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Mazda CX-5 4×4 (2012 – ) expert review

By Andy Goodwin, 17th April 2012

The verdict

The Mazda CX-5 is a well-rounded small 4x4 with sporty looks and performance but low running costs. It's a real contender in this growing class.

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Expert rating:



  • Cohesive, modern design
  • Cost effective to own and run
  • Satisfying for drivers and passengers alike


  • All its accomplishments don’t come cheap
  • The petrol needs to be worked hard, making it noisy
  • Its interior just falls short of class leaders

Full Review

1. Exterior

The Mazda CX-5 represents two changes for the Japanese car maker. First and foremost, it’s the first small crossover 4×4 from Mazda, allowing it to compete with cars in a growing market, which includes the likes of the Volkswagen Tiguan, Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga, Hyundai ix35 and Kia Sportage. It also ushers in a new design direction, coined ‘KODO – Soul of Motion’. It’s characterised by a five-point grille surround and ’signature wing’ – a line connecting the headlights across its nose, which takes it’s inspiration from a Cheetah’s face as it prepares to pounce. It’s a neat design, with expensive features like twin tailpipes across the range. But, while it might be one of the best-looking cars in the class, we worry it doesn’t stand out enough to create big waves as a latecomer to the party.

Our rating: 4

2. Interior

Mazda has concentrated on ease of use and craftsmanship and the interior is its best yet. The driver sits in a more low-slung position than most competitors, with Mazda even citing its own MX-5 sports car as inspiration for its configuration. Why? Mazda sees itself as a sporty brand, no matter if it’s designing a convertible, 4×4 or MPV. The central console has an attractive design around its climate controls, but the sat-nav looks less well integrated than in the best rivals, feeling more like an aftermarket unit.

Our rating: 4

3. Practicality

Being one of the longest cars in its class, rear legroom is excellent, making the CX-5 perfectly comfortable for four adults. It also has a decent 503 litre boot (Tiguan 470 litres, Ford Kuga 410 litres), which expands to 742 litres by folding the 40:20:40 rear seats. These can be flipped down using handles just inside the boot and lie almost flat. However, they lack the flexibility to slide forewards and back, as found in the Volkswagen Tiguan.

Our rating: 4

4. Ride and handling

The CX-5 is the first Mazda built with its SKYACTIV range of features, all aimed at saving fuel, without sacrificing performance or safety. A crucial element is weight saving, resulting in this being the lightest model in its class at just over 1,300kgs (in petrol, front-wheel drive guise). You can tell from behind the wheel too, the CX-5 feeling keen to turn into corners, with little body roll and only small amounts of dive under heavy braking. Not only is the CX-5 well composed in corners, but it also rides well. Like the Tiguan and Qashqai, the suspension is firmer than a traditional 4×4, but this rarely translates into discomfort for occupants.

Our rating: 5

5. Performance

There’s one 2.0-litre petrol with 163bhp and two 2.2-litre diesel models with 148 or 173bhp. Thanks again to its light weight, the CX-5 is pretty sprightly, with the four-wheel drive 148bhp diesel hitting 62mph in 9.4 seconds – almost a second quicker than the equivalent Tiguan. It’s the diesels which suit the CX-5 best, the petrol sounding more strained while accelerating and needing to be worked harder as a result of its lower pulling power. Both diesel engines are extremely smooth and continue to produce power to the red-line at a heady (for a diesel) 5,500 revs. The standard six-speed manual deserves a special mention for its short and sweet action – again inspired by the MX-5. An automatic ‘box is available with either diesel, which also shifts impressively cleanly and quickly – so much so we wished steering wheel paddles were available.

Our rating: 5

6. Running costs

The first Mazda featuring its green SKYACTIV branding has been built from the ground up to be as economical as possible and it has won them class-leading figures. The front-wheel drive diesel with 148bhp averages 61.4mpg and emits only 119g/km of CO2, less than many superminis. Choose four-wheel drive and this drops to 54.3mpg and 136g/km.

Our rating: 4

7. Reliability

Mazda has an excellent reliability record, with several of its models winning awards for their performance in this category, but this being such a fresh model, only time will tell the whole story. Mazda is a company which clearly excels in engineering, so this should be reflected here.

Our rating: 4

8. Safety

Mazda has decked out the CX-5 with a raft of safety kit, and very effective it is, too: the CX-5 scored a maximum five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. Over and above the expected airbags and electronic skid-prevention aids, all trim levels get Smart City Brake Support (SCBS) as standard. Between 4 and 30km/h, SCBS can apply the brakes automatically to mitigate a collision. An optional safety pack includes blind-spot warning, lane departure warning, and automatically dipping headlights.

Our rating: 4

9. Equipment

Mazda generally offers comprehensive levels of kit, and there’s no change here. The entry-level SE-L trim has highlights including 17-inch wheels, fog lights, auto lights and wipers and dual-zone climate control. SE-L Nav adds – you won’t believe it – a dash-integrated TomTom touchscreen sat-nav unit and Sport Nav brings 19-inch alloys, Bi-Xenon headlights, leather, reversing camera and a Bose nine-speaker sound system. It all works well, our only reservations being the sat-nav fitment, which does look a little clunky compared to the best rivals and the leather seats which are very firm.

Our rating: 4

10. Why buy?

Being such a latecomer to the booming small 4×4 forecourt, the CX-5 had to be very good. Luckily it is excellent. Mazda’s SKYACTIV approach has succeeded in providing economy, without sacrificing performance or appeal.

Our rating: 4

Expert review 4.2stars

  • Exterior4
  • Interior4
  • Practicality4
  • Ride and handling5
  • Performance5
  • Running costs4
  • Reliability4
  • Safety4
  • Equipment4
  • Why buy?4

Our recommendations

Best on a budget:


Front-wheel drive petrol model is cheapest to buy but doesn’t lack kit.



Four-wheel drive entry-level diesel is the best all-rounder

Blow the budget:

CX-5 2.2 AWD SKYACTIV-D 175 Sport NAV

Top performing CX-5 also gets a sportier look and impressive interior

The first Mazda featuring its green SKYACTIV branding has been built from the ground up to be as economical as possible