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2018 Mazda CX-5 GSX 2.5 – Car Review – still the medium-SUV King

2018 Mazda CX-5 GSX 2.5 – Car Review – still the medium-SUV King

Last year, I tested the CX-5 Limited – finished in Soul Red, Mazda’s best colour by far. For 2018, Mazda have made some changes to all its CX-5 engines – the 2.0-litre and 2.5-litre petrol units, and the 2.2-litre diesel engine.

We’ve always liked the CX-5 – it’s a great choice for anyone in the market for a mid-sized SUV.

But the competition is catching up; there are some other mid-sized SUVs improving in design and features, and the all-important benchmark of driveability – always a CX-5 strong suit.

Can the latest mechanical and feature upgrades fend off the CX-5’s opposition?

The Range

If you want to read about the CX-5 range, check out our 2017 review – it hasn’t really changed.

In saying that, for 2018 the GSX models pick up Active Driving Display (Heads-Up display, or HUD to you and me) which is projected onto the windscreen. Other i-ACTIVSENSE technologies include Mazda’s proprietary Autonomous Emergency Braking – Advanced Smart City Brake Support – Forward (which is now standard across the range), Blind Spot Monitoring and Traffic Sign Recognition on GSX and Limited grades.

Other changes include the Limited model now featuring Lane Departure Warning and Driver Attention Alert, Mazda Radar Cruise Control with Stop & Go functionality, and Adaptive LED Headlamps (ALH) which now features a 20-split LED array with individual control of several LEDs providing precise adjustment of the lighting pattern. The ALH feature automatically controls your front head lamps in high beam. It broadens visibility at low speeds, shapes the high beam to help avoid dazzling other drivers and raises beam height at highway speeds to extend vision area.

  • FWD GLX 2.0 petrol $39,995
  • FWD GSX 2.0 petrol $42,995
  • AWD GSX 2.5 petrol $46,245; 2.2 diesel $48,495
  • AWD Limited 2.5 petrol $55,745; 2.2 diesel $57,995

You can read more about the CX-5 range on Mazda New Zealand’s website.

First Impressions

As always, the CX-5 looks great. That frontal design – so much like the CX-3 and CX-9, and yet different too – is a stand-out look. I actually found a person who didn’t like the front of the car, but he was the first person ever. The sides and rear too are well balanced – those rear lights, looking very Jaguar F-Typish, and are totally awesome.

Our test car was finished in Eternal Blue, which set it off nicely.

The Inside

While our previous test car was finished in white leather, the GSX test car this time around had black leatherette seats with suede inserts, and black trim on the door panels. It still looked good, and the suede added a touch of class for a mid-spec car. The leatherette looks like real leather, and feels like it too.

The beige headlining lightened up the interior nicely, and the finish is as good as you would hope it to be. There does seem to be more hard plastics inside than in the Limited model, but there are different textures used around the cabin so you don’t really notice it.

The interior does feel quite wide too, with a strip of silver plastic going right across the front of the dash, broken up by the air vents.

A welcome feature is the wide-opening rear doors – they almost open out parallel to the car, and it makes for a far easier entry into the rear seat. After a few cars lately where the doors seem quite restrictive, it was a great reminder on how well the CX-5 does it.

There’s two USB ports in the rear, but they are under the centre armrest. I haven’t found this too practical in the past, if you have the car five-up, but hey if there’s only two in the rear seat then it works well, and probably better than having them at the rear of the centre console. You do get two air vents for the rear passengers on the centre console, and that’s always welcome on hot days.

Rear legroom is average, if a little above average for the class.  The boot is plenty big enough for most people, with 455 litres seats up, or 1355 litres with the rear seats down.

Lifting up the false floor will find you a space-saver spare, so that’s one up on only getting a tyre pump, which we are seeing more and more of lately.

The Drive

It’s interesting when you read a review you wrote a year ago after you drive the same car again for a week. Okay, it was Limited vs GSX, but it’s a pretty close comparison. Most things I commented on a year ago still stand today – the good, and the not-exactly good.

The thing is with the CX-5, it’s mostly good. This is a great looking, great driving SUV. G-Vectoring control is in place, and it still does an excellent job of giving the CX-5 car-like handling, and the weird ability for you to chuck it around some beds without your passengers getting thrown around. It is one of those times when technology isn’t all just talk – it works.

Wind noise? Still very well subdued, and a change in tyres has meant that tyre noise is now reduced as well. It wasn’t bad before, but it is better now. There’s been some small changes in NVH as well, and this was noticed too. It’s still not a CX-9 for complete silence, but it’s darn good anyway.

The suede inserts on the seats look good and the seats are comfy too. I think I’d class them as ‘Goldilocks Seats’ – not too firm, not too soft…just right. Side support too is spot on; it doesn’t need to be overboard on an SUV but you can feel the side support there in the right amount.

Traffic Sign Recognition has also had some tweaks, and I’m so happy Mazda have fitted their excellent Heads-Up Display to the GSX models as well – and so that means all speed signs are shown right there in front of the driver, on the road ahead. It’s a great system, and even picks up stop signs too. There seem to be a lot of drivers out there who completely forget they are at a stop sign, and treat it like a give way sign, so hopefully this will be a good reminder.

Speaking of the HUD, well there’s not much to say – it’s one of the better ones. I do like how they’ve integrated the blind spot monitoring system into it, so if you are on the motorway and there’s a car to your left in your blind spot, you get a warning on the mirror and also in the HUD. It turns from white to amber as they get closer, which is even better.

That BSM system in the HUD, along with all the glass means that visibility is top-notch. In fact, the rear window takes up almost the entire rear-view mirror. Too many cars now have the rear window a lot smaller, which may look sexy but also makes it harder for visibility. It’s easy to see all around the car, and while no CX-5 models have a 360-degree camera system, it’s easy to drive in the city and on the motorway.

Such a shame that while Mazda have included a HUD on the GSX model, there’s no adaptive cruise control – you have to move to the Limited model to get that. Maybe on the next update we’ll see adaptive cruise as standard.

I’m glad Mazda have stuck with their MZD infotainment system – it works so simply, it’s an example to others. Right down there on the centre console is the jog dial to control it (there’s no touch screen) and next to the jog dial is the volume knob. The volume knob can almost look out of place there, but it’s the best place for it. Your hand simply falls to it, to either adjust the volume of mute the audio (by pushing it down). It makes a mockery of those cars that have a volume knob up on the centre of the dash, where you have to reach for it. We’ve got to applaud manufacturers for returning to having an actual volume knob (although there are some that resist), but having it there in the CX-5 (and all other Mazdas) is great. I often used the knob instead of the steering wheel controls.

Speaking of the infotainment system, I see there’s been a few tweaks in here too. One of the better ones I found was to adjust the sensitivity of the automatic headlights. I love auto headlights – set and forget – but I have noticed that some cars take too long for them to come on, at dusk or when it’s heavily overcast. With the CX-5, you can tweak the sensitivity right up.  On the downside, there’s no Android Auto or Apple CarPlay in the CX-5.

Being a CX-5, there’s an electric park brake and brake auto-hold across the range. I love auto hold, and use it all the time. A shame though that it doesn’t stay on when you return to the car – that would be nice, or at least nice to have as an option.

Still sitting in the driver’s seat, the leather wheel feels as good as ever, with easy to use controls. Mazda always does this well, and the latest CX-5 has seen no playing with the wheel’s buttons, thankfully. There’s buttons on the driver’s door for all the windows – as you’d expect – and I’m happy to say they are all auto up/down. I wish every car had this.

In front of the driver are the simple and clear instruments; rev counter on the left, 260km/h speedo in the middle, and then an economy and fuel gauge on the right. There’s not much you can do here to tweak anything, but there’s no need to – it all works well.

One thing I did notice while taking my photos is the weight of the bonnet – it really needs gas struts. It’s to the point where some slightly-built members of the public would struggle to lift it. Not that there’s much need to lift the bonnet these days, but something to keep in mind.

Okay, I’ve gone on enough about everything but the engine – what’s the ‘new’ motor like? First up, the changes. For the 2-litre petrol engine, there’s been some enhancements in the intake ports and piston design, as well as a coolant control valve to help warm-up.

These changes are carried over to the 2.5-litre petrol engine, which also now has cylinder deactivation. The outside two cylinders can shut down when the vehicle is operated at steady speeds between 40 and 80 km/h, but all four cylinders work instantaneously when needed for maximum performance. A centrifugal pendulum has been adopted in the torque converter of the six-speed SKYACTIV-DRIVE automatic transmission, counterbalancing any vibration that might otherwise be felt when running on two cylinders. The switch over between two and four cylinder modes is imperceptible, and yet, Mazda says, ‘with very tangible real-world efficiency benefits’.

I must admit, I couldn’t feel any change to running on two cylinders during my week with the CX-5. At least half the cars we test with cylinder deactivation have a small ‘thrum’ when any of the cylinders are turned off. With the CX-5, I had no idea anything was happening. Again, tech that works. I must say though, last year I had the CX-5 with the ‘old’ 2.5-litre motor without this feature, and yet my fuel consumption for the CX-5 GSX was exactly the same over my 400km or so – 8.8L/100km.

Does that mean anything? Your mileage may vary with the answer, but still – the tech is there, and it works. For some drivers and some driving conditions, no doubt it makes a difference. Actual power between both 2.5-litre motors is the same (140kW), but torque is up by 1Nm to 252.

There’s also been changes to the diesel engine, which now features Rapid Multi-Stage Combustion, which has improved peak torque by 30Nm (now 450Nm) and peak power by 11kw (now 140kW). Apparently, fuel consumption and emissions have also improved, and Mazda says the result is a quieter engine yet with more performance. We tested the CX-8 with this engine recently, and enjoyed it. I drove the CX-5 with the 2.2 diesel at Hampton Downs at the CX-8 launch, and it was superb; remember that’s the same engine the CX-8 has, in the smaller and lighter CX-5. Win/win, right there.

Performance-wise, this car with the petrol 2.5 can still move. It can’t hold a light to the excellent 2.2-litre diesel CX-5, but it will do just fine on the daily drive. One thing you notice when driving a CX-5 – the whole car feel so tight and well made. I wrote in my notes, ‘this is a poor man’s Volvo XC60’. I don’t mean that in a negative way to Mazda, but the XC60 was simply brilliant – and the CX-5 feels like a Japanese version of that car, to me anyway.

The GSX with the 2.5 petrol or 2.2 diesel motor has AWD as standard. There’s no adjustments here – it’s permanent AWD, you don’t get any diff lock buttons or anything like that – it just does its job as it should. We had a lot of rain in my time with the CX-5, and it did very well, as you’d hope with something AWD. This seemed an improvement from the previous CX-5 review, where I commented that the car struggled for grip in the wet. This could be down to the tyre change.

Like the XC60, I can’t say there’s too much I didn’t like about the CX-5 – it deserves the accolades it receives. But – and this is a small but – the motor can be quite noisy, especially when it’s cold. This isn’t a jab at the CX-5 though, as we find lots of cars with direct injection engines to be noisy. Once you are moving, and certainly on the motorway it quietens down, but it can feel noisy at certain times.

The Competition

Mid-spec, mid-sized SUV anyone? Plenty of choices here.

Brand/ModelEnginePower/TorqueFuel L/100kmPrice – High to Low
Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk Limited AWD3.2-litre, six-cylinder petrol200kW/315NM9.8$59,990
Volkswagen Tiguan TSi Highline AWD2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol132kW/320NM7.4$59,990
Mini Countryman Cooper S ALL42.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol141kW/280NM6.8$56,900
Hyundai Tucson Elite AWD1.6-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol130kW/265NM7.7$52,990
Holden Equinox LTZ AWD2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol188kW/353Nm8.2$52,990
Renault Koleos Intens AWD2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol126kW/226NM8.3$49,990
Nissan X-Trail ST-L AWD2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol126kW/226NM8.3$47,490
Mazda CX-5 GSX AWD2.5-litre, four-cylinder SkyActiv petrol140kW/252Nm7.4$46,245
Subaru Forester Sport Plus AWD2.5-litre four-cylinder petrol136kW/239NM7.4$44,490
Ford Escape Trend EcoBoost AWD2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo petrol178kW/345NM8.6$44,490
Kia Sportage EX  AWD2.4-litre, four-cylinder petrol135kW/237NM8.5$42,990
Toyota RAV4 GXL AWD2.5-litre, four-cylinder petrol132kW/233NM8.5$41,990

The Pros and Cons

ProsCons
  • Seat comfort
  • Fit and finish
  • NVH
  • Sheer driveability
  • G-Vectoring control
  • HUD
  • Design
  • Motor can be noisy when cold
  • No Android Auto or Apple CarPlay

What do we think of it?

There’s no doubt – the CX-5 is still a great drive. It’s good to see Mazda not sitting back and waiting for the rest, as they continue to enhance engines, improve NVH and add functionality at no extra cost.

But – the others catching up. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens in this space – will Mazda do something unexpected, and continue to blow away the competition in this space?

Only time will tell, but in the meantime, I can’t see a single CX-5 owner being unhappy.

drivelife car review chevrons four and half

2018 Mazda CX-5 GSX 2.5

4.5 Chevrons

Vehicle TypeMedium-size, 5-door SUV
Starting Price$39,995
Price as Tested$46,245
Engine2.5-litre four-cylinder DOHC SkyActiv petrol
Transmission6-speed automatic
Power, Torque140kW/252Nm
0-100km/h, secondsN/A
Spare WheelSpace saver
Kerb Weight, Kg1,598
Length x Width x Height, mm4550mm x 1840mm x 1675mm
Cargo Capacity, litres455/1355L
Fuel Economy, L/100kmAdvertised Spec – combined –  7.4

Real World Test – combined – 8.8

Low Usage: 0-6 / Medium Usage 6-12 / High Usage 12+

Fuel tank capacity, litres56
Towing Capacity

Kg, unbraked/braked

750/1800
Turning circle, metres11.0

Small: 6-10m / Medium 10-12m / Large 12m+

Warranty5 years, unlimited kilometres

5 years Roadside Assist

3 years free servicing (max 100,000km)

ANCAP Safety Ratings5 Star

 

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