Mazda CX-5 VS Nissan Pathfinder
- Gorgeous styling
- Interior fit and finish
- Added off-road capability
- Road noise still too high
- Firm ride
- No hybrid options
- Tough looks the N-Trek brings
- Spacious interior
- Big boot
- Interior starting to date
- No Apple CarPlay or Android Auto
- Thirsty engine
Mazda’s CX-5 has long reigned as Australia’s favourite mid-size SUV, but 2020 is likely the year it loses that title to the much-improved, new-generation Toyota RAV4.
To try and keep up with fresher competition though, Mazda has introduced rolling updates to the popular CX-5, including a new off-road mode for all-wheel drive (AWD) variants that better equips the stylish SUV for rough terrain.
Pairing its new capabilities with the same high-calibre interior fit and finish as before, as well as a five-year/unlimited kilometre warranty, means the new CX-5 is the arguably the most complete package it has ever been, but is it still good enough for your consideration in 2020?
|Engine Type||2.5L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Regular Unleaded Petrol|
Do you like Nissan's Pathfinder yet find it lacking a certain something? Masculinity perhaps, musculature, or just a sense of menace, rather than middle-of-the-road nice-ness? If you've always hankered after a seven-seat family hauler with a mean streak, or at least a mean look, then you’re going to love the Pathfinder N-Trek special edition.
So, what makes this Pathfinder an N-Trek and how much does it cost to look this tough?
We tested the new Pathfinder N-Trek to find out.
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The latest round of spec enhancements don’t add too much to the already-winning formula, but the Off-Road Traction Assist function is a nice box-ticker for buyers worried about the CX-5’s sure footedness.
Class leading safety and catwalk-worthy styling remain strong attributes, but buyers will have to forgo a little comfort and no electrified engine options.
We love that crucial safety systems are fitted to all grades of the CX-5, meaning even the base Maxx variant is a compelling buy.
If we had to pick though, we'd go for the AWD 2.5-litre Touring for $40,980, which is loaded with nice creature comforts such as a head-up display and keyless entry for a price that doesn't break the bank.
The mid-size SUV field is as strong as it has ever been however, with the battleground set to heat up even more thanks to new and refreshed entrants arriving in the near future, meaning the CX-5 might soon need a big leap forward instead of just iterating to remain ahead of the pack.
For now though, the Mazda CX-5 still has the substance to back up its style, even three years on from the market launch of its latest form, though only just.
The Pathfinder is a comfortable, practical seven-seat SUV and the N-Trek special edition adds a tough and stylish look. Research has shown that special editions generally don’t fetch more money when it comes time to sell, so keep this in mind and enjoy the unique look of the N-Trek rather than thinking you’ve bought a collector’s car.
The first of Mazda’s models to adopt its latest design language, the second-generation Mazda CX-5 hit Australian showrooms in 2017 and has remained largely the same since.
That’s no bad thing mind you, as the CX-5’s smooth panels, sharp edges and subtle creases embrace a more timeless and classic design philosophy relative to the dated design elements of its rivals.
Every touch point inside the CX-5 feels top-notch, including the steering wheel, door trims and seats, while buyers can also personalise the interior with colours such as black, white and brown.
Our top-spec Akera test vehicle came fitted as standard with nappa leather, which feels ultra-luxe and premium.
The interior is laid out with a clean and crisp design, with all controls well placed, and large swathes of black surfaces broken up with textured materials.
We don’t have much to complain about in with the CX-5’s design, inside or out, but at the risk of nit-picking, we’d say the multimedia screen is starting to look dated, especially when stacked up against the well-designed unit of the Mazda3 and CX-30.
The N-Trek pack adds a menacing look to the Pathfinder, making it look more mafia family than just family. As mentioned above, the N-Trek edition adds the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in black. I’m a fan of the sinister look the accessories bring and it suits the Gun Metallic grey paint my test car wore (see the photos I took) perfectly. The Pathfinder N-Trek special edition comes in four colours, so along with the grey there’s Ivory Pearl, Diamond Black and Caspian Blue.
What do you think of those wheels? They’re unique to the Pathfinder N-Trek, too, but I’m not the biggest fan of the design.
The cabin doesn’t get anything in the way of N-Trek equipment – it’s the same cabin as you’ll find in the ST+ and ST-L, which is beginning to age in terms of its design and equipment, with the small screen being the most obvious example. Still, it’s a comfortable and premium-feeling cabin, especially in the ST-L with its leather seats.
Measuring 5042mm end to end, 1963mm wide and 1793mm tall, the Pathfinder isn't petite.
Measuring 4550mm long, 1840mm wide and 1680mm tall, the CX-5 is slightly shorter than the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Nissan X-Trail and Hyundai Tucson, but its generous 2700mm wheelbase is larger than most of its peers.
Which means interior room in the CX-5 is excellent, especially in the front seats, where there is plenty of head, shoulder and legroom.
The fantastic driving position in particular has to be called out, as our CX-5 test car serves up an electronically adjustable seat and steering column that let us get in just the right place for our hands and legs.
Mazda’s driver-focused philosophy applies to all its models, and the CX-5 family hauler is no exception.
Rear seat room, while adequate, will just about fit three adults sitting abreast, but a full row of children or even teenagers shouldn’t be a problem.
Keep in mind though that second-row legroom can be compromised for taller passengers, but there is plenty of headroom.
Amenities in the second-row also include air vents and, in our top-spec grade, heated pews and two USB sockets, the latter found in the fold-down armrest that also houses two cupholders.
As for the boot, the CX-5 will also swallow 442 litres of volume with all seats in place, extending to 1342L with the pews stowed.
In real world terms, that means the CX-5 will easily cart around a family of five with the weekly groceries and folded stroller in tow, but it is noticeably smaller than the 580L/1690L capacity.
We will also point out that we couldn’t find any bag hooks in the back of our test car, though there were handy seat-folding tabs that could stow just the centre seat or each of the outbound pews with just a simple pull.
Storage throughout the cabin is also just OK, with a shallow glovebox and small storage tray below the climate controls.
The centre storage cubby however, is sizeable, and comes with a tray to keep items like a phone or wallet close to the surface to prevent you having to reach in a fish them out.
Door pockets also offer decent storage up front, but rear passengers will only be able to fit a water bottle in their doors.
The Pathfinder is a seven-seater SUV and practicality is its main strength.
Space up front is excellent, with good head, shoulder and elbow room, even for somebody with my two-metre wingspan and 191cm height. I can sit behind my driving position and behind that in the third row without my knees touching any of the seat backs.
Directional air vents in all three rows, plus large windows make life more comfortable for everybody. So does the raised second row, which offers a view over the top of the driver and co-pilot.
The floor does seem overly elevated in the Pathfinder, which places the knees of second and third-row passengers higher. For a model comparison see the Pathfinder ST+ vs Holden Acadia LT video.
Boot space with the third-row seats up is 453 litres, opening up to 1354 litres with them folded flat and the second row in place. You’ll find extra storage space under the boot floor.
Cabin storage is excellent with 10 cupholders (yes, 10) on board (two up front, four in the second row and another four in the back row); large door pockets, a tray in front of the shifter and a deep centre-console storage bin.
For charging and media there are three 12-volt and two USB outlets up front and two USB charging points and a media USB port in the second row.
Room for improvement? Well, the Pathfinder could do with wireless charging and it’s also lacking USB ports in the third row.
Price and features
Though Mazda has slightly increased the pricing of its CX-5 for the 2020 model year, there's still a wide selection of grades available from $30,980, before on-road costs, to $51,330.
Our test car, the AWD Akera grade paired with a 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine, is priced at $50,830, making it the second-most expensive variant available.
Standard features across the range include an 8.0-inch multimedia display, 17-inch wheels and push-button start, but our test car was also kitted out with dual-zone climate control, satellite navigation, a powered tailgate, head-up display, leather interior and power-adjustable mirrors.
However, it’s the huge array of standard safety equipment that stands the CX-5 apart.
All CX-5s, including the entry-level Maxx, are fitted with features such as adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking, which are sometimes relegated to higher grades or options in competitor SUVs.
The Akera grade also gains 19-inch alloy wheels, ambient interior lighting, heated and cooled front seats and heated rear seats, as well as a frameless rearview mirror, heated steering wheel and woodgrain interior panels, It’s these small details that elevate the CX-5 from its peers.
There’s equipment here that is rarely seen in anything outside models from the big three German brands, and though a Mazda badge doesn’t quite hold that level of cache, the CX-5 is also not priced quite as highly as a BMW, Mercedes or Audi, either.
Whether you agree with Mazda Australia’s decision to push some models upmarket with higher price points and more equipment, there's no denying the blend of luxe and value presented in the CX-5.
Available on the ST + and ST-L grades, the N-Trek editions come with a $1500 price increase over the grades they’re based on.
The front-wheel-drive Pathfinder ST+ N-Trek lists for $46,840, while the front-wheel-drive ST-L N-Trek is $57,140. As for the four-wheel-drive versions: the ST+ N-Trek is $50,340 and the ST-L N-Trek is $60,640.
The N-Trek edition brings a body kit with black elements for a stealthy look. There’s the black grille, black roof rails, black door handles, black mirror caps, plus front and rear lower bumper trim in… you guessed it – black.
Standard features on the ST+ N-Trek include an eight-inch touchscreen, sat nav, a reversing camera with all-round-view monitor, a six-speaker stereo, DVD player, privacy glass, rear parking sensors and three-zone climate control.
Stepping up to the ST-L N-Trek adds a 13-speaker Bose stereo, LED headlights, sunroof, leather seats, front fog lights, heated side mirrors and power adjustable driver and front passenger seats.
Is the special edition worth the extra $1500 over the regular model? That depends how you look at the extra costs – some would see it as just different coloured paint but others would see it as paying for uniqueness, and there won’t be many Pathfinders that look like yours. Yes, you could have similar enhancements done yourself, but it’ll cost you more, if done properly. Nissan has done it for you with genuine accessories.
A better question to ask is: does the Pathfinder’s price in general represents good value? Well the current Pathfinder is getting old now and it’s not loaded with the latest equipment, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, such as you’ll find in the Holden Acadia or Mazda CX-9. In those terms it’s not great value any more, but Nissan will fix this when the new-generation Pathfinder arrives next year.
Engine & trans
We’ve tested this engine before, and while nothing has changed on the powertrain front, we’re still big fans of this mill’s effortless oomph.
As one of the most potent petrol engines you can get in the mainstream mid-size SUV class, coming away from the line is expectedly brisk and the engine will enable a zero to 100km/h in an almost-hot-hatch-bothering 7.7 seconds.
Overtaking at freeway speeds is also easy, with the smart-shifting automatic transmission smoothly kicking down a cog for some extra shove.
Speaking of, peak torque is available from 2000rpm, making the CX-5 a delight to drive at slower speeds instead of a slow-moving bothersome chore.
However, we reckon the six-speed auto need another gear for freeway driving, just to keep revs and engine down a little more.
If the flagship 2.5-litre turbo-petrol engine isn’t your speed, there are other powertrains available in the CX-5 range, including a base 115kW/200Nm 2.0-litre petrol unit that is paired to a six-speed manual gearbox and an automatic-transmission-only 140kW/252Nm 2.5-litre petrol.
Diesel is also offered in the CX-5 range, an increasingly rare occurrence as the Toyota RAV4, Ford Escape and Subaru Forester are no long offered with oil-burning options, and in Mazda’s case is a 140kW/450Nm 2.2-litre twin-turbo unit.
However, unlike the three aforementioned mid-size SUV competitors, Mazda does not offer its CX-5 with any sort of electrified powertrain.
One could argue that in 2020, Australia is yet to fully embrace the electric vehicle future, but for those wanting the latest in hybrid or plug-in powertrain technology, the CX-5 does not yet have an answer (like most competitors).
The N-Trek special edition comes with the same 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine found in the regular Pathfinder, with the same 202kW and 340Nm outputs. The continuously variable transmission (CVT) is smooth, although it produces lacklustre acceleration, accompanied by a droning sound that you might find annoying.
Official fuel consumption figures of the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol CX-5 peg it at 8.2 litres per 100km, but with our short stint in the car we managed 9.8L/100km.
To be fair, our driving consisted mainly of inner-city suburban streets and a brief stretch of highway driving, as well as some hard acceleration.
For those looking for a more frugal CX-5 though, the diesel engine is also available that will sip just 5.7L/100km, while the 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol units are also less thirsty at 6.9 and 7.4L/100km respectively.
Again, a petrol-hybrid option here would help lower fuel-consumption even more, so if stretching your dollar further at the bowser is a concern, you may want to look elsewhere.
The Pathfinder N-Trek ST+ and ST-L both have a 3.5-litre V6 petrol engine and Nissan says after a combination of open and urban roads the four-wheel-drive version should use 10.1L/100km, while the front-wheel-drive only uses a coffee mug less at 9.9L/100km. In my own testing of the four-wheel-drive Pathfinder I’ve measured the combined consumption to be 14.9L/100km.
The big headlining change to the new CX-5 is the added off-road driving mode added to AWD variants.
Dubbed ‘Off-Road Traction Assist’, the system locks the rear differential at the push of a button, enabling torque to be sent to the wheels that have grip.
In theory, the system is designed to better allow the CX-5 to get out of a sticky situation, such as deep mud or some particularly tricky terrain, and in practice it does what’s advertised.
Don’t get us wrong, the CX-5 isn’t transformed into a Jeep Wrangler or Toyota LandCruiser because of the new feature, but it certainly helps that Mazda has added extra go-anywhere assurance to its popular model.
Also keep in mind that the CX-5 will still be limited by ground clearance and its approach angle.
On the occasion that the CX-5 ventures down an unsealed road or rough terrain in inclement weather when venturing to a remote Airbnb or holiday home, the Off-Road Traction Assist button will surely be a welcome addition.
Aside from the new off-road mode, the CX-5 drives largely the same as before – for good and bad.
Steering is sharp, direct and communicative, while also being light and pleasant enough to manoeuvre around town.
However, the trade-off for a nice steering SUV is that suspension is still a bit too firm, for our tastes at least, which is of particular note in a five-seat family hauler like the CX-5.
Don’t get us wrong, its not back-breaking by any stretch, and on smooth surfaces, the ride is perfectly liveable.
Unfortunately, Australia – and in this particular case, Melbourne – is full of more than just smooth roads, with the occasional large dip and bump (not to mention the juttering of travelling over tram tracks) transmitted right to occupants.
Mazda said it has also improved the NVH levels of the new CX-5 thanks to extra sound deadening, but without driving the old car and new one back-to-back, it is a little hard to tell the level of enhancement.
However, we are happy to report road and wind noise was kept to a minimum in our time with the car, even at freeway speeds.
The Pathfinder N-Trek was tested on about 130km of winding country roads, which at times turned from bitumen into loose gravel. My test car was the ST+ grade with four-wheel drive, although there should be no difference in the way it drives over the ST-L version.
I’ve said it before in reviews of the Pathfinder – this is an easy and comfortable large SUV to drive, with light steering, good visibility and plenty of grunt.
That said, the Pathfinder felt a bit challenged when pushed on the twisty, tight roads, with plenty of body roll to remind me that it was a two-tonne, five-metre-long metal box. If anything, it’s a compliment to how insulated from the world you are in the cabin.
The loose gravel roads we took also seemed to unsettle the Pathfinder at times. I pulled over, selected four-wheel drive and watched the display screen show drive split 50-50 between the front and back axles. The problem was that our as speed was increased the system switched to Auto, which decides on the fly how to distribute the drive, but tends to choose a heavy bias towards the front.
The Pathfinder’s 180mm ground clearance rules out anything more challenging than dirt and gravel roads, but a 2700kg braked towing capacity makes this SUV a great choice for hauling trailers and caravans – although you should know it likes to drink petrol.
Safety is where the Mazda CX-5 stands heads and shoulders above the competition.
Lane departure warning, lane-keep assist, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, driver attention alert, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) and adaptive cruise control, as well as auto high beams, wipers and headlights, are all included as standard across the entire Mazda CX-5 line-up.
But wait, there’s more as our Akera test car also has front parking sensors, traffic sign recognition and a surround-view monitor to make parking a breeze.
New in the 2020 model-year upgrade however, is night-time pedestrian detection for the AEB system.
The list of safety equipment included in the CX-5, even at its cheapest, is the yardstick from which all other cars – including models from premium brands – should be measured.
No surprises then that the Mazda CX-5 carries a full five-star ANCAP safety rating when it was first tested in 2017.
The Mazda mid-size SUV scored 95 per cent in the adult occupant test, while the child occupant protection examination yielded an 80 per cent score.
As for the vulnerable road user and safety assist categories, the CX-5 notched 78 and 59 per cent respectively.
The Pathfinder was given the maximum five-star ANCAP rating when it was tested in 2013. Coming standard is advanced safety technology such as AEB, blind-spot warning, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
There are rear parking sensors, but not front ones, which is odd.
The rear-view camera is good, and these grades come with a 360-degree moving-object-detection system – which is great for when kids are running around the car.
For child seats you’ll find two ISOFIX mounts and three top-tether points in the second row, and a third top-tether point in the right-hand-side seat in the third row.
Service intervals are every 10,000km or 12 months, whichever comes first.
Basic service costs will alternate between $347 and $378 up to 160,000km or 16 years, but additional scheduled maintenance items will cost extra.
For example, the cabin filter will need to be replaced ever 40,000km, costing an additional $80, while spark plugs will need to be refreshed every 60,000km interval at a cost of $327.
As such, the first five years of servicing, by our calculations for the 2.5-litre turbo-petrol CX-5 Akera, will cost buyers $2092.
The Pathfinder ST+ is covered by Nissan’s five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty.
Servicing is recommended every 10,000km or 12 months. As a guide you can expect to pay $290 for the first service, $309 for the next, $458 for the third, $367 for the fourth, $314 for the fifth and $502 for the sixth.