Mazda CX-5 long-term test review | CAR Magazine

Mazda CX-5 long-term test: the year-long verdict

Published: 04 August 2020

Mazda CX-5 long-term test
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Of all the genetic niceties the younger hooligan could have inherited from me, it just had to be motion sickness. The most puke-prone I’ve ever felt was in the back of a Renault 16; praised at the time for its ride comfort, the 16 did indeed give great blancmange, and I, in turn, gave my all…

The younger once threw up so copiously into the origami of seat folding and sliding mechanisms that was the back of a friend’s car that, no matter how much valeting I shame-facedly forked out for, the smell lingered so resolutely that the owner was forced to ‘accidentally’ spill most of a bottle of perfume all over it, then relegate the whole sorry boiling to the small ads.

And that is why the most important thing about any test car we run is its back-seat vomitometer read-outs. Mercifully, Mazda has taken the trouble to set up the CX-5 with enough gristle in the blancmange to neatly meld more than acceptable ride comfort with plenty of road-surface tingle and sufficient firmness to ensure that not only is the loadspace rarely a slitherbysmal environment for the evil-smelling dog, but also almost all our journeys have been completed without recourse to laybys and wet wipes.

Pile on top of these undercarriage-tuning fundamentals a fine driving position with excellent ergonomics, no-nonsense switchgear and (slightly behind the curve) infotainment operation, an adequately lusty powertrain with a slick gearshift and a chassis that consistently protests that it could handle more power, and you have the makings of pretty much as pleasurable a driving experience you could hope for in this segment.

Interestingly, the missus really enjoyed the Mazda until, suddenly, she didn’t. And the volte face in her affections wasn’t a creeping malaise such as athlete’s foot, more like the sock of a robber’s cosh. The front windscreen demist system is to blame. ‘I don’t care,’ she snapped when I explained that all the heat stayed in the engine to expedite winter warm-up. ‘It doesn’t work and that pisses me off and no matter how much earlier I get up it still doesn’t work and that makes me late for the school run.’

Thereafter, alas, her attitude to the CX-5 took on something of an and-I-hate-your-shirt stance. Why no warning light to notify you that you’re out of screenwash? Why is the multimedia system so slow? What about this relentless notification that the engine oil pressure is too high?

Come to think of it, how can the engine oil pressure be too high? We’ve run the car for a year and collectively still have not the faintest idea where the dipstick or oil filler cap are.

No matter. It has, largely, been a slice. And, right now, I can’t think of a rival I’d rather drive.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.3mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 15.2p per mile
Miles this month 359
Total miles 7370

Month 11 living with a Mazda CX-5: hit and run

cx-5 scratch

Back in the days before we realised we were simply running a crèche with someone we used to go out with, the missus and I booked a restaurant table on the strict understanding that said eatery made no concessions to Valentine’s day. ‘Oh no, sir. Absolutely none,’ we were reassured.

We turned up to find a six-foot-high neon love-heart installed in the window and an accordion player mangling Bright Eyes.

On this Valentine’s day someone went one better and rubbed what looks suspiciously like a white van amorously against the front wheelarch of the CX-5.

Ever since I returned to my beloved Scirocco GTI Mk1 to find a mangled front wing and a note reading: ‘IM SORRY I HIT YOR CAR BUT YOU WERE PARCKED IN A ARKWARD POSITON’, this dent ‘n’ dash denial of responsibility has driven me incandescent with rage.

And it looked as if the Mazda was going to get through the best part of a year joyously unscathed. 

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.6mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 16.9p per mile
Miles this month 806
Total miles 6577

Month 9 living with a Mazda CX-5: blocked view

Mazda CX-5 engine

A very nice man from Mazda has now explained to me the reason there’s time to complete a game of chess before the CX-5’s front windscreen can be persuaded to clear of a frosty morning.

Apparently, to fare as well as possible in the new WLTP emissions measurement proceedings, Mazda’s engineers have ensured that every scrap of heat from a cold-start diesel is diverted to the catalytic converter to get it up and running as fast as possible.

In the context of a cursing, gently late school-run missus, this invariably leaves the windscreen rigorously smeared. Save the planet or see the planet… it seems we can’t do both.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.5mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.1p per mile
Miles this month 474
Total miles 5771

Month 8 living with a Mazda CX-5: dial it in

Mazda CX-5 LTT aircon

Those even vaguely familiar with the 200-yard downwind-range olfactory cosh that is the current high street purveyor of hand-made soaps to the perfumically challenged will have a pretty sound idea of what the interior of the CX-5 smells like this morning. Responsibility for the eye-watering intensity of the on-board atmosphere must be jointly shared between missus and Mazda.

The recent, sapling-snapping intensity of a bobble-hatful of early-morning frosts has required a slight rethink of the ff-C pre-school-run routine; namely a kneecap-numbing slither clad in loose robes and carpet slippers out to the car to fire up the windscreen de-mister a couple of minutes before departure.

No; make that five minutes… Ah; better make it 10… Hmmm; actually, better set the alarm a good 15 minutes earlier. Because no matter how much time we allow for the engine to start feeding any semblance of warmth to the vents, it’s never quite enough. A diesel unit does take its sweet time to show an interest of a chilly dawn.

All of which leads to one of two possible oath-laden outcomes. Plan A: the freshly-boiled kettle is snatched from my hand the instant before the water hits the coffee grounds; or plan B: some squelch of previously owned tissue is smeared haphazardly over the inside of the windscreen.

Plan B does little to melt the ice, but much to mar the view out, so I handed the Mazda over to the Soak ’n’ Vac section of our local supermarket car park with strict instructions to leave the Back to Black holstered but make hay with the glass cleaner, it never occurring to me that same constituted a careless amalgam of ground-floor cosmetics samplers from the world’s cheapest department store.

So now, if you’ll excuse me, I must dash off to the garage to buy a can of de-icer before slightly over-feeding the evil-smelling dog and taking it for a long drive in the hope of returning the cabin air quality to an acceptably chewy norm.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.9mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.3p per mile
Miles this month 455
Total miles 5297

Month 7 living with a Mazda CX-5: mud

CX-5 camera

It strikes me as somewhat optimistic to scroll the words ‘Please Check Surroundings For Safety’ across the bottom of the CX-5’s rear-view camera screen. Just five minutes of post-jetwash Mudfordshire motoring is more than enough to re-transform the image from just about perfect to Jackson Pollock so comprehensively that you wonder why more car makers don’t hide the lens, VW-style, under the badge.

I guess it comes down to prioritising where to spend the dosh. Mazda’s recent drive is towards a new generation of technologies that, by harnessing our natural ability to balance our heads atop our shoulders, purport to make it even easier for a mounted bowman to hit the bullseye at full gallop… Laudable indeed to wish to create a decent-sized SUV that’s good to drive. But the CX-5 hasn’t yet benefitted from this latest deployment of engineering cunningnesses, and is already good to drive. When it does, though, I’ll wager that the dog will be puking aplenty long before the driver feels he may have ascended to a new plateau of driving pleasure.

Which is why I really hope that, along with whatever other new talents the next CX-5 is armed, it also boasts a mud-free rear camera.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.9mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.3p per mile
Miles this month 817
Total miles 4842

Month 6 of our Mazda CX-5 long-term test: surviving winter driving

CX-5 headlight

Oh to be in Mudfordshire, now that winter is here… Despite the hooligans having long forfeited fluffed lollies and excess snot in favour of smartphone-hijacking the infotainment, a remotely clean car is become the stuff of dreams for the next few months.

The evil-smelling dog seems able to distribute crud around the cabin more devastatingly than a lid-free Nutribullet, and its post-walk dampness adds an extra-cloying fruitiness to the atmosphere aft. Meanwhile, the Victorian undertaker’s hatful of sparrows (est – you try counting sparrows) occupying the clematis overhanging our minuscule ‘drive’ has returned from holiday and is once again bickering with relentless gusto over whose turn it is to poo on the CX-5’s paintwork next.

The Mazda takes all this in its stride with an enviable insouciance, and gives so little cause for complaint that we consistently struggle for gripes. But the missus has, nonetheless, managed to unearth one tiny, shiny new one…

When the rain makes daylight sufficiently gloomy, the auto-headlights fire up, but – the running lights of oncoming traffic being too feeble to alert the system – they do so in full beam mode, and must be dipped manually. Exciting stuff, eh?

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (as tested £30,460)
Performance 2191cc turbo four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.9mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 17.3p per mile
Miles this month 929
Total miles 4025

Month 5 living with a Mazda CX-5: designed for elbows

Mazda CX-5 interior

Tricky Johnny, ergonomics. I have long railed against cockpits which combine manual transmission with a thumping great centre console box, the thoughtfully padded lid of which conspires to clonk your elbow with every throw of the gearlever. 

Never mind nicely weighted steering and a crisp turn-in, some fool(s) actually sat down and designed this blatantly obstructive irritation into existence, negating all such driving niceties at a stroke. What’s so great about a container with a lid anyway? In my house that’s simply a recipe for losing stuff; out of sight, buy a new one. In the CX-5, among the detritus is a swanky, stainless steel ’n’ rubber portable coffee cup which serves notice on our impending second childhoods by providing a slot in the lid through which you may slurp. And this resides in the cupholder provided, directly in front of, yes, a lidded (and perennially empty) centre console box.

Happily, someone at Mazda has had the foresight to design said lid in such a fashion that, miraculously, it doesn’t obstruct the gearchange elbow. Sadly, the odious coffee cup is a different matter.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (£30,460 as tested) 
Performance 2191cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph 
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.5mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2 
Energy cost 15.6p per mile 
Miles this month 353
Total miles 3095

Month 4 living with a Mazda CX-5: what faults?

Seriously concerned about the missus. When I asked for her monthly feedback she said: ‘Always tricky to say much about a car that doesn’t really have any faults.’ Hmm… Why so happy? Has she won the Lottery without telling me? Is she having an affair?

Sensing my unease, she has now managed to cobble a few placatory trifles. To wit: ‘I can’t reach the touchscreen, but I don’t know why it’s necessary as the knob works fine. I don’t like the sat-nav, and I really don’t like the lack of an internal central locking button.

‘Pretty small fry as it’s really nice to drive, particularly as I’ve actually programmed the radio so I can station surf to my heart’s content. As long as you’re not in the car.’

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (£30,460 as tested) 
Performance 2191cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph 
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.3mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2 
Energy cost 17.5p per mile 
Miles this month 854 
Total miles 2742

Month 3 of our Mazda CX-5 long-term test: the acid test of ffrench-Constant’s dog and family duty

Mazda CX-5

Well, the CX-5’s certainly proving a more involving steer than the Honda CR-V it’s replaced. 

However, much like the diplomatic deployment of the word ‘striking’ when asked to comment on a close friend’s new nettle-dyed lambswool tank top, the up-close-and-personal levels of intimacy implied by the use of ‘involving’ are not always entirely desirable. Just ask Chris Froome.

On the plus side, the Mazda’s helm is meatier, more accurate and a deal more communicative than that of the Honda. Lob stiffer springing and damping into the equation, and the Mazda is far happier to string together a sequence of bends without increasingly strong signals from the bodyshell that, if you offered it a biscuit, it might actually come over all toy dog on you…

The downside is a somewhat firm ride, most noticeably at lower speeds, when individual road surface trip-hazards are picked out and communicated to the cabin.

Mazda’s next-generation machinery – heralded by the new Mazda 3 – addresses this through the expedient of softer tyre walls and more pliant undercarriage allied to a stiffer bodyshell. The 2019 CX-5 driver, however, currently has no choice but to opt for smaller wheels, or simply drive faster – at which point progress smooths out considerably.

Or rather, it would, were it not for my inability, thus far, to get to grips with the CX-5’s gearchange. True, the Honda’s vorpal action is a hard act to follow, but I can’t remember any previous Mazda stick being this notchy and, on occasion, downright recalcitrant – most perceptibly when slotting into sixth. Still, with under 1500 miles on the clock, I’m hoping the action will yet settle down.

Neither the missus nor the evil-smelling dog has yet to pass comment. That said, the former is delighted to no longer suffer a nagging dash-bitch dictating the sequence in which every action must be performed, and the latter no longer scrabbles noisily for grip on a plastic loadspace liner. Though it will, I fear, have the last laugh when Mudforshire next lives up to its name.

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (£30,460 as tested)
Performance 2191cc turbocharged four-cylinder, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 44.9mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 13.2p per mile
Miles this month 111
Total miles 1413

Month 2 living with a Mazda CX-5: the little details

Forced Entry

Keyless entry is a Pretty Good Idea. Especially for single people, who run less risk of the key winding up in the missus’ handbag 70 miles from the car you’ve just switched off to refuel. A stabbed door handle button locks and unlocks the CX-5 – not as touchy-feely as some.

Snatch Catch

Mazda CX-5 seatbelt

All too many seatbelts hang limpet-snug against the B pillar, making a right-hand grab impossible, and even the less satisfactory left-hand alternative an inevitable mutter of hot, fidgety fuss. Not so the CX-5’s, which considerately stream like celebratory tickertape.

Screen Shot

Mazda CX-5 screen

Mazda would be the first to accept that its centre console screen is a tad off the pace these days. Yet compare the simplicity of its turn-and-push knob operation to systems which require left index finger letter-by-letter writing, and you quickly realise all that’s wrong is the graphics.

All Change

Mazda CX-5 gearshift

Most of the notch of a somewhat recalcitrant gearchange has indeed worked itself out of the system as the miles pile quietly aboard. You can still feel the weave of the cable-link trundling over the pulleys, but that’s strangely pleasing.

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 150ps 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (£30,460 as tested) 
Performance 2191cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph 
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 45.4mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2 
Energy cost 13p per mile 
Miles this month 475
Total miles 1888

Month 1 living with a Mazda CX-5: hello and welcome

Our Mazda CX-5 2.2D 150ps 2wd Sport Nav+

There’s not a whiff of ff-C clan preferred specification or option box ticking about this CX-5. It is, simply, the best-selling variant of Mazda’s best-selling model in the UK; the price tipped a whisker over the 30 grand mark by the only extra, £560 worth of metallic paint.

It’s also, to this increasingly jaded eye, one of the best-looking SUVs out there, wearing its sport utility bulk with considerably more élan than the man who believes he can slim away his obsession with real ale merely by leaving his shirt untucked.

Apparently, no Japanese automotive manufacturer can bring a car to the tarmac without having first conjured some semantic raison d’etre behind the design, and Mazda has been running with ‘Kodo – Soul of Motion’ for a while now. Happily, the company’s current iteration of Kodo is hell-bent on perfecting the purity of less-is-more form. And even though the coachwork of this dandelion-clock-gently refreshed 2019 CX-5 is blatantly a generation behind that of the even more sleekly elegant new Mazda 3, it’s still pretty pleasing to look at.

Particularly at the sharp end, where Mazda remains the only manufacturer to have successfully incorporated the Big Grille into proceedings. Ever since it merged the upper and lower grilles on a hapless A8 because, defended the designer, ‘it was the logical thing to do’, Audi has struggled desperately to make the resultant maw look anything other than an inflatable doll in chrome lipstick. 

And now, undeterred or unimaginative, it seems BMW is to follow suit with a raft of kidney grilles suffering from acute hydronephrosis. Nurse; the screens…

On board, the CX-5’s Sport Nav+ trim level seems pretty comprehensive at first rummage, and saves a couple of grand on the top GT Sport Nav+ spec. 

Mazda CX-5 interior

It includes such goodies as keyless entry and start, full leather, power-operated and heated front seats, a weight-adding powered tailgate for those whose biceps are become bingo wings, two out of three proper analogue dials, a seven-inch central touch- and knob-controlled infotainment screen, a head-up display, adaptive LED headlights and all the safety kit reactive Euro NCAP has concurred that we need.

One key feature the CX-5 mysteriously lacks (and I can hardly wait for the missus to find out) is a dashboard button for centrally unlocking the doors, which is going to give rise to untold mirth on the school run. Not.

Thus far, the CX-5 has only been round the block a couple of times so, from an entirely comfortable driving position there is, as yet, little to report. 

The entirely unstressed 2.2-litre, 148bhp turbodiesel remains weapon of choice for the buying public, and it’s easy to understand why. With 280lb ft available from under 2000rpm it’s lusty enough, notably quiet on the move, and yet already returning over 10mpg more than both the CR-V and XC60 that preceded it at ff-C Towers.

Logbook: Mazda CX-5 2.2D 150ps 2wd Sport Nav+

Price £29,900 (£30,460 as tested)
Performance 2191cc turbodiesel four-cyl, 148bhp, 9.9sec 0-62mph, 127mph
Efficiency 49.6mpg (official), 45.4mpg (tested), 128g/km CO2
Energy cost 13p per mile
Miles this month 64
Total miles 130

By Anthony ffrench-Constant

Contributing editor, architect, sentence constructor, amuse bouche