console-mounted rotary control knob.

While the list of features is comprehensive, it’s the smaller things that add up to really elevate the CX-5 Akera. (image: Tung Nguyen) While the list of features is comprehensive, it’s the smaller things that add up to really elevate the CX-5 Akera. (image: Tung Nguyen)

While the list of features is comprehensive, it's the smaller things that add up to really elevate the CX-5 Akera, such as a frameless and auto-dimming rear-view mirror, heated steering wheel, bright and clear head-up display, and the wonderful 7.0-inch digital driver's display that is customisable.

One notable omission is the lack of a wireless smartphone charger, though this isn't really an issue for me, as we prefer to plug in to use Android Auto anyway.

So extensive is the CX-5 Akera's equipment list, that premium paint ($495) is the only option available.

The official, combined cycle fuel consumption figure is pegged at 8.2 litres per 100km. (image: Tung Nguyen) The official, combined cycle fuel consumption figure is pegged at 8.2 litres per 100km. (image: Tung Nguyen)

Our test car is finished in Mazda's signature 'Soul Red Crystal', which incurs the added cost, but other premium options include 'Machine Grey' and 'Polymetal Grey', whereas 'Jet Black', 'Deep Crystal Blue', 'Eternal Blue', 'Titanium Flash', 'Sonic Silver' and 'Snowflake White Pearl' are all standard.

Safety is also key to the CX-5 Akera's appeal, with active (crash avoidance) tech including, lane-departure warning, lane-keep assist, a reversing camera, rear parking sensors, night-time autonomous emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, rain-sensing wipers and auto headlights.

What's especially awesome is these safety features are standard across the CX-5 range, with the Akera also gaining front parking sensors and traffic sign recognition. And the surround-view monitor makes it a breeze to nail that parallel park without curbing the nice-looking 19-inch wheels.

It’s sizeable packaging means its easy to fit in a rear-facing child seat in the second row, (image: Tung Nguyen) It’s sizeable packaging means its easy to fit in a rear-facing child seat in the second row, (image: Tung Nguyen)

Powering our CX-5 Akera test car is a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine, outputting 170kW at 5000rpm and 420Nm from 2000rpm. Paired to the engine is a six-speed torque converter automatic transmission, which drives all four wheels.

It's a punchy powertrain, no doubt, and is in fact one of the most potent engines available in the mainstream mid-size SUV segment, behind only the 183kW/387Nm Ford Escape.

According to Mazda's official figures, the CX-5 Akera AWD will accelerate from 0-100km/h in just 7.7 seconds, making it about as quick as a 1.5-litre MX-5.

Powering our CX-5 Akera test car is a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine. (image: Tung Nguyen) Powering our CX-5 Akera test car is a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol, four-cylinder engine. (image: Tung Nguyen)

The official, combined cycle fuel consumption figure is pegged at 8.2 litres per 100km, but in the coming months we look forward to testing this claim, and determining whether you need such a potent powertrain in a family SUV.

First impressions of the CX-5 are good though, and it's sizeable packaging means its easy to fit in a rear-facing child seat in the second row, as well as a full-size pram in the boot.

We will point out however, that installing a rear-facing car seat doesn't leave a lot of room for front passengers, but we'll dive more into the practicality side of things in our next review.

The powered tailgate really comes in handy here, too, as a press of the key fob will flick the boot open ready to load up with all our baby paraphernalia.

  • Its tough to fit anything sizeable in the boot with a pram in place. (image: Tung Nguyen) Its tough to fit anything sizeable in the boot with a pram in place. (image: Tung Nguyen)
  • Mazda quotes a cargo capacity of 442 litres (VDA) with all seats in place. (image: Tung Nguyen) Mazda quotes a cargo capacity of 442 litres (VDA) with all seats in place. (image: Tung Nguyen)

Mazda quotes a cargo capacity of 442 litres (VDA) with all seats in place, and 1342L with the second-row folded, but its tough to fit anything sizeable in the boot with a pram in place. And the lack of bag hooks in the boot means your groceries could easily spill out on the trip home from the supermarket.

Our fuel economy of 11.4 litres per 100km after a month is also significantly higher than the official claim, but we've only taken the CX-5 on short trips so far, so let's give it a few more months to settle in and see if that figure drops.

After a month in the garage, the reasons why the CX-5 is so popular are clear. It offers plenty of usable space and a long list of equipment, but in further instalments (and after more time with the car), we'll dive deeper into cost of ownership, real-world fuel economy, styling, and more, to see if this Mazda SUV should reign supreme.

Acquired: April 2021

Distance travelled this month: 431km

Odometer: 467km

Average fuel consumption for April: 11.4L/100km (measured at the pump)