Mazda CX-5 VS Suzuki S-Cross
- Gorgeous styling
- Interior fit and finish
- Added off-road capability
- Road noise still too high
- Firm ride
- No hybrid options
- Goes alright
- Steers well
- Plenty of space inside
- Missing advanced safety gear
- That grille
- No digital speedo
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|
Here's a test for you. When was the last time you saw a Suzuki S-Cross? Now let me tell you you've probably seen one more recently than you think, because not only does Suzuki still sell them (I was certain they had quietly dropped it), but it actually sells almost a thousand new ones every year.
The S-Cross is a strange beast, even forgetting the vestigial SX4 badge. Like the Swift/Baleno conundrum, it kind of, sort of sits in the same space as the Vitara, except like that other pair, it kind of doesn't.
It has been a while since I drove the S-Cross - all the way back to its local launch, so it was an interesting prospect to dive in and see what's changed in (checks notes) six years.
|Engine Type||1.4L turbo|
|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.
I won't be rushing out to buy an S-Cross any time soon because there are lots of other cars ahead of it. I had thought that this was a bit of a "for the fans" car but the sales figures, while comparatively modest, proved me wrong.
With a good warranty, capped servicing and tons of space, it's obviously a compelling proposition. Add to that a good driving experience and low running costs, it stacks up well. But it's missing a lot of modern safety gear and is looking a bit old even if it doesn't feel it.
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.
One of the reasons you probably think you haven't seen one of these is that, big half-a-BMW-grille aside, it's a bit anonymous. Which is perfectly fine if that's what you're after, but it's pretty functional rather than pretty. Suzuki styling is weird like that - funky chunky like the Ignis and Vitara and Swift, or terminally dull like the Baleno and S-Cross. It's kind of a shame it's so dreary because it's not, in fact, a dreary car. The chrome grille is way too much, a six-year-old screaming "Look at me!" at a dinner party.
The cabin is pretty standard Suzuki, meaning nothing too exciting or arresting. The materials are fine, the seats are a bit high (and a bit firm) and it does feel a bit yesteryear, but so did the Vitara when it first came out.
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.
This is where the S-Cross starts to get interesting. It's huge inside. The 430-litre boot (almost tripling to 1269 litres with the seats down), with underfloor storage and bins either side is massive for a car with this footprint.
Front-seat passengers score a pair each of cupholder and bottle holders, repeated in the rear. The front cupholders are a bit annoying because they're square and not as deep as you might want.
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.
You have a choice of two mechanically identical S-Cross, the Turbo and the Turbo Premium. The two cars are separated by just $1500. Up here in the dizzy heights of $29,990 for the latter car, you get 17-inch alloys, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, rear parking sensors, cruise control, sat nav, keyless entry and start, fake leather seats, LED headlights, auto wipers, powered wing mirrors and a space-saver spare.
The six speaker stereo controls are part of the tiny 6.0-inch touchscreen in the dash, which is the same system in every Suzuki, with or without the sat nav. It also has Apple CarPlay and is better than anything Toyota foists upon the owners of its vehicles.
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).
Under the bonnet - or more accurately - behind that giant grille lurks Suzuki's rather good 1.4-litre turbo, also found in the Vitara. Outputs are modest at 103kW and 220Nm, but the car weighs two-tenths of not very much at 1170kg, which is a bit of a Suzuki strength.
You can tow 1200kg braked and 400kg unbraked if you're that way inclined.
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.
Suzuki claims the 1.4 - without stop-start or other trickery - will deliver 5.9L/100km. Our time with the S-Cross was almost exclusively urban and it managed a very creditable 7.1L/100km, close to my colleague Richard Berry's 7.3L/100km in 2019. Not bad, but it does drink premium from its 47-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.
My memories of the first S-Cross I drove aren't all that distinct, which means it either wasn't very good or it was just okay. I'm leaning towards just okay, but it was slow with its 1.6-litre engine and whining CVT. It handled okay but the main selling point was the interior space.
I'm very pleased to report that, like the Vitara, the addition of the turbo has made it a much nicer thing to drive. With substantially more power and torque with very little extra weight, it feels far more modern.
And like its slightly bigger stablemate, the lightweight chassis strikes a really good compromise between ride and handling. It's always going to roll but the grippy Continentals keep things tidy in the corners and the light steering makes its around-town demeanour most agreeable. I had the car during Sydney's very wet week in late July and was impressed by how it handled the conditions.
Quiet and well-composed on the faster stuff, the strong winds didn't push the high-sided S-Cross out the lane, either. One irritation is that the little central screen in the dashboard doesn't have a digital speed readout which means deciphering the tightly-packed speedo.
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.
In 2013, this was enough to score five ANCAP stars and that rating still stands despite zero updates on the safety gear but big changes to the ANCAP criteria.
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.
Out of the gate Suzuki offers you a five year/unlimited kilometre warranty, which is quite generous. If you use the car for business (eg courier or ride-sharing), that does reduce to five years/160,000km.
Servicing is also capped for the first five years. The wrinkle there is that while the time between services is pretty standard at 12 months, not many people fall under the 10,000km interval. The first five services avereage out to $295. The fifth service is capped with pricing stepped up to 100,000km, topping out at a whopping $639 for a single service, which does not bode well for high mileage drivers, so keep that in mind.