Mazda CX-5 VS Subaru XV
- Gorgeous styling
- Interior fit and finish
- Added off-road capability
- Road noise still too high
- Firm ride
- No hybrid options
- Solid road feel
- Relative value
- Safety equipment
- Thrashy 2.0L engine
- Hybrid not super efficient
- Small boot
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|
Subaru has always been a good fit for Australia.
Cars like the Forester and Outback solidified the brand’s place amongst SUVs before SUVs were really a thing, and the XV is the logical progression of the Impreza range, slotting nicely into the brand's offerings of lifted all-wheel-drive wagons.
It’s been a few years since the XV launched, however, so can its latest 2021 update keep it in the fight in a quickly evolving and notoriously competitive segment against many newer rivals? We’ve taken a look at the whole range to find out.
|Fuel Type||Regular 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.
Even years on from its initial launch and with only subtle changes to its main range, it’s really to Subaru’s credit that the XV feels just as capable and modern as any of its rivals.
This is not to say it’s perfect. We can’t recommend the base model, the maths don’t really work out on the hybrids, the only available engine is breathless, and it has a small boot.
But the XV’s excellent safety suite, driving dynamics, all-wheel-drive capability, quality finish and comfortable interior mean it’s hard not to be charmed by this little lifted hatch.
Our pick of the range? While the 2.0i-L is great value, we’d recommend you splurge to the 2.0i-Premium to get the full safety suite and extra garnish.
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 key to the XV’s fun and adventurous appeal is perhaps the fact that it’s not really an SUV at all. It’s rather obviously a lifted version of the brand’s Impreza hatchback, and this is to its credit.
It’s simple but tough, cute but capable, and really everything many consumers are looking for when it comes to a small, all-wheel-drive SUV. Not only does this design philosophy (of lifting wagons and hatches rather than creating bespoke “SUVs”) match Subaru’s family of products, but the ride height, plastic claddings, and tough-looking alloys offer hints of the all-wheel-drive capability that lies beneath.
Little has changed for the 2021 model year, with the XV most recently receiving a tweaked grille, updated front bumper, and a new set of alloy wheels. The XV range is also available in a fun array of colours, which Subaru hopes will help it win more of a youth vote. As an added bonus, none of the colour choices carry an extra charge.
The interior of the XV continues the fun and adventurous theme with Subaru’s signature chunky design language noticeably different from its rivals. My favourite element of this has always been the bumper-car steering wheel, which feels great in your hands in its leather-clad finish, but there are also nice soft claddings throughout the doors and big seats with nice bolstering and design.
While we like how big and sharp the main 8.0-inch screen is, if there’s one thing Subaru gets wrong it’s how busy the whole cabin package is. The visual assault of three screens seems unnecessary, and as much as I like the wheel, it is also completely adorned in somewhat confusingly labelled buttons and toggles.
Still it’s an attractive, fun, and unique design amongst its small SUV peers. Subaru fans, at least, will be sure to adore it.
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.
In some ways the XV is very impressive when it comes to its interior practicality, but in other ways it disappoints.
The front seats offer heaps of room for adults with good adjustability, and while the seating height is very high by default, there’s still lots of headroom and adjustability, with the added benefit of a very commanding view of the road for such a small SUV.
As mentioned, the doors, dash, and transmission tunnel are all clad in soft materials, and front passengers also benefit from no less than four USB ports in every grade except the base 2.0i, a huge centre console box, comfortably large bottle holders in the centre with a removable divider, a small bay under the climate unit that also houses a 12v outlet and auxiliary input, and a single large bottle holder in the doors with a small adjoining bin.
A surprise comes in the rear seats, which offered enough head and knee room for a particularly tall friend of mine. It’s rare for the small SUV segment to offer such space, but behind my own (182cm tall) seating position I had ample airspace for my knees and decent airspace for my head too, even despite the Premium and S grades having a sunroof fitted.
Rear passengers get a flip-down armrest with bottle holders, a small bottle holder in the doors, and pockets on the backs of the seats. The seat cladding is just as good as it is in the front, and the width in the rear seats is notable, however the centre seat suffers from the existence of a tall transmission tunnel to facilitate the all-wheel-drive system, and there are no adjustable air vents or power outlets for rear passengers either.
Finally, one ongoing weak point for the XV is the amount of boot space on offer. Boot capacity is 310-litres (VDA) for non-hybrids or 345 litres for hybrid variants. This is decent when compared to smaller light SUVs but definitely leaves room for improvement when it comes to the XV’s main small SUV competitors.
Space can be boosted to 765L in non-hybrid or 919L in hybrids with the seats down (again, not great), and the hybrid model loses the underfloor space-saver spare wheel, instead leaving you with a very compact puncture-repair kit.
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.
Subaru’s pricing strategy is an interesting one. Generally, the brand’s entry-level models are priced above rivals, but top out well below them. For 2021 the XV range has four variants, two of which are available with the hybrid-drivetrain option.
The entry-level XV 2.0i ($29,690) sits above the entry-level Hyundai Kona ($26,600), Kia Sportage ($27,790), and Honda HR-V ($25,990). Keep in mind, the XV range is all-wheel drive by default, which is a value boost, but the unfortunate news is that we’d recommend you ignore the base XV altogether.
Included on the base 2.0i are 17-inch alloy wheels, a 6.5-inch multimedia touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a 4.2-inch supervision cluster and 6.3-inch function screen, basic air conditioning, a single USB port, basic cloth seats, halogen headlights, standard cruise control, and some more basic trimmings. Not only is this car the only one with the more basic multimedia screen, but crucially it misses out on any of Subaru’s excellent EyeSight safety suite.
The starting point for your XV journey, then, should really be the 2.0i-L, starting at $31,990. The 2.0i-L ups the interior to include a dazzling 8.0-inch multimedia screen, improved interior trimmings with premium cloth seats and leather-trimmed steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, extra USB ports, and adaptive cruise control as part of the EyeSight safety suite.
Next up is the 2.0i-Premium at $34,590, which adds a sliding sunroof, heated wing mirrors, built-in navigation, a front-view camera, and the full safety suite with blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear auto emergency braking. This variant is now the best value, as it offers the full set of safety items previously only available on the top-spec car at a lower price.
This brings us to the top-spec 2.0i-S with an MSRP of $37,290, which adds LED headlights with auto high-beam assist, a side-view camera, leather interior trims with extended premium cabin upholstery and chrome finishes, auto power folding wing mirrors, leather-appointed seat trim with heated front seats and an eight-way power-adjustable driver’s seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, and extended functionality for the all-wheel-drive system.
Finally, the 2.0i-L and 2.0i-S can be chosen with the “eBoxer” hybrid drivetrain option, wearing MSRPs of $35,490 and $40,790 respectively. They mirror the specification of their 2.0i counterparts while adding silver exterior accents and a pedestrian-alert system. They also trade out the space-saver spare wheel in favour of a puncture-repair kit, due to the presence of an under-boot-floor lithium-ion battery system.
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 XV now has two drivetrain options in Australia. One is the carryover 2.0-litre petrol engine, now with a smidge more power, and a hybrid version of the same layout with an electric motor housed in the continuously variable transmission. There is no manual variant in the XV range.
The 2.0i models produce 115kW/196Nm, while the hybrid produces 110kW/196Nm from the engine and 12.3kW/66Nm from the electric motor. All variants are all-wheel drive.
The hybrid system is powered by a lithium-ion battery pack under the boot floor, and in practice functions a bit differently from Toyota’s popular system.
We’re sure Subaru die-hards will be dismayed to know a version of the XV packing the larger Forester’s 2.5-litre petrol engine (136kW/239Nm) will not be making it to Australia for the foreseeable future.
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.
It’s not such a great story for the hybrid variant here, as even on the official numbers it only saves a tiny amount of fuel.
The official/combined number for 2.0i variants is 7.0L/100km, while the hybrid variants trim this to 6.5L/100km.
In practice it only got worse on my test. Over similar driving conditions consisting of several hundred kilometres over the course of a week, the 2.0i-Premium non-hybrid produced 7.2L/100km, while the hybrid actually used more fuel at 7.7L/100km.
It’s worth noting we’ll be holding on to the hybrid for a further three months as part of a long-term urban test. Check back in to see if we can trim this number down to something closer to its claim in the coming months.
All XV variants can drink base-grade 91RON unleaded and 2.0i variants have 63-litre fuel tanks while hybrids make use of a 48-litre tank.
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.
No matter which XV you choose, you’ll be getting a very comfortable and easy-to-steer small SUV, and the drive experience has only improved with this year’s updates.
The XV’s newly re-worked front suspension and tall ride height make for a package more than capable of dealing with anything the suburbs will throw at it. This is the kind of car that scoffs at speed bumps and potholes.
The steering is light enough to be comfortable, but provides just enough feedback to keep it engaging, too, and the always-on all-wheel-drive system provides a sense of constant security in corners and even on loosely sealed or wet surfaces.
The XV has better SUV cred than almost every other car in its class on the capability front, enough at least to make it a decent companion for seeking those unsealed campgrounds or vantage points.
Where it’s not as good is its engine options. We’ll get to the hybrid in a moment, but the standard 2.0-litre engine is underpowered for a relatively heavy small SUV, with the added burden of all-wheel drive, and it feels it. This engine doesn’t have the follow-through of its turbocharged rivals and is very thrashy when much is asked of it.
This experience isn’t really helped along by the rubbery-feeling continuously variable automatic transmission, which is at its best in stop-start traffic. It strips the fun out of trying to drive this car with a bit more vigour.
Unlike Toyota's hybrid alternatives, the hybrid XV isn’t a significantly different experience behind the wheel. Its electric motor doesn’t really have enough strength to get it up to speed, but it does assist when it comes to acceleration and coasting to help take the stress partially off the engine. The XV also doesn’t provide a hybrid indicator like Toyota does, so it’s much harder to understand the effect your accelerator input is having on the motor.
The centre screen does display the energy flow, though, so it is good to have some kind of feedback that the hybrid system is helping on occasion.
Hybrid variants also add something called “e-Active Shift Control”, which uses input from the car’s sensors and all-wheel-drive system to better tune the hybrid assistance to the CVT. In general driving terms, this lets the electric motor pick up the slack of the petrol engine when it's most needed in the corners and in low-torque instances.
On a final note, all of these moments of electrical assistance do make the hybrid versions notably quieter than the non-hybrid ones. I still wouldn’t recommend choosing the hybrid on its driving experience alone, but it will be interesting to see how Subaru can build on this technology in the future.
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 XV has an excellent safety suite so long as you avoid the base model 2.0i. Every other variant gets at least the forward-facing and unique stereo camera safety suite, which Subaru dubs ‘EyeSight’.
This system provides auto emergency braking up to speeds of 85km/h capable of detecting pedestrians and brake lights, it also includes lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control, and a lead vehicle start alert. All XVs get an excellent wide-angle reversing camera.
Once you get to the upper-mid-grade 2.0i Premium, the safety suite is upgraded to include rear-facing technologies, including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and rear auto braking. The Premium gets a front-facing parking camera, while the top-spec S grade gets a side view camera as well.
All XVs come with the expected stability, brake, and traction controls, as well as a set of seven airbags, making for a maximum five-star ANCAP safety rating to the 2017 standards.
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.
Subaru remains on par with other Japanese automakers, with a five-year and unlimited-kilometre warranty promise. There’s 12 months of roadside assist included, and the XV is also covered by a capped-price servicing program for the life of the warranty.
Services are required once every 12 months or 12,500km, and while this is a welcome improvement on the six-month intervals this car used to have, these visits are far from the cheapest we’ve seen with an average price of nearly $500 per year.